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'Breaking Chains' exposes early bondage in Oregon

Author and lifelong journalist R. Gregory Nokes stirred the history pot this spring with the release of his book, “Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory.”

Nokes will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 27, at the Museum of the Oregon Territory, 211 Tumwater Drive, Oregon City, about the touching and often dramatic story of African-Americans brought to Oregon as slaves in the mid-1800s.

“People should be aware of this unhappy era of Oregon’s history,” Nokes said. “We need to know our past to appreciate how far we’ve come, and how much further we need to go.”

Travelers on the early Oregon Trail considered themselves “emigrants” rather than “immigrants,” in the sense that they were leaving the then-boundaries of the United States for new lands and newer laws.

“Most Oregon settlers were opposed to slavery, and glad to flee the slave culture,” Nokes said. “Although the state’s earliest laws prohibited slavery, they were rarely enforced.”

Nokes, a resident of West Linn, was drawn into the subject of slavery in Oregon by his brother’s revelation that one of their ancestors had brought a slave into Oregon. That man, Ruben Shipley, was freed after helping Nokes’ relative settle his farm.



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