“Mammy Pleasant”: The Reinterpret Helen-Holdredge Site

Standard

Why give this peculiar slogan to a website? What’s so bad about Helen Holdredge?

To this day, Helen Holdredge remains Mary Ellen Pleasant’s most accessible biographer, though also, its most flawed. I hope this changes, but I am tired of waiting and have lots of posts built up inside as I while away the time until someone publishes a thoroughly researched biography. She deserves such a complete treatment if for no other reason than to peel away the bias and acrimony of Helen Holdredge’s work.

Meanwhile, Holdredge’s tomes, Mammy Pleasant and Mammy Pleasant’s Partner have so many little tidbits tossed into the great salad of the books, that I find myself returning to them the most often to get names and places. One must wade through puddles of mud and streams of slander to access these tidbits. One must avoid the adjectives and the adverbs, for in them lies HH’s basic bias against MEP.

Holdredge was, in fact a very opinionated person. She was an incipient Kitty Kelly, ever eager to interview biased sources and sources with other agendas involved in their testimony about Mary. she missed many chances to independently research material on MEP’s work on the UGRR back east, before she came to San Francisco. Perhaps, if she had, she may have had to alter some of her opinions- but no matter, she did not ever elaborate on any aspect of MEP’s humanitarian work.Though she had to slur some references in sideways, they were just stepping stones to impugn another murder or scandal to MEP’s first 35 years.

Holdredge used certain sources the most, though she always clouds which source she got what story from. these sources included primarily Teresa Bell’s diaries, which HH inherited. These diaries, were a record of the inner working of a strange mind in a strange family in the Gold Rush era of San Francisco and the decades that followed up to the turn of the 20th century, when Mary Ellen died. These diaries were paranoid, twisted, on the spot made up rattlings of a person trying to wrest a fortune from its most entitled person, Mary Ellen Pleasant, who was Thomas Bell’s partner and his guide during the growth of his fortune. Teresa both created and copied the gossip and stories in her diary and tried to throw everything she could as an accusation against her rival for the cash. HH swallowed Teresa Bell’s motives as gospel and copied Teresa’s tone into her book.

Her second source was a recreation of a so-called autobiography dictated to her by an 88 year old source who became an ally of Teresa Bell’s slant on MEP. Her uncle had been one of MEP’s most trusted stewards until he turned against her, for his own profit,  in 1899. This woman, Charlotte Dennis Downs, claimed that MEP had dictated memoirs to her and she had written them down- perhaps from 1880 to 1886- if it ever happened. Because the original dictations were lost, HH and CDD recreated them for HH’s book about 50 years after the original dictation.

He other main source was the press from 1880-1904 when MEP died. She had spent the final 25 years of her life being tabloided. One article in particular was written by CDD’s uncle James E Brown and published in the SF Chronicle in 1899. Called, “Queen of the Voodoos”, it was J Brown’s inside story of MEP as an evil practitioner of voodoo and of all the excesses that position had led her to embrace. At that time, the taint of voodoo completely outweighed her long time membership in a local black church.

Helen H a San Franciscan and like many of the era from the 1930’s-50’s loved to gossip about the foibles of the city’s early founders. And no story had more sensation value than the story of the old black sorceress, Mammy Pleasant and her evil grip on the City in the early days.

The alternate story, that MEP was a heroic member of the UGRR, gave many ex slave families new starts where ever she lived, but esp in SF, that she even went to court on behalf of those who needed it, but couldn’t afford it. The first desegregation order on the trolley was on behalf of someone else, but the second time she took the trolley company to court to let blacks ride the trolley, did stick, and is still cited as legal precedent 140 years later. This heroic image did not really have legs with Holdredge and her sycophant/informants. Not when all that gossip about a 70 year old woman could be cited, instead.

There could have been hundreds of stories coming from families she had helped and from property records. As it is only a few stories are known, and that because the people who figured in them were too well known a part of MEP’s life to exclude them. As for instance the livery stable she helped a Mr Dennis and a Mr Brown found in return for carriage service at her beck and call for decades. Mr Dennis was Charlotte Dennis Downs’ father and due to a marriage with a Dennis, James E Brown the younger was Charlotte’s uncle. this same James E was the head steward at 1661 Octavia, Mep’s right hand man, but when Mary was kicked out of the home, Brown elected to stay in Teresa Bell’s employ and turn against MEP as the price. And turn against her, he did with his Queen of the Voodoos article.

If you were remove the gossip from HH’s account, only a slim volume would be left. Nevertheless, there is more context in Holdredge’s book than in the other major books about her. Many names are named in Holdredge’s work which leave more clues then the 21 century works which are friendlier to MEP.

Published Resources on Mary Ellen Pleasant

Standard

While there are more unpublished resources on MEP than published, here is a list of books and articles you can access today.

“Mammy Pleasant” Helen Holdredge Putnam 1953

I hate this book. However, it has more information in it than any other work out on Pleasant. If you can possibly not be influenced by the tone and the adjectives and adverbs, you can tease out a timeline that is pretty good after 1840. All the names and characters that surrounded MEP are in this book, though I wish someone had ripped the author’s fingernails out for the biased and salacious tone of this tome.

When I first became a passionate learner about Mary Ellen Pleasant, in 1986, this was the only book available. Even though the book and the scholarship are awful, I have to keep returning to it.

The Making of Mammy Pleasant: A Black Entrepreneur In 19th Century San Francisco. Lynn Hudson U of Illinois Press 2002

This book has a pretty organized bibliography and lots of footnotes, but does no new research. It is an interpretive work discussing the remarkable Mary Ellen Pleasant as a (black) business woman of her day and time. This is an important aspect of her life. It reads like a PhD thesis and is not meant to be comprehensive. However, just having some of the information arranged in a different way and order from Holdredge is a nice variation, though she continues to exploit the epithet Mammy. Believe me, MEP was no Mammy!

Hughes is a history teacher and I was surprised to see a photo of her, she is very fair, blond with blue eyes. I would have expected at least other one person with some African ancestry to be researching her by now- in addition to Bibbs- because there atleast a few more PhD’s in studies of MEP and her world.

Heritage of Power: (Marie LaVeaux to Mary Ellen Pleasant) — Enlarged edition by Susheel Bibbs (Aug 10, 2012)

This book, the first effort by Bibbs to be picked up by a national distributor, focuses on Mary Ellen Pleasant as a practitioner of Voodoo and how Marie Laveau’s model of political voodoo, was used very successfully by MEP for decades in San Francisco.

