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Biddy Mason

California

Bridget (Biddy Mason) was the enslaved African American of Mormon Robert Smith, who brought Biddy and other African Americans to California in 1851.

Contrary to the California State Constitution, Smith kept African Americans in bondage while in California. By 1856 and fearful of losing his property, Smith decided to move to Texas, and attempted to deceive his enslaved by telling them that they would be free once they got to Texas (a slave state).

Biddy doubted Smith’s promises of freedom, and informed a freeman acquaintance of Smith’s plan. This individual, Robert Owen, went to local authorities, who then placed the African Americans in protective custody.

After five years of slavery in California, a judge ruled in favor of Mason late in 1856, just weeks before the landmark Dred Scott decision which said that slaveowners could take their human property anywhere in the Union without threat to their enslaved status.