17.2.12

The Man Most Responsible for Washington State

Friday, 17 February 2659 - Long Island, New York

In my last blog I told you how Dr. Henry Darrel cut off his foot this week back in 1857. He was suppose to be at Washington State University tomorrow to present the footage he collected on pioneer George Washington Bush. I agreed to take his place since I am also studying the 19th century.

I spent most of today going over the vids and asking Henry questions, which wasn’t easy. The hospital has him so pumped up with pain medication, his sharp mind is a bit mushy. It’s hard to interview a man who keeps giggling. Still the history of Mr. Bush has proved quite fascinating. Why had I never heard of this chap?

George Washington Bush
George Washington Bush was born around 1778 in Pennsylvania. His father was a former sailor of African descent and his mother an Irish maid. They both worked for an English merchant named Stevenson living in Philadelphia. Mr. Stevenson never married so when he died he left his fortune to his servants. So unlike most African-Americans of the time, Bush had never been a slave or lived in poverty. Indeed, Bush was very well off.

However, Bush had an adventurer’s soul. He fought in the War of 1812, then headed for the Pacific Northwest to work for the Hudson Bay Company as a fur trapper for several years. He eventually settled in Missouri. There he met Isabella, the daughter of a German preacher.

Missouri however proved to be a bad choice. It was a slave state and Bush was treated with little respect. One of the few neighbors that was friendly was Michael Troutman Simmons, an illiterate but intelligent man. Simmons liked listening to Bush’s tales of the Oregon Country. Then they both began to hear stories of the lush land in the Willamette Valley at the end of the Oregon Trail. In 1844 they decided to head for the Northwest.

Michael Troutman Simmons
Simmons was a big likable chap so he became the Wagon Master. Bush was the Scout, since he knew the country. Together, with four other families, they headed out. At first the others were leery of having a “Negro” lead them. Between Simmons assurance and Bush’s knowledge, they were quickly convinced they needed Bush.

While at Fort Vancouver, occupied by Brits, French, Hawaiians, Native Americans, Bush had been treated as an equal. Now that the Oregon Country was opening up to settlers, perhaps his family could escape the prejudice of the east.

While the group had been on the trail, the territorial government of Oregon had past the Exclusion Act, also called the Lash Law. It stated that any black person in Oregon Country would be whipped every six months until he left the territory!

Bush’s heart sank when he heard the news. Simmons and the rest of the wagon train said they would stick with him whatever he decided to do. Not only was Bush’s knowledge invaluable, but he had proved himself both generous and helpful to everyone. Isabella had training as a nurse. These were definitely the sort of people you wanted as neighbors in the wilderness.

Someone suggested they head south to California and hope the Mexican government was more liberal. Bush however remembered a place up north called Puget Sound. It was verdant land, but unpopulated. The vast majority of Americans were settling in the Willamette River Valley, south of the Columbia River. The Oregon Country was still jointly claimed by America and Britain. There was an unwritten agreement that north of the Columbia was British territory.

Dr. James McLoughlin
They went to Fort Vancouver to get permission to head north. The fort was a Hudson Bay Company outpost run my Dr. James McLoughlin. He was a company man, but he saw beyond immediate profit. He knew this area had potential for farms. He went against company policy and helped the settlers who showed up. North of the Columbia, though was off limits. Bush, however, was a special case. McLoughlin knew Bush and sympathized with his problem.

The wagon train headed for the south tip of Puget Sound and settled what would one day be called Tumwater, Washington. Simmons and Bush built a grist mill and sawmill there in the first permanent American settlement north of the Columbia. If not for this foothold, the land north of the Columbia might well have stayed British.

Bush, Isabella and their five boys (eventually six) homesteaded 640 acres. Bush proved to be a very successful farmer growing more food than he needed. As others pioneers followed the trail they blazed to Puget Sound, they would arrive in Tumwater penniless and half-starved. Bush gave them food, telling them they could just repay him once they got established. Not only neighboring Olympia owes a debt to Bush, but Tacoma and Seattle came into being with his help.
Bush Prairie Farm in 1967
Then in 1848, America and Britain decided to split the Oregon Country rather than fight over it. Bush suddenly found his home in Oregon Territory and no longer on semi-British land. The Lash Law was in effect. Fortunately his neighbors ignored it. Indeed they didn’t like a lot of the territory laws, so they pushed for self-government and their own territory. In 1853 Bush’s farm was now in Washington Territory.

Still the old Oregon exclusion law clouded Bush’s legal ownership to his land. One of the first actions of the territorial legislation in Olympia was to ask Congress to give the Bushes unambiguous ownership to their land.

William Owen Bush
George Bush’s six sons followed in their father’s footsteps as farmers and civic leaders. In fact his eldest son, William Owen Bush, served two terms in the Washington State Legislator, including her first session. In 1890, one year after the state was admitted to the Union, William introduced a bill establishing an agricultural school that would become Washington State University. And that is why “Wazoo” is so interested in George Bush and his family.

A website dedicated to George Washington Bush

Why Do We Still Call It Thurston County?
Thurston County, where Bush settled, was named for Samuel Thurston the very man who wrote the Exclusion Act (Lash Law) that forced Bush north!

George Washington Bush was not Washington State’s only African-American founding father. George Washington (1817-1905) was the founder of the city of Centralia.

2 comments:

janbrodie said...

I would love to know more about how you researched this most fascinating bit of history.

Jeanette Bennett said...

Mostly knowledge I've accumulated over the years. The first time I read about Bush it was like "Why didn't I learn this in Washington State History class?"

Here are a few links:
https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/bush_george_washington_1790_1863_1790_1863_/#.WQEQwmfn-aE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Bush
http://www.start-wa.com/
http://bluebook.state.or.us/kids/focus/bush.htm
http://www.historylink.org/File/5645

Lash Law:
https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/exclusion_laws/#.WQERy2fn-a