Bridget "Biddy" Mason (August 15, 1818 – January 15, 1891) was an
African-American nurse and a Californian real estate entrepreneur and
philanthropist. She is the founder of the First African Methodist
Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California. She was born in Hancock
1 Early life
2 Moving west
4 Los Angeles
5 Death and posthumous honors
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Biddy Mason was born into slavery on August 15, 1818, in Hancock
County, Georgia. She was given the name Bridget with no surname and
was later nicknamed Biddy. Bridget was given to Robert Smith and his
bride as a wedding present. After the wedding, Smith took his new wife
to Mississippi and moved his slaves there.
Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(Mormon) proselytized in Mississippi. They taught Smith and his family
and they converted. Slaves were not baptized in the church as a matter
of policy. Members were encouraged to free their slaves,[citation
needed] but Smith chose not to do so.
The Smith household joined a group of other church members from
Mississippi to meet the
Mormon exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1847.
The group traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, and joined up with the sick
detachment from the Mormon Battalion. They later joined the main
body of Mormons crossing the plains and settled in the Salt Lake
Valley, Utah Territory.
Drawing of San Bernardino, 1852, where she was illegally held captive
in a Mormon settlement
Brigham Young sent a group of Mormons to Southern
California in 1851. Robert Smith, his family, and his slaves joined
them in San Bernardino, California, sometime later. Bridget was among
a large group of slaves in the San Bernardino settlement. As part
of the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted as a free state and
any slave who resided in the state or was born in the state was free.
Bridget had lived in California for four years and some of the other
slaves had been born in California, so they were covered by the
law. Bridget wanted to be free, but was under the control of
Robert Smith and ignorant of the laws and her rights.
In 1856, Smith decided to move to the slave state of
Texas and sell
his slaves there. He told his slaves that they would be free in Texas,
but Bridget did not believe him. She did not want to go to
was worried she would be separated from her children like she was from
Bridget, helped by friends, attempted to escape from Smith. She and a
group of Smith's other slaves traveled towards Los Angeles before
Smith caught up with them. He took her and the other slaves and camped
in canyon near Santa Monica. One of his slaves, Hannah, was having a
baby which made it difficult to travel. Lizzy Flake Rowan, who had
also been kept in slavery with Biddy in San Bernardino but had since
been set free, told Frank Dewitt, the sheriff of Los Angeles county,
of Smith's plans (David W. Alexander was actually the sheriff of Los
Angeles). He issued a writ of habeas corpus and sent a local posse,
who caught up with Smith and took the slaves into protective
Bridget petitioned a Los Angeles court for her freedom. Smith claimed
that Bridget was her family and she wanted to go to Texas. He then
bribed her lawyer to not show up. She was not allowed to testify in
court, since California law prohibited black people from testifying
against white people. The judge presiding over the case, Benjamin
Ignatius Hayes, interviewed Bridget and found she did not want to go
Texas and granted her freedom as a resident of a free state, as
well as the freedom of the other slaves held captive by Smith
(Bridget's three daughters—Ellen, Ann, and Harriet—and ten other
African-American women and children). In 1860, Mason received a
certified copy of the document that guaranteed her freedom.
Bridget had no legal last name as a slave. After emancipation, she
chose to be known as Bridget Biddy Mason. Bridget's
surname, Mason, came from the middle name of Amasa Lyman, who was the
mayor of San Bernardino and a Mormon Apostle; the Lyman household
being one with which Bridget had spent a considerable amount of
After becoming free, she worked in Los Angeles as a nurse and midwife.
One of her employers was the noted physician John Strother Griffin.
Saving carefully, she was one of the first African Americans to
purchase land in the city. As a businesswoman, she amassed a
relatively large fortune of nearly $300,000, which she shared
generously with charities. Mason also fed and sheltered the poor, and
visited prisoners. She was instrumental in founding a traveler's aid
center, and an elementary school for black children.
Because of her kind and giving spirit, many called her "Auntie Mason"
or "Grandma Mason."
