Sunday, April 24, 2011

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter One


SUMMARY: Benjamin and Alice Fleming, siblings of a free black Ohio family, head west to California during the Gold Rush.
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From the Journal of Benjamin Fleming

Chapter One - The Proclamation

December 16, 1848
It has been confirmed! Gold discovered in California. I can hardly contain my excitement. My staid family, on the other hand, seemed quite capable of doing just that.

"Foolish nonsense!" my father declared during supper, later that evening. According to him, folks have been claiming gold in California for ages. Including Spanish explorers who went there to search for the gold weapons of the Black Amazons. When I told him that an Army officer had brought a sample of the gold to Congress, he remained unconvinced.

I suspect that Papa's antipathy toward this gold discovery came from his activities as an abolitionist. As the son of a former slave, he naturally became an enemy of slavery. The entire family felt the same, of course. And like many abolitionists, my father had been against the recent war against Mexico. This same war had enabled the United States to grab Texas, New Mexico and California. As far as Papa was concerned, the war had been nothing but an excuse for the slave power to spread slavery into the West. He wanted nothing to do with any of the territory we had acquired from Mexico. Including California.

January 21, 1849
Thomas Russell left for New York City this morning. He was the first from Cleveland's colored community to depart for the California gold fields. From New York, he plans to board one of the clipper ships that will take him around the tip of South American and north to San Francisco. The journey should take him six months.

"An utter fool," my older brother Randolph declared after I had informed him. He was another like Papa who saw the acquisition of California and other former Mexican territories as some slaveocracy plot. Perhaps they were both right. Perhaps the South did plan to make California a slave state like Texas. Yet, both Papa and Randolph have forgotten that part of California lay north of the Missouri Compromise line - the same region where gold had been discovered.

Whatever Papa or Randolph may have felt about Mr. Russell's decision, mattered not to me. I admired him for taking the initiative to pull up stakes to seek a new life. I wished I could do the same. Unfortunately, there was no real need for me to seek gold. The Flemings were financially secured. Papa owned two livery stables and a hotel in the city. I managed one of the stables. On one hand, I enjoyed the work for I love horses. But I have become weary of Cleveland. The frontier spirit that had first permeated the city before my birth had waned after four decades. Papa had enough money to outfit a journey to California. But he would have never given me the money, considering his feelings on the subject.

End of Chapter One

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