Few people identify slavery with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. However, there were slaves in the region particularly in the decade before the Civil War. In the following article, Gregory Paynter Shine, the Chief Ranger and Historian at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, describes the brief enslavement and manumission of one woman, Monimia Travers, whose story touched the region.
Oftentimes, one can feel a bit distanced in the Pacific Northwest from the concept of African American slavery; to many, it conjures up thoughts of distant cotton fields in the Deep South or plantations sprawling amongst east coast tidewater communities.
However, one need not travel to our nation’s southern or eastern states to walk in the footsteps of slaves; although obscured by time, African Americans were held in bondage in modern-day Oregon and Washington – and what is today’s Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
One of the more fascinating stories is that of Monimia Travers.
In the autumn of 1849, the march of the U.S. Army’s Regiment of Mounted Riflemen along the Oregon Trail terminated at Fort Vancouver and Oregon City, bringing several hundred soldiers and officers – and a few families – to the Pacific Northwest.
Among these soldiers was a recent West Point graduate from New York State – Captain Llewellyn Jones. Jones, along with at least three of his fellow officers, brought his family on the journey. Traveling with the expedition in a large, mule-driven spring wagon, Jones’ daughter Frederica would later recall that the wagon’s seats could be folded into beds for the family’s use.
Just months before, Captain Jones had purchased an African American slave from a man named Isaac Burbayge. Her name was Monimia Travers, and she was approximately 48 years old.
Generally speaking, Jones’ case was not unique; many of the early pioneers in present-day Oregon and Washington avowed their belief in the peculiar institution of slavery. However, Jones’ position as a U.S. Army officer adds an interesting twist to