Nancy Ross Gooch

Portrait of the Gooch-Monroe Family

Photoraph of the Gooch-Monroe family. Nancy Gooch is seated far right with a book on her lap; Andrew Monroe is seated center with the child on his lap. Courtesy of the El Dorado County Historical Museum.

Nancy Ross Gooch was born into slavery in 1811 in Maryland. [1]  Her birth year varies depending on the census year, but her gravestone states that she was born in 1811. At some point before Gooch's son Andrew Monroe was born in 1847, she was bought by another slaveholding family in Missouri where she met her husband Peter Gooch.[2] In late 1849 Gooch and her husband were brought as slaves to Coloma, El Dorado county, California with their owner, but they had to leave their almost three-year-old son behind in Missouri.[3] Within a year of arriving in California, Gooch and her husband were no longer bound to their owner and obtained their freedom because California entered the Union as a free state in 1850.[4] Once free, Gooch and her husband stayed in Coloma and worked for the miners in the town in order to save up money to bring their son, and his family, to California.[5] It is unclear when Monroe and his family came to California, but by 1880 they were living in Coloma with Gooch.[6] While Gooch could not read nor write, she was the head of the household and a house keeper after her husband passed away.[7]

            El Dorado County had a strong showing in the California Colored Conventions.  It sent ten delegates to both the 1855 and 1856 California Colored Conventions, and three delegates to the 1865 convention. It is possible that Gooch knew some of these delegates but we have no record of a direct connection to the California conventions.  Still, Nancy Gooch is a symbol of how the Black community in the free state of California worked to achieve a greater level of freedom. Gooch was able to pay for her son's freedom by washing, cooking and mending clothes for the miners in Coloma.[8] It appears that she was the main contributor to the funds that helped bring her son to California. It was not uncommon during this time period that former slaves paid for the freedom of their family members in states that were still under the oppression of slavery. In addition to paying for her son's freedom, Gooch and her family started buying land in and around Coloma. In 1858 they bought 80 acres of land for an estimated $1,000.[9] This real estate investment was the first of many; the family went on to own more than 400 acres of land between 1858 and 1958.[10] This family embodied the goals that those in the convention aimed to achieve for the Black community in California: they succeeded economically and thereby achieved greater security for their families. Nancy Gooch passed away on September 17, 1901 in Coloma, California.[11] 


 [1] "Nancy Ross Gooch," last modified May 20, 2001,

[2] "Andrew Monroe, Sr," last modified September 01, 2002,

[3] "Nancy Ross Gooch," last modified May 20, 2001,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] 1880 United States Federal Census, Coloma, El Dorado, California; Roll: 65; Family History Film: 1254065; Page: 64C; Enumeration District: 052; Image: 0128,

[7]1880 United States Federal Census, Coloma, El Dorado, California; Roll: 65; Family History Film: 1254065; Page: 65A; Enumeration District: 052; Image: 0130,

[8] "Nancy Ross Gooch," last modified May 20, 2001,

[9] David Lander, "FOOTPRINTS IN THE PARK" American Legacy (2003): 35-38

[10] Ibid.

[11] "Nancy Ross Gooch," last modified May 20, 2001,

Written by Victoria Walker. Taught by Sharla Fett, History 213, Occidental College, Spring 2016.