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Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California



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A History of Black Americans in California:

Sugg/McDonald House
Sonora, Tuolumne County

The McDonald House is located in Sonora, Tuolumne County. Several additions and changes were made to the original structure in the nineteenth century. Structural alterations were made in 1885 with completion of a three-story, seven-room frame addition. The last modification was made in 1900, when a 15' x 30' addition was added to the rear of the house at the ground floor level.

The original section of this house was constructed in 1860 of adobe brick by a manumitted slave, William Sugg, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Sugg. William Sugg, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina, arrived in California as a slave. It is not known how long he was enslaved in California before his manumission papers were filed in the Tuolumne County Recorder's Office June 21, 1854. Francis Tate of Texas manumitted Sugg, but only after Sugg agreed to repay the manumission fee.

Mary Elizabeth's legal status is dubious. As a child of 10 in 1849, she journeyed overland to California with her unmarried slave mother and the George Snelling family, who owned her mother. There is no known record of Mary Elizabeth having been listed as a slave in California, but no evidence indicates that her legal status was any different from her mother's. The Snelling ranch in Merced County was her home until 1855, the year she married William. Sugg brought his bride to Sonora in 1856, where he bought a lot and a cabin for $450. Within a year, an adjoining lot was purchased for $150. In 1860, the Suggs, with the help of friends among the 166 Blacks then in the county, built a three-room house from adobe bricks made on their property. Over the subsequent 25 years, as their family grew, they enlarged their home. In 1885, when the major addition was completed, there were seven rooms, and 10 children in the family.

Only one of their children married. Rosa Adelle met Donald William McDonald at San Francisco's Third Baptist Church where he directed the orchestra and she sang in the choir. They married at the Third Baptist Church in 1876. From this union came two boys — Earl, born in 1902, and Vernon, born in 1906. The house is now occupied by Vernon McDonald.

Sugg/McDonald House
Sugg/McDonald House, Sonora, Tuolumne County

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Last Modified: Wed, Nov 17 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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