Bibbs also has some G rated booklets and pamphlets available only through her web site focused on MEP’s works that had an impact on civil rights in California, in both the 19th and 20th centuries. http://www.mepleasant.com/story.html With Heritage of Power, she places MEP into the framework of African religion, in general and Voodoo (now called Vodoun) in particular.

I believe Bibbs was originally an opera singer looking for a black woman she could portray on stage as a way to make a living reving Chuatuaquas, as she put it. She happened upon MEP in 1991 and within a few years, had produced a one man show with the help of  the Humanities Council of CA. She has since taken this show anywhere she could and put it on a DVD which is also available.

She claims to be the foremost scholar on MEP and probably is, because there is no one else researching her. She also says she has the largest collection of materials on MEP, although what she has in print so far, seems meager. Bibbs apparently only came to collecting these material as a result of  desiring to make  the one woman show. Not to actually do a biography. She is not an academically trained historian and does not follow the strictest rules of citing sources for her claims, although she is hella better than Holdredge was at it! All her degrees are in media of various kinds, so I wonder if she will ever produce a factual print history of MEP based on all the research she has done and all the collections she has looked at. She spends a lot of time researching other black performers, and although her work is the best available so far, on MEP, it is far from complete. If I had all the sources Bibbs does, I would be working on a comprehensive biography of MEP. As it is, the sources on this page are all that is available to me, except for other sources derived from these, so I do the best I can to understand MEP from the sources available.

http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist10/mammy.html. This otherwise very lurid source has a photo of Sarah Hill (Sharon?), the lass who started the chain of events that brought Pleasant down.

I’ll be adding to this list if I can find anything that has something new, ie the photo of Sarah in above source, as bad as the source is.

In addition to the information that has reached books and magazine articles, there are various private collections with material relating to Pleasant. The MEP collection in the SF library is probably the most accessible- to people who can get to SF.

Other collection owners in attempts to maximize the dollar value of their collections, will not share them publicly. They will, allow people to look at them by appointment, but the rules about sharing their information are strict and narrow. Since none of them has accurate information about her true birthplace, they are not central to a study of her, I think most of the facts are out and these collections are supplemental and/or corroborative to what is known.

A Review of the Birth Evidence for Mary Ellen Pleasant in, “Heritage of Power” by Susheel Bibbs

Standard

http://www.amazon.com/Heritage-Power-LaVeaux-Pleasant-Enlarged/dp/1475285779/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347654108&sr=8-1&keywords=heritage+of+power++susheel+Bibbs

If my references to events in Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life confuse you, read the brief bio I have of her in another post.  https://maryellenpleasant.wordpress.com/2006/08/19/144/

Note: I use the term  Voodoo for practices now known as Vodun or Vodoun as that is the word used in all this material. If you are interested in a holistic approach to the subject, this book would be a fine way to begin.

One of the few books on MEP that I think is worth anything is “Heritage of Power” by Susheel Bibbs (SB). If you are looking up Mary Ellen Pleasant, buy it.  I have the first edition and a kindle edition of her 2011 updates. Bibbs is using Charlotte Dennis Downs’ (CDD)  re-creation of a memoir she said Mary Ellen Pleasant (MEP) dictated to her in the 1880’s. Why a recreation? Downs said she lost the actual memoirs, so Helen Holdredge (HH) had Downs remember as much as she could as she took it all down.

I have several problems with this re-created memoir. First, Downs was 88 years old when Holdredge came along to jog her memory of 50 year old events. (I am only in my 70’s and can barely recall a single biography of the Haight Ashbury complete with all the names, even my husband’s,  although I was there and I have an extremely good memory for stories.)

Second, HH had a strong bias against MEP, as seen on every page of her creepy book, “Mammy Pleasant”.

Third, Downs also has a clear bias. I say this for two reasons. Because in 1899, her uncle who was MEP’s steward and loyal employee -practically since he arrived in SF 40 or so years before- turned against MEP and chose Teresa Bell’s side when TBell kicked Mary Ellen out of 1661 Octavia in April, 1899. He subsequently authored or dictated a really nasty takedown of MEP that was featured in the SF Chronicle in July 1899 in which he revealed that she was “Queen of the Voodoos” and engaged in many evil deeds as such.  Downs’ recollections, in fact, support her uncle’s view of MEP- at least as notated by Helen Holdredge.

I am very suspicious of the accuracy of anything HH says unless it is confirmed by other sources and I do think that she had ample opportunity to make sure Downs’ reports were spun to her own satisfaction. The book was not published until 1952 and Downs was long gone. So if Holdredge slanted her notes, Downs would not have even known, but she may have even approved, anyway. I just think it was a very unreliable duo that re-created Mary’s autobiography; neither liked MEP at all and I think HH was completely lacking in integrity in the ways she twisted almost every story she repeated about MEP.

So, low and behold, Bibbs uses the story of MEP’s birth on a GA plantation, straight out of Downs’ version. This story has a lot of problems, on its own. It claims she was the daughter of John Hampden Pleasants, owner of Contention plantation in Goochland county, and a son of a VA governor. Although she was apparently conceived at Contention, her mother was sold off to a plantation in GA where MEP was born, though no one can recall which plantation, nor its owner’s name, nor what MEP’s mother name was. Still this story sounds like many others of the time and it makes sense, up to a point.

Where this version of the story gets weird is after her mother is sent away and or killed for practicing African religion. This story  goes on to say the very night her mother disappeared or was killed,   the overseer died, clutching his throat as a result of the dead mother’s voodoo spell (cast after the death?). Then there was something about the slaves of the plantation watching 8 year old Mary perform a voodoo ceremony. This part of the story is absurd, to say the least, but it gets worse.

Shortly after the loss of her mother, Mary is loitering by a road when Americus Price, a Missouri planter rode by on horseback and struck up a conversation with Mary, (or she with him) shortly after which he bought her and transported her to New Orleans (NOLA) presumably on his horse? Upon arriving in NOLA, he had Mary entered in the Ursuline Convent to earn to read write and do sums.

OK stop right here and let’s see how Bibbs describes this sequence of events. Well, she accepts the first part completely up to MEP’s unnamed mother’s death. It is a reasonable story for the time. However, Bibbs totally ignores the supposed Voodoo involved in the mothers death or the ceremony in the field.

It is probably best to ignore it because it makes no sense. In fact it casts shadows on the veracity of the entire story. No child performed Voodoo ceremonies with other slaves watching. If this anecdote is not in the Downs dictations, then HH may have called on the article by Charlotte’s uncle which painted her as a Voodoo queen. She may have added it to paint Mary as a “Bad Seed”. (Remember, another scandalous read of the 1950’s was the “Bad Seed”, the story of a child serial murderer.)

