The First Black Millionaire in US History 

Mary Ellen Pleasant was an African immigrant who lived during the era of 1800s and happened to be the first black millionaire businesswoman in America. She was born as a slave in Augusta, Georgia on 19th August, 1814. She was rescued from slavery when she was a girl of just nine years and arrived at New Orleans.

Here she learnt to cook and gradually developed an immense interest in the art of cooking and the various intricacies related to the activity.

She happened to carry out endless experimentation with seasonings, spices and her dishes happened to be the talk of the town. They were accorded legendary status.  

She was a complete illiterate woman and at the age of twenty, she arrived at Boston to become an assistant to a tailor. Here she met a rich mulatto contractor and merchant by the name of James W. Smith and he went on to become her husband. The couple relocated to Virginia and got engaged in rescuing slaves.

They also offered their guidance towards the building of the underground rail-road. James had inherited a plantation in Virginia and the slaves that he had purchased from slavery were put to service out here.  

Following his death in 1847, Mary was left with a massive fortune of $45,000 in the form of bonds which she later got exchanged for gold. She was then briefly married to a man called James Pleasant and soon after she decided to relocate to San Francisco. There was a unique bid performed at the dock in 1852, where a congregation of millionaires joined in to bid for her culinary acumen. Her dishes and spices were near legendary.

Pleasant did not participate in the bid and went for an elaborate investment in building a business empire. This comprised of restaurants, real estates, boarding houses and mining ventures. She bought a plush area at 920 Washington Street which soon emerged as the most loved boarding and dining site in San Francisco.  

On Octavia Street, Mary bought a $100,000 mansion where she hosted and entertained the elite of the city. They used to discuss the stocks that they considered profitable and the next day Mary would plan out an investment on those very stocks. The money generated from this venture was used by her for a drive to abolish slavery forever.

She aided John Brown in this endeavor. Brown was finally hanged and Mary managed to escape. In 1848, she filed a racial discrimination lawsuit when she witnessed the manner in which the trolley car operators were manhandled.

This case was a precedent for this social evil that embarrassed America for years to come. Her emergence as the ‘most’ powerful woman led to countless stories building on over the course of time.  



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