17th Century Bible Reveals Hidden Treasures Connected to California's Underground Railroad.


This Bible dates back to 1850s and was the property of William Burris. William Burris was never enslaved and had direct ties to abolitionist and the underground railroad. His brother Samuel D Burris was jailed, tried and convicted for his participation in the underground railroad. Fortunately the State of Delaware recognized the wrong in jailing and convicting Burris and on November 2, 2015 his living descendants were issued his pardon.





William was also the father to Sacramento Pioneer Burgess family's Great grandmother Josephine Burris, who at some point began using the name Josephine Pierce, prior to her marrying Rufus M Burgess in 1893. Rufus Burgess the father of Rufus M, died in 1869 and was buried under the slave name Nelson Bell that was given to him upon being sold in California. The autobiography of Nelson Bell, detailing the accounts of his life was tucked in this Bible along with the names and deaths of family members and abolitionist like Stephen Smith 1795-1893. Other documents included : A 1872 deed of George H Ingham ownership of the African Church in Coloma situated on lot 3 block 7, fruit voucher from Rufus M Burgess in 1885.


Rufus M did not marry Josephine Pierce Burris until 1893. Josephine was not born until 1859 or 60 and she was not the oldest child of William Burris. Traditionally the Bible would pass to the first born son or oldest child. In this case the Bible was passed to Rufus M Burgess and a marriage was arranged.

Josephine Pierce Burris would give birth to two boys, Rufus M Burgess Jr. and Edgar M Burgess. She would care for Marion Burgess as her own son as his mother Stephanie most likely died the same year he was born-1893.

A lock of hair found in the Bible wrapped in a paper dated Dec 1, 1893 was most likely from Stephanie. The first wife of Rufus M. Some of the hair will be sent for DNA testing to determine lineage.

Josephine is documented as having a daughter IDA who was born after the boys?? IDA’s father was white and she was sent to Washington to live.

Josephine’s marriage to William Monroe in 1913 after him being listed as a boarder in the Burgess home since 1910 would begin the confusion of ownership of land that was established by Pierce and Burgess orchards well before the Monroe’s arrived in California.


The Gooch/ Monroe’s story based on documented facts will be shared in future months. They were hardworking and got a jump start from what William Gooch left Peter Gooch, who was listed on the 1860s census with 1500 in real estate value.

This information was made possible by historians and researchers of the African American Gold Rush Association. The African American Gold Rush Association is a non-profit 501c 3 with a mission of preserving and sharing true, inclusive history for all Americans. Please help us continue to research historical records, acquire artifacts and conserve them for future generations by donating to CA-AARG

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