American Legal History

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No Suffrage, Little Attention; Nonetheless, Some Prosperity

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A wealthy half-Black war veteran and frontiersman named George Washington Bush altered the course of history in the Pacific Northwest. George Bush was among the first Oregon Trail settlers in present-day Washington. Racism persisted north of the Columbia River, yet policies in Washington Territory were more conducive to Black prosperity than contemporaneous laws in Oregon Territory. Between 1844–1870, small Black enclaves established livelihoods in hardscrabble Washington Territory. The Bush family became prominent. In comparison, Oregon Territory enforced two “Black Exclusion” laws, and its constitution codified abject White supremacy.
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A wealthy half-Black war veteran and frontiersman named George Washington Bush altered the course of history in the Pacific Northwest. Bush was among the first Oregon Trail settlers in present-day Washington. Racism persisted north of the Columbia River, yet policies in Washington Territory were more conducive to Black prosperity than contemporaneous laws in Oregon Territory. Between 1844–1870, small Black enclaves established livelihoods in hardscrabble Washington Territory. The Bush family became prominent. In comparison, Oregon Territory enforced two “Black Exclusion” laws, and its constitution codified abject White supremacy.
 Given that Washington Territory’s legislature demonstrated greater interracial tolerance compared to its southern neighbors, did any Black men vote in Washington?
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No.
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No. (1)

Notes

1 : Washington Territory voting roll records, dated 1853—1870, were accessed by myself at the Washington State Library, in Olympia, WA, with the assistance of librarian Sean Lanksbury and Deputy State Librarian Crystal Lentz Rowe. Digitalized records were not (and could not be made) available.


 My research concludes that no Black man appeared on a Washington Territory voter roll until after states ratified the Fifteenth Amendment.
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Nonetheless, by 1870, over two hundred free Blacks and “mulattoes,” mostly single men, acquired land or earned a living in Washington Territory. Before his death in 1863, Bush became prominent for business, charity and civics. His son, William, served in the state’s first legislature in 1889, and William introduced a successful civil rights bill in 1890. Bush was instrumental in early Washington's growth—but he never voted.
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Nonetheless, by 1870, over two hundred free Blacks and “mulattoes,” mostly single men, acquired land or earned a living in Washington Territory. (2) Before his death in 1863, Bush became prominent for business, charity and civics. His son, William, served in the state’s first legislature in 1889, and William introduced a successful civil rights bill in 1890. Bush was instrumental in early Washington's growth—but he never voted.

Notes

2 : _see_ http://files.usgwarchives.net/wa/clark/census/50cc.txt; http://files.usgwarchives.net/wa/lewis/census/50lc.txt


 

Background: Hostility Toward Blacks in Oregon Country

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A small settler population convened the Oregon Provisional Government in 1843. Skirmishes among settlers and Indians preoccupied the nascent government. After the deadly Cockstock Incident, arising from a dispute between a Black settler and a servant Indian, Oregon enacted the first of two Black Exclusion laws. The law forbade Blacks, free or slave, from entering or residing in Oregon Country, and it released bonded Black servants and subsequently required their removal from the territory. Black settlers were to be publicly lashed every six months until and unless their departure from the territory. Oregon’s legislature repealed the statute in 1846 before a public whipping occurred. Instead of the lash, Whites banished Blacks at risk of being auctioned into slavery if they stayed.*1.?
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A small settler population convened the Oregon Provisional Government in 1843. Skirmishes among settlers and Indians preoccupied the nascent government. After the deadly Cockstock Incident, arising from a dispute between a Black settler and a servant Indian, Oregon enacted the first of two Black Exclusion laws. The law forbade Blacks, free or slave, from entering or residing in Oregon Country, and it released bonded Black servants and subsequently required their removal from the territory. Black settlers were to be publicly lashed every six months until and unless their departure from the territory. Oregon’s legislature repealed the statute in 1846 before a public whipping occurred. Instead of the lash, Whites banished Blacks at risk of being auctioned into slavery if they stayed.
 In 1849, the Oregon Territorial Government enacted a second Black Exclusion law. This effectuated the expulsion of (only) one Black man, Jacob Vanderpool. The Oregon Territorial Government repealed this law in 1853 but imposed similarly exclusionary laws it in its 1857 constitution, effective upon statehood in 1859. The constitution forbade Black residence, real estate ownership, contracting, suffrage and use of the state’s judicial system.

Bush Goes West

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George Bush’s African father, born in colonial India, and mother, Irish-American, inherited a fortune in 1787 from an heirless Philadelphian merchant in whose manor they served. Young Bush was educated, and he fought under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans at 21 years old. After the war, Bush fur-trapped in Oregon Country for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Bush is believed to be the first free Black man west of the Rocky Mountains. After a decade of trapping, Bush raised cattle in Illinois and Missouri. In 1844, Bush embarked from Missouri with his White wife, Isabella, four mixed-race sons,*2.? and several thousand dollars’ worth of ingot. Bush led a predominantly White party comprising several well-to-do families.
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George Bush’s African father, born in colonial India, and mother, Irish-American, inherited a fortune in 1787 from an heirless Philadelphian merchant in whose manor they served. Young Bush was educated, and he fought under Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans at 21 years old. After the war, Bush fur-trapped in Oregon Country for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Bush is believed to be the first free Black man west of the Rocky Mountains. After a decade of trapping, Bush raised cattle in Illinois and Missouri. In 1844, Bush embarked from Missouri with his White wife, Isabella, four mixed-race sons, and several thousand dollars’ worth of ingot. Bush led a predominantly White party comprising several well-to-do families.
 Upon Bush’s arrival to the Willamette Valley, the present White community enforced Black Exclusion. Bush's party relocated to the southern tip of Puget Sound, at Tumwater (presently Olympia), between the Black and Deschutes Rivers. There, Bush established Bush Prairie, a successful farm, and financed a gristmill and a sawmill that served White settlers and Indians from St!sch!a's village.
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In 1850, Bush owned real property in Lewis County worth $3,000. Among the county’s 558 residents, only seven heads of households had real property worth more. One other Black man, William Phillips, a sailor, lived in Lewis County. A Black man and woman, each a servant to a White Army officer, lived in Clark County. In 1850, nine Black people resided in Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River, of 1,201 total inhabitants.*3.?
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In 1850, Bush owned real property in Lewis County worth $3,000. Among the county’s 558 residents, only seven heads of households had real property worth more. One other Black man, William Phillips, a sailor, lived in Lewis County. A Black man and woman, each a servant to a White Army officer, lived in Clark County. In 1850, nine Black people resided in Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River, of 1,201 total inhabitants.
 

Founding Washington Territory

Settlers in Clark and Lewis Counties began organizing a provisional independent government in 1851. They drafted a petition to Congress to form a new Territory at the Monticello Convention, November 25–26, 1852. Upon enactment of the Organic Act, Washington Territory split from Oregon on March 2, 1853.

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[INSERT: excerpt of Monticello Convention]
 The Organic Act did not adopt Black Exclusion policies. Indeed, the act does not mention Black people. Under the Organic Act, White and mixed-race White-Indian male residents had exclusive voting eligibility to elect the first assembly. Voter eligibility in subsequent elections was to be determined by this assembly.
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**Screenshot of Sec. 4**
 The initial election elevated 29 men to the Territorial Assembly. One of the Councilmen, Michael T. Simmons, was in Bush’s 1844 Oregon Trail party. Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens presided. The first assembly session concluded February 27, 1854. Legislators declined to give the few Black men voting rights. Consequently, I found no record that Black people attempted to register to vote between 1854—1870. In comparison, many mixed-race White-Indian men participated in elections.
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INSERT: excerpt of 1854 laws, 1
 

A Small Population Aroused Little Attention

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Footnotes

1.) In 1846, President Polk signed a bilateral treaty, the Oregon Treaty, demarcating borders between British Columbia and American territory. Oregon Territory was established in 1848, and its borders changed twice thereafter. Bush’s party may have been able to develop settlements north of the Columbia River, in disputed territory, because Bush had contacts in Fort Vancouver from his time with Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders. 2.) The children were aged eleven, eight, five and two during the transcontinental trip. According to the 1850 federal census, Isabella Bush gave birth to Louis, her fifth son, in 1846. Louis is believed to be the first “mulatto” Black child born west of the Rockies. 3.)The 1850 federal Census for Clark County includes four “Dark Hawaiian” men who were initially marked as Black residents.

 -- JohnOMeara - 02 Nov 2016 - 04 Dec 2017

Revision 6r6 - 11 Jan 2018 - 15:57:47 - JohnOMeara
Revision 5r5 - 05 Jan 2018 - 18:50:22 - JohnOMeara
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