Black History Month: The culinary legacy of Mary Ellen Pleasant, abolitionist and chef | Food


After the failure of Brown’s campaign, Pleasant focused on California and fought pro-South sentiment through various means, which included destroying the office of The Expositor, a pro-Confederate newspaper.

In 1866 and 1868, Pleasant successfully sued San Francisco streetcar companies for not allowing her to ride on their vehicles.

Concurrently, Pleasant managed the households of San Francisco’s rich and famous, orchestrating lavish parties, “where the mirrors reflected the greatest people of the period,” according to Holdredge.

Pleasant’s affinity for lawsuits eventually became her downfall, creating suspicions and damaging rumors as well as depleting her finances. Impoverished and near death, Pleasant was cared for by a friend with Napa ties, Olive Sherwood. Following Pleasant’s death on Jan. 4, 1904 at the age of 89, she was buried in the Sherwood plot at Tulocay…

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