A photograph of African American and white gold prospectors working together at Spanish Flat, California, 1852.
Photographer Joseph Blaney Starkweather captured this scene at Spanish Flat, a mining community in El Dorado County, California. Starkweather was originally from the East Coast, but by the 1860s, he had established a photography studio in San Francisco.
At the outset of the Gold Rush, California’s African American community was small and, while African Americans did not constitute a large percentage of Gold Rush migrants, both free and formerly enslaved African Americans participated. Some enslaved African Americans were also brought to California by their fortune-seeking enslavers. African Americans in California often encountered virulent racism but, as this photograph indicates, the Gold Rush also provided opportunities for black and white prospectors to work side-by-side.
The sluice box pictured here was a popular tool for gold prospecting. It works by pouring water, or diverting water from a river or stream, through the long box. The flowing water then separates gold nuggets from other dirt and rocks by trapping them in the bottom of the box.