The board of supervisors recently approved the historical landmark designation of the former Kentucky Ridge Mine, located here in district 4 on Lone Lobo Trail.
The Kentucky Ridge Mine – which likely spanned over a hundred acres on the southern downslope of Kentucky Ridge leading down to Deer Creek – was founded by Colonel William F. English (1807-1852), a former elected official, militia member and plantation owner from Florida. In late 1849, English commissioned the construction of a steamship in Philadelphia, the Commodore Stockton, to transport himself, other Southern planters and their enslaved workforce to California to mine for gold. He brought between 30 and 45 slaves, including women and children. At least four of his workers came with the understanding that they would work for 18 months in exchange for their freedom.
They began mining the site in 1851. By numerous accounts, the mine was not efficiently run and was operated with crude methods and tools. On August 27, 1852, English was killed in a gun accident, resulting in his mining company’s dissolution.
Some of the former workers stayed on the site to mine for themselves, but many of them migrated down to Grass Valley and settled in the Boston Ravine area. Many of the former slaves went on to become active members of the community, practicing trades and raising families. The husband of one of the former enslaved workers, Isaac Sanks, also a freed Black man, became a religious leader, businessman and newspaper reporter who helped Black Americans gain the right to serve on juries and the right to vote by 1870. He is believed to be the first Black man to run for public office in California when he ran for Grass Valley town trustee in 1870.
This historical landmark designation will help to raise awareness that this business venture relied on an enslaved workforce, as well as the fact many slaves in California had to purchase their freedom. Colonel English was one of over a dozen slave owners in Nevada County at that time. Admirably, these enslaved people later became free, respected and trusted members of our early communities.
The Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission, which researched and brought this designation before the board, created a wonderful video of the dedication ceremony for this site.