Also the story of a Missouri planter, who is named, the only name in this account besides the father’s, so far, is pretty thin. Even Bibbs says in print, that it might not be true, but she does mention it, at least -unlike the Voodoo stories. Why would a slave holder from Missouri complete the very strange sequence of events that is next described? First, one of them initiates a conversation with the other. I think this is as improbable as the Voodoo story. Then after a short but very satisfying conversation, he marches up to the unnamed plantation house and buys her. Then he takes her to NOLA, not back to his plantation. He enrolled her in a very prestigious convent school for a year that was not known to take slaves in.

Then, he goes home to MO. Or doesn’t go home. Either way, it is silly. Then he comes back and removes her from the convent so he won’t get in trouble for educating a slave. This is really absurd. He owned her. He could have freed her when he enrolled her. She was light and could possibly have been groomed for quadroon balls and/or a placage marriage. But, he comes back and gets her and the tortuous journey continues. She rides with Price part way up the Mississippi river, then she keeps going up the river and lands in Cincinnati Ohio where she becomes a bond servant.

OK, Was she freed, or not? If she was, the whole ‘fleeing the fugitive slave law’ thing later in her life is stupid. By then she had accumulated plenty of evidence that she was free and had been for a long, long time.

At this point I have long passed the place where I think one shred of this story is true. Why should any of it be true? How can someone accept the born on a GA plantation version as true when there are no names named- even though she named her supposed father’s plantation from before she was born! She skips naming the one where she was born or her mother’s name. Or the actual town near the plantation. The next name is Americus Price. That one must have been pulled out of whole cloth. If it can’t be substantiated, it must be rejected while more proof is looked for. My guess is the re-creator of the autobiography, Downs, remembered there was an involvement with Contention, but it was MEP’s, husband who came from there, making this story a type of confabulation by people who could not recall the actual facts, like where she actually was born and what her mother’s name was.

The next name is supposedly the man she was “bounded out” to, Louis Alexander Williams or maybe Lewis Williams. No one has yet found any census record or property record  in Cincinnati with a name like that, let alone any record of his household.

The story continues that LAW did not like her and she was defiant to him, so he bounded her out to Granma Hussey in Nantucket. There is no clue how this guy would either receive MEP or take her to Nantucket to bondage. This whole story is full of holes.

Bibbs doubted the planter passing by story, then she skips every other detail of the journey until MEP arrives in Nantucket.

Bibbs points out that no matter what version of her life story she told, she gets to Nantucket by age 6-10, or so. From Nantucket on, a lot of what MEP did is verifiable and the names of the Hussey family who became her “family” are verifiable. She remained dearest friends with her “adopted sister” Phoebe Hussey (Gardner) until Phoebe’s death 50 years later.

The real problem with “Heritage of Power” for me is that Bibbs believes MEP was born in GA to a Voodoo priestess and somehow got to Nantucket by age 10. I think she likes and uses this version of MEP’s birth because it supposes a Voodoo Priestess mother and Bibbs has a bias for MEP being a lifelong member of a Voodoo family.

In the Kindle edition of Heritage of Power, there is a very large detour while Bibbs takes you on a whirlwind tour of African religion. It is extremely well done, so much information packed into every sentence, that it is as good as a Cliff Notes take on African Religion. The slave in Georgia version is very compatible with a Voodoo background. Unlike the other versions of her life, this plunges her in a full experiential lifestyle influenced by Voodoo, not to mention the “up from slavery” scenario.

Nevertheless the lack of substantiation of the ‘born in GA’ claim beyond the highly suspect Holdredge transcribed Downs interview disturbed me enough to contact Bibbs. I let her know that I was entertaining a “Born in Nantucket” version of MEP’s birth because not a shred of the “born in GA” story was verified. Bibbs insisted she had good reason to pick that version and that some new evidence might be forthcoming. She told me there was an even newer edition of HOP for sale, update August 10, 2012, barely a month ago. I was able to determine that no, it did not have any indication of documentation for the “born in GA” version.

When I questioned Bibbs about that, she got quite formal and closed, but said she had determined through her massive research (and it really has been massive) that the “Born in GA” story was the most accurate. She said she had oodles and oodles of documentation from every stage of MEP’s life and perhaps she would reveal it in a future book. But she did not admit she has a shred of evidence for the “Born in GA” hypothesis that she may be withholding until her next book. If she had it, then surely mentioning the born in Ga version should have been reference, because, so far it is completely undocumented and may be a fantasy- whether MEP’s, Downs’, Brown’s or Holdredge’s. This is an egregious error in what is supposed to be a factual story.

She apparently wants her readers to believe that story, on no more evidence than Charlotte Downs’ re-created say so. (wouldn’t you call that hearsay at the least?) Primary evidence is the stuff Pleasant wrote herself. What others wrote down at her dictation is secondary evidence. And a recreation of a secondary reference 50 years later? What is that called? Hearsay, maybe, if you are being nice-or in a courtroom. Otherwise, it is nothing more than gossip.

Whatever, MEP’s birth remains an entirely unreferenced claim that Bibbs used, anyway. Why? Is it the claim upon which Bibbs wants to build MEP’s entire Voodoo foundation?  I told her if she had a reference, it was important to use it, as all those statements have no references, whatsoever. No thesis committee would pass on that story; if there wasn’t backup evidence, however feeble, she’d have to leave it out.

But, if she left that out; she would have had to start with Nantucket.

I was quite surprised she had updated a new version of HoP in August of 2012 barely a month before this post, and had not added any confirming evidence she may have uncovered.  I upset her a bit by accusing her of being constipated with her references- LOL. That is, holding back information when it would add credibility to her work.

It may even be intellectually dishonest to hold to a story she can’t and won’t document- if she has any such documentation, but holds it back for another book.

She very kindly continued the conversation although she was extremely upset. She named many sources she had contacted in Nantucket and environs and said there was no chance that MEP was born on Nantucket- and furthermore, it would have been impossible for MEP to get any grounding in African religion on Nantucket.

I told her not to look for Mary Ellen, but for her mother. If they even have records of births and deaths of residents of New Guinea- they might not.

Frankly, I do not think Bibbs ever considered that possibility, let alone ruled it out. I tried to weasel some references to types of documents that she might provide in proving or disproving some MEP’s actual birthplace and met a stone wall.

