Thursday, May 29, 2014

#empoblognov03 But Bush19c didn't make it to King County

Another of my posts in November 2003 did not require an editorial comment at the time, but it does now. Remember that back in November 2003, our President happened to be named George W. Bush. In that 2003 post, I quoted from the then-current version of a Library of Congress page. There have been some slight edits since, but here's the relevant historical portion.

On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison declared Washington the forty-second state in the Union. Less than fifty years after pioneers began entering the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail, the United States borders extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Spanish and British explorers landed on the Northwest coast in the 1770s; American explorers followed. In 1818, the United States and Britain jointly occupied the "Oregon Country," of which Washington was a part.

In 1844, presidential candidate James K. Polk urged an aggressive stance with regard to ownership of the land below the 54th parallel. The slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" became a rallying cry of the Polk campaign. Two years later, the U.S. and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty setting the Canadian-American border at the 49th parallel and granting the United States territory that included present-day Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In 1848, Congress designated this newly acquired area the "Oregon Territory."

Racial exclusion laws prompted the first settlers to venture into the Washington region. In 1844, George W. Bush, a man of African-American or possibly East Indian ancestry on his father’s side (his mother was Irish), was among the early pioneers to Oregon Country. He and his family left Missouri, a slave state, which forbid nonwhites from possessing land and becoming citizens. They set off with their friend, Michael Simmons and his family, along with three other white families on the Oregon Trail.

The Bush and Simmons parties soon learned that the Oregon Provisional Government also prohibited black people from owning property. Bush's party evaded control of the provisional government by crossing the Columbia River and heading north—away from the American settlers and their government. They settled in late 1845 on land that was under the purview of Britain's Hudson's Bay Company—where the restrictive laws were not actively enforced. This land was later named Tumwater, of which Olympia, the state capital of present-day Washington, traces its settlement. The 1846 Treaty of Oregon, however, brought this land under the Oregon Territory's discriminatory laws.

Bush, a generous man and friends with many of the new territory's legislators, was now without a clear legal claim on land that he and his family had cultivated. Members of the first session of the Washington Territorial Legislature voted unanimously to petition Congress to validate Bush's title to his land. Congress read twice and committed a bill on January 30, 1885, "An Act for the Relief of George Bush, of Thruston County, Washington Territory." The bill passed on February 10, 1885.

This episode in Washington's history is particularly interesting when you consider the history of King County, Washington (north of Olympia). The county was initially named for William Rufus King, a fact that offended people a century later. The county was therefore renamed for Martin Luther King in 1986, although the renaming wasn't official until 2005.

See, I told you that it takes government forever to get anything done.

P.S. If people in the state of Washington were offended by the fact that King County was named for a slaveowner, when will the state itself be renamed?
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