Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (v, 157 pages)
Black Sailors -- Oregon, Blacks -- Segregation -- Oregon -- 19th century, Blacks -- Oregon -- Public opinion -- 19th century, Oregon -- Race relations -- History -- 19th century, Oregon -- Territories and possessions -- History -- 19th century
In June of 1844, James D. Saules, a black sailor turned farmer living in Oregon's Willamette Valley, was arrested and convicted for allegedly inciting Indians to violence against a settler named Charles E. Pickett. Three years earlier, Saules had deserted the United States Exploring Expedition, married a Chinookan woman, and started a freight business on the Columbia River. Less than two months following Saules' arrest, Oregon's Provisional Government passed its infamous "Lash Law," banning the immigration of free black people to the region. While the government repealed the law in 1845, Oregon passed a territorial black exclusion law in 1849 and included a black exclusion clause in its 1857 state constitution. Oregon's territorial delegate also convinced the U.S. Congress to exclude black people from the 1850 Donation Land Act. In each case, Oregon politicians suggested the legacy of the Saules case by stressing the need to prevent black men, particularly sailors, from coming to Oregon and collaborating with local indigenous groups to commit acts of violence against white settlers.
This thesis explains the unusual persistence of black exclusion laws in Oregon by focusing on the life of Saules, both before and after white American settlers came to the region in large numbers. Black exclusion in Oregon was neither an anomalous byproduct of American expansion nor a means to prevent slavery from taking root in the region. Instead, racial exclusion was central to the land-centered settler colonial project in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to the Americanization of the Pacific Northwest, the region was home to a cosmopolitan and increasingly fluid culture that incorporated various local Native groups, exogenous fur industry workers, and missionaries. This was a milieu made possible by colonialism and the rise of merchant capitalism during the Age of Sail, a period which lasted from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. This was also likely a world very familiar to Saules, who had spent his entire adult life aboard ships and in various seaports. However, the American immigrants who began arriving in Oregon in the early 1840s sought to dismantle this multiethnic social order, privatize land, and create a homogenous settler society based on classical republican principles. And although Saules was born in the United States, American settlers, emboldened by a racialist ideology, denied most non-whites a place in their settler society. Furthermore, during the early decades of resettlement, white American settlers often felt vulnerable to attacks from the preexisting population. Therefore, many settlers viewed free black men like Saules, a worldly sailor with connections among Native people, as potential threats to the security of their nascent communities.
Coleman, Kenneth Robert, ""Dangerous Subjects": James D. Saules and the Enforcement of the Color Line in Oregon" (2014). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1845.