Mary Ellen Pleasant

Mary Ellen Pleasant, an African American woman, came to Nantucket in 1827 as a young bonded servant to “Grandma Hussey.” She worked out her bondage then became a family member and lifelong friend to Hussey’s granddaughter Phebe Hussey Gardner.

The Husseys were deeply involved in the abolition movement, and Pleasant met many famous abolitionists. She worked on the Underground Railroad, transporting escapees to Ohio and as far as Canada. She brought her interest in the abolition movement to California during the California Gold Rush Era. In California, she ran exclusive men’s dining establishments and identified herself as a capitalist by profession. In 1866, Pleasant successfully attacked racial discrimination in San Francisco public transportation after she and two other women were ejected from a city streetcar. She was known as the “mother of civil rights in California.”

Learn more about Mary Ellen Pleasant in the Spring 1995 issue of Historic Nantucket, Westward the Women

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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