Slavery in the Pacific Northwest

It is generally understood among the older of our pioneers now living, that slavery existed among the Indians up to the early forties. Their emancipation being begun, and probably effected, at that time through Rev. Jason Lee, who, through the enlisted co-operation of Dr. McLoughlin, brought about a discontinuance of the practice among them.

It is not, however, understood that the black man was held in servitude within the limits of the Pacific Northwest. Such was nevertheless the case. The only known instance when a transfer of ownership was made a matter of record was the recording of a bill of sale in Lane county, Oregon. A Mr. Southworth sold the "negro boy Cole and his grandmother," to Col. Joseph Teal in the later fifties. Judge Stratton drawing up the papers required to consummate the sale. Col. Teal gave the old woman and the boy their freedom a little time thereafter, and they settled on the Long Tom, near the present town of Junction City, where they lived for a number of years.

Quite a number of pioneers brought slaves with them, but practically gave them their liberty upon their arrival here, or very soon afterwards without formulation of papers to that effect. One mother, a free negro woman, purchased her own son before leaving "the States" and after reaching the Willamette valley had the transfer recorded, the date being April 13, 1854. This document was the first miscellaneous instrument recorded in Washington county, Oregon. It was as follows:

D. Snowden to Jane Thomas:


Know all men by these presents, that for and in consideration of the sum of five hundred dollars, to me in hand paid by Jane Thomas, late Jane Snowden, a free woman of color, the receipt whereof is hereby contessed and acknowledged. I, David Snowden, of the county of Ray, in the state of Missouri, have bargained, sold and delivered to her, the said Jane Thomas, late Jane Snowden, a free woman of color one certain negro boy slave named Billy, aged 11 years, and son of said Jane Thomas, late Jane Snowden, a free woman of color. This sale is made to gratify the said Jane Thomas, mother of the said negro boy, Billy, as she is about to emigrate to Oregon, and wishes to take the boy with her. Given under my hand and seal this 17th day of December, A.D. 1852.

David Snowden.

Washington was settled with the idea that no slavery should exist therein, and probably the only instance known where the colored race were considered as the chattels of the white man, was in 1860. On the 25th of September of that year a mulatto boy belonging to Gen. James Tilton, of Olympia, was forcibly taken from the steamer Eliza Anderson, while lying at the wharf in Victoria. It seems that the boy had run away from his master, and being recognized as a stowaway on board a few hours before the steamer arrived at her foreign destination, was confined to a state-room so he could be taken back to Olympia on the return trip. The matter coming to the notice of the British authorities, the boy was taken from the steamer on a writ of habeas corpus. Finding that he could not be held in slavery the general allowed the boy to go without making an effort to reclaim him. Those acquainted with the facts state that it was the inclination of his master to give him his freedom when he was able to lookout for himself, voluntary action of the boy only hastening matters.



For More on Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest Click Here
A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940
Return to "Native Sons" Index
"A Place Called Oregon"
R. GESS SMITH