Biddy Mason - quick bio
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Biddy Mason 1818 - 1891
During the 1800's only a few Black men and women were free. Yet, Biddy Mason appeared in a California court and won freedom for herself and family. Starting as a slave, she became a nurse, business woman, and one of the richest citizens in the city of Los Angeles. However, Biddy Mason never forgot her humble beginnings and spent her life helping others.
Biddy Mason was born on August 15, 1818, in Hancock County, Georgia. She was the slave of Robert Smith and served on the Smith plantation for the first 32 years of her life. In 1851, Smith decided to go west to California in search of gold. He left his plantation and started the long journey to California. Biddy and her fellow slaves walked the entire distance, over 3,000 miles.
Over 300 wagons and several hundred cattle and sheep made the six-month trip. Biddy and the other slaves would take turns driving their master's wagons and herding the livestock. She had to care for her three daughters during the journey. The trip was very hard.
Smith settled with his slaves in San Bernadino, California, for two years. Since slavery was illegal in California, Smith feared losing his slaves. So, he decided to move to the state of Texas, where slavery was still legal. The wagon train stopped in Los Angeles for a few days. However, the town sheriff stopped Smith from leaving California with his slaves. On January 19, 1856, with the sheriff's help, Biddy went to court. The judge gave Smith's slaves their freedom. Biddy and her children were now free to begin a new life.
Biddy stayed in Los Angeles and found work as a nurse, earning $2.50 a day. She worked long hours and saved over $250.00. With her savings, she bought land in Los Angeles. A very good business woman, she continued to work hard to buy more land. After several years, the city began to grow and her land became very valuable. She sold the first piece of land she bought for $12,000 and another for over $44,000. In just a few years, Biddy Mason became a rich person.
Biddy Mason used her wealth to help others. She donated land for schools, churches, and hospitals. She also paid taxes and made repairs on buildings that Black people lived in. Biddy Mason would often visit jails giving words of cheer and gifts to the prisoners. When a flood left many Los Angeles people homeless, Mason gave them food. The homeless could buy what they needed from a local grocery store, and she would pay for it.
Biddy Mason was a very religious woman. Because of her work with the poor, she was lovingly called, "Grandma Mason." When she became ill, in her later years, people came to her home to offer help and wish her will. So many people came that her grandson had to stand at the gate of her home and turn visitors away.
Biddy Mason died on January 15, 1891, at the age of 73. She left behind many friends, both Black and White. She never forgot her early life of suffering. She spent 40 years doing "good works" to better the lives of her people.
Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Black Pioneers.
This is only a summary of the life of Biddy Mason.