In 1872, Mason was a founding member of First African Methodist
Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, the city's first black church. The
organizing meetings were held in her home on Spring Street.[citation
needed] She donated the land on which the church was built. This land
is now the site of
Biddy Mason Park, a Los Angeles city park and site
of an art installation describing her life.
Mason spoke fluent Spanish and was a well-known figure in the city.
She dined on occasion at the home of Pio Pico, the last governor of
Alta California and a wealthy Los Angeles land owner.
Death and posthumous honors
After Mason's death on January 15, 1891, she was buried in an unmarked
grave in Evergreen Cemetery in the neighborhood now known as Boyle
Heights. On March 27, 1988, in a ceremony attended by the mayor of Los
Angeles and members of the church she founded, the grave was marked
with a tombstone.
Mason is an honoree in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.
She was also celebrated on
Biddy Mason Day on November 16, 1989.
One of artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville's best-known pieces is
"Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time,” an 82-foot concrete
wall with embedded objects in downtown Los Angeles (near where Mason
lived) that tells the story of Mason's life.
Mormonism and slavery
^ a b Hayden, Dolores (1995). The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as
Public History. MIT Press. p. 274. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 1860
Census lists Mississippi, but 1870 & 1880 list Georgia as well as
her LA Times obituary
^ "The Forgotten Pioneers". Part In Norma B. Ricketts, Crossroads,
Vol. 8, No. 2 & 3 (Spring/Summer 1997).
^ "The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, Volume 17". p. 63.
Most of those who take slaves there pass over with them in a little
while to San Bernardino... How many slaves are now held there they
could not say, but the number relatively was by no means small. A
single person had taken between forty and fifty, and many had gone in
with smaller numbers.
^ a b c d Camille Gavin (2007). Biddy Mason: A Place of Her Own.
America Star Books.
^ Benjamin Hayes. "Mason v. Smith". none of the said persons of color
can read and write, and are almost entirely ignorant of the laws of
the state of California as well as those of the State of Texas, and of
^ Delilah Leontium Beasley (1919). The Negro Trail Blazers of
California: A Compilation of Records from the California Archives in
the Bancroft Library at the University of California, in Berkeley; and
from the Diaries, Old Papers, and Conversations of Old Pioneers in the
State of California. Times Mirror printing and binding house.
^ Honey M. Newton, CNM. Zion's Hope: Pioneer Midwives and Women
Doctors in Utah.
^ Mason v. Smith. "The Bridget 'Biddy' Mason Case" (1856).
^ Reiter, Joan S. (1978), The Old West: The Women, p. 213. Time-Life
Biddy Mason Park - Downtown Los Angeles Walking Tour". University
of Southern California. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
Biddy Mason Park - the city project". UCLA - Remapping-LA. Archived
from the original on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
^ "African-Americans and the Early Pueblo of Los Angeles". City of Los
Angeles. 2011. Archived from the original on 2013-04-04. Retrieved 16
^ Greenstein, Albert (1999). "Bridget "Biddy" Mason". The Historical
Society of Southern California. Archived from the original on 3 March
2013. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
Slavery to Entrepreneur, Biddy Mason". African American
Registry. Retrieved 5 May 2014. Thursday, November 16, 1989 was
Biddy Mason Day and a memorial of her achievements was
unveiled at the Broadway Spring Center located between Spring Street
and Broadway at Third Street in Los Angeles.
^ "Betye Saar, "Biddy Mason: A Passage of Time" and "Biddy Mason:
House of the Open Hand"; Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, "Biddy Mason:
Time and Place", Los Angeles". Publicartinla.com. Retrieved
^ "Brooklyn Museum on Biddy Mason: Time & Place".
Bolden, Tonya. (1996). The Book of
African-American Women: 150
Crusaders, Creators, and Uplifters, Adams Media Corporation
Mungen, Donna. (1976). The Life and Times of Biddy Mason
Reiter, Joan S. (1978). The Old West: The Women. Time-Life Books.
