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Bridget "Biddy" Mason
August 15, 1818 – January 15, 1891
Nurse/Midwife, Entrepreneur and Philantropist


Bridget "Biddy" Mason was an African American nurse, and a California real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Born a slave in Hancock County, Georgia. Bridget was given to Robert Smith and his bride as wedding present. After the marriage, Smith took his new wife and slaves to Mississippi.

Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) proselyted Mississippi. They taught Smith and his family. The family converted. Slaves were not baptized into the Church as a matter of policy. Members were encouraged to free their slaves. Smith chose not to.

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.

Church leader Brigham Young sent a group of Saints to Southern California in 1851. Robert Smith, family and slaves joined them in San Bernardino, California sometime later. Brigham Young counseled Smith again to free Bridget and his other slaves before going to California. Bridget was among a small group of blacks, free and slave, in the San Bernardino settlement.

Freedom

In 1856, Robert Smith, Mason's owner, planned to move to the slave state of Texas. As part of the Compromise of 1850, California was a slave state and any slave brought into the state was free. However, Smith had refused Church leader counsel to set his slaves free and maintained that Mason and her children were his property. He planned to take them with him overland to Texas.

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. A local posse caught up with Smith before he could leave the state.

Mason petitioned a Los Angeles court for her freedom. A California judge, Benjamin Ignatius Hayes, granted her freedom as a resident of a free state, as well as the freedom of the other slaves held captive by Smith (her three daughters, and ten other African-American women and children).

Bridget had no legal last name as a slave. After emancipation, she chose to be known as Bridget Mason. Mason was the middle name of Amasa Lyman, Mormon Apostle and mayor of San Bernardino. She had spent many years in the company of the Amasa Lyman household.

Mason worked in Los Angeles as a nurse and midwife. Saving carefully, she was one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city. As a businesswoman she amassed a small fortune of nearly $300,000, which she shared generously with charities. She was instrumental in founding a traveler's aid center, an elementary school for black children.

In 1872 Mason was a founding member of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first and oldest black church. The organizing meetings were held in her home on Spring Street. She donated the land on which the church was built.

She spoke fluent Spanish and was a well known figure in downtown, especially at the old Plaza, where conducted business she dined on occasion at the home of Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California and a wealthy Los Angeles land owner.

Mason is an honoree in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction.

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