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She asked for an annual pension for herself and her invalid daughter, Prine, to be paid from the estate of their former owner, Isaac Royall.
Royall had been one of the largest slave owners in the colony before he had fled to England in 1775.
The executor of the Royall estate ignored further state demands to pay her in 17, after which Belinda disappears from the record.
But the impassioned petition she submitted—which told of her childhood in Africa, her kidnapping, the shock of forced servitude in a foreign land, and the decades of abuse she experienced—lived on, spread by the Quaker anti-slavery network.
Moore and a team of researchers have uncovered these and other, often overlooked pieces of California’s past after months of digging through the archives of museums, historical societies and libraries across the state.
America's lost story “We believe this is one of America’s lost stories,” said Guy Washington, regional coordinator for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom project, who has worked closely with Moore.
Because he turned out to be a royalist, his estate was confiscated and his two dozen slaves were manumitted (there’s some speculation as to whether some were sold, including Belinda’s son Joseph).
Belinda was a slave under Royall for four decades and was old and penniless when she finally gained her freedom.
California’s first constitution, adopted in 1849, dictated that: “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State.” A year later, under the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a free state.To capture the physicality of slavery, Chiwetel Ejiofor, star of 12 Years a Slave, says he asked his fellow actors to hit him during certain scenes.Despite the violence and psychological torture, Chiwetel describes this movie as a love story.Californians like to think of their state as a freewheeling, tolerant place, one that entered the Union back in 1850 unbesmirched by the stain of slavery.But Joe Moore says there’s just one problem with that sunny vision of the past — it isn’t true.
“The story that’s being told is the diversity and richness and the determination of a small community in the 19th century,” said Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, a history professor at Sacramento State who is supervising student researchers and is married to Joe Moore.