Oftentimes, one can feel a bit distanced in the Pacific Northwest from the concept of African American slavery; to many, it conjures up thoughts of distant cotton fields in the Deep South or plantations sprawling amongst east coast tidewater communities.
However, one need not travel to our nation's southern or eastern states to walk in the footsteps of slaves; although obscured by time, African Americans were held in bondage in modern-day Oregon and Washington - and what is today's Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
One of the more fascinating stories is that of Monimia Travers.
In the autumn of 1849, the march of the U.S. Army's Regiment of Mounted Riflemen along the Oregon Trail terminated at Fort Vancouver and Oregon City, bringing several hundred soldiers and officers - and a few families - to the Pacific Northwest.
Among these soldiers was a recent West Point graduate from New York State - Captain Llewellyn Jones. Jones, along with at least three of his fellow officers, brought his family on the journey. Traveling with the expedition in a large, mule-driven spring wagon, Jones' daughter Frederica would later recall that the wagon's seats could be folded into beds for the family's use.
Just months before, Captain Jones had purchased an African American slave from a man named Isaac Burbayge. Her name was Monimia Travers, and she was approximately 48 years old.
Generally speaking, Jones' case was not unique; many of the early pioneers in present-day Oregon and Washington avowed their belief in the peculiar institution of slavery. However, Jones' position as a U.S. Army officer adds an interesting twist to the story, and connects it to Fort Vancouver.
The expedition of the Mounted Riflemen and their trek from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Vancouver has reached mythic proportions over the past century. However, the significant scholarship dedicated to their march - which includes a mile-by-mile accounting of the trek and the names of many of the participating soldiers - provides little understanding of any of the accompanying women and fails to mention Monimia Travers.
By piecing together extant U.S. Census records, we know that Travers was a 49 year-old Virginia native who spent several months at the Army's Fort Vancouver, working as a servant for the Jones family. Through other documents, we also know that Jones freed Travers from slavery while at Fort Vancouver.
In 1851, Jones filed the following manumission document at Fort Vancouver:
Fort Vancouver, May 5, 1851
Mommia Travers, a black woman, aged about forty-five, bought by me from Isaac Burbayge, in April, 1849, I have this day given her freedom unconditionally, and she is in all respects free to go and do as may seem to her most to her advantage, without let or hindrance from me, my agents, heirs or assigns. Witness my hand and seal, at Vancouver, May 5th, 1851. Llewellyn Jones, Captain U.S.A.
The above named woman, Mommia, is an honest and perfectly conscientious woman and deserves kind and good treatment at the hands of every one. Llewellyn Jones, Captain, U.S.A. Recorded, July 29th, 1857 [sic?]