The price of his freedom cost one dollar. Such was the beginning of a heritage lasting over 130 years.
But how did a black slave earn cash money in the mid-1800s?
By working alongside his master in search of gold, William Sugg was able to buy his emancipation. He then married, bought property, built a house, reared 11 children, added onto the house more than once, worked to provide for his family and became a respected resident of Sonora.
Sugg was born in North Carolina; his owner was from Texas. Details have been lost as to the circumstances which brought them together. Eventually the two joined a wagon train heading west during the Gold Rush and settled in Merced.
When one dollar was secured, on June 14, 1852, Francis Trale made an 'X,' releasing his slave and sealing Sugg's freedom forever. The original deed rests in the archives of the Tuolumne County recorder's office in Sonora.
While living in Merced, Sugg met a pretty mulatto woman. Mary Elizabeth Snelling had also come to California in a wagon train, with her mother and sister. The couple was married in 1855 and shortly afterward moved to Sonora.
They purchased a small parcel of land with a cabin on Theall Street, in what is now the downtown area. The property was co-owned by another man and his wife, but a fire destroyed their cabin. When they left, Sugg bought the other half of the lot. His plan was to build a real home. It would be one of the first brick houses in town.
Combining mud, straw and water from the well, Sugg and a few friends made bricks, ranging from 12 to 18 inches long. The homemade bricks were used to build the exterior walls.
A front room, living area and bedroom comprised the whole dwelling. A wood frame kitchen was added onto the back of the house. Sheets of tin from 5-gallon cans were used as roofing material, according to an article written by Sugg's grandson, Vernon Sugg McDonald.
By the time the house was finished, though, it was already too small. The Sugg family had grown with the addition of two children. Another bedroom was soon added to the structure.
Sugg worked for the city, grading roads. He also managed a business fashioning and refurbishing leather harnesses.
Mary found fulfillment in her role as wife, mother, homemaker and teacher. The children attended elementary school, with additional instruction provided by their mother. The youngest daughter went on to graduate and received her teaching credentials.
In the mid-1880s the house gained a second floor and an attic, to accommodate the enlarged family and boarders.
It was a loving family who lived a simple life. They worshiped on Sundays at the Methodist Church, filling the rest of the week with hard work, music, reading, quilting and family time at home.
Only one of their children (a daughter) married and had children of her own. The house was passed to McDonald, who lived there "among the memories" for many years.
Sonora resident Gerald Howard was a lifelong friend of McDonald.
"In later years," Howard said, "the house was full of antiques. Family possessions and furniture were in place as if they all still lived there."
Painted barn red with white trim and a white picket fence, the charming home is a vital part of Sonora's past. It is now owned by Robert and Sherri Brennan.
A historic marker tells the story with a brief inscription of the Sugg family's life. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
If only walls could speak, what more could we learn about this beloved family?
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at email@example.com.