Saturday, November 4, 2017

Don't Forget about the Exclusion Laws in the Newly Restored Oregon Constitution

One of the Negro Exclusion clauses
in our original 1857 Oregon Constitution
State Archives and the Secretary of State have announced a "public unveiling of the newly restored Oregon Constitution" for Monday the 6th.

That's pretty neat and all, but at this particular moment in time, what with General Lee in the news again, it's worth remembering that Oregon, while excluding slavery positively, was also explicitly established under the desire for no people of color at all. Current residents might have been grandfathered in, but the message was clear.
No free negro or mulatto not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall come, reside or be within this state or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the legislative assembly shall provide by penal laws for the removal by public officers of all such negroes and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the state, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ or harbor them.
If that's not a Constitutional provision for a system of white supremacy, just what exactly is it?

A recent essay at the Mill, "Rachel Belden Brooks and Family," shows some of the difficulty in our interpretation.
In 1844, a strong desire to avoid racial tensions led the Oregon Provisional Government to outlaw slavery in the Oregon Country. However compassionate this may sound, it was closely followed by a ban on the settling of free blacks in the region. Both laws were designed to keep the black population at a minimum and avoid conflict. Despite these decrees, many families brought slaves on their journey west and few, if any, of the slaves were set free upon entering Oregon. Rachel Belden was one of these, and is the first known black woman of Marion County....
"Avoiding racial tensions" and "avoiding conflict" are inadequate descriptions for the malignant impetus behind the Exclusion laws.

As it happens, it seems the Exclusion laws weren't enforced much, and our informal and ordinary understanding of our history is that we neglected and ignored them. It was bad law. We try to read this neglect in the most virtuous way possible.

But even unenforced, it was still more powerful as general culture than we would like to think. As a general rule, we don't take seriously enough the intent of the Exclusion clauses and the pervasiveness of the racism behind them.

Of course any history on this is difficult. Most of the sources also come from white people, white men particularly, and even when they are well-intentioned, we lose the agency of non-white people, who are not able to be in charge of the stories they tell about themselves in their own words. The "real history," such as it is, is certainly both richer and more terrible than we know. Additionally, around Statehood, Salem was a tiny community, and the stories we might wish to tell are all entangled and so very ambiguous. A Pioneer or civic hero in one context turns out compromised or even vicious in another.

America Waldo and Rachel Belden come to Salem

From Breaking Chains
In his book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory, R. Gregory Nokes writes about several Salem families:
There has long been published speculation that Daniel Waldo brought several slaves, including a black slave woman and her daughter, America Waldo, of whom he was said to be the father. America became America Bogle when she married a free black, Richard A. Bogle, in 1863....the Bogle “family tradition’’ is that Daniel Waldo was America’s father. However, a descendant of Daniel Waldo disputes this version of events. Brian Waldo Johnson of Monmouth, Oregon, said America’s date of birth is listed on her headstone, and in census records, as June 1844, more than a year after Daniel Waldo left Missouri, so he could not have been the father. He said Daniel’s brother, Joseph Waldo, who emigrated in 1846 and apparently did bring slaves, was the more likely candidate to be her father.

There was at least one identified slave in the party: a woman named Rachel Belden, the property of Daniel Delaney Sr., a former plantation owner from Tennessee. Accounts of Delaney’s slaves differ. One said he sold all his slaves before leaving Tennessee; another said he brought “a few slaves’’ to Oregon and later sold them. Delaney settled on a farm at Turner, near Salem. John Minto, who knew Delaney, thought him lazy, spending his time hunting and reading his Bible while his three sons and his slave did the farm work. Added Minto, “he seemed to read his Bible chiefly to find in it support for his dominion over the soul and body of his female slave.”

Delaney was shot and killed in 1865 during a robbery at his home. The killers fled with $1,400. The crime was witnessed by one of Rachel Belden’s children, seven-year-old Jack, or Jackson, hiding in a woodpile. Even though Oregon’s 1857 constitution prohibited blacks from testifying against whites, the boy nevertheless was allowed to testify and helped convict the two accused killers, George Beale and George Baker, a Salem tavern owner. They were hanged May 17, 1865...
So many threads and layers and connections here. Both the Delaney House and Waldo House are still around. The Delaney House has been restored and has been for sale, but the Waldo House languishes in a state of gradual ruin. Direct connections persist. Nokes omits that George Baker and George Beal were said to have used blackface for disguise in the murder of Delaney, presumably seeking to shift blame to nearby African Americans. Beale's family did not claim his body, and Daniel Waldo stepped in to provide a burial near his home.

Waldo House through the years
(Pioneer Houses and Homesteads
in the Willamette Valley, 1841-1865
HPLO/Restore Oregon)
And what does it mean to come to Oregon as a slave or former slave and then to stay in the same household with a former master? Especially in the absence of a first-person narrative to tell us directly, what ambiguous combination of free and unfree is that? This is difficult to understand and to write about. Power, economic power especially, is central to any understanding of who is free and who is not. As we see with the current crimes and harassment alleged of Cosby, Ailes, O'Reilly, and Weinstein, even in our modern era and for women with independent careers, it is difficult to establish equality and freedom. How much more difficult for a former slave far away from her birthplace and family. Full freedom and consent will be elusive in this context.

From the Mill's essay on Rachel Belden again, probably erring on the side of a harmonizing interpretation and minimizing racism, with one final link of the two stories through Waldo:
It is possible that Rachel was unaware of the law that declared her a free woman in the Oregon County and therefore stayed with the Delaney family for the next two decades. Besides taking care of the ailing Mrs. Delaney, Rachel did the housework and took care of the garden. Moreover, noted pioneer John Minto later commented on her industriousness as she worked side by side with the Delaney boys in the orchards and fields. Different writers give varied accounts of the character of Rachel’s master. On one hand, he was a caring man, well-liked and hospitable to everyone, including his slaves. A southern gentleman in every way, “Mr. Delany was so highly respected and his good deeds of helpfulness to the settlers that came after him so well known,” that his death caused terrible sadness. Another writer suggests that he did little work himself and “seemed to read his bible chiefly to find in it support for his dominion over the soul and body of his female slave.” Whatever sort of man he was, Rachel lived with him and the family until federal law set her free during the Civil War. During this time, Rachel bore two sons: Newman, born in 1847 (also referred to as Noah), and Jack (also known as Jackson or Jack De Wolf). It is suspected that Mr. Delaney fathered these two mulatto boys.

In 1864, Rachel married the widower Nathan Brooks....the Brooks’ lived on the nearby farm of Daniel Waldo and later moved to Salem.
Rev. Obed Dickinson's Struggle

at the Mill, January 2016
A significant character Nokes does not mention is the officiant for the Waldo-Bogle wedding, the Rev. Obed Dickinson.

Though the research is a generation old, and almost certainly needs to be updated, Egbert S. Oliver's 1991 article in Oregon Historical Quarterly, "Obed Dickinson and the 'Negro Question' in Salem," is most the thorough we have. Oliver tells us that
Marion County was estimated to have had about twenty African Americans in 1860. Several of these blacks had gathered around Rev. Dickinson and the Congregational church in Salem, with Dickinson be coming a public spokesman from his pulpit in behalf of recognizing their common humanity and their place in the community.
Dickinson himself said
Among those giving evidence of hopeful conversion and true piety were three negroes once slaves, now free. These came to me, and with the utmost modesty, asked if I would be willing to let them come into the Church. I said yes, if you love Christ. I talked with them faithfully several times after that at their houses, and was satisfied that they were sincere disciples of Christ. I then told them that they might come before the brethren of the Church and if, after examination they voted to receive them, they could become members of the Church...
But that formal admission to the congregation was contested. Some members of the church cut off donations in the face of possible integration.

Oliver also cites a letter from Asahel Bush to Judge Deady. It references the Waldo-Bogle wedding and seethes with racist contempt. Bush also seems to have stirred things up against Dickinson in Salem. (This is why the one-sidedness of the recently published letters to Bush is problematic! We need both sides of the correspondence. The Deady letters that have been transcribed are from Jan 10th and the 20th in 1863, and do not seem to contain any direct reply to this letter. Additionally, the sentiments in Bush's letter are so repellent that it does not seem useful to transcribe them - you can see for yourself. But it is a side to "Ass-a-Hell" Bush that needs more visibility in general. We have allowed a benign image of him to take root as one of Salem's founding fathers, and there are reasons to think his legacy far more deeply mixed. Really, there are many ways this history needs to be updated, refreshed, and expanded.)

Dickinson was eventually driven from the pulpit and became a seed merchant. Edgerton writes:
The Congregational church in Salem and throughout Oregon had for a decade firmly denounced the immorality of slavery, but the sentiment that African Americans were not welcome in Oregon was also general, though not unanimous. Few people, in any case, were ready to have the question of African American equality even brought up for discussion. That was the rub, and it was a serious rub for the First Congregational Church of Salem....

Many antislavery ministers in Oregon did not approach the African American and slavery issues as Dickinson had done. When he brought the issue directly before the city of Salem, in regard to education for African American children, justice for a black boy charged with theft, and social equality in general, he ran into opposition so firm that his own steadfast principles could not prevail.
Unsurprisingly, Waldo and Bogle did not stay and left Salem in 1863, shortly after their wedding.

John McClane's Southern Sympathies

There was also a meaningful Confederate sympathy in Salem. Here is evidence our McLane Island is named after such a sympathizer.

In one of his reminiscences of early Salem on "The Jason Lee House" (from Marion County History, volume 8, 1962), Lewis E. Judson says
Because John McClane, born in Philadelphia, grew up in Baltimore and spent a short time in New Orleans, he followed the Confederate line of thinking during the War between the States. Hence he became a leader in the Knights of the Golden Circle, a subversive organization devoted to helping the Confederate cause. [link added]
Judson goes on to describe a secret meeting at the Jason Lee house held by John McClane during the Civil War. The narrative is a little confusing. His father Robert Judson had gone to visit his sister Helen, who had married McClane. On his way, Robert was stopped several times by members of the Marion Rifles, "a semi-official military outfit with which he had associated to a considerable extent." Apparently the paramilitary group was standing guard.
after a time the men came down the stairs into the dark hall one at a time and slipped quietly out. When all had departed McClane came down and a light was made. A government spy had been in the meeting, but the military personnel did not know it.
It is hard to say whether Judson is here claiming the Marion Rifles were supporting and protecting the Knights of the Golden Circle or were opposed to them and standing guard for some reason other than McClane's meeting. Judson's narrative is unclear enough that it seems likely there is more to the story he's not telling.

Almost certainly we overstate unity for the Union cause in the Salem during the Civil War.

More History of Early Salem Please!

Our general sense of Salem history has a Whiggish tone, a sense of progress and virtue, minimizing the bad stuff. But it was more ambiguous, difficult, and contested than this allows for.

Maybe we need to flip the discussion so we are not merely talking about "exclusion" laws as some minor footnote to the greater glories of the State's own Constitution, but we are talking instead about a more expansive and contested vision for white supremacy right here in Salem and in Oregon. There is a richer history of African Americans in Salem than we know about, and the struggles they faced are often worse than we might think.

For more see:


videomash said...

When the Jason Lee house was moved to its current site around 1964, the Oregonian reported that Knights of the Golden Circle founded one Salem "circle" in the house.

The struggle between K.G.C. and the Salem Clique for control of Oregon's Democratic Party and the Capital, led to an unexplained burning of the Capitol building in 1855, separate state conventions in 1860 and an 1863 Fourth of July brawl in a Salem park.

One clue may be found in the cemeteries where our founders are buried. Jason Lee is buried in the "Diamond Square" in the Lee Mission Cemetery, while Bush, Boise and friends are at the Odd Fellows Pioneer Cemetery.

Since exclusionary laws were created and passed here in Salem, it stands to reason that this flavor of inequality may still linger around town. Especially when no one knows (or cares) who burned our Capitol.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Do you have more specific citations? It would be interesting to follow-up on these.

As for the cemeteries, Lee wasn't buried here until 1906, and the cemetery has always had a very specific Methodist focus, so any KGC-related reason for burial there vs. the IOOF cemetery there seems very unlikely.