by Paul R. Spitzzeri
For this fourth and final post of this series on the enumeration of Black residents of Los Angeles County in the five censuses taken between 1850 and 1880, we see that, while the African-American community in the region was small, there was a steady growth over those three decades. The recording for these posts shows that there were 14 persons counted in 1850, though the overall figures were so low locally and statewide that the state commissioned its own census two years later, and that 1852 tally doubled the number to 28.
By 1860, the population of Blacks in the county grew to 88, with all but 16 of these residing in the city of Los Angeles and its adjoining township, covering areas mainly to the west and northwest of the town. Those residing in other townships included eight in El Monte, five at San Pedro, two at San Jose (Pomona area) and one in San Gabriel. The 1870 census included 123 African Americans, an increase of 40% in the decade, with 104 in Los Angeles city and township, and 19 in outlying townships (5 at El Monte, 4 each at San Jose and Los Nietos [near modern Whittier and Downey], 3 in El Monte, 2 in Santa Ana and 1 in San Gabriel.)
When we get to 1880, there was another 45% increase in the Black population of the county, totaling 179, perhaps reflective of the significant increase generally as the region experienced its first major economic growth up through the first half of the Seventies, though the resulting bust in 1875-76 (including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank) could well have led to an exodus of some residents. This time, however, there is a much larger number of African-Americans in outlying areas, as 76 persons resided in a dozen different townships. Most Blacks headed to the regions west of Los Angeles, with 14 in La Ballona and 17 in Santa Monica, the latter established just five years before. El Monte had 11 Black residents, while the unwieldy San Antonio, Vernon and Florence Road District, south of the city, had 9, and San Fernando, in the valley of that name had 7 African-Americans.
In most cases, these populations consisted of families, so that Santa Monica included the clan of barber Andrew Chism, his wife Mary, and their seven children, ages 9 to 29, who’d moved from Los Angeles. Lewis G. Green, a long-standing resident of the Angel City and a janitor, also moved to the new town by the sea with his wife Maria and their 11-year old son John. There was also the White family of three women, including the householder whose first name is not known to us, only her initial of “N,” her daughter, Alice, age 15 and who was born in Nicaragua (leading one to wonder if her mother, a native of North Carolina, was taken by a slaveholder during the filibustering conducted by Americans in Central America during the mid-1850s), and the latter’s three year old daughter, Cora Bell.
At La Ballona, was the family of John and Mary Hall, also former Los Angeles denizens, who lived not far west of downtown and not far outside the city’s western limits with their seven children, ranging in age from a year to 13 years. More extraordinary was the presence of two-year old white child, Moses, listed as a “ward” of the Hall family, as he was literally dumped on their doorstep two years before, which explains his name. Also in the township was Hester Fibbs, a 55-year old native of Virginia, and her daughters Anna (20) and Mary (18) who were born in Indiana and Illinois, respectively.
To the south in the Wilmington township at the harbor area, was barber Louis Brial (or Bryan as the 1870 census has him) and his wife Jane, 45-year old Minnie Burgette, a Missouri-born servant to Reverend William Spurlock, and 30-year old Leander Buchon (?), who was born in Ohio, and was a servant in a most unusual setting for two reasons. First, he worked in the Point Fermin Lighthouse, which still stands at the end of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and, secondly, he was employed by the sisters Mary and Ella Smith, who came from a family of light house keepers, but were likely a rare example of women carrying out that profession.
The very large San Fernando township, covering the entire valley, included the Ballard family, who left Los Angeles and settled in a remote area of the Santa Monica Mountains between modern Malibu and Agoura Hills. Three of the sons, however, were double counted as John and William, ages 19 and 18, also worked as hostlers, or horse-keepers, for attorney Charles Ellis at his property on Figueroa Street southwest of downtown, while Henry, who was 16, was a laborer in the Norwalk Road District in the Los Nietos township. There were two other Black persons at Los Nietos, including 12-year old Fannie Gray, an Arkansas native, who was a servant to Dr. Robert Brunson, who was born in Alabama, and John Baptiste, a 70-year old chicken farmer who came from Peru and who lived with his California Indian wife, 80-year old Lucia.
At El Monte, farmer Pleasant Beyers (shown as “Bors” a decade before) and his wife Esther were joined by the the farming family of Benjamin and Sally Franklin, along with their seven children, ranging from three months to 21 years. In the San Antonio, Vernon and Florence section, just south of Los Angeles city limits, resided tailor John W. Douglass, his wife Emma, and their six children, from 5 to 26 years, and two-year old grandson, Newton Stilwell. Next to El Monte was the Azusa township and its sole African American resident was 19-year old Dennis Latone, who was a farm laborer for Pedro Badillo, who tried an unsuccessful and financially ruinous experiment in growing coffee in what is now Covina. Like Badillo, Laton hailed from the Central American nation of Costa Rica.
Nearby at San Gabriel, there were five Blacks, including Ann Gardner, a 40-year servant for Dr. Theodore Kellogg; two young men, John Lateimus (?) and Samuel Sea, who cared for the horses of Alfred S. Chapman, who ranch is now the Chapman Woods neighborhood of east Pasadena, and Susan Benson, a 60-year old servant of the widow of prominent rancher and politician Benjamin D. Wilson, who died two years prior. Then there was James Thomas, a 25-year old Missouri native, who was staying at the Sierra Madre Villa, a well-known hotel in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, then known as the Sierra Madres, in the northeastern corner of modern Pasadena. Thomas was the servant of Abbot Kinney, who went to much local fame as the owner of the nearby Kinneloa Ranch and as the founder of Venice of America, now just known as Venice, next to Santa Monica.
Otherwise African-Americans living in rural areas of the county included Oliver Paine, a 28-year old servant of the family of Mississippian Mary Paine, a recent settler of the fairly new town of Tustin. At Santa Ana, the Dalterson family, originally from the South, had just moved from Arizona and brought servant Amy, who had no surname and was 16 years old, and her unnamed year-old baby boy, who was not only born in Arizona but was a mulatto, leading to the question of whether the father was one of the Daltersons. In Anaheim, barber John H.T. Dean, who was from the Bahamas, resided with his wife Cordelia and their one-month old daughter, who was not yet bestowed a name. At the end of the 1880s, Tustin, Santa Ana, and Anaheim were incorporated into the new Orange County.
Heading back to Los Angeles, we find a few interesting and significant changes with regard to the counting of people in the 1880 census. In addition to the capturing of the home states of the parents of each person enumerated, the residents of Los Angeles were counted by wards, or what we could know as council districts, a practice that was begun earlier in the 1870s. So was the provision for street names and house numbers for residences, which was developed in time for the first city directory, which appeared in 1872. In previous censuses you had to know Los Angeles well enough to identify where people lived by association, but, starting with 1880, it got a whole lot easier, even if some residential areas did not provide house numbers, just streets. Of course, some streets don’t exist anymore and others changed names (for example, Fort Street became Broadway and Charity Street turned into Grand Avenue later.)
In the city’s First Ward including the northern part of downtown, there was another new element for the community and for the Black population. The introduction of the Southern Pacific Railroad and its local lines and the main line connected to the north in summer 1876 brought a cadre of African American porters who resided along San Fernando Street next to the rail yard. There were eight men who were so employed, ranging in age from 27 to 49 years, and all but two were single. Of the two who were married, one, H.F. McCullogh, had two young children.
The Second Ward, which was south of the Plaza and east of Main Street, had few Black families and most households were of single dwellers or small adult groups. There were only four persons under age 18 and just one under 10 years old found in this section. One standout resident was musician John Caldwell, whose neighbor, M. S. Arevalo, was another musician, and Caldwell, who lived with his wife Julia on Main very close to the Plaza, hailed from Africa and was the only Black resident from there.
Mentioned in the last post about the 1870 census was Caroline C. Burton, who was distinguished as a rare Black woman business owner as she conducted a hairdressing establishment at 137 Main, just south of First Street. Lewis G. Green, by the way, was counted twice in this census, as he was in 1860, and was listed as 125 Main. Horatio Marteen, who briefly ran a restaurant at the north edge of the Plaza in the mid-Seventies, was listed as a tailor, living on Aliso Street, which headed east out of town. Then there is Josefa Sepulveda, a 15-year old who resided with her aunt Francisca and uncle James Thompson—Thompson was the city and county jailer.
Other residents of the Second Ward included Wilkinson Carter, a 30-year old from Missouri and his 25-year old wife Rosie, who was 25 and a California native. The two were the porter and a servant, likely a housekeeper, at the United States Hotel, one of the main such businesses in town, and situated like the best-known of its competitors on Main Street. Then, there was 57-year old Cook and Kentucky native Samuel Samson, who was the sole African American patient at the County Hospital, being confined there because of “paralysis,” which sounds as if he had suffered a stroke. Finally, 50-year old nurse Catherine Stark and her 17-year old daughter, Abigail, resided on Bunker Hill Avenue in the community of that name, recently developed by former mayor Prudent Beaudry, near Temple Street.
By far the largest population of Blacks in Los Angeles were in the Third Ward, which took in much of the western section of the city from Spring Street out to Figueroa and going as far south as 9th Street. Many of the earliest and most prominent African Americans lived in this area, including Biddy Mason, listed as a 63-year old midwife, and residing at 155 Spring, between First and Second, with her daughter Ellen (shown as “Hellen”) and her husband Charles Owens, who was owner of a wood yard. Ann Danniels, widow of Manuel Peppers, and her five children, lived nearby at 155 Hill.
Another longtime resident was Samuel Jones, also a porter for the railroad, though he lived on Charity Street (later Grand Avenue, as noted above) with his wife and two children. Another resident on Charity was George Reding, who a decade before lived in the community of Spadra in modern Pomona, but worked in 1880 as a hostler for Los Angeles County Sheriff William R. Rowland, who also owned a large property on the Rancho La Puente and may have employed Reding there, as well. Marshall Franklin, also a resident of some years in the Angel City, lived with his wife Louisa, on Pearl Street, which was once known as Grasshopper Street and was soon rechristened as Figueroa. We shouldn’t forget to mention young Abraham Lincoln Brown, employed at 9th and Flower streets as a house servant for Cordelia Mallard, widow of a long-time justice of the peace, because he, not surprisingly, was born in 1865.
The Fourth Ward included some sections on the west side of the Los Angeles River as well as across that watercourse such as the recently established community of Boyle Heights, subdivided five years prior by William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and Los Angeles mayor later in the decade during the famed Boom of the Eighties, and his partners, banker Isaias W. Hellman and John Lazzarovich, who married into the López family, the first settlers on the “east side.”
Two Blacks residing in Boyle Heights were Encarnación Pilar, an 18-year old cook, who, like her employer Felix Mancho, who was a neighbor of Workman, was from Nicaragua, and John Neville, a 14-year old who was a “ward” of the wealthy real estate developer and banker John E. Hollenbeck and his wife Elizabeth Hatsfeldt. The Hollenbecks for years ran a hotel and other businesses in Nicaragua before coming to Los Angeles in 1875 and Neville, who was designated a mulatto because his father was Jamaican and his mother Nicaraguan, came with the couple, who lost their only child to a fever some years before.
Of those African-Americans living west of the river, the best known was Winnie Owens, the 67-year old widow of cattle trader Robert Owens (he died in the mid-Sixties) and mother of wood yard owner Charles. She resided at 13 San Pedro Street, although her being next door to some Chinese launderers led the census taker to list her occupation as “laundry.” Living with her was 20-year old William Leonard who also lived her a decade before, as well as 9-year old James Brun. There was also the family of Joshua and Sarah Smart, who lived on Los Angeles Street, south of First, with Joshua and son William working as janitors and daughter Clarissa employed as a cook. Living with the Smarts was cook Mack Alexander and his wife Emeline.
Finally, there was the Fifth Ward, which encompassed the furthest southern and western areas of the city, though only a few Blacks lived there. Mentioned already were the Ballard brothers, John and William, and their employment for attorney Charles Ellis. John M. Elliott, a prominent banker for many years (and who later had a large avocado and citrus ranch at North Whittier Heights, now Hacienda Heights, near the Homestead), lived at Washington and Figueroa and he employed 18-year old Adelaide Johnson as a house servant, while her 6-month old son, John, lived there, as well.
The Johnsons were also counted in the household of widow and nurse Eliza Minor, an African-American who lived a short distance to the east at Washington and Main and whose household also included 38-year old cook, Isabella Pitts, also a widower. Finally, there was Jenny, whose surname was that of her employer, former city treasurer James J. Mellus, who came from a prominent family. Mellus lived with his wife’s family, which was headed by lawyer B.C. Whiting, on Main Street near Washington.
For the 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses, which are more complete (understanding that all have their undercounts, missing residents and incorrect information for a variety of reasons) than the 1850 federal and 1852 state counts, there are some general statistics worth noting. For example, men comprised 66% of the Black community in 1860, but that percentage dropped 12 points ten years later and, by 1880, women were nearly equal in number at 49.2%. Moreover, the number of children under 18 years of age, leapt from a quarter of the African-American community to 45% between 1860 and 1870, though there was a drop to a third ten years later.
In terms of origin, those hailing from Southern states were 53% in 1860, but that figure dropped thirteen percent within a decade and another four percent, to 36%, by 1880. Notably, Blacks born in Northern states remained remarkably consistent, at 16% or 17% each enumeration. Those from outside the United States also did not change much, being 4% to 6% of the population through the three censuses. The big change, rather, was with those African-Americans born in California, as that percentage rose from 21 in 1860 to 40 ten years later and went up just slightly to 41% in 1880.
Hopefully, this quartet of posts has helped shed some light on the Black pioneers of Los Angeles County in the first three decades of the American era. It is very difficult to find substantial information from this period generally, but this is especially true for people of color. Looking at these censuses and being able to at least have some demographic information and the names of these African Americans who settled in greater Los Angeles gives us something tangible and meaningful to learn about this community, which, in Los Angeles and Orange counties, comprising what existed in the former during that time, is right around 400,000 persons today, or about 8% of the total population of Los Angeles County and 1.5% of that of Orange.