Leidesdorff, William Alexander
- Elizabeth Zoe Vicary
pioneer, diplomat, and businessman, was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more like a son than a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle's cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and his uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth allowed him to propose to a white woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully shortly before the wedding date when Leidesdorff told his fiancée of his partial African descent. She called off the wedding, and he left New Orleans.
Arriving in California in 1841 aboard his ...
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.