So, until she reveals her sources for some kind of birth in Georgia and way to show up in Nantucket, I will continue to entertain the idea that MEP is no less provable for being born on Nantucket -or to a relative off Nantucket- than in GA.

I look forward to eating my words, if Bibbs, or anyone else, produces some believable documentation.

So, I think until Bibbs has the research to make the claim, she may be wrong to look only in GA. I must repeat that the supposed documentor, MEP, could recite her father’s name and plantation, though she left it in utero, and could not name her birthplace and mother though she lived there until she was eight or so- or perhaps Downs was not all that good at recalling accurately………

But, I do not have anything invested in MEP being a hereditary Voodoo princess. I think she could have learned a great deal from her mother, no matter where she was born or where her mother was located.

Bibbs may be the world’s foremost MEP scholar, but she is not referencing her work  in the birth section, properly- especially if she has supporting evidence other than Charlotte Downs via Helen Holdredge.

This holds only to using the birth story. As time goes by, her references are adequate except she does not mention Downs’ probable bias and Holdredge’s extreme bias and what that spin could have done with Downs’ recollections.

Since Bibbs references Downs’ version and not Emma Kaiser’s for instance, I infer no other dictated memoirs have that version. I know the ones from the turn of the century do not have that version of her birth, though it is apparent that MEP is still confabulating about the story. because the newest versions have been proven to be incorrect.

Since I am trained at a Master’s level in doing case histories and psychological autopsies, I will spend some time trying to sort through Mary’s confabulations for clues to her birth circumstances.

According to my training in anthropology, I will endeavor to flesh out the cultural context of New Guinea, both with and vs the dominant Quaker culture of Nantucket, from 1810-1840 and try to find a place for Mary Ellen Pleasant to be born and/or grow up in as likely as the born in GA scenario.

I would not have to pursue this, if Bibbs had given any sources more reliable than something filtered from Downs to Holdredge, then refused to put the proper evidence of a birth in GA into her latest revision of this good book.

But frankly, as long as there is no definite confirmation for any birth story, my version is the most simple and most logical. It does not take the house of cards Downs presented to make sense. And I will endeavor to present a logical alternative to the ‘born in GA’ birth in future posts.

I plan to tease  out  a hypothetical scenario by little clues and a viewpoint that tests the ‘born in GA’ hypothesis by describing the life and values of two groups on Nantucket, the Quakers and the residents of New Guinea, that could have given rise to the MEP we all want to know- as well as the emotional consequences of  the unfortunate happenings that obscure her true legacy to history.

I am not a primary researcher. I am an interpreter and analyst of the sources available to me, including, but not limited to, Holdredge, Bibbs, Hughes, and various periodical articles. I have done a lot of case histories and psychiatric evaluations on evidence less rich than this story. I have a bias to make Mary Ellen a person of her times who did what she had to do to achieve the ends she most cared about.

I respect that she began to fail approximately around her 70th year and did things that brought no credit to her previous achievements. Things that actually obscured her finest achievements.  She who had always made the best choice in the situation, who had worked so unselfishly, who continually gave new starts to people she didn’t require payback to the last farthing of her investment, let alone interest on same. She was a true trickle down benefactor, who lost perspective, who may have acted out of previous habit more than serious analysis of the present, when she got old.

I forgive her foibles of her old age, even as I celebrate her life.

Tending Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Grave…

Standard

I get so frustrated, because the people  who are tending MEP’s grave (I mean this metaphorically) want to chop her up into pieces and act like that piece is the whole package. Pieces that won’t offend schoolchildren, so a Humanities Council will provide grants, I suppose.That is the “Civil Rights Piece” about her.

That is good stuff and really suitable for children, but care must be taken not to mention her later life- probably anything after 1775  when she and Bell were at their financial peak with a $30,000,000 fortune. The war was over, the UGRR was over, the civil rights cases were over, a lot of people were prospering and SF was growing exponentially with most of the newcomers not aware of MEP’s former role and status.

Another side that is treated separately, is her non-Western religion. Or specifically, what did her probable knowledge/practice of Voodoo consist of? This one is socially acceptable now, something that was not true back then. Her involvement in an African religion puts her in a long tradition of female practitioners and may be the most inspirational part of her life for many.This aspect is the one emphasized in another line of research.

Her childhood is still a mystery at this time and there is a line of research on that, too. The current sources are all unsubstantiated by any research published so far. Everyone who received a version of her birth in a dictation or an interview of her life before Nantucket recites it  in their published article as the true version, thus the conflicting stories of that period of time make her out to be person who changes her story according to her audience, confabulates, prevaricates or might just be a plain old liar. These conflicting stories make for interesting speculation of her motive to obscure the facts of her life before Nantucket at least 3 times. It points to something she wanted to keep secret, perhaps. Or maybe it was just a dissolving spine taking the way that might ease the moment more.

Or maybe she wanted to improve her authenticity as a lot of fortune tellers or psychics do, when they concoct long genealogies in their specialty, designed to impress, or to fool, or to divert.” I am the 7th son of the 7th son of the Rainbow, and thus, I have some special rainbow magic-and you don’t, so you must come to me and give me something of value in exchange for my wisdom, which will bring you great love, luck and happiness”. Or a variation on that theme.

The biggest contradiction is, was she born slave or born free? Why change the story? Why say one thing in one context and another in another? Is there an imperative reason or excuse for that? This aspect of her path through life is of interest to me. If she was born a slave, then claiming she was born free was the lie. If she was born free, then saying she was a slave was the lie. If the born a slave story is true, why didn’t she stick to it? Or was it her St Peter moment of betrayal? Or was it the Dennis/Brown version  confabulated from JJ Pleasant’s background?

Lastly, she had a tragic side that is definitely R rated. Life went on after the war. MEP no less than many others with vast resources available to her, decided to build a mansion second to none in the city. One that would proclaim her position in town. It was on top of a hill, but very near downtown where her main business was. She was primed for equality in every way, as a woman and as a business woman and been that way since she first arrived 40 odd years ago. Without a second thought, her whole life had already claimed that equality. Achieving success and equality early and often, she thought it was fair and inevitable. That wouldn’t change. She didn’t look twice at the cumulus clouds, gathering.

And, she used the courts when something wasn’t equitable and fair. In the early years after the war, she won her cases, especially the civil rights cases. She usually filed cases on behalf of others, as was the case  in her first suit against a trolley company. But that case didn’t stick so she who had never taken a trolley for her own needs, because she had carriages at her disposal, went and got on the trolley and promptly got thrown off. This time the case she brought on her own behalf, stuck, thus earning her belated title of Mother of Human Rights in CA 100 years later.

