William (John) Livingstone

William (John) Livingstone (1836–1912)

William Livingstone was born into slavery in Missouri in 1836. By 1863, Livingstone was freed during the Civil War by his owner, Judge Joseph Ringo. In 1864, he came to Oregon as a free man with former owner Ringo and his family, who settled in the Oregon City area in Clackamas County. Sources indicate Livingstone was given 40 acres of property in the Clarkes area, southeast of Oregon City.

Livingstone was an industrious and successful businessman. As a hostler, he transported wood and lumber from the bluffs in Oregon City to the buildings being built in what is now known as the old downtown area. 

Livingstone was also a successful farmer, landowner, and a prominent member of the State Grange. He bought and sold property on multiple occasions in the Clackamas County area and beyond. In July of 1884, Livingstone became the mortgage holder for some property in Oregon City for two other local residents, Duncan Cameron and J.E. Coates, for a total sum of $1599.00 plus interest. Later this transaction became part of a legal dispute when Livingstone sold the mortgage to a Mr. Driggs, who took Cameron and Coates to court for non-payment.

According to Livingstone’s will, at the time of his death he owned 160 acres of property in Lake County, as well as 800 shares of the Ogle Creek Mining Company, located near Molalla. He also owned a life insurance policy through the Grange Insurance Company and his estate was valued at $15,000 (over $360,000 in today’s dollars). Livingstone’s estate was eventually settled by his son and heir, Charles Livingstone, in 1916.

Sources indicate that hundreds of people attended William Livingstone’s funeral. His story illustrates the opportunity that a motivated, business-minded former slave could potentially carve out in the early decades of the state of Oregon.

View page one of William Livingstone's 1872 land deed. Livingstone’s earliest appearance in Clackamas County’s deed records shows him selling a total of 128 acres of property located southeast of Oregon City to the very man who had previously owned him as a slave in Missouri.

Portrait of William Livingstone with a beard and in suit and tie.
William (John) Livingstone. Enlarge image​.
List of person's names, description of land, sections, township, range, number of acres and value.
In 1871, William Livingstone had ​lived in Oregon for less than 10 years. That year’s tax assessment roll showed he owned 120 acres of land southeast of Oregon City, as well as $528.00 worth of personal property. However, his total property value was $228.00 due to $300.00 of indebtedness. Enlarge image