George Washington

Photo of George Washington, an early black settler, sitting on a porch with a dog at his side.
George Washington sits on a porch with a dog. Enlarge image
George Washington (1817–1905)

George Washington was one of the early black settlers in the Pacific Northwest who overcame prejudice and discrimination in order to play a crucial role in settling the Washington Territory. 

Washington was born in Virginia in 1817. Soon after his birth, his father, a slave, was sold and his mother left him with a white couple, James and Anna Cochran, who raised him. As a small boy he lived in Ohio and Missouri. While living in Missouri, the Cochrans petitioned the state on George’s behalf and he was given full rights as a citizen, except for the right to vote.

In 1850, George and the Cochrans moved to the Oregon Territory. They first settled in Oregon City, but because of the laws prohibiting blacks from settling in Oregon and owning land, they decided to cross the Columbia River to the Northern Oregon Territory. The Cochrans purchased land under their name, near the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck Rivers. A petition was mounted by the citizens in the area to allow George Washington to remain in the territory. When the Washington Territory was created in 1853, the new territory’s statutes did not prohibit blacks from owning land. George purchased the Cochran’s land and additional property, which he both farmed and logged. In the early 1870s, the Northern Pacific Railroad was built through his land.

At some point, George married local widow Mary Jane Cooness. He was a prominent member of the community and founded the town of Centerville in 1875 (the name was changed to Centralia in 1883). George Washington died in 1905 at the age of 88, and is remembered as a leading African American pioneer of the Pacific Northwest.