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date: 01 October 2020


  • Paul Finkelman


Spanish soldiers, priests, and settlers brought slaves and free blacks into California in the eighteenth century, and it is estimated that by the 1780s half of the non-Indian residents of Los Angeles were black, and most of these were slaves. A Spanish census in 1790 found that 18 percent of the colony was of African origin. Mexico abolished slavery following independence, and by the time of the Mexican War (1846–1848) the black population was a tiny percent of the total population. In 1845 William Leidsdorff, whose father was Danish and whose mother was a West Indian slave, was briefly in the American diplomatic corps, representing the interests of the United States government in California.

The gold rush led to a huge growth in the population and some southerners seeking to make their fortune brought their slaves with them The status of slavery in California illustrated the tension between ...

A version of this article originally appeared in The Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895.

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