Sherr, Lynn and Jurate Kazickas. (1994). Susan B. Anthony Slept Here.
A Guide to American Women's Landmarks, Random House.
Sims, Oscar L. "Profile of Biddy Mason." (1993). Epic Lives: One
Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference, Smith, Jessie Carney, ed.
Visible Ink Press
Cohen, Hannah S. Harris, Gloria G. Women Trailblazers of California:
Pioneers to the Present
Hull, LeAnne von Neumeyer (24 March 2006), "Bridget Biddy Smith Mason:
Her Legacy Among the Mormons", Black Voice News, Brown Publishing
Company, archived from the original on 2014-08-08
A History of Black Americans in California: Biddy Mason
bio in California Social Work Hall of Distinction
Biography at DistinguishedWomen.com
US black church denominations and leaders
Religion in Black America
African-American Christian denominations
Methodist Episcopal Church (John Adams Sr.
Benjamin W. Arnett
George Lincoln Blackwell
Jamal Harrison Bryant
John Richard Bryant
Richard H. Cain
Archibald Carey Jr.
James H. Cone
James Levert Davis
Jordan Winston Early
Carolyn Tyler Guidry
Sarah E. Gorham
William H. Heard
Henrietta Phelps Jeffries
Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Lena Doolin Mason
Lyman S. Parks
Charles H. Pearce
Clementa C. Pinckney
William Paul Quinn
Reverdy Cassius Ransom
Richard Henry Singleton
Charles Spencer Smith
Theophilus Gould Steward
Henry McNeal Turner
William Tecumseh Vernon
D. Ormonde Walker
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Julia A. J. Foote
James Walker Hood
Jermain Wesley Loguen
William Henry Singleton
John Bryan Small
A.U.M.P. Church (Peter Spencer)
Methodist Episcopal Church (William Yancy Bell
William H. Miles)
Baptist Church (Vernon Johns
Martin Luther King Jr.)
Baptist Church (Richmond, Virginia) (Lucy Goode Brooks)
Baptist Church (Savannah, Georgia) (David George)
Baptist Church (Petersburg, Virginia)
Baptist Church Fellowship (Paul S. Morton)
Baptist Fellowship Association
Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention (Clinton Caldwell Boone
Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (Stewart Cleveland Cureton
Joseph H. Jackson
T. J. Jemison
Willie James Jennings
W. J. Simmons)
Baptist Convention of America, Inc. (R. H. Boyd)
Baptist Convention of America (S. M. Lockridge)
Baptist Convention of the U.S.A.
Baptist Convention (Ralph Abernathy
William Augustus Jones Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Gardner C. Taylor)
United American Free Will
Baptist Church (Benjamin Randall)
United American Free Will
Apostolic Assemblies of Christ
Apostolic Faith Church (William J. Seymour)
Church of God in Christ
Church of God in Christ (Charles Edward Blake Sr.
J. Delano Ellis
Robert Michael Franklin Jr.
Samuel Green Jr.
O. T. Jones Sr.
John P. Kee
Charles Harrison Mason
Chandler David Owens Sr
Gilbert E. Patterson
J. O. Patterson Jr.
Ted Thomas Sr.
F. D. Washington
Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith
Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith (Robert C.
Church of Universal Triumph, Dominion of God
Church of Universal Triumph, Dominion of God (James F. Jones)
Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas
Mount Sinai Holy Church of America (Ida B. Robinson)
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (Charles H. Ellis III)
Reformed Zion Union Apostolic Church
Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, Incorporated
United Holy Church of America
United Sabbath-Day Adventist Church
African Orthodox Church (George Alexander McGuire)
Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A. (Charles Price Jones)
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
City of Refuge UCC (Yvette Flunder)
African-American Catholic Congregation (George Augustus
Interdenominational Theological Center
Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge
Love Center Church (Walter Hawkins)
Original Church of God or Sanctified Church
Spencer Churches (Peter Spencer)
United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ (Otis Moss III)
United House of Prayer for All People
United House of Prayer for All People (Marcelino Manuel da Graça)