Biddy Really Wanted Freedom: The Story of Biddy Mason
"If you hold your hand closed, no good can come in".
I always tell my family and others I don't know if I could have made it during the period of slavery. My ancestors had to put up with so much and was considered just property. I mean seriously, the definition of property is a thing or things that belong to someone. In today's world people are born into freedom, but think about the ones who had to fight for their freedom. Let me tell you about a woman who gained and earned her freedom the smart way.
Biddy Mason was born into slavery on August 15,1818. She was a native of Hancock County, Mississippi with a fine blend of ancestors, that made her and her cultural background. She was black and Native American. Her ancestors came from three different Indian tribes: Choctaw, Seminole and Geegi.
During her days as a slave child, Biddy was bought and sold many times. Biddy finally made her resident with the Smithson family, with whom she spent most her childhood. As bright of a child as Biddy was, she was banned from learning how to read. That didn't stop Biddy though, she became skilled in other areas where she learned even more valuable necessities, that would effect her and other lives later.
While Biddy worked in the Smithson house, her job was to work with the house servants and midwives. She baked bread, swept floors, polished silver, and helped birth babies.
Biddy was so great at her work, that John Smithson started noticing her. When Biddy was eighteen, Smithson gave her and her two friends away as wedding gifts to Rebecca and Robert Smith. Biddy made up her in mind that one day she was going to do something to end the injustice of slavery.
Biddy and her friends served as Rebecca's house slaves but Biddy's job was to care for Rebecca. Rebecca soon became ill after after she and Robert had married. By this time, Biddy was a beautiful woman who was taking care of her master's wife, and now taking care of her own family. Biddy had three daughters, and guess who the baby daddy was? If I was on the game show Jeopardy, my answer would sound like this," Alex, Who is Robert Smith". Robert Smith was the father of her three daughters: Ellen, born in 1838; Ann, born in 1844; and Harriet born four years later.
Robert Smith became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saint, the Mormons. In 1851, Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet, needed help with establishing a Mormon settlement in Southern California. Smith packed up everything in Utah, where he was now residing and headed to San Bernardino, California. The journey to California was long for Biddy, since she had to walk by foot to her destination. Biddy was walking to her freedom and she knew it as well. She had learned that California was a free state, where slavery did not exist.
Biddy knew that once her weary feet stepped onto the soil of this state, she and her children were free. Biddy made the trip to California and never once talked about her plan. When she arrived in California, she met all types of free black people. Honey, I'm talking about black men and women who were bankers, nurses, barbers, state legislators, mail carriers, ranch hands, and cowboys. Baby let me tell you, my black is beautiful. Many of these black people had been born into freedom and others had escaped slavery. Biddy knew she was going to earn her freedom the smart way,
Robert Smith had his own plan as well. Biddy and her daughters were his property and he planned on selling them, so he could afford his new life in California. He decided to take his slaves back to Texas, a slave state, where he would sell them for cash. Biddy was already a head of Smith, she had been taking action into her own hands, Biddy looked Robert in his face and told him,"No". Rosa Parks wasn't the first one to say, " Honey not today", Biddy had met Lizzie Flake Rowan, and two free black men, Charles Owens and Manuel Peppers. These three individuals was well informed about California state laws.
A petition was presented to Judge Benjamin Hayes, asking that Biddy and her daughters be allowed to remain in California, as free people. Judge Hayes accepted the petition and prepared legal papers for Biddy, Biddy's children and thirteen other Smith slaves. Biddy had earned her freedom in a smart way. Biddy presented Smith with an order, requiring him to appear before a judge, in the federal district court in Los Angeles.
When the court day came, Smith never showed up and the judge conducted two days of hearings. Biddy did confirm that Smith had been her master for most of her life. On January 21,1856, the judge declared Biddy and the other Smith slaves free. Biddy found employment as a nurse and midwife with Dr. John S. Griffin. The skills she had learned, while working as a slave on the plantation, came back in full circle for her. Her patients ranged from wealthy Californians to those who didn't have any money. She was a woman who served anyone who needed help.
Because she would use root and herb potions as part of her nursing practices, she gained a reputation as an innovative healer, which people came looking for her. in 1866 she had enough money to purchase a house on Spring Street in Los Angeles. She was one of the first black women of her time to buy a home of her own in the United States. The house cost $250.00.
Biddy was always helping others and because she learned that real estate was a powerful tool, she helped other black people find affordable places to live. She saved her money and bought land, where she built homes to rent to black families. It is said that by the late 1800's Biddy Mason was the wealthiest African American woman in Los Angeles. Biddy provided a place for people to build grocery stores, day-care centers, and churches. She helped founded the Los Angeles First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Biddy Mason's legacy still lives on in Los Angeles and the foot prints she left behind, paved the way for generations to walk through.
Pinkney, D. Andrea, & Corti, K. (2000) Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters. San Diego, New York, London, Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.