A Peculiar Paradise
a History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940
Chapter Six - A Few Colored Men in Oregon
Blacks in Oregon 1850-1900
Despite persistent racist
attitudes that existed in Oregon, expressed in exclusion laws, attitudes toward slavery and a strong reluctance to accept federal legislation after the Civil War, a few black people settled in the state. Many had come with white families and chose to remain. Some lived in the rural areas of Oregon, but by the turn of the century 70 % were living in Portland.
Black people who lived in the rural areas of Oregon in the nineteenth century faced special problems of isolation and vulnerability, but sometimes enjoyed a greater degree of social acceptance among their white neighbors than did their urban contemporaries. Evidence exists documenting open racism in small towns in that century, and it has not disappeared. In 1893 the citizens of Liberty, Oregon, requested that all the black people leave town. News of this prompted the suggestion that the town change its name. More than eighty years later a news item reported that residents of Curry County vetoed federal money for low cost housing because "all the niggers will move down from Portland."' Isolated black people occasionally left a mark on the area in which they lived in local place names, although these too are evidence of racist attitudes. These include "Darky Creek," "Nigger Brown Canyon," "Nigger Rock," and "Nigger Creek Bar".
The treatment that rural black people received varied from place to place and depended in part on the size of the black population and the attitudes of their white neighbors. In Jacksonville, where residents were hostile toward minorities, blacks and Chinese were treated in an outrageous manner. In Canyon City, where the black population was much smaller, racial discrimination was not widely practiced, and one black family that lived there was treated with a measure of respect.
The isolation of the rural black family was sometimes an advantage, and in the few family histories that have been preserved a pattern of respect and a measure of social equality emerges. Isolated black families often prospered where their numbers posed no threat to the white community. Some of these families or individuals were able to live more independently than blacks in the urban community: they owned land, worked for themselves, and prospered. Accounts of their lives frequently mention the positive contributions they made in the community, aiding families in times of trouble and nursing the sick, especially in isolated areas where doctors were unavailable.
Much of the documentation of their lives is missing, or has died with the memory of those who knew them. What is left is largely an oral tradition, supplemented or contradicted by scattered evidence in census reports, birth, death, marriage and land sale records. It is in this context that the history of their lives will be told.
Robin and Polly Holmes came to Oregon with Nathaniel Ford in 1844. The conditions under which they came, whether slave or free, were disputed in the court case over the custody of their children, and continues to be disputed by Ford's descendants, who insist that Robin and Polly begged Ford to allow them to come to Oregon with him?
The two families lived together for a time, and Robin raised vegetables to sell to his neighbors. Around 1850 they moved to Nesmith Mills, where Robin obtained work. In 1854 his name appeared on a Polk County tax record which listed the total value of his personal property at $655. Later they moved to Salem, and established a small nursery, selling fruit trees and shrubs. Ford and a Dr. Boyle bought a lot and constructed a home for the family; after Robin died Polly continued to live there with her son, Lon. In 1864 he was accused of a theft and nearly hanged. He died soon after.
In spite of the court case, Ford's descendants insist that relationships between the two families remained cordial. Roxanna Holmes once visited a granddaughter of Nathaniel Ford in Portland, to say how thankful she was for all the help the Ford family had given them?
Mary Jane Holmes, their eldest daughter, was born in Missouri in 1841, and came to Oregon as a young child. Although the court awarded custody of the children to their parents, when Mary Jane married Reuben Shipley in 1857, Ford demanded that a sum of money be paid in exchange for her freedom? In spite of advice given Reuben by his white friends, Eldridge Hartless, the Reverend T.J. Conner, and others, Reuben agreed to pay Ford a sum of money in order to marry the woman he loved. J.B. Hinkle, a friend and business associate of Robert Shipley, the son of Reuben's old master, said that $700 was given to Ford.
Reuben Shipley had been born a slave in Kentucky around 1800. He took the surname of his master, Robert Shipley, a common practice. His skills were highly respected, and he became overseer of a large plantation in Missouri, and was entrusted with the education of his master's son, Robert Shipley, Jr. While in Missouri he married a woman from a nearby plantation and had two sons. He came to Oregon with the Shipley family in the 1850's, deciding to leave his wife and children in exchange for a promise of freedom. After completing his contract with his master he was given his freedom. In the meantime, his wife had died, and the man who owned his two sons refused to allow Reuben to buy their freedom. Eldridge Hartless gave him a job, and Reuben saved $1500 to buy eigfity acres of land between Corvallis and Philomath. On this farm he settled with his new wife, Mary Jane. They raised a family of three girls and three boys.
The family was well liked and entered into the social life of the community, attending a nearby church. When another settier, William Wyatt, suggested that a high part of the Shipley farm would be a good spot for a cemetery, Reuben agreed to deed two acres to the county, on the condition that black people could be buried there. In 1861 the transaction was completed and the original land of Mt. Union Cemetery was transferred to Benton County. Twelve years later, Reuben and one daughter, who had died of smallpox while visiting relatives in Salem, were buried there.
In 1875 Mary Jane married R.G. Drake. They lived in Corvailis until his death a few years later. In 1880 Mary Jane was living in east Salem with her younger children, Nettie and Charles. She may have returned to her Corvallis farm, for neighbors recalled her helpfulness during the typhoid epidemics in the 1880's. In 1889 she sold the farm and moved to Portland, where her remaining son, Edward, was employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. She spent her remaining years there until her death in 1925, when she was taken back to Corvallis to be buried next to her two husbands and children in Mt. Union Cemetery.
William (John) Livingston was born in 1836, and came to Oregon in 1864 with the Judge Ringo family as a free man. He was born the son of slaves in Missouri, and at about the age of twelve was sold to a family who lived in Hannibal, Missouri. There he became the playmate, so it is claimed, of Samuel Clemens, a boy one year his senior, who was later to write under the pen name of Mark Twain? He later was sold to Joseph Ringo for $850, and remained with him after he was freed in 1863.
During the Civil War, rumors were widespread that Union soldiers were forcing slaves to leave their masters. The Ringo family, an older black woman called "Aunt Lucy," a young boy named Andy, and William Livingston, or John as he was always known, came to Oregon. They went first to Nebraska, with John concOaled in a big wooden box for fear the Union soldiers would discover him.
According to the family history, Judge Ringo gave John forty acres of land between Oregon City and Mollala, in an area known as Clarkes. In 1876 he married Alice Cooper, a young black woman about seventeen years old. She too had been born in Missouri, and had come to Oregon in 1861 with a family who settled near Albany. They had one son, Charles.
In 1891, Alice Cooper Livingston died and was buried in the Clarkes cemetery, on land originally owned by Judge Ringo. According to family tradition, the first person to be buried in this cemetery was Ringo's cook, the black woman named Aunt Lucy.
John Livingston lived until 1912. At the time of his death, he owned the forty acres given him by Ringo and an additional 180 acres in eastern Oregon. His estate was valued at $15,000. He was well known in Clackamas County, and remained close friends with the Ringo family, always bringing the children candy in old-fashioned striped bags.
A Justice of the Peace in Clackamas County named Mr. Samson, a close friend who handled John's correspondence because he could not read or write, said of him,
I never knew a finer man than John Livingston. He was the soul of honor. His skin was as black as coal but his heart was alabaster. His word was gospel, and I have often heard the bankers of the city say they would rather have John Livingston's word than that of any white man in the county in a financial transaction.
He was buried beside his wife, beneath an ornate marble stone in the Clarkes cemetery. Hundreds of people attended his funeral.
Lou Southworth was born in Tennessee around 1830. His father's name was Hunter, but he was born into slavery and took the surname of his master, James Southworth. His early life was spent in Franklin County, Missouri and he emigrated to Oregon with his mother and James Southworth in the 1850's. He lived on an abandoned claim for a time, with his master living with him because times were so hard. While mining gold in Jacksonville, he sent money to his master toward the purchase of his freedom. He fought in the Rogue River Indian wars without compensation. Meeting a company of volunteer soldiers on their way to the Rogue River, he was asked to give up his rifle, as weapons were scarce. Not wishing to lose the gun, he joined the company. His mother died at the age of seventy, and Lou moved to Yreka, California, where he made a living playing the violin for dancing schools. The money he made playing the violin completed payment, $1,000 in all, for his freedom.
In 1868 he moved to Buena Vista, Oregon, and worked as a blacksmith. There he learned to read and write, and joined the Victoria Lodge of Masons. He married and in 1880 moved with his wife and stepson to Tidewater, near Waldport, where his wife died six years later. He lived and worked on the Alsea River, ferrying passengers and cargo up and down the river. In
the summers he worked near Philomath and Corvallis, helping with the hay harvest to earn money for winter supplies.
He was known as a man who always voted. In 1880, on election day, a storm was blowing across Alsea Bay, and everyone was afraid to cross the bay to vote. Lou rigged up oil cans on the front and back of his boat to provide extra flotation, and braved the storm. He was the only one to cross the bay that day. A religious man, he loved to play the violin, as it comforted him during lonely hours. The local church objected to his playing, so he stopped attending church. He died in Corvallis in 1917.
His stepson, Alvin McCleary, spent most of his life near the Alsea River. Born in San Francisco in 1866, his mother had died when he was a baby and he was adopted by the woman who later became Lou Southworth's wife. In 1896, he began fishing commercially, and also worked as a butcher in Newport. He was well respected in the community:
A Negro gentleman named Alvin McCleary was a respected businessman and city councilman in Waldport, where I was raised. As a school boy I never heard one harsh word said against Alvin even in the rugged days of the K.K.K?
Alvin McCleary died in Corvallis in his eighties.
Among the settlers who came to Oregon in 1843 was Daniel Waldo, who emigrated in the same party as Jesse Applegate. Like Peter Burnett, who came to Oregon the same year, Waldo served on the Legislative Committee of 1844 and voted in favor of the exclusion law passed in the June session. Despite this vote, Waldo had come to Oregon with his family and a number of black people, including a daughter, America Waldo, whose mother was a slave. He settled in the hills east of Salem, building a house with separate quarters for his slaves.
In January, 1863, America married Richard A. Bogle, and moved to Walla Walla. Richard A. Bogle was born in the West Indies in 1835, emigrating to New York at the age of twelve. He crossed the plains to Oregon with James Cogswell, arriving in 1851. After a three year stay he moved to Yreka, California, and apprenticed himself to a barber, Nathaniel Ferber, for the next three years. After a mining stint near Deadwood, California, he returned to Oregon and maintained a barber shop in Roseburg. In 1862 he moved to Walla Walla, Washington. He mined in Florence, Elk City and Oro Fino, then bought a barber shop in Walla Walla and continued his trade. He was a wealthy man with ranching interests, and was one of the founders of the Walla Walla Savings and Loan Association. America and Richard Bogle had eight children, including a son, Arthur, who had a barber shop in Portland in the early 1900's. Descendants of the family include Richard Waldo Bogle, Sr., and his son, Richard Waldo Bogle, Jr. of Portland.
Daniel Delany, Sr. came to Oregon in 1843 with his family and a black woman, Rachel Beldon. He settled near the farm of Daniel Waldo east of Salem in an area that has come to be called the Waldo Hills. Delany had lived in east Tennessee where he owned a plantation and a number of slaves. He sold his slaves and land, purchased Rachel for $1,000 and brought her to Oregon, where she worked in the fields, maintained the household and garden, and nursed Mrs. Delany, who was an invalid for many years.
Despite the fact that Oregon had banned slavery, Rachel continued to live with Delany until the close of the Civil War, when her freedom was assured. She had two sons, Newman and Jack, and later married a black man, Nathan Brooks. They lived on the farm of Daniel Waldo before moving to Salem.
Daniel Delany, Sr., was murdered on his farm in 1865, by two men who blackened their faces and posed as Negroes, as Delany was known to be friendly to black people. He had recently sold a large number of cattle, and robbery appeared to be the motive for his killing. The only witness was a black boy, Jack De Wolf, who was Delany's servant and companion. Jack managed to escape undetected, hid in a woodpile all night, and the next day ran to the neighboring farm of Daniel Delany, Jr. to report what had happened.
Jack's testimony helped to convict the murderers, who were hanged in Salem a few months later. No one in Salem would claim their bodies, so Daniel Waldo agreed to bury the men on his farm. For many years a fence surrounded the graves of the first men to die for committing a crime in Marion County.
Gold was discovered in Jacksonville in the early 1850's, and a bustling town soon sprang up. Among the settlers who came to the area were a number of black people. The census of 1860 lists forty-two blacks living in Jackson County. Conditions were rough, and most did not stay long. Racial incidents were common, and black people were jailed on any excuse.
The journals of Thomas Fletcher Royal, the first county school superintendent, record two examples of the treatment black people received. In 1853, he reported that while he was away on business a black girl tried to attend public school. White parents refused to allow their children to attend school, as one person related to Royal:
Their parents can not bear the thought of sending their children to school with a Negro--it will be throwed up to them as long as they live.
The girl had to stop attending school, as it was more than the town could stand.
In 1854, the local church was in danger of being mobbed because a black man was allowed to preach and pray with the congregation. Royal's diary preserves one such incident:
We could often smell the cigars and whisky about the window and hear the rowdies run and yell out curses as they stood around listening or as they fled mocking. Again they would be ready to mob us for allowing a colored brother, Isaac Jones, a local preacher, to come into our meetings and pray with us. They swore they would take Isaac out if we called on him again, and cursed us for being abolitionists. But we hardly ever failed to call on brother Jones at every prayer meeting. For he was full of faith and the Holy Ghost, and when he prayed we always felt manifestations of divine power.
Another black man, Mat Banks, was brought before the local court on a charge of disturbing the peace. His neighbors complained that he was praying and singing hymns too loudly. The court freed him, but several months later he was brought before the court again on the same charge. This time the court decided that he was insance, and he was committed to the state asylum.
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