Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory

Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory

by R. Gregory Nokes
Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory

Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory

by R. Gregory Nokes


    Qualifies for Free Shipping
    Check Availability at Nearby Stores

Related collections and offers


When they were brought to Oregon in 1844, Missouri slaves Robin and Polly Holmes and their children were promised freedom in exchange for helping develop their owner’s Willamette Valley farm. However, Nathaniel Ford, an influential settler and legislator, kept them in bondage until 1850, even then refusing to free their children. Holmes took his former master to court and, in the face of enormous odds, won the case in 1853.

In Breaking Chains, R. Gregory Nokes tells the story of the only slavery case adjudicated in Oregon’s pre-Civil War courts—Holmes v. Ford. Through the lens of this landmark case, Nokes explores the historical context of racism in Oregon and the West, reminding readers that there actually were slaves in Oregon, though relatively few in number.

Drawing on the court record, Nokes offers an intimate account of the relationship between a slave and his master from the slave’s point of view. He also explores the experiences of other slaves in early Oregon, examining attitudes toward race and revealing contradictions in the state’s history. Oregon was the only free state admitted to the union with a voter-approved constitutional clause banning African Americans and, despite the prohibition of slavery in the state, many in Oregon tolerated it and supported politicians who advocated for slavery, including Oregon’s first territorial governor.

Breaking Chains sheds light on a somber part of Oregon’s history, bringing the story of slavery in Oregon to a broader audience. The book will appeal to readers interested in Pacific Northwest history and in the history of slavery in the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780870717123
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Publication date: 05/01/2013
Edition description: 1
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,134,293
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

R. Gregory Nokes is the author of Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon, an Oregonian Pacific Northwest “Top 10” book. He travelled the world as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press and The Oregonian. He is a graduate of Willamette University and attended Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. He and his wife, Candise, live in West Linn, Oregon.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Timeline: Dates and Events xvi

First Slaves 1

The Good Life in Missouri 3

The Lure of Oregon 11

On the Trail 20

Freedom Delayed 29

Oregon's Dixie 31

Land and More Land 37

The Applegate Trail 41

Oregon's "Lash Law" 47

The Cockstock Affair 53

Gold Miners and Slaves 64

"My Children Held as Slaves" 72

Holmes vs. Ford, Day-by-Day 75

Ford's Secret Strategy 86

Enter Judge Williams 90

Reuben Shipley 96

They Weren't Alone 98

An Army Slave 112

The Free State Letter 116

Let Voters Decide 121

The Great Slavery Non-Debate 127

"Consecrate!!!" Oregon for Whites 137

Voters Do Decide 139

A Voice for Equality 149

Reuben and Mary Jane 153

Who Was Reuben Ficklin? 157

Mary Jane's Final Trial 161

Slaveholders' Last Stand 164

Moving On 172

Epilogue 183

Acknowledgments 184

Appendix I Henkles and Wyatts 186

Appendix II Slaves in Oregon 189

Notes 191

Bibliography 215

Index 221

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews