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Mason v. Smith (The Bridget “Biddy” Mason Case) (1856)

STATE OF CALIFORNIA
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES.
Before the Hon. Benjamin Hayes,
Judge of the District Court of the
First Judicial District State of California,
County of Los Angeles.

In the matter of Hannah and her children Ann (and Mary, child of Ann), Lawrence, Nathaniel, Jane, Charles, Marion, Martha, and an infant boy two weeks old; and of Biddy and her children, Ellen, Ann and Harriet, on petition for habeas corpus. Now on this nineteenth day of January, in the year of Our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-six, the said persons above named are brought before me in the custody of the Sheriff of said County, all except the said Hannah and infant boy two weeks old (who are satisfactorily shown to be too infirm to be brought before me), and except Lawrence, (who is necessarily occupied in waiting on his said mother Hannah) and Charles (who is absent in San Bernardino County, but within said Judicial District) and Robert Smith, claimant, also appears with his Attorney; Alonzo Thomas, Esq.

And after hearing, and duly considering the petition for habeas corpus and the return of claimant thereto, and all the proofs and allegations of the said parties and all the proceedings previously had herein, it appearing satisfactory to the judge here that all the said persons so suing in this case to-wit: Hannah and her children, and Biddy, and her said children are persons of color, and that Charles, aged now six years, was born in the Territory of Utah, of the United States, and Marion (aged four years), Martha (aged two years), Mary, daughter of the said Ann, and aged two years, and the said infant boy aged two weeks, were born in the State of California, and that the said Hannah, Ann, Lawrence, Nathaniel, Jane, and Charles as well as the said Biddy, Ellen, Ann, and Harriet have resided with the said Robert Smith for more than four years, and since some time in the year of our Lord one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-one in the State of Calfornia; and it further appearing that the said Robert Smith left and removed from the State of Mississippi more than eight years ago with the intention of not returning thereto, but of establishing himself as a resident in Utah Territory, and more than four years ago left and removed from said Utah Territory with the intention of residing and establishing himself in the State of California, and has so resided in said last mentioned State, since some time in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-one.

And it further appearing by satisfactory proof to the judge here, that all of the said persons of color are entitled to their freedom, and are free and cannot be held in slavery or involuntary servitude, it is therefore argued that they are entitled to their freedom and are free forever. And it further appearing to the satisfaction of the judge here that the said Robert Smith intended to and is about to remove from the State of California where slavery does not exist, to the State of Texas, where slavery of Negroes and persons of color does exist, and is established by the municipal laws, and intends to remove the said before-mentioned persons of color, to his own use without the free will and consent of all or any of the said persons of color, whereby their liberty will be greatly jeopardized, and there is good reason to apprehend and believe that they may be sold into slavery or involuntary servitude and the said Robert Smith is persuading and enticing and seducing said persons of color to go out of the State of California, and it further appearing that 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 their rights and that the said Robert Smith, from his past relations to them as members of his family does possess and exercise over them an undue influence in respect to the matter of their said removal insofar that they have been in duress and not in possession and exercise of their free will so as to give a binding consent to any engagement or arrangement with him.

And it further appearing that the said Hannah is thirty-four years, and her daughter, Ann, seventeen, and all her children, to-wit: Lawrence (aged from twelve to thirteen years), Nathaniel (aged ten to eleven years), Jane (aged eight years), Charles (aged six years), Marion (aged four years), Martha (aged two years), and said in¬fant boy of Hannah, aged two weeks, as well as Mary (aged two years), daughter of said Ann, are under the age of fourteen years and so under the laws of the State of California, are not competent to choose a guardian for themselves; and it further appearing that the said Biddy is aged thirty-eight years, and the said Ellen is aged seventeen years, and the other children of Biddy, to-wit: Ann (aged from twelve to thirteen) and Harriet (aged eight years), are under the age of fourteen years, and so by the laws of the State of California are not competent to choose a guardian for themselves. It further appearing that the said infant boy two weeks of age of Hannah is of tender age and must be kept with his said mother, Hannah, the same is accordingly ordered and said infant boy is entrusted to his said mother hereby, and is ordered to appear with him before the judge-here at the Court House, in the City of Los Angeles, on next Monday, January [21], 1856, at ten o'clock, A.M., of said day, if her health should permit and if not, as soon thereafter as may be practicable, of which the Sheriff of Los Angeles is thereby notified to notify her, the said Hannah, and whereof the said Robert Smith, being now in the Court, has notice, it appearing that she resides in his house and is under his control, and the said Mary, child of Ann, appearing to be of tender age, is entrusted to the said Ann, to be brought before the judge here at the time and place aforesaid, to be dealt with according to the law of which the said Ann and the said Robert Smith have notice here and the said Martha, being of tender years, is entrusted to the said Ann, her sister, to be brought before the judge here at the time and place aforesaid to be dealt with according to the law of which the said Ann and the said Robert Smith here have notice and the said Hannah and Ann are appointed Special Guardians respectively of the children so hereby entrusted to them, and notified that it is their duty to obey all lawful orders of the judge here or of some competent Court touching the premises, and the further hearing in this case as to the said Hannah, and the infant boy and her children, Lawrence, Charles, Mary and Martha, is adjourned until said last mentioned time at the Court House of the City of Los Angeles, and it is further ordered that the said Nathaniel (aged from ten to twelve years), Jane (aged eight years), Marion (aged four years), all children of said Hannah, and said child Ann (aged seventeen), and Harriet (aged eight years) are committed to the custody of the Sheriff, of Los Angeles County, David W Alexander, Esq.; as Special Guardian until the further order of the judge, here or of some other judge or Court of competent jurisdiction to appoint General Guardians, of aforesaid children last mentioned and the said Sheriff will leave in full liberty and discharge the said Biddy and her child Ellen, (aged seventeen years), and the said Ann, only being required to obey the said orders hereinbefore made to appear before the judge here in manner and form aforesaid, and it further appearing that the said Charles is absent in San Bernardino County, within said jurisdiction District. It is ordered that Robert Clift, Esq., Sheriff of said county, be and is hereby appointed Special Guardian of said Charles, and as such duly authorized and re¬quired to take said Charles in his custody, and him safely keep in such manner that the said Charles shall not, be removed out of the State of California, but shall abide the further order of the judge here or other judge or Court of competent jurisdiction touching his Guardianship.

And it is further ordered and adjudged that all costs accrued in the can up to the present date and in executing the present order of the judge here as to the production of said Hannah and her said infant two weeks old, and said Lawrence, Martha and Mary, before the judge here as aforesaid, shall be paid by the said Robert Smith. Given under my hand as judge of the First Judicial District Court of the State of California, on the 19th day of January, A.D. 1856, at the City of Los Angeles.

BENJAMIN HAYES
District judge

Sources:

University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library. Verdict is found in the Golden States Insurance Company Records.
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