The Road to California - A Journey to Freedom

Developed for the Oakland Museum of California
Gail Desler



Traditional West African Fabric Quilting Pattern

"I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them." Frederick Douglass 1842

"Look at my arms! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could beat me - and ain't I a woman?" Sojourner Truth 1851

"If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives." Biddy Mason 1818-1891


Road to California- Popular Pioneer Quilt Pattern



Introduction Task Process Evaluation Conclusion Teacher Notes Author Notes Bibliography



In the years following the Gold Rush, California was viewed as a land of opportunity. Thousands joined the Westward Movement and journeyed to the "Golden State" in search of a better life. But not all who traveled the road to California came of their own accord. Although California entered the Union as a free state, its laws did not prohibit slave owners from bringing slaves into the state. Such was the case of Biddy Mason, who in 1853 walked to California behind her master's wagon train. Biddy Mason's journey to freedom is an inspiring chapter in American history. How could a women born into slavery, against all odds, become one of the wealthiest - and most generous - women of the Westward Movement?

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This Webquest addresses the following Content Standards for California:


Historical And Social Sciences Analysis Skills - Kindergarten Through Grade Five

  • Chronological and Spatial Thinking: 1, 3, 4
  • Research, Evidence, and Point of View: 1, 2
  • Historical Interpretation: 1, 3

United States History and Geography: Making a Nation - Grade Five

  • 5.8.Students trace the colonization, immigration, and settlement patterns of the American people from 1789 to the mid-1800's with emphasis on the role of economic incentives, effects of the physical and political geography, and transportation systems. (5.8.1 and 5.8.4)


Reading - Grade Five

  • 2.0 Reading Comprehension - Students read and understand grade-level-appropriate material. They describe and connect the essential ideas, arguments, and perspectives of the text by using their knowledge of text structure, organization, and purpose. (2.2.2, 2.2.3, 2.2.4)
  • 3.0 Literary Response and Analysis - Students read and respond to historically or culturally significant works of literature. They begin to find ways to clarify the ideas and make connections between literary works. (3.3.2, 3.3.3, 3.3.4)

Listening and Speaking - Grade Five

  • 1.0 Students deliver focused, coherent presentations that convey ideas clearly and relate to the background and interests of the audience.




The Oakland Museum of California is currently putting together a new exhibit: Women of the Westward Movement. They have already gathered from their archives many artifacts that tell the Euroamerican perspective. The curators feel strongly that without a key story such as Biddy Mason's, the exhibit would not be representative of the diverse voices of California during the Westward Movement. They are seeking a team of history students to do the research. Congratulations! You're hired!

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Working in a team of four to five, you will divide up the task of investigating the road to California from the perspective of a slave. You will each be assigned to a specific role and will become the expert in that field.


Harriet Powell Quilt



Decide as a group, how you will present your exhibit. Keep in mind that you will be presenting in front of a review team (your teacher and classmates). Be sure your exhibit can be easily viewed by the audience. Each team member will be expected to participate equally in the oral presentation. Use the Scoring Guide for Oral Presentations to help you prepare for your presentation.

In order to complete your exhibit in time for the opening of Women of the Westward Movement, you will need to work together cooperatively and make every minute of classroom and at-home research time count. As you begin the project, read through the specific individual scoring guide for your role (see EVALUATION). Use the scoring guides as a checklist before turning in your part of the project.


You will be evaluated on your individual performance of your role as well as on your group participation.

Individual Scoring Guides:

Group Scoring Guides:

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The history of Westward Movement is a story of many beginnings and ends. The fact that Biddy Mason's road to California ended in her emancipation is a testament to the human spirit. Despite hardships, obstacles, and set backs, this courageous woman refused to give up until she gained her freedom. What lessons can we learn from Biddy Mason's life? Can you think of other men, women, or children who possess the same type of determination and/or generosity as Biddy showed throughout her life?

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On the Road West