African Americans Jane Elizabeth Whiting and children sailed from Virginia on June 1, 1856, as the property of a Mr. Thompson. The group was bound for California, where the Thompson’s owned a ranch.
During an overnight stay in Panama, a free land, word traveled quickly among local Panamanians that bonded African Americans were being held on board. A mob quickly formed, but Thompson successfully convinced the assembled that Mrs. Whiting and her family were free servants who traveled willingly to California to work. The ship departed Panama, though the suspicions of abolitionists also onboard were aroused as to Thompson’s true motives.
One such abolitionist, African American David Johnson, managed to gain the confidence of the Whitings. After learning of their fate, Johnson hatched a plan to secure their freedom. When the ship arrived in San Francisco, Johnson secreted the Whitings ashore and hid them in the Harper and West Boarding House. San Francisco’s African American community mobilized to aid the freedom seekers, even changing the family name to Freeman.
Thompson searched in vain for the missing family. It was not until a chance encounter after the Civil War that Thompson located the Freemans, but by then, the status of African Americans as free people was established.