Breaking Chains ~ A Book on Oregon’s Slave History

Author Gregory Nokes gave a wonderful lecture about his new book Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory and the OMA was in attendance!

In his book Nokes retraces the steps of the white settlers who came to the Oregon territory, mostly from Missouri, and the prejudiced attitudes they brought with them. And, some of the settlers not only brought their attitudes, they brought their slaves. The main story in the book is the Holmes vs Ford, 1852-1853 trial in which a former slave couple files suit against their former owner to gain custody of their children. Nokes tells the story while also contextualizing it against the backdrop of the slavery debate not only in Oregon, but across the nation.

 Nokes Lecture Oct 15th; map of trails to Oregon

                           Nokes Reading an Excerpt from Breaking Chains


Find out more about the book and its author on the Breaking Chains Website


Nokes explained that overall, while the settlers who migrated to Oregon were anti-slavery, they were also anti-black. These were the white men that then made and enforced the laws. When Oregon admitted to the Union as a state, it was anti-slavery, however, its constitution also included exclusion laws forbidding free blacks from settling in the area.


And, earlier in the evening, as a special treat, Nokes spoke with the class TCE 408H Sundown Towns in Oregon. He shared his experiences as a researcher giving the class advice about which sources he found useful, sources such as legislative and census records, newspapers, oral histories, and consulting with experts.

Author Gregory Nokes 

Nokes with the TCE 408H Class

 To find out more about Sundown Towns, check out the blog post about last year’s 408H class: Sundown Towns in Oregon, Fall Term 2012

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