Biddy Mason: Biography and Facts

Instructor: Thomas Davis

Thomas has taught high school age students for 34 years, undergraduate 12 years, and graduate courses for the last 8 years. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from National Louis University in Evanston, Illinois.

Bridget 'Biddy' Mason started life as a slave in Mississippi. Through her life's journey, she attained her freedom, became a successful business woman, and was known for her generosity to all those in need. In this lesson, learn about the life of Biddy Mason and read about her accomplishments.

Portrait of Biddy Mason

Bridget 'Biddy' Mason

In terms of personal accomplishments, it would be hard to match the life of Bridget 'Biddy' Mason. Born a slave in Mississippi, she traveled thousands of miles as a slave but attained her freedom in California. Biddy was taught initially by slaves and healers and then used those skills to support her family. She continually faced challenges and made financial decisions that ended up making her a wealthy woman. When she attained that wealth, her goal was to share with all facets of society regardless of color. This lesson will examine the life and accomplishments of Bridget 'Biddy' Mason.

Life as a Slave

In 1818, on a plantation in Mississippi, Bridget 'Biddy' Mason was born. The plantation where she was born was owned by Robert Marion Smith and Rebecca Crosby Smith. Biddy was not educated formally but did learn the skills of a midwife from other slaves. Biddy was also taught about herbal medicines by healers and other slaves.

Motivated by the teachings of Brigham Young, Robert Smith decided to move to the Utah Territory. Smith was encouraged to free his slaves before his journey to Utah, in accordance with Mormon practice, but he declined. On his trip from Mississippi to the Utah Territory, he brought his personal property, including his slaves and household. The trip was a very difficult 2,000-mile journey.

Mormon Trek

Biddy had a plethora of responsibilities on the journey. The cattle they brought with them were herded by Biddy. When not herding cattle, she was to fix meals, perform any nursing necessary, and act as a midwife when needed. On top of all that, Biddy had three children - all daughters - that she provided for.

Brigham Young had started another Mormon community in San Bernardino, California in 1851. Smith decided to move from Utah and join a caravan of 150 wagons. What Smith probably had not realized is California had become a state in 1850, and it was a free state. Possibly, he may have learned that most slave holders in California usually were left alone and not challenged for breaking the law. Regardless, all members of the Smith entourage moved.

California & Freedom

After arriving in California, Biddy's daughter, Ellen, dated a free black man who was well aware of the rights of African Americans. The son of a successful businessman, Charles Owens assisted Biddy when she petitioned for her freedom to a California court. Earlier, Owens' father had notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff that Smith was keeping slaves illegally. Smith attempted to escape to Texas. The sheriff formed a posse, including Charles Owens, and captured Smith. In 1856, Biddy, along with her daughters, were granted their freedom.

Biddy chose Mason for her new last name after a Mormon apostle. Her family moved in with the Owens family in Los Angeles. Their family lived on a ranch and kindly opened their home. Biddy's skills as a midwife paid off. Hundreds of births regardless of race or social class were supervised by Biddy. Her daughter, Ellen, married Charles Owens.

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