Eliza Gorman (ca. 1839–1869)
Hannah Gorman and her daughter Eliza, came to the Oregon Territory in 1844 as slaves of Major John Thorp, a farmer born in Kentucky. The records show some discrepancy in their ages, but Hannah was thought to be about 24 and Eliza about ten when they embarked on their journey west. We have also seen ages of 36 and six, respectively. They settled in Polk County between Independence and Corvallis.
It is hard to determine when they were freed or when the decision was made to change their names to Gorman, but at some point in the 1850s, Hannah and Eliza went south to Benton County. They were industrious women, Eliza an accomplished seamstress and Hannah a laundress. In 1857, they bought two lots on NW Fourth Street in Corvallis, from William F. Dixon and his wife. They built a small home on one of the lots, and later, in 1858 and 1866, Hannah and Eliza purchased two additional lots. This is significant because in 1857, Oregon adopted its Constitution and its exclusionary clause. Although the law was not enforced, the exclusionary clause prohibited blacks from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts.
Eliza died on July 13, 1869, at the age of 30. Her obituary appeared in the Corvallis Gazette on Saturday, July 17, 1869, and the passage below gives us a glimpse as to what Eliza and Hannah meant to the community:
After Eliza’s death, Hannah moved a few times. In the 1870 census we find evidence of her living in the Portland household of J.H. Wilber, a Methodist minister, and his wife Luenetia.
By 1875, Hannah’s son, Hiram, who was left behind when Hannah and Eliza came to Oregon, and his wife Georgia Ann, owned all of Eliza’s and Hannah’s Corvallis property. That same year, they sold it to Hannah, who sold it to a person named Peter Polly. In 1880, Hannah was back in Corvallis living on Second Street, in the same household as Nancy J. Cook, her former white neighbor. She was 69 years old and listed as a boarder.
Hannah died in Salem on July 2, 1888. It is presumed that she was living with her son, Hiram, and his family at the time. She was buried in Corvallis next to her daughter.