Several years ago, I took our younger three kids on a field trip to Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered. We took a picnic lunch and went through the museum and historic buildings. Many of the places we stopped had tri-fold pamphlets, explaining the artifacts and the history of the building. By the end of the afternoon, we had learned a lot. One simple, white painted, clapboard building caught my attention because of the story behind it. The Monroe House. According to the brochure, Peter and Nancy had been brought to California as slaves in 1849. Their young son was left behind after being sold. In 1850, California was admitted into the union as a freed state. Peter and Nancy were freed, but their son was still a slave in Missouri. Nancy began to work toward buying her son’s freedom.
We learned that twenty-one years after they were separated, Nancy was reunited with her son, Andrew, whom she never thought she would see again. It was a beautiful story of a mother’s love that persevered beyond the greed of gold.
The following year, the kids and I made another trip to Coloma. I went into the bookstore and inquired about more information on the Monroe-Gooch family. The museum clerk walked to the end of a table and brought out the same small pamphlet I had picked up the year before.
“Is that all you have?” I stammered. “Here is a story of human endurance despite adversity and all you have is a trifold piece of paper?”
“I agree,” a man in time period clothing spoke up. “I am the docent for the Pearly Monroe house, he was Miss Nancy’s grandson. Someone needs to write their story.”
“Well,” I looked into his weather worn face and graying beard. “I am a writer, but I only write articles.”
I turned, empty handed, to leave. The man in the thick blacksmith apron followed me toward my car, where my kids and a friend were waiting.
“Look,” he spoke up. “There are no living relatives, and this story needs to be passed down. If you will write it, I will get you into the archive library and give you access to all the information I have collected over the years.”
No!…was my first thought. But the story tucked itself deeper within my heart. Miss Nancy and I were so different ~from the color of our skin to the time period we were born in, yet there was something that drew me to her story and simple legacy she passed to her children and grandchildren
The docent from the Monroe house was right. The story needed to be told and her memory honored. So my research began.
I hope you enjoy reading The Adventures of a Boy Named Pearly Monroe as much as I enjoyed writing it.
William Gooch was consumed with the prospect of gold. The journey from the flat plains of Missouri over the rugged Sierra Mountains was treacherous. They would leave for California at dawn’s first glow. He watched his slaves, Peter and Nancy, load the wagon with needed supplies. There was only one more thing William needed to take care of before they joined the wagon train. In the morning, he would inform Peter and Nancy he had sold their three-year-old son to pay the wagon master’s fee.
Twenty-two years later, Miss Nancy paced the worn wooden planks outside the depot. She shaded her eyes, searching the horizon. Trains never ran on time, but she hoped this day would be an exception. She reached into her front pocket and fingered the edges of a folded telegraph…
~to be continued…next week~