Hello fellow Internet surfer and
welcome to a gem of a site dedicated to illuminating the onyx-like parallels
unearthed from an otherwise beclouded and boring American and world historical
perspective into its many hues and flavors, a spectrum inclusive of most
light that makes up the untold histories, fascinating stories and journeys
not quite attached or put together in this theatrical or holistic manner
as you will find!
We bring many years of personal and unique historical research, reading, collaboration, living, and writing experiences. One of us is a published historian, journalist, and genealogist, whose roots are in the Central Oregon Coast, the primary though not exclusive gathering or focal point of these stories. And her co-author is more centered, though not exclusively so on the personal-spiritual journey as a former Lutheran minister, and how this has come into play to reinvigorate her own philosophical historical understanding of faith and her questions of the world-church professional Christian training, vision and cultural paradigms, relying upon her common sense and also the expertise and critique of those historically disinherited, disenfranchised, and despised.
(1) Falls Above Allegany (2 & 3) Seagulls at Sunset Beach
Oregon Coast Photographs Courtesty of Lori Bentley, Winston, Oregon
Neither of us is professionally enamored by historicism in the classical sense, or any particular intellectual chains, other than the challenge to loosen the usual grip of white western european, heterosexist and masculinist elitism! And yes, we believe in being politically correct, and are proud of it, that we still name the names! We are students and practitioners of folk and established history, and are expanding our understanding of story, wishing to share some of those exciting findings and perspectives. We plan to update this site regularly with the little known gems and connections to "the rest of the story" usually relegated to footnotes we have uncovered from the current draft of our mammoth, interconnected, well documented history saga, Sovereigns of Themselves: A Liberating History of Oregon and Its Coast.
Black Pioneers Settle Oregon Coast
The welcome mat for African Americans was not out. Oregon's early generations defined opportunity narrowly. The land and the resources were the domain of men and women of caucasian background only; others need not apply. Even when the Donation Land Act provided that women qualified for claims, brothers and brothers-in-law tried to wrest claims away from widows. Entreaties of women for fairer treatment finally led to passage of the Married Women's Property Act in 1866; the right to vote in the school election of 1878, and admission to the bar in 1885. Their efforts to gain the general franchise were repeatedly rebuffed and not realized until the 20th century. Women, like blacks, were a minority in Oregon. The frontier remained predominantly white and male for decades.
Holmes v. Ford
The major legal challenge to slavery in Oregon was Holmes v. Ford.
In 1844 Colonel Nathaniel Ford, a Missouri farmer, brought a slave couple,
Polly and Robin Holmes, to Oregon. Before leaving Missouri, Ford promised
freedom to the Holmes family upon arrival. Settling in the Willamette Valley,
Ford built a small cabin for the Holmses. Although allowing them limited
travel and the right to sell some of the agricultural produce, he still denied
the family its promised freedom.
In 1849, Ford manumitted Polly and Robin and their newborn son but refused to free their four other children, three of whom had been born in Oregon Territory. The Holmeses moved to Salem and opened a nursery. Harriet, one of the children still held by Ford, died on a visit to her parents in 1851. Realizing that Ford would not voluntarily free the surviving children and blaming him for Harriet's death, Robin brought suit in the Polk County district court the following year to gain custody of his children.
The Holmes v. Ford case languished in various courts for 11 months. Finally, in July 1853, George H. Williams, recently arrived chief justice of the territorial supreme court, placed it at the head of his docket. Williams, a free-soil Democrat from Iowa, ruled against Ford, declaring that slavery could not exist in Oregon without special legislation to protect it. He said, "[I]n as much as these colored children are in Oregon, where slavery does not legally exist, they are free." The Holmes case was the last attempt by Oregon pro-slavery settlers to protect slave property through the judicial process. (Centennial History of Oregon 1811-1912, S. Clarke Publishing Company, p. 652)
On June 4, 1906, Judge Reuben P. Boise reflected on the Holmes case in a letter to Judge T. W. Davenport: "Colonel Nathaniel Ford came to Oregon from Missouri in 1844 and brought with him three slaves--two men and one woman. The woman was married to one of the men and had some small children. Ford claimed these children as slaves and continued to claim them until 1853. One of these children--a girl-- had prior to that time been given by Ford...to a daughter of Ford. Prior to 1853 the parents of these children had claimed their freedom and left Ford, and in 1852 were living at Nesmiths Mills, but Ford had kept the children. In 1853 Robin, the father of the children, brought suit by habeas corpus to get possession of the children. This case was heard by Judge Williams in the summer of 1853, and he held that these children, being then (by the voluntary act of Ford) in Oregon, where slavery could not legally exist, where free from the bonds of slavery, and awarded their custody to their father." (Centennial History of Oregon 1811-1912, S. Clarke Publishing Company, p. 652
Eighty Acres and a Bride
Reuben Shipley (1799-1873) had also been a slave
in Missouri, according, according to Mark Phinney of Corvallis, who interviewed
John B. Horner, professor of history. His master, Robert Shipley, trusted
him to a large share in the training of his sons, whose mother had died, and
he was regarded as "almost" one of the family. When Shipley decided to come
to Oregon, he promised Reuben his freedom if he would drive a team of oxen
on the road. Reuben left a wife in Missouri who had died before he could send
money for her. After he purchased his freedom, he was employed by Edridge
Hartless, who settled one mile south of Philomath in 1846. Hartless was quite
well-to-do and had many cattle. In the fall of 1849 he and Wyman St. Claire
established a store at Avery, a forerunner to Corvallis.
In a few years Reuben had saved $1,500, and with a part of it he bought a farm where Mt. Union Cemetery and Mt. Union School are now located.
Now Ford, who settled in Rickreall in Polk County in 1844, owned a young slave woman named Mary Jane Holmes (1830-1930), most likely a daughter of Polly and Robin Holmes. Ford allowed Reuben to marry this woman and take her to his farm. Then, having learned that Reuben had money, Ford came without knowledge to his white friends, and made him believe that he must purchase his wife's freedom, which he did for $700.
A bride price of this size was not unusual as half a million freedmen bought and held slaves before the Civil War. Most dealings were mainly for purposes of philanthropy and freedom. Many, however, were that the husband purchased the wife or vice versa; if she wasn't emancipated before having their children, the 1830 Census reported the children as slaves. Some husbands didn't free their wives without a few years of probation; if she didn't work out, he could recoup the $700 plus profit by selling her! Freedmen, unfortunately, had learned by following the whites' example! (From Freedom to Freedom, Purnell Reference Books 1977, pp. 263, 264)
Reuben and Mary Jane reared a large family--Wallace, Ella, Thomas, Martha, Nellie and Edward--on their 80 acre farm four miles west of Corvallis. Reuben was industrious and Mary Jane was a splendid housekeeper and the family entered into the life of the church and the community without too much consideration of the question of social equality.
When William Wyatt, another pioneer, spoke of the hill on which Reuben Shipley's farm as a likely place for a cemetery, Reuben agreed to give two acres for that purpose if he might be buried there. This parcel donated in 1861 was the the beginning of Mt. Union Cemetery where many of the pioneers of Benton County are buried. Rueben Shipley is there among them. He died in 1873 at the age of 74. Mary Jane lived in Benton County until 1880. In after years she married Alfred Drake and lived well into the third decade of the 20th century. (Benton County Archives, p. 18)
Oregon's Black Pioneers
Louis A. Southworth (1830-1917) Courtesy of Oregon State University Archives
Jacksonville Pioneer Emily Butler Blockwell Courtesy of Jacksonville Historical Society
Born a slave, Louis A. Southworth (1830-1917),
navigated frontier racial barriers with the exuberance he devoted to his
fiddle. He traveled the Oregon Trail and later played the fiddle at gold camps to earn money
for his freedom. He survived a wound in the Rogue River Wars and became a
respected homesteader. He donated land for a schoolhouse, learned to read
and write and became a blacksmith.
With a spirit that matched the gusto of the holiday, Southworth was born in Tennessee in 1830 on the Fourth of July. His parents, Pauline and Louis Hunter, were slaves of James Southworth. As was often the case, the child took the last name of the slave owner.
At age two, Southworth moved with his parents
and master to Missouri, where his father died of smallpox. In 1851, at the
age of 21, he journeyed to Corvallis with his mother and master.
Although slavery was officially banned, it was still practiced in Oregon. Regardless, Southworth persuaded his master to let him go to the gold fields, and in eight months, he made $300 mining in Southwest Oregon. He soon discovered he could earn as much with his fiddle as he could with a miner's shovel, and performed in gold camps in Yreka and Eureka, California, and in Virginia City, Nevada.
At age 28, Southworth bought his freedom for $1,000, the equivalent of more than $17,000 today. He moved to Buena Vista, north of Albany where he worked as a blacksmith. He learned how to read and write, and eventually married. His bride, Maria Cooper, had an adopted son, a West Indian child named Alvin McCleary.
