A Peculiar Paradise
a History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940
Chapter One - Into the Wilderness
On December 21, 1787, the Lady Washington set sail from the Cape Verde Islands, heading south and west toward Cape Horn and into the Pacific Ocean, then turning north to explore the coast of the North American continent. Among those on board was Marcus Lopez, the first black person to set foot on Oregon soil. The voyage of the Lady Washington originated in Boston, Massachusetts, sponsored by businessmen who were interested in the potential sea otter trade with the Northwest Coast Indians. Captained by Robert Gray, the vessel stopped at the Cape Verde Islands, located off the west coast of Africa, to replenish supplies. Marcus Lopez, a native of those islands, joined the voyage, hired as a cabin boy by Robert Gray. Robert Haswell, the nineteen-year-old first mate who kept a diary of the voyage, observed that the Cape Verde Islands were blessed with an abundance of tropical fruit, and the black people were "as contented a people as I ever saw," polite and hospitable.
The Northwest Coast must have seemed a strange and fearful place to Lopez, who was accustomed to tropical surroundings. Haswell's first observations of the coast of Oregon mentioned a "delightful country thickly inhabited and clothed with woods and verdue with many charming streams of water gushing from the valleys." He compared the numbers of birds they saw to a "hive with the bees swarming." Passing close to the shoreline near the Alsea River, he noted the large number of Indians, who "appeared to be a very hostile and warlike people.
On August 14, 1788, the ship entered a bay near the present town of Tillamook, Oregon, casting anchor to take on food and water for the crew and animals on board ship, tasks that were assigned to Marcus Lopez.
The first contact with the Indians was friendly. They visited the ship, bringing presents of berries and boiled crabs, a welcome change of diet for many of the crew who were suffering from scurvy. The Indians also handed otter skins on board the ship, satisfied with the knives and axes given in return. When crew members went ashore to gather wood and food for the animals, the Indians brought them fruit to eat, but were
armed and watchful.
The natives while themselves with great but they always kept
we were at work on shore behaved propriety, frequently bringing us fruit, themselves armed, and never ventured
nigh us but with their knives in their hands ready to strike?
August i6th began peacefully. Indians again visited the ship and traded crabs, dried salmon and berries for buttons and other novelties. That afternoon, with little to do but wait for the next day's tide, the crew went ashore again. The Indians had behaved in a friendly manner, and the white men were not well armed. They visited the village, were offered food, and entertained by demonstrations of agility with arrows and spears. A war dance climaxed the entertainment, then the crew strolled back down the beach to search for clams.
Marcus Lopez, busy cutting grass for the livestock, stuck his cutlass in the sand while carrying a load of grass to a boat. One of the Indians saw his opportunity and took the cutlass. Another member of the crew observed the theft and called out, threatening to shoot, hoping that the Indian would drop the cutlass and flee. Marcus was warned not to interfere with the Indians, but he chased the man who had taken his cutlass into the village. Other members of the crew followed Lopez, offering a reward if he were returned unharmed. The chief refused to intercede, and suggested that the crew members rescue Lopez themselves. They found him surrounded by a group of well armed Indians, who saw the men approaching, killed Lopez, and attacked the crew members, who had to run for their lives.
Haswell made one final observation of the event that ended the life of Marcus Lopez.
We knew little of the manners and customs of the people, our stay among them was so short . . . It was folly for us to have gone ashore so ill armed but it proved sufficient warning to us to be well armed ever afterwards . . .
Sixteen years later, a black slave called York reached the mouth of the Columbia River near modern Astoria. He was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the first federallyfunded overland journey to the Pacific Coast and back. Thomas Jefferson, who had favored an expedition to the Pacific Coast for over twenty years, was able to purchase France's holdings on the North American continent in 1803. The sale of Louisiana Territory was prompted by a black revolt on an island in the Caribbean that unseated the French government from power. France was engaged in a fight to retain control of the island known as Santo Domingo, a valuable sugar producing area with a large black population. Fearing that Napoleon intended to restore slavery, an army of black men was organized and eventually defeated the French troops, establishing the independent nation of Haiti. Napoleon was short of funds and feared the loss of Santo Domingo, his stepping stone to the North American continent. He sold the Louisiana Territory, withdrawing to Europe. The United States bought the area for a bargain price, and the stage was set for expansion to the Pacific Coast.
President Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark west with specific instructions. They were to find a water route from the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean if one existed, to record the geographic features, climate, wildlife, vegetation; to establish contact with the Indian tribes and gather general information about the region. The expedition, if successful, was certain to strengthen American claims to the vast area between the western boundary of Louisiana Territory and the Pacific Ocean.
York was the slave of William Clark, and was born at his master's home in Virginia. He was a man of impressive size: six feet two inches tall, of large build with jet black skin and thick curly hair. He was a skilled hunter, and had some knowledge of French, which proved essential in translating for the guide Charbonneau, who spoke no English. He was adept in living off the land, as Clark observed in his diary: "My man York killed a buffalo bull, as he informed me for his tongue and marrow bones? On more than one occasion the journals of the expedition recorded that York was a great curiosity to the Indian tribes who visited the camp to see him and supplied the party with provisions.
Some of the party had also told the Indians that we had a man with us who was black and had short curling hair, this had excited their curiosity very much, and they seemed quite as anxious to see this monster as they were the merchandise which we had to barter for their horses?
York enjoyed this attention and was fond of displaying his great physical strength. He boasted that he had once been a wild animal, but was tamed by his master. The Indians called him "great medicine".
Although a slave, York enjoyed a measure of equality during the expedition. He was permitted to vote with the rest of the members of the party on the site of the winter camp, located on the south side of the Columbia River three miles up a small creek, where elk were plentiful. Here they constructed a small fort, named for the friendly Clatsop Indians who lived nearby, and spent the cold, monotonous winter tanning elk hides for clothing, making salt, and finding what diversions they could from the endless rain and tedious diet.
York remained with Captain Clark after the expedition returned to St. Louis in September, 1806, where they were hailed as heroes. In 1811, he was given his freedom and a six horse team and wagon, while the enlisted men of the expedition received 320 acres of land and double pay.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition was the highlight of York's life, and a great adventure. He was an instant success with the Indian tribes. Indian children would follow him, darting away if he turned toward them. The women found him attractive and quarreled over him. Warriors respected him and even suggested that he overthrow Clark, subdue the soldiers and become their chief. One Flathead Chief, convinced that York had painted his face black as a sign of war, was only placated when York uncovered his head to reveal his short, wooly hair. Later, York was fond of repeating stories about the expedition, and "as the drams went down the extravagance of the stories went up, with an outcome marvelous indeed?
Various stories survive concerning York's later life. According to one account, after he received his freedom he ran a freight service between Richmond and Nashville. This business failed, and he became a free servant, was abused, and regretted leaving the security of the Clark home. In 1832, he was on his way back to the Clark family and died of cholera in Tennessee. In the same year, a trapper named Zenas Leonard claimed to have met a black man living as a chief among the Crow Indians. This man told the trapper that he had first visited the Crow country with Lewis and Clark and had returned later to settle among the Indians, taking four women as wives. When this chief met the trapper, he claimed he had been living among the Indians for ten years. If this story is true, then this black chief was none other than York. A final clue to York's fate is a theory that he was found frozen to death on a road in Albemarle County, Virginia, at the age of ninety?
York's story ends in mystery but, although he was forgotten by historians, he was remembered in Northwest Indian legends. Jesse Applegate preserved a story he heard from Indians near The Dalles as he and his family, just arrived in Oregon, were rafting down the Columbia River. Indians passing in canoes asked the settlers for tobacco:
The spokesman was a large stout man with more black in his skin than a red man. His eyes were not really black, but looked at our distance like burnt holes in a blanket. He was bare headed, I do not mean bald headed, but that he wore no unnatural covering on his head. He surely did not need to, for this son of an African sire, and a native daughter of the Walla Walla, Cayuse, Klickitat, Chemomichat, Spokane or Wasco-pum tribe, had an immense shock of grizzly, almost curly hair, which grew down to his ears and to within an inch of his nose, making his head seem unnaturally large. Some of our party gave them a little tobacco and they passed on. Now, who was this shockheaded heathen? They said he was the son of a negro man who came to the coast with Lewis and Clark's expedition as cook, about forty years before the time of which I am speaking, and who . . . because of his black skin, wooly head, large proportions, thick lips.., was so petted by the squaws that he left the expedition in the Walla Walla country and remained with the native daughters?
The early maritime voyages to the Pacific Coast and the Lewis and Clark Expedition proved to be of enormous value to American interests in the Pacific Northwest. The abundance of sea otter prompted other U.S. maritime voyages, until by the turn of the century Americans dominated the sea otter trade. The Lewis and Clark Expedition found a great potential for fur trading, not only in the relatively inaccessible Pacific Northwest, but further east in the region from the Mississippi Valley to the Rocky Mountains. The journals of the expedition also praised the agricultural potential of the Willamette Valley. These were published and widely read, and prompted many settiers to come to the area.
In the first forty years of the nineteenth century, it was again to be the American fur trappers and traders, operating briefly in the Pacific Northwest and widely in the Rocky Mountains, who would open the great overland immigrant routes which brought the settlers west to Oregon. The fur trade in Oregon was dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company, operating as a private monopoly supported by the British government. Headed by Chief Factor John McLoughlin and located at Fort Vancouver, the company exercised nearly total control over fur trade in Oregon from 1821 into the 1840's.
An American attempt to compete with the British was launched in 1810, when John J. Astor organized the Pacific Fur Company and sent two expeditions to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River near modern Astoria. One of the expeditions traveled overland, led by Wilson Price Hunt, and the ship Tonquin, captained by Jonathan Thorn, was commissioned to sail to the Northwest Coast and establish trade with the Indian tribes. The crew of the Tonquin included a black cook whose name has not survived, and two black men, Edward Rose and Francoise Duchouquette, were associated with Hunt's overland expedition.
Edward Rose, the son of a white trader among the Cherokee, was born in Kentucky. His mother was black and Cherokee. He spent much of his life among the Arikara and Crow tribes and became a Crow chief. His knowledge of the West and Indian tribes brought him opportunities as an interpreter, guide and hunter with various expeditions. He spent several years with the fur trader and explorer Manuel Lisa, and helped to build Fort Raymond, located at the mouth of the Bighorn River in Montana.
Rose met Hunt in 1811, and was hired to guide the expedition to Oregon. He acquired the reputation of a troublemaker; Hunt described him as a "very bad fellow, full of daring," and suspected him of a plot to leave the expedition, taking some of his men to settle among the Crow Indians? Hunt gave Rose enough provisions to last a year, and allowed him to leave the expedition in peace. Although Rose accompanied the expedition only as far as Montana, he mapped Hunt's passage farther to the west. Dismissing him may have been an unwise decision, as the party became lost along the Snake River, and several men nearly lost their lives before they reached the mouth of the Columbia and established Fort Astoria.
In 1824 Edward Rose accompanied Jedediah Smith part of the way to South Pass. Although Smith was not the first white man to cross the pass, he was responsible for making it widely known as the best low pass through the Rockies that served thousands of immigrants coming overland to Oregon. Rose was also involved in an expedition with General Henry Atkinson, which came as far west as the Yellowstone region. Atkinson was assigned to make treaties with the hostile Missouri tribes, and Edward Rose acted as interpeter. He died in the 1830's in an Indian village.
Francoise Duchouquette was a Canadian trapper whose mother was a midwife of French and black ancestry, at the time the only woman at Prairie Du Chien who had any knowledge of medicine. He served Hunt's expedition as a blacksmith, and remained at Fort George (formerly Fort Astoria) until 1814, when the company left for Fort Williams, near Lake Superior. While in the Northwest he fathered a son, also named Francoise Duchouquette. His mother was an Okanogan Indian, he learned to read and write, and was a storekeeper for the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Okanogan from 1853 to 1860.~
Astor's plan to establish a profitable trading post suffered when the crew of the Tonquin was killed by hostile Indians during a trading expedition to Vancouver Island. A wounded sailor touched off the ammunition on the ship, and vessel, sailors and Indians were destroyed in the explosion that followed. In 1813, the Pacific Fur Company was sold to the North West Company, a Canadian fur trading corporation. American fur traders were never again active in Oregon, concentrating instead on the lucrative fur trade on the Missouri and in the Rocky Mountains.
