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August 21, 2010 / JV

The Good G.W. Bush

Black history for that ass.

Long before the initialed alias “G.W. Bush” became another way of saying “nitwit,” there was an individual with those very same initials: a journeying man and pioneer who was responsible for establishing a settlement in the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest, and spurring the territorial legislative action that led to a special act of Congress which secured his land title in 1855.

In 1844, when black people were legally prohibited from settling in certain parts of the United States (and unlawfully prevented from settling in others), George Washington Bush led a group of settlers, which included his family and five other families, from Missouri into Oregon Territory by way of the Oregon Trail. He was not new to journeys or the Pacific Northwest, having made a trip from Mexico to the Columbia River in 1820 trapping and hunting, and having worked many years in Oregon Country for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Unable to settle in the Willamette Valley due to laws passed by the Provisional Government of Oregon prohibiting blacks from owning land, Bush and his party traveled across the Columbia River and established Bush Prairie in what would eventually become Tumwater, Washington.

At a time when the trope of the American frontier was being claimed as integral to the project of constructing a white male identity in the New World, George Washington Bush was among the black frontierswomen, men and homesteaders to provide an alternative to the monochromatic narrative. His story complicates the traditionally white masculinist tales/fantasies of journeying, exploration and discovery, and casts light on the black (or “other”) presence during an era in which whiteness was at once an invisible and omnipresent part of defining what it meant to become American.

George Washington Bush was one of the first American settlers and the first black settler in what would become the state of Washington. He was a veteran of the battle of New Orleans and of the war of 1812. He helped finance his fellow pioneer Michael Simmons’ logging company, and was responsible for the construction of the Tumwater area’s first gristmill and sawmill. At one point during his expedition from Missouri to Washington, when his party was crossing the plains and running low on supplies, he purchased enough flour at $60/barrel and sugar at $1/pound to last them until they reached Oregon City. In other words: get on his level.

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Bethy / Sep 3 2010 5:43 pm

    Um, I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Moro did NOT cover this guy in PNW…or maybe I just wasn’t listening? :)

    • the black scientist / Sep 11 2010 5:46 pm

      Wow, Mrs. Moro… Memories.

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