In 1879, Southworth homesteaded along the south bank of Alsea River, about five miles east of Waldport, and the fiddler and his family quickly won over the community.
Southworth ferried cargo and passengers and grew hay along the flats. McCleary, his adopted son--who would become a beloved figure in the area before his death in 1951--rowed two miles to school each day. As homesteaders moved in, Southworth donated land for a local schoolhouse, and served as chairman of the school board.
An ardent supporter of Abraham Lincoln, Southworth was a diligent voter. During the presidential election of 1880, a fierce southwest storm raised whitecaps on Alsea Bay. He rigged two oil drums to his boat for buoyancy and rowed across the bay to the polling place. Ironically, he was the only man in Waldport to vote that day!
Southworth was expelled from the Baptist church in Waldport after members disapproved of his fiddle playing. He told the story in a 1915 interview with the Daily Gazette Times: "But the brethren would not stand for my fiddle, which was about all the company I had much of the time. So I told them to keep me in the church with my fiddle, if they could, but to turn me out if they must, for I could not think of parting with the fiddle. I reckon my name wasn't written in their books here anymore, but I somehow hope it's written in the big book up yonder where they aren't so particular about fiddles."
About a year after Maria died in 1901, Southworth moved to Corvallis. He bought a little house downtown at the corner of Southwest Fourth and Adams. He hung his fiddle and a portrait of Lincoln over the mantle. Southworth remarried by never had children of his own.
Southworth was accepted by the white frontier community during a chaotic time. Oregon joined the Union in 1859 on the eve of the Civil War. The state constitution excluded blacks, and in 1866, the Oregon legislature passed a law forbidding interracial marriage.
At the end of his life, Louis Southworth was embraced by his neighbors in Corvallis. Before he died in 1917 at the age of 86, his friends raised $300 to pay off his mortgage.
Today, he lies in an unmarked grave in Corvallis' Crystal Springs Cemetery next to his wife Maria. ("Historical Name Or Slur," Portland Oregonian July 22, 1999)
The Lynching of Alonso Tucker 1906
African Americans were unequivocally not wanted in Oregon, but some, like Reuben Shipley and Louis Southworth, persisted quietly and settled in the state. The 1850 Census reported only 54 or 56 in the entire Pacific Northwest. The 1860 Census identified 124 blacks and mulattos, a tiny fraction of the more than 52,000 residents enumerated. Those who settled in Oregon took risks, but they had known prejudice and discrimination far worse in other parts of the country. Sometimes, however, racial episodes erupted. These occurred sporadically in several parts of the state over a period of 70 years.
By 1890, the black population of Coos County was 36. Most worked for the local railroad or at the Beaver Hill and Libby mines. Recruited in West Virginia, they had emigrated across the country and walked through the Coast Range from Roseburg to Lower Coquille River, only to find that they and their families were expected to live in leaking boxcars. The men had to work in the deep shafts reaching below sea level for 90 cents a day. When they complained they were accused of fomenting labor strife and compelled to leave.
Alonzo Tucker was a black man who worked as a
bootblack and operator of a gym in Marshfield (Coos Bay). In
1906 dubious charges of rape were leveled against him by a white woman. When
a mob of 200 armed men marched on the jail, the marshal freed Tucker, who
hid beneath a dock. The next morning he was twice shot and then hanged from
the Fourth Street Bridge by a mob that had grown to more than 300. The coroner's
inquest found no fault; the victim, the report said, had died of asphyxiation.
No indictments were brought. The local paper observed that the lynch mob was
"quiet and orderly" and that the vigilante meeting was no "unnecessary disturbance
of the peace."
In 1907 the Marshfield school board instituted segregated education, alleging that the four African American students "will materially retard the progress of the 500 white children." (Oregon Blue Book)
M. Constance Guardino III
Reverend Marilyn A. Riedel
This Page Last Updated by Maracon on December 1, 2005
Black Pioneers, Cowboys And Settlers
Hermeneutics of Homosexuality Peopling the Americas Applegate Cemetery
Eureka Cemetery Toleldo Cemetery Chitwood Cemeteries
Benton County Place Names Lincoln County Place Names
1870 Benton County Oregon Census A-I J-R S-Z
1870 Polk County Oregon Census A-M N-Z Polk County Place Names
Oregon History Online:
Oregon History Online: Volume I Oregon History Online: Volume II
Oregon History Online III Oregon History Online: Volume IV
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