History and Influential Context (Commentary June 2021)
Historical fact does not always align with historical context. We may see something official and just assume that the fact tells us the story and, in some cases, rush to give that fact meaning without the context that surrounded the historical storyline. This is problematic, as fact does not necessarily give us meaning.
When we explore history, it should be with the eye of an eagle to find connections to attempt an understanding of the actions of those who left their imprint in the archives of time. Not every fact is a clarifying statement. There are almost always shades of gray that lead to more puzzles to piece together. So often, hasty generalizations can be made that, while fact based, only muddy the waters even further.
In my “attempts” at film making. It has been my integral responsibility to gather as much information, with as much integrity as possible, to eventually present the best truth, and the most accurate representation of the facts as they relate to the context of the historical times. There is also a descendant variable which is to do my best to inform and work with the people who are living now. Documenting their stories as part of the puzzle, even if those stories are contradictory, or do not hold up to historical records. Within every family story, there is some truth, no truth, or all truth. It is not my place to judge historical accounting. It is my job as a researcher to find evidence, or lack thereof, that either supports those accounts or refutes them. And to eventually present their stories and the information in a manner that is respectful of all parties. I do this so that anyone can enjoy the stories and understand history.
In the Lafayette Pioneer cemetery lies a young black man in the plot of a white family. The family of 1843 pioneer Miles Cary. I have been exploring the history of this man whose name was Robert Hussey, Born May 4, 1854 and died at the age of 24 on July 1, 1878. I have not previously posted anything about this as I have not found, nor put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I cannot with any integrity just put out hasty generalizations about this man’s status in Oregon, or why he is buried where he is buried. His story cannot be told through generalizations made from one piece of the puzzle, but we can make educated guesses based on all of the puzzle pieces we have.
The recollections of individuals who have heard the stories handed down from generation to generation, are more or less testimonials and an excellent place to start digging, but these accounts may differ from family member to family member, they may be out right fabrications that have become legends in family lore, they may be half truths or somewhat truths and in some cases they may the ouright truth of the matter. Due to this variance, accounts cannot be considered hard evidence of some event or activity, but they bring the people to life and give them character, personality, and allow researchers and historians to take their search deeper into the genealogical abyss.
Let’s start with the family with whom he is buried. What facts and personal accounts do we have that are public knowledge?
Fact: Cyrene Cary describes a “colored woman” (History of the Willamette Valley Vol. 4) who travelled with the Miles Cary and Cyrene Cary wagon to Missouri, where they stayed for about 2 years. Every account so far has stated this was Robert’s mother;
Possibly: One account states that she may have been the “daughter” of Cyrene Cary’s Nanny (updated June 9th based on an anonymous tip from another researcher, gives us more to explