In 1844, George Bush, also known as George Washington Bush, a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trapper and veteran of the United States Army, led five families, including his own, across the Oregon Trail from Missouri. After a journey of four months, Bush’s group reached Oregon Territory, which was then ruled by a Joint Occupancy Agreement between the United States and Great Britain. However, Oregon Provisional Government laws prevented Bush from settling in Oregon because of his race: Bush’s father was black.
The entire group decided not to settle in a place that Bush could not. They traveled to the north bank of the Columbia River, beyond the reach of the provisional government’s laws, and spent their first winter near the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver. There, they received assistance and temporary employment from Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin.
The Bush family and the families that had accompanied them west ultimately settled near Tumwater, where they established the first permanent American settlement in the Puget Sound area. When the United States’ boundaries expanded to include Washington Territory, laws denying settlement rights to African Americans also came north. However, in the 1850s, Bush’s friends in the territorial legislature passed a resolution to provide an exception for the Bush family, and George Washington Bush was able to keep his very successful farm.
The Bush family helped to establish American land claims to the Puget Sound area and Washington Territory. His children continued his legacy of agriculture and public service in the state. In 1889, his eldest son, William, became the first African American to serve in the Washington legislature, and introduced the legislation that established Washington State University.
Learn more about George Bush here.