George Washington Bush
George Washington Bush (1790–1863)
Born in Pennsylvania in 1790 to an African-American father from India and Irish-American mother, George Washington Bush became one of the earliest permanent settlers of Puget Sound in the Washington Territory. He was raised as a Quaker, educated in Philadelphia, a veteran of the War of 1812, and a former Hudson Bay Company fur trapper.
In 1844, Bush and his family, along with four white families, including his friend Michael Simmons, left Missouri and headed west on the Oregon Trail. Bush knew the western region from his days as a trapper, which made him a huge asset to the wagon party. By the time the party reached the Oregon Country, they found that the discriminatory laws had preceded them. The provisional government set up in the Oregon Territory had enacted legislation preventing blacks from settling or owning land. As a result, Bush and his party traveled north across the Columbia River, into territory that was claimed by both the United States and Great Britain.
The Bushes and the other four families established a settlement named Bush Prairie. They farmed the land and built the area’s first gristmill and sawmill and also assisted travelers settling in the Tacoma and Seattle areas.
When the United States’ boundaries expanded to include Washington Territory with the Oregon Treaty of 1846, the laws denying settlement rights to blacks also moved north. This meant that Bush could not claim the land his family had settled.
When the Washington Territory was formed in 1853, many of the new legislators knew and were friends with the Bush family. They voted unanimously for a resolution urging Congress to give the Bushes ownership of their land, which was granted in 1855. Bush was among the very first African-American landowners in Washington State. After his death in 1863 and his wife Isabella’s in 1866, his children and their descendants continued his legacy of agriculture and public service.