A number of black men were associated with the Rocky Mountain fur trade, many as servants or slaves, or in menial positions as free laborers. It was not uncommon, however, to find blacks operating as independent trappers, guides and interpreters. Many had spent their lives living with Indians, and gained invaluable knowledge that served them well as negotiators with hostile tribes, and enabled them to survive the rigors of a wilderness life.
One of the most successful and famous of the black fur traders was James P. Beckwourth. Born in Virginia in 1798, his father was Sir Jennings Beckwith and his mother was a black woman. During his lifetime he made expeditions to Colorado, Nevada and California. He traveled extensively with William H. Ashley in the Rockies and as far west as the Yellowstone region. Like Rose, he lived with the Crow Indians for a time, and later became an influential citizen of Denver, Colorado. In 1851, he explored northern California and discovered a new route across the Sierras, a pass which bears his name. There is no evidence that he was ever in Oregon, but his explorations helped familiarize the major immigrant routes into the West.
During the decade of the 1830% white people settled in Oregon, as Protestant churches began a campaign to convert the Indian tribes to Christianity. In 1836 the Whitman and Spalding families arrived in Oregon, bringing with them a black man named John Hinds. He had joined the party near the Green River at the 1836 fur traders' rendezvous in order to receive medical attention from Dr. Whitman, as he was suffering from dropsy. His condition did not improve and he died at the Whitman mission at Waiilatapu in November, 1836. He was buried at the foot of a hill northeast of the mission house; Narcissa Whitman noted his death in a letter dated December 5, 1836: "Already death has entered our home and laid one low.
Two black men are mentioned in missionary records for the year 1840. On May 21, the ship Lausanne anchored at the mouth of the Columbia River near Baker's Bay. On board were the Reverend John H. Frost and his family, Methodist missionaries sent to Oregon as part of Jason Lee's "Great Reinforcement''. Lee, who had first come to Oregon in 1834, returned East to recruit more missionaries, hoping to develop an American community in the Willamette Valley, and strengthen American claims to the area. On the Lausanne were forty-nine missionaries and other settlers who came to live in Oregon.
The ship was piloted up the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver by several individuals, including a black man called George Washington. Little is known of this man, other than a few details noted by John Frost. Washington had been sent down river by John McLoughlin, with fresh bread and butter for the weary missionaries. Although the ship had been piloted by an Indian called Chinook George, he gave way when Washington produced a letter attesting to his abilities as a river pilot.
Thus Chenook George (who called himself, at times, King George) was superceded in the pilot's office, which bid fair to blast his prospects of obtaining a reasonable fee from Captain Spaulding. However, determined to enjoy the privileges, he remained, sat down upon a spar, filled his pipe, and soon sank down into a state of unconsciousness, while George Washington took charge of the ship.
We had not proceeded far when the vessel was brought up upon the sands, giving evidence that our pilot's knowledge was altogether inadequate. Upon this the old Indian awoke from his revery and stepped forward, with a smile of satisfaction beaming in his weather-beaten countenance, and said, "Me know George Washington one very good cook, but he no pilot." After the vessel was got off again into deep water, the charge was given to the old Chenook, who pointed out the channel in a very accurate manner.
Frost's diary for the day also noted that the ship had run aground once before while in the river, and that progress toward Fort Vancouver was hampered by poor winds and bad weather.
In 1839 a black man called Wallace came to Oregon on board the brig Maryland, which had been sent from Boston on a trading expedition. The voyage was not entirely successful, although it returned with some of the first Columbia River salmon to be sent to the East Coast. While the Maryland was anchored in the Columbia, Wallace deserted. John Frost met Wallace and Calvin Tibbets in December, 1840, at Fort George, where he had come for supplies. Frost was discouraged because of the dismal weather and poor progress on construction of the missionary settlement. Wallace and Tibbets went back to the settlement with Frost, helping to drag the supplies through waist-deep mud. They were hired to help construct a building near the banks of the Columbia. Wallace assisted in cutting the lumber and shingles for the house, and carried messages between the building site and the settlement further inland. Progress was slow in the damp Oregon winter. Once, Wallace was left alone at the building site, and when Frost returned he found him depressed and discouraged, as it had snowed the night before and was cold and dreary. This is the last mention of Wallace, and nothing is known of his fate.
A black man named Jacob Dodson came to Oregon in 1843 with Captain John Fremont. Dodson was a free servant in the family of Thomas Hart Benton, Fremont's father-in-law, and volunteered to accompany the expedition to Oregon. Nearly six feet tall and very strong, Dodson was only eighteen years old when he came to the West. Fremont valued his capabilities, and he was always included with the strongest men of the party who accompanied Fremont during the most difficult part of the trip. The expedition traveled from Fort Vancouver down the east side of the Cascade Mountains to Klamath Falls, exploring the region and mapping the geographic features. Jacob Dodson later became an attendant in the United States Senate, and at the outbreak of the Civil War raised 300 black men to fight for the Union, but President Lincoln refused their services.
In 1834, a black man named George Winslow came to Oregon with the famous trapper, Ewing Young, and an Oregon promoter, Hall Jackson Kelley. Kelley had studied the diaries of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and although he had never seen Oregon he published circulars which contained glowing descriptions of the area, emphasizing the fruitfulness of the land and the abundance of natural resources. Nothing is known of Winslow before he and eleven other men came from California to Oregon. He settled on the Clackamas Prairie, married an Indian woman, and raised a family. A knowledge of medicine supplemented his income, until the arrival of Dr. Forbes of the Hudson's Bay Company reduced his business. He was best known to boast that he had come to Oregon not with Kelley, but with Astor's expedition on board the Tonquin in 1811. Some time later Winslow moved farther north and raised potatoes and other produce on a farm which he sold to another black man, James D. Saules. Facts concerning his later life are vague, outside of his involvement in the "Cockstock Affair".TM It was said that he moved to Clatsop County and lived near the mouth of the Columbia River. His name was mentioned in a newspaper article published in 1851 concerning the expulsion of Jacob Vanderpool from Oregon Territory under the exclusion
A notorious villain, who calls himself Winslow, has cursed this community with his presence for a number of years. All manner of crimes have been laid to his charge. We shall rejoice at his removal?
Although Winslow could not have been expelled from Oregon legally, his name vanished from the public record, and nothing is known of his fate.
James D. Saules came to Oregon with the U.S. Sloop-ofWar Peacock in 1841. He served as a cook on the ship, and settled in Oregon City where he bought a farm from Winslow. A few months after the "Cockstock Affair" he ran into trouble with a white settler who accused him of stirring up the Indians against white settlers. Three witnesses testified against him, and he was found guilty. He was kept in custody for several weeks, but because there was no jail he was released and told to leave the area. He went to the Clatsop Plains near Astoria and worked at the Methodist Mission until 1846 when the mission was closed. Later, he was arrested and charged with causing the death of his Indian wife. A news article reported:
A negro man named James D. Saules was brought to this city recently from the mouth of the river, charged with having caused the death of his wife, an Indian woman. He was examined before Justice Hood, the result of which examination we have never been able to ascertain, but the accused is at large and likely to remain so we suppose?
He ran a ferry service between Astoria and Cathlamet, and once attempted to guide a ship across Chinook shoals, but his attempt was unsuccessful. Although he ran afoul of the law occasionally, he was well liked. He was a musician and played the fiddle. He knew only a few songs, but had no rivals, and was in great demand at dances where he would play the same tunes over and over, to the delight of his audience.
He later lived in a cabin at Cape Disappointment facing Baker Bay. Peter Skene Ogden paid him $200 for his squatters rights to the property, intending to build a pilot's lookout and a British trading post on the site. Saules' name appears on the ledgers of the Cathlamet store in 1851, and two years later was on the list of the store's outstanding debtors. It is speculated that he drowned in a boating accident in December, 1851.
We learn that three negro men have been engaged for some time past in selling liquor to Indians, a short distance from Milton, Washington county, and that the citizens of that place were so much annoyed by their continued drunkenness and debauchery, that several of the citizens started in a boat to take the negroes into custody. This they succeeded in doing, and when taking them before the Magistrate, by some means the boat was capsized, and one of the negroes drowned. For want of sufficient evidence to commit them, the other two were discharged?
Continue Chapter One - Into the Wilderness
Blacks in Oregon 1788-1850
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