Now here is another side that has not been explored- it has been ignored. By the time she started building that mansion, something had changed for her. She seemed to lose a sense of perspective.Something emerged, a deep felt desire to live in a place as lavish as any planter ever had, or equal to the other people with self made fortunes in town? Whatever her motive was, that was what she was acting out.

The mansion had 30 rooms. This could have been the be all and end all of boarding houses in SF, where her tables were the finest, her service the most expert, her quarters the most luxurious! This big, lavish boarding house was probably some long-held fantasy coming true, just because she liked to make her visions come true and had succeeded much of the time. But the times had changed and boarding houses were hardly needed anymore, so, this became her domicile with Thomas Bell her sole boarder.

She had a chance to shop and furnish her mansion, just as many other very rich women of the time did. She did an overblown job, proving that she had truly mastered a sense of the style and decoration of the time. And holy cow, it was most unquakerlike! But it was what she must have wanted and it really mattered to her how lavish it was. Even as she had no need for any of it and trying to fill it up with people led her down a path that eventually finished her destruction and removed her fortune right out of her hands, into the hands of her most loyal follower, the fake widow, Teresa Bell (TBell)

Driven by ideas beyond my comprehension, MEP put together a fake family and brought in a beautiful woman she thought would be loyal to her forever, to play the fake mistress to the Boarder in Chief and also be the fake children’s nanny. No, the children were not fake, but they were brought in under the phony notion that Thomas Bell was their illegitimate father. They were actually children M had been asked to rehome in a forever home. So she brought the first batch of siblings home to the almost empty mansion, prepared to bring them up in luxury and with every advantage. From what is known about them later, the only thing they were missing was a true sense of belonging and never had anyone who loved them above all things and reined them in properly. They were raised in a stiff and starchy way with no deeper values than clothes, money, and carriages. Unfortunately the children must not have received any boundaries or learned self-discipline and began acting out at very young ages. The Victorian attitudes of the moment only rejected the behaviors with fear and loathing. They were unmentionable, the shame was so great.

Rearing children with no sense of attachment is almost a crime and shows MEP was starting to lose her sense. Not all her money and fame could give her a real family and the children paid for it the most. Her judgement must have been impaired to try to put that idea together.

Unfortunately, there is nothing unusual about being a hero in your work and neglecting to meet your kid’s real needs. In this case, it was as though someone brought home some pet kids and figured all you had to do was feed and clothe them and they would be grateful forever. Teresa even told them so, when they started acting out. They were spoiled in the literal sense of the word and had never came close to loving Teresa, nor she them. They were devoid of gratitude, because they didn’t have what children want most, they had nothing to be grateful for they were in an emotionally devoid orphanage.

This probably would not have mattered if MEP hadn’t made some misjudgments, the first of which was that this was not the old San Francisco where pedigrees did not matter. She had the wrong pedigree. She would never be accepted as an equal in post war racist SF society and neither would her protege, so the home and everyone in it, except its principal boarder, Thomas Bell, were snubbed by the matrons recently shipped in from the East. Bell was simply too rich for rivals to want to cross him and he had cronies who were still making money with him. No one cared where he lived.

Maybe M didn’t realize that she was actually less of an equal than before the war, when SF was wild and wooly. She was 70 and  and rich. She must have thought everything was set in cement, because she was no longer astute enough to read the currents of this new time.

History may never have even known about the unhappy facade going on in this house, had it not become public in the courts of the day, as a result of another bad judgement call. M was so used to having her way, that when one of her proteges had a problem with a man who supposedly said he would marry her (when his divorce was final), to get her as a mistress. He did get her, then tired of her and threw her out. She and M were outraged and decided to take on the man who had ruined Ralston, an old time SF man M really liked. That is another story, but M and her protege did not stop to think about what they were doing, what the possible repercussions were and what if it turned out badly? M was sticking her neck way out to fund this protege’s very public, very messy, trial that dragged on for years because William Sharon could afford to fight it.

Not only could he afford to fight the case, he paid newspapers to write articles to undermine M’s credibility. The result was a public slaughter of this 70 year old gran dame in order to disrupt the court proceedings with kilos of red herrings. Perjury was rampant on the stand and vilification kept on and on and on, outside of the court room. The “peculiar circumstances” of the fake family were revealed, to the public’s disgust and the children’s detriment. Then, the press got a hold of rumors of Voodoo and that M was a Voodoo Priestess, and racist white peoples’ worst fears were titillated beyond anything they could have dreamed.They couldn’t get enough of it and that Voodoo theme was good in the presses until the day she died. Actually long after she died. Her very grave (metaphor!) was covered with a miasma of rot that the press invented on behalf of Sharon’s money and influence, that stuck around clinging to the ground for decades.

Sharon’s people paid well for gossip and collected it all and organized it into devastating briefs. He paid others to perjure themselves about the protege’s activities and claimed she had visited a series of fortune tellers who then recited absurd things about the plaintiff.

It was a maelstrom worse than anything M had ever faced and it was primarily directed to her for funding the case and appearing in the courtroom, and even testifying. It was an absolute avalanche with no other purpose than to destroy M’s reputation.

And it did.

Mary Ellen Pleasant, a true hero for the ages, was smashed flatter than Ralston, except Sharon didn’t try to go after Bell’s money as he did Ralston’s. M began losing respect and support from many who had come to her in years past. That part of her life was over. She lost her practice, so to speak. The young never paid her respect anymore and the old loyalties were dying off. She could not help anyone else after this terrible miscalculation in her own life went so wrong. So she ran the household for her family, sham as it was, but she was effectively retired and no longer had any influence.

To not calculate the odds on fighting William Sharon was Mary Ellen Pleasant’s folly. Her ruination for almost a century. When most people heard about the story later, MEP was portrayed like the version of her in the newspapers. And 50 years later when HH inherited TBells’s diaries, she stirred it all up again for several more decades.

Is there a moral in all this? Heroes are human and have foibles? Why didn’t Mary Ellen see what was coming? It didn’t take having a fortune told to predict what would happen if she brought this rather weak case to court against the most powerful, best connected man in CA, at the time. Well, I don’t think she could have predicted the full depth of her ruination. I don’t know if she realized that Jim Crow was turning the tide of opportunity first found after the war. Her solid base of support had aged and they were feeble compared to these new kings of commerce.

