History is intriguing because 10 people can
tell the history of something and all of them can tell it a different way and all of them believe their version. Black history in America is even more daunting because we need to go back and add our story into a story the public already believes it knows.
The story about the founding of the state of Washington is one of those stories, and every time I tell someone this version, they look at me with amazement. What’s amazing about the story is that the man who actually did more to create the state of Washington is a black man named George Washington Bush, almost the same name as the state’s namesake.
Imagine it’s 1844, and you are a free, racially mixed man who is married to a white woman, and you want to get out of Missouri as fast as you can because the racial discrimination is really bad. You are asked to join a party of four other families heading to the Oregon Territory.
But on the way to the Promised Land, the provisional government of Oregon creates a new law called the “lash law.” The law was intended to prevent a large-scale migration of blacks and provided 20 strokes and no more than 39 strokes every six months until they left the Oregon Territory.
The other four families, led by Michel T. Simmons, had grown close to the Bush family so they decided to move with them across the Columbia River into the Northwest Territories, which, at that point, was owned jointly by the United States and Britain.
They stayed in a small settlement outside of Fort Vancouver (present-day Chehalis) in the winter of 1844 to ‘45. It was a land he had learned about when he worked as a trapper for the Hudson Bay Co.
The group finally moved farther inland to the Puget Sound, in Tumwater, outside of Olympia, and establishes the first permanent American settlement in 1845. The settlement was called Bush Prairie.
George Washington Bush (the wealthiest man in the group because he was a successful farmer; Bush and Simmons were the owners of the first sawmill and gristmill in the state) was known as a generous pioneer to people who arrived later on the way to the smaller settlements of Seattle in 1851 and Tacoma in 1852.
The British and American governments decided to split their holdings in 1846 based on who had the most settlers in the area. The United States ended up with the area south of the 49th parallel, later called Washington Territory and later a state, because of the settlers from the Bush party.
For 17 years, until 1863, Bush welcomed settlers from that farm on a small rise of land, and it was clearly the hub for settlers coming to the virgin territories of the Northwest.
His son, William Owens Bush, the first black state legislator, who was credited with the law creating
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