In Oregon City, we are looking to memorialize a man named Jacob Vanderpool, the only known person expelled from Oregon under the state’s Black exclusionary laws. Jacob Vanderpool was a business owner and was forced to leave Oregon after a competing white business owner conspired to have him arrested.
Oregon’s Black Exclusionary Laws
When the emancipation proclamation was written, when the Civil War had ended, and when soldiers arrived in Galveston, TX, newly freed African slaves were able to pursue freedom as American citizens everywhere across this country…except for one place…the state of Oregon. It was illegal to be Black in Oregon, and it would stay that way until 1926.
Oregon was founded with three Black exclusionary laws. The first was when Oregon outlawed slavery. The law gave slaveholders two years to remove their male slaves and three years to remove their female slaves. At that point, the free Blacks had to leave Oregon and any free Black who refused to leave would be subject to lashing. It was called Peters Burnett’s Lash Law and the law stated that the lashings had to be no less than 22 times but no more than 39 times. Peter Burnett is quoted as saying, "the object is to keep clear of that most troublesome class of population [Blacks]. We are in a new world, under the most favorable circumstances and we wish to avoid most of those evils that have so much afflicted the United States and other countries.’’ Again, Oregon passed a law stating that “it shall not be lawful for any negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside” in Oregon. Finally, when Oregon became a state it included in its Bill of Rights a clause that prohibited Blacks from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts. Thus, Oregon was the first state to enter into the Union as a “whites only” state.
This racial exclusion fomented a climate of racial animus that would run deep in the heart of Oregon. In 1864, a Democratic legislator from Yamhill County named George Lawson proposed to his fellow legislators an amendment to Oregon’s Constitution “that a negro, Chinaman or Indian has no right that a white man is bound to respect, and that a white man may murder, rob, rape, shoot, stab and cut any of these worthless and vagabond races, without being called to account.” While this amendment was never taken up to a vote, George Lawson represented a constituency of Oregonians that believed that people of color lacked any rights that a white person was bound to respect in this white utopia of Oregon.
Jacob Vanderpool lived in Oregon City and he is the only known person expelled from Oregon under the state’s Black exclusionary laws. He was a business owner and was forced to leave Oregon after a competing white business owner reported him to authorities. He was our historical neighbor. His crime? Being Black in the state of Oregon.
Jacob Vanderpool first appears in Oregon in the summer of 1851. He was a former sailor from the West Indies turned hotel manager. He was an industrious man, running an ad in the Oregon Statesman nearly every week for his hotel, the Oregon Saloon and Boarding House. However, one month after Jacob Vanderpool first advertises his hotel, the ad for another Oregon City hotel appears in the Oregon Statesman by a man named Theophilus Magruder. And less than one month after that, Theophilus Magruder makes a formal complaint in front of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Oregon where he says that he “prays that a warrant may open for the arrest of the said Jacob Vanderpool and that he is dealt with according to law.” Jacob Vanderpool would then be arrested the very next day. Oregon’s Black exclusionary laws were not written to expel African Americans living in the state, just prevent them from settling here, yet the judge, Thomas Nelson, who presided over Jacob Vanderpool’s case choose to apply the laws in the former. The same judge who happened to be staying at Theophilus Magruder’s hotel. The same judge who spoke fondly of the hotel management. The same judge who was given the nicest room at the hotel.
On August 26, 1851 Thomas Nelson ruled that:
The above-named Jacob Vanderpool, having been brought before me on a warrant based upon the complaint of the above named Theophilus Magruder, and I being satisfied, that the said Jacob Vanderpool is a mulatto, and that he is remaining in the territory of Oregon contrary to the statutes and laws of the territory. I therefore order that the said Jacob Vanderpool remove from the said territory within thirty days from and after the service of this order.
Just like that, Jacob Vanderpool was expelled from the state of Oregon, never to return. An article would run in the Oregon Statesman the following week that praised Thomas Nelson’s ruling as a “reaffirmation of a well-settled doctrine.”
The Vanderpool Project
We are looking to place a historical marker in Oregon City at the spot where Jacob Vanderpool’s business once stood. While there may no longer be legal expulsions in the state of Oregon, our state still foments an element of cultural expulsion on communities of color. The experience of Jacob Vanderpool is still being experienced by people of color today. Thus, in addition to the historical marker, we are working with the city of Oregon City to develop recruitment and retention plans for people of color in the community as our way of remembering and repairing the legacy of Jacob Vanderpool’s expulsion in Oregon City. By using his story to improve the lived reality of people of color in Oregon, we can add new chapters to Jacob Vanderpool’s story and bring him a semblance of redemptive justice.
Oregon City was the birthplace of Oregon’s three Black exclusionary laws. To reconcile our history of history of exclusionary laws, we must go back to the origin of those policies. Starting in Oregon City, the goal is to expand the Vanderpool Project into other communities across Oregon and eventually develop a statewide plan for the reconciliation of our Black exclusionary laws through the intentional recruitment and retention of people of color in Oregon.