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8.8.10 "Archy" To The Friends (1858)

"Archy" advertisement directed to "the friends of the Constitution and Laws," 1858. Reproduced from Archy Lee: A California Fugitive Slave Case.
Lapp, Rudolph M., and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore

Lapp, Rudolph M., and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore. Archy Lee: A California Fugitive Slave Case. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 2008.

The Archy Lee court case took place in California in 1858. At issue was the Fugitive Slave Law, which was part of the Compromise of 1850. Mississippi native Charles Stovall brought his slave Archy Lee to California in 1857. Lee escaped and took refuge with prominent African American activists in Sacramento. He was later arrested, and a major legal battle ensued that pitted the African American community and their Anglo abolitionist allies against pro-slavery forces in California. After a trial in San Francisco in 1858, Stovall attempted to kidnap Lee and sail out of the state by boat. San Francisco’s large black population, said to number about 1,000 people at the time, came out en mass to stop the kidnapping. Prominent abolitionists joined them, including members of San Francisco’s police force, and brought Lee to safety. Eventually Lee was declared a free man, but the case reveals how the admission of California to the United States led to a major debate in the fight over slavery. The issue of slavery was hotly debated in the California Constitutional Convention. Many pro-slavery southern Democrats came to California. But the abolitionist cause, along with miners who feared the competition of slave labor, won the debate. The California Constitution forbade slavery in the state but also denied free blacks many civil rights. How does the Archy Lee case reveal the national debate over slavery? What does this image say about African American political organizing in California?
The Archy Lee case can be used to show how California entered the national debate on slavery. It shows the solidarity between abolitionists and California’s free black population, at least on the issue of slavery. The issue should be discussed alongside the fear of a large free black population in California, legislation that attempted to bar free black migration to California, and other anti-black laws, which had bipartisan approval. What does the Archy Lee case say about the life of blacks in free states such as California?


THE COMMITTEE APPOINTED BY THE Colored People having expended a large amount, and incurred heavy obligations in prosecuting and defending the case in the Courts of Sacramento, Stockton and San Francisco, and believing the principles to be vindicated ar those which should interest all lovers of right and justice, independent of complexion, respectfully solicit contributions for this object, which will be faithfully appropriated, if left with E.J. Johnson, 184 Clay street. m20-3t