So, what did she do next? She spent years spending money on frivolous things, while she TBell and the kids lived in a town that shunned them. When Thomas Bell died a few years later, TBell forgot her gratitude and went after the fortune. So did one of the adopted kids. They were all back in court, quibbling. It all came to nothing for M, she was kicked out of the house the spring of 1899 with a few resources, but not much, comparatively speaking. Nothing she did helped her get more of the Pleasant/Bell fortune and she faded away, in the care of a white woman who got the little she had left, in exchange for a bed and board.

When all is said and done, if she had dropped dead on her 70th birthday, her biography would be no problem; there would not have been any scandals with her involvement. She probably would have had a huge funeral and kept the place in SF’s esteem that she had earned for so many years.

Her life would have been one long testament to abolition, the UGRR, and her help to people newly arrived from slave states. She probably helped far more people than Harriet Tubman, but because of events that happened in her 70’s, her entire life story was tainted.

Where Was Mary Ellen Pleasant Born?

Standard

Mary Ellen Pleasant (MEP) gave up to three versions of her birth in various memoirs she dictated from the late 1880’s to 1902.

The most popular version, first chosen by Helen Holdredge to include in her salacious biography of MEP was supposedly dictated to Charlotte Downs between 1880 and 1886. Charlotte apparently lost it, so she recreated what she remembered in an interview with HH during the 1930’s when she was 88 years old. I will discuss her possible bias later.

The version goes like this: MEP was born a slave on a plantation in Georgia in 1817. Her mother was a slave and voodoo priestess who had been sent from VA to GA while pregnant from the plantation owner’s younger son. This plantation owner is later described as a younger son of a VA governor. The mother is carted off for practicing African Religion but not before she made a spell and the overseer dropped dead from lack of a Heimlich maneuver within minutes of her spell being cast. MEP does an impromptu voodoo ceremony soon after with other slaves watching, if not participating.

Then, she was bought by a free white man passing by her on horseback when she struck up a conversation. He was supposedly a slaveholder from Missouri, just passing by in GA.  In this version, he took MEP to New Orleans (NOLA) and put her in the Ursuline Convent to learn her letters. Then a year later, he had her removed from there. The reason given as slaves were not supposed to learn to read and write. Her benefactor died midstream, so to speak, and she somehow moved up the Mississippi river to Cincinnati, Ohio and was bonded out to Louis Alexander Williams and his wife, Ellen.

After a couple of years, Louis A Williams  took her to Nantucket in 1827 where she was bonded out to Mary Hussey, a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families on Nantucket when she was about age 10.

In another version, she was born in Philadelphia on Barley street in 1814 to Louis Alexander Williams and an unnamed wife. LAW was described as a Kanaka and his wife as a Negress from NOLA. This version is very vague about how she got to Nantucket but she does get there earlier, perhaps as early as 1820, about age 6 as this version provides a 1814 DoB. The third version may give a Virgina birthplace, but I do not know which reference that version came from.

The name Louis Alexander Williams has been researched in census records in both Cincinnati and Philadelphia, to no avail. Yet the same name is given to different people in each version of her life. There are no records in the Ursuline Convent, either. Nor that Americus Price, a Missouri slaveholder could ever be proven to have traveled around in Georgia, buying little girls about 10 years old that he passed by on the street, sent to a convent, took her out of the convent, then died before she got to Cincinnati. There are no records in GA either, but the birth area is obscure in that version.

There is some interesting overlap in the Governor’s son’s plantation, Contention, in Goochland county and her second husband’s connections. John James “JJ” Pleasants came from the same plantation that MEP’s mother was sold away from. This sounds like a confabulation about where Mep was born; at the least, it was a strange coincidence

In fact, the first time her existence can be confirmed in either version is when she arrived in Nantucket. She did say she somewhere that she remembered nothing before Nantucket, anyway- which would seem to contradict the GA, NOLA, Cincinnati, Nantucket version, and the spontaneous voodoo ceremony at age 7 or so, and, the uncomfortable relationship with LAW in that version.

Why did she vary versions of her birth? Who was the audience to which she was addressing each set of memoirs? Why the wildly different versions with an overlap of names? I hope to get to that, later.

Even in well researched books on MEP, there is nothing to support either version of her birth in spite of research in the relevant areas and in census records. In fact, the born in philadelphia story names a street that was not in exeistence when she was born. I have long hoped to see something somewhere, but MEP purposely said in one version of her memoirs, that she thought words could better be used to conceal, than reveal. In the area of her birth, this is the most true of her entire life.

Why?

Everything everyone else has written is speculation before Nantucket The slave version is tortuous, but each geographical area, from NOLA to Missouri and Ohio, is documented as one she later learned well, as an adult before the Civil War in her Underground Railroad journeys. Knowledge of  VA and West VA comes from her marriage to Smith, then to JJ Pleasants, Smith’s Plantation manager, who were both from that area and were active in the UGRR. Her vagueness about GA could be because she did not know it as well- if she ever told that version. She and her both her husbands traveled through Ohio, and many other states and into Canada, so if she muddled up some story that drew upon her adult knowledge of those areas, it seems to fit better than either version.

In any case, everything she needed to learn for her later life can be traced to Nantucket as easily as GA, including a basic knowledge of  fine furnishings and architecture, trade and entrepreneurship, African Religion and how the white and non white worlds interfaced,  the latter of which could learned in relationships and attitudes with New Guinea, or the segregated area of Nantucket where all non-white populations lived and or/socialized, together.  I think it is just as possible that MEP’s mother was from New Guinea as from GA. Whatever her DNA, MEP could and did, pass as either black or white, a theme that has been documented in all her work on the UGRR and her early days in SF before the war. A birth in New Guinea could be of any kind of ethnic mix, including varying amounts of white.

As long as no definite research is published, giving a strong argument for a GA birthplace, no one story is more confirmable than another.  And it appears that no published work  has looked for her mother in New Guinea.  If anyone kept track of births to G-town residents,  it seems that no one has looked for an girl born in August? of 1914 + or -, in G-town. If I consider both her biographies as confabulations that still retain a grain of truth, what can I wrest from each version? A mother who practiced African religion, a white father, a mother who died young, a father who didn’t like her?

To briefly turn to Helen Holdredge (HH): She inherited Teresa Bell’s diaries from her father. I am unable to determine how her father got them, but when HH got them, she began to research MEP’s life. So HH had a personal investment in Teresa’s diaries in spite of how incoherent and confused and vindictive they were. Let’s say she had a bias for using the Teresa Bell material, because she owned it.

