History books teach that northern states were free states but it wasn’t that simple.
Lane County is named after Sen. Joseph Lane, who ran on a secessionist ticket with John Breckinridge of Kentucky against Abraham Lincoln. Oregon was the only free state admitted to the Union with a voter-approved constitutional clause banning African Americans. On a personal note, Nokes learned from a family history that he was the descendant of a man who brought a slave named Reuben Shipley to Oregon from Missouri.
Nokes’ research revealed Shipley was one of 50 slaves in Oregon. His book explores many of their lives. A large portion is devoted to the only slavery case ever adjudicated in Oregon courts, Holmes v. Ford.
Nathaniel Ford came west from Missouri in 1844 with his family and six slaves, including Robin Holmes and his wife and children. The Holmes later said they were told they’d be freed after they helped settle his land. After six years Ford released the couple and an infant but kept the other children. In 1852 Holmes sued Ford, then a member of the territorial Legislature, for their release. Nokes’ book shows the tremendous odds he faced and captures a dark shard of Northwest history that might have been swept under the rug.
Nokes retired in 2003 after 43 years in journalism, including 25 years with the Associated Press and 15 years with the Oregonian in Portland. He’ll sign copies of his book from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, July 11, at And Books Too, 918 Sixth St., Clarkston.