Before and during the Civil War, powerful Southern forces were working to turn California into a slave state. When the war started, San Francisco business leaders and citizens rallied forces to stop the plans of the Knights of the Golden Circle, secessionists in California who sought Confederate control over California and her wealth. “With the city of San Francisco and her impregnable fortifications in Southern hands, the outward flow of gold, on which the Union cause will depend in a large measure, would cease—as a stream of water is shut off by turning a faucet.”
Mary Ellen's story certainly explains the obvious evidence in her face of her high level of constant stress. Princess Diana's face showed similar stress in at least one interview done not too too long before she died.
Shocking how very careful Black Americans in SF had to be, way back then, even before any railroad or relatively easy way to move from coast to coast. That they could be dragged back to slavers, even in a free state like CA, all the way on west coast. Intricate, careful networks of self-protection created in such a faraway place from New Orleans or anything on the east coast. Seems like it'd have been easy to go out there and get 'lost' in all that was happening as the city sprang up.