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Remaking Slavery in a Free State: Masters and Slaves in Gold Rush California

Stacey L. Smith
Pacific Historical Review
Vol. 80, No. 1 (February 2011), pp. 28-63
DOI: 10.1525/phr.2011.80.1.28
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2011.80.1.28
Page Count: 36
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Remaking Slavery in a Free State: Masters and Slaves in Gold Rush California
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Abstract

Hundreds of white Southerners traveled to Gold Rush California with slaves. Long after California became a free state in 1850, these masters transplanted economic and social practices that sustained slavery in the American South to the goldfields. At the same time, enslaved people realized that Gold Rush conditions disrupted customary master-slave relationships and pressed for more personal autonomy, better working conditions, and greater economic reward. The result was a new regional version of slavery that was remarkably flexible and subject to negotiation. This fluidity diminished, however, as proslavery legislators passed laws that protected slaveholding rights and vitiated the state's antislavery constitution. California's struggle over bondage highlights the persistence of the slavery question in the Far West after the Compromise of 1850 and illuminates slavery's transformation as it moved onto free soil.

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