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  • Writer's pictureAsh Patton

Nathaniel Smith: Uncovering Black History of Mendocino County

Updated: Sep 2, 2023


A portrait photo of Nathaniel Smith

Mendocino black history..in the 1870's, the first two non indigenous settlers in my area of Mendocino county were Nathaniel Smith, a black sailor from the East Coast (Baltimore), and Francisco Faria a Portuguese sailor who arrived on a whaling ship probably from Hawaii and manned by Kanankas (Pacific Islanders). The two friends founded the town of Cuffy's Cove, now a "ghost town". which sits just North of present day Elk Ca, where I grew up. (I used to explore the remnants of Cuffy's Cove as a youngster, and even did a history project on it in 7th Grade that won some awards.) Nathaniel married a Pomo woman from the area, had several kids, and moved around to Mendocino, then Comptche. He reinvented himself many time as a potato farmer(he apparently created the Cuffy's Cove Red Potato, which was famous at the time) , saloon owner, fisherman, and various other hustles. His gravesite is still unknown, but he has relatives here and on the east coast, and his story lives on.

Here is an excerpt on him from an anthology of Mendocino coast history.

"Other local authors quote Nathaniel as saying that he moved to the Cuffey's Cove area with Francisco Faria, known locally as “Portuguese Frank”. In her column, “Presenting the Past”, (The Mendocino Beacon, August 6, 1986 ) Helen Smith quotes Nathaniel as saying of Francisco Faria and himself: “We's about the first white men here”, to differentiate himself and Faria from the Pomo Indians. Helen Smith gives no source for her information. She could not have known Smith, who died March 21, 1906. However, Eleanor Sverko in her book Early Portuguese Families of the Town of Mendocino (1995) quotes part of an obituary notice for Faria from The Mendocino Beacon ( Nov. 5,1904) which says: "“Nathaniel 'Nigger Nat' Smith, the first colored man on the Mendocino coast, settled alongside of Frank, and the saying is familiar to all in these parts, and Nat is always proud of the distinction, that he and Frank were the first 'white' men to settle on the Mendocino Coast.”8

Yes he was known as "Nigger Nat". A great contributor to local history, and by all accounts a good person and a survivor. Viva Nathaniel Smith!



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