She came across Charlotte Downs and in the 1930’s or so and took testimony that Charlotte had once written an autobiography dictated to her by MEP. HH says Charlotte was taking this dictation in 1880 on page 178 of her book, and on page 216 in 1886 she is again mentioned as being in the course of writing the MEP memoirs. Now remember, Charlotte could not find the bio she wrote when interviewed by HH in 1950, so together, they recreated it based on Charlotte’s recollection of the first version.

So strangely enough, most of what Charlotte reported was a recollection of what she thought she remembered more than 50 years before and while Helen vouched she saw the dictated memoirs, all she has at the time of her interview of Charlotte was hearsay. Mary Ellen’s words do not appear directly in that version, but filtered through Charlotte – and perhaps influenced by her uncle James E Brown.

James E Brown wrote or was behind, an article on MEP Called, “Queen of the Voodoos”, published in the SF Chronicle on 7/9/1899. James E Brown, son of one of MEP’s most loyal friends, who worked for MEP for decades, chose at some point to back Teresa Bell in MEP’s challenge to Thomas Bell’s estate. He and Charlotte were part of very intertwined families who owed their original starts in SF to MEP’s support.The parental generation was always loyal to MEP, but after many years of service, I would guess that James E Brown understandably elected to maintain his position as head of the household staff rather than leave 1661 Octavia when MEP was turned out on the streets by Teresa Bell on April 19, 1899.

Now, look at the dates. MEP was turned out of the Bell mansion on April 19, 1899 and the “Queen of the Voodoos” article in the SF Chronicle was published, July 9, 1899. No wonder a series of people said that Teresa Bell working with James E Brown managed to ruin MEP financially while crucifying her reputation.  James E Brown’s article or interview, was a sign that he thought helping Teresa would ensure his position. And it was one exciting article. It expanded on the things said in earlier court testimony and gave the lowdown on Mammy Pleasant’s voodoo ways, from the inside.

I simply must entertain the thought that Charlotte Down’s dictations were self-serving and part of the backup evidence for Teresa Bell’s diaries. In concert with the newspaper articles, which this nasty trifecta contributed to, Teresa, Charlotte and George were in cahoots against Mary Ellen and may have distorted details of the born in GA, educated in NOLA and transferred as bond servant to Louis A. Williams, then sent to Nantucket version. Really, how many little girls were imported to Nantucket and ended up with Quaker families as bond servants? I wouldn’t mind hearing about one or two other cases, where the child didn’t have a previous connection to Nantucket. I also doubt the bond servant claim except as a cover for an improper relationship.

Even though I was originally totally fond of that slave/voodoo version because it gave MEP a deep background as a slave and Voodoo princess, I just can’t find any proof of this version anywhere, not even in the well researched works of Bibbs and Hughes. Both accept that version though it is completely lacking in any written form or citations or backup research or census records or any other historical evidence, including the supposed version MEP dictated to Downs from 1880-1886, until Helen Holdredge and Charlotte Downs recreated it together in the 1930’s. Talk about hearsay and that was 50 years later and Downs was very old.

The Philadelphia version has the same problems. There was no Barley street in Philly when she was born, though it was there when she was an adult and traveling for the UGRR. Louis Alexander Williams is her father in this version, yet no census records are any where near close to any one of that name, on that street, or any other street in Philadelphia.

So what is left?

She entered history in Nantucket and the first records of her are there.

Why would she conceal her place of birth and her parents names?

I can think of lots of reasons why. Reasons that explain her comfort with, and knowledge of, wealth and power. Former bond servants don’t normally enter the salons of the wealthy and hob nob with the intelligentsia of the anti-slavery movement. Generally, low class people remained low class, whether ever a bond servant or not.

Under certain circumstances, with enough discretion, an illegitimate child of a prominent family, raised by another family member or or non-related person of the same station, in the same small circles of Nantucket Quaker whaling families, could cross that line. The Husseys were known do-gooders. One Hussey daughter started a school for the children of the local Guineatown residents and is fairly easy to find in a Google search.

Mary Ellen Pleasant was nothing, if not discreet.

I would not be surprised if her roots were an amalgam of Nantucket princeling and a Guineatown mixed blood. Pretty much the same scenario as her slave mother and plantation owning father as far as dynamics go. Her mother most likely died before Mary Ellen was old enough to really remember her, and then Granma Hussey raised her. Her father was probably off on a whaling boat and perhaps was even lost at sea or something like that. Now what soft-hearted, do-gooder Quaker from the Hussey family could refuse the beautiful, intelligent child Mary Ellen must have been?

As long as I am going out on this limb, I may as well take this speculation as far as I can. I have a very good friend of Wampanoag ancestry. This was the tribe that met the Pilgrims and also held Nantucket until the arrival of the immigrants.

Mary Ellen Pleasant looks like a Wampanoag as much as anything else. There were still Wampanoags living on Nantucket until after the Civil War. They lived in New Guinea along with the assorted cultural and tribal mixtures from all over the world. I would refer you to Moby Dick to get a sense of the world mix of people living in New Guinea. Of course, living in Guineatown was the bottom of the barrel, too. These were the poor illiterate bottom classes, no matter which ethnicity or corner of the world they hailed from. They were animists, pagans, superstitious and accepted an amalgam of beliefs, and Voodoo was certainly present, or at least, some form of African religion. I offer Tituba of Salem, as just such an example, though she was not on Nantucket, she was near by. She seemed to get the witch hunt started by titillating the preacher’s charges with stories, probably from her birthplace in the West Indies.

I would rule this theory out before wasting any more time looking for any tangible results of Mary Ellen’s discretion.

Where Was MEP Born? II. A look at source material

Standard

In Part 1, I referred to things I did not explain, that only someone who has read Helen Holdredge’s book would understand.

For now, when I am doing this earliest thinking on the subject I will Call Mary Ellen Pleasant M  MEP and other assorted variations and Teresa Bell, TBell. Helen Holderedge, HH.

When M got to SF in 1853 and established herself, she began helping other former slaves establish themselves. Specifically two of the people she helped were James A Brown and his partner  George? Dennis, to set up a livery stable. Brown and Dennis were understandably  loyal to M. So, it was not surprising that she hired James S Brown, the son, to work at 1661 Octavia. Apparently he worked his way up to second in command by the time TBell  kicked M out of Octavia St  in April 1899. Then, in July he publicly repudiated and insulted M in an article in the SF Chronicle published 7-9-1899, called, “Queen of the Voodoos. What better proof that he and Teresa were in cahoots could there be? He was working for her. She was the Widow Bell and did not want to pay M off; she fought to have M removed from her husband’s affairs. M did leave the home permanently and died within 5 years, in 1904.

Now, let’s jump to the 1930’s, 30 years later and Helen Holdredge  has inherited TBell’s diaries in which she recorded a lot of crazy sounding stuff. It seems the TBell diaries were begun in 1892 shortly after Thomas Bell’s death when she moved to a ranch in Sonoma called Beltane. M, Teresa, and all of Bell’s heirs began to struggle over the inheritance. I don’t think the diaries contribute any enlightenment whatsoever to the life of MEP, but instead make her out to be a greedy, mean old woman.

They must have aroused HH’s interest in the story when she inherited them for she seems to have made her life work out of treatments of various early SF-ers and wrote several books about these colorful characters. HH seems to have begun researching Madame Pleasant in 1930 give or take. I’ll guess she started with the local newspapers because much of what she reports, comes from them. One article from July 1899 was Titled, “The Queen of the Voodoos” by James S Brown and could have led her to a living relative of Brown, 88 year old, Charlotte Dennis Downs, his niece who did know M.  If this age is correct, Charlotte was born ca 1845 and therefore arrived in SF on some unspecified date after 1849. It is well established that M helped Charlotte’s father James A Brown and George?Dennis, his partner, set up the livery stable. She may have been as young as 12-13 when she met M or at least, heard of her, and by the 1880’s when she supposedly took down M’s memoirs she was around 40, if I got my math right. This writing seems to have occurred over at least 6 years 1880-1886 according to HH’s account in her book.

Why do I say ‘supposedly’? Because these memoirs disappeared from history, if indeed they ever were written. HH’s  mentions of  this memoir said that it was being written between 1880 and 1886.

In HH page 216, right after she mentions Charlotte’s dictations, she goes into a lot of detail about the juicy gossip surrounding the family at the time, Namely the troubles with Marie Bell, (one of Thomas Bell’s adopted children) then about 9 years old. Now Charlotte did not have to recall writing this in the memoir, because she knew of it first hand, or second hand at most. Charlotte had quite a few of these stories, including the India Howard gossip about her murder, and the gossip around TBell having murdered her first husband, the stories of the 49 graveyard plots and a few others. These seemed to be Charlotte Dennis Downs’ memories of MEP and they consisted mostly of various gossip ridden events which were invariably described as taking place in M’s homes or under her influence over the years. If these are not the events chronicled in Downs’ reconstruction, the book does not make that clear.

HH writes that Charlotte told her uncle James (the younger) Brown, “The writing of her autobiography is how she keeps track of so much….She is plotting and scheming and she never rests a minute of the day. She doesn’t take time out for amusements; she is so busy with her plots”(HH p 216). Now remember, Charlotte was the niece of the man who turned on M and stuck with TBell. No wonder her re-creations are so twisted. The duo of Brown and TBell vs. M is only bolstered by Charlotte Dennis Downs’ recollections, making her the a third party against M’s reputation and this is the view that HH took consistently.

So. Maybe HH got the idea that Downs’ memoirs would be more authentic if she said they were an autobiography that M dictated to her. Or maybe Charlotte did tell HH that she did some writing for MEP. MEP had J S Brown keeping ledgers as he was the steward and perhaps Charlotte was aware of these or even helped. These might have indicated some ‘plotting’ or more likely, very complicated affairs of being owed and owing money, but they were impossible to recreate, so they decided to call Downs memories of MEP’s household a recreation of M’s autobiography. At least that is what the book looks like, when you read it.

I can’t imagine M telling any of these stories to be written in an autobiography.

HH in her intellectual dishonesty never really was clear that Brown and Tbell  cooperated on the same side against M.

This recreation of a dictated autobiography 50 years later is the source for the Goochland, GA, NOLA, Ohio, to Nantucket version of her early years. I don’t know where the fabled Voodoo ceremony, orchestrated by a child, came from. It is too absurd, and even when one of MEP’s biographers refers to her birth and her mother’s death, they do not even dismiss this story. They ignore it. After all, what can you do with it? It simply is not the truth. Who ever told the story, is lying or mistaken and we know this was not from any original dictation from MEP. Why would she claim that? Unless she were totally depraved, which is what HH wanted to convey. Stuff like this is usually called “bias”.

I am willing to venture that MEP’s household staff did know she knew and studied with  Mamzelle Laveaux, perhaps that her mother or grandmother was from Haiti. There is a story of a full fledged Voodoo ceremony in the basement of 1661 Octavia. Perhaps it was dedication of the home. If it ever happened. This story had to have come from Downs, if HH didn’t make it up. The story was that the drums were so loud that the neighbors complained.  There does not appear to be any repeat of a story like this nor any documentation that anyone complained to officials. It may indicate just another anecdote towards M’s knowledge of Voodoo politics. There is nothing in historical records to indicate there were any Voodoo congregations, No dances as in Congo square going on in SF. In this context, Voodoo was probably mostly prayers and small rituals. I am not sure, but there is probably a PhD thesis in it if anyone can cover expressions of African religion in SF. At the least, it was nothing like it was publicly practiced in Haiti and NOLA.

I think some people probably knew M had a background connection to Voodoo, and that lent her a bit of mystery, but she did not use old fashioned Voodoo rituals as a practice.  If there were African drummers in SF, they were very quiet. Except that one night. Or the story was made up. Authentic Voodoo practices needed drums or something to pound out the rhythms of each energy form so possession could take place. If anyone was doing this, there aren’t even rumors of it today, but maybe something could be found.

I think MEP mostly practiced Voodoo politics as she learned them from Laveaux. She was a central figure in SF, a Black City Hall, so she did all the same things Laveaux did in helping people with their problems. Legal problems, Money problems. Pregnancy problems. Civil rights problems. She arranged a few marriages. Catering problems. You name it, she could do it and there is plenty of evidence in the HH book that she did all those and more, even if there was a negative spin put on it by Brown’s, Downs’ TBell’s, and HH’s retellings.

So this is my summary: HH took dictation from Downs regarding the stories she could tell about MEP. HH wrote them down and that is the only evidence that Downs ever wrote down M’s memoirs 50 years previously. Even though it was now far removed from any words M ever said,  it was presented as being almost primary source material. If these were only Downs’ memories, they just sounded mean, but if they were M’s autobiography, then her own words about her evil deeds condemn her.

HH had one purpose in mind; to make MEP a villain, the Charlie Manson of her day. In this she used  TBell’s and Brown’s collusion as though they were presenting an unbiased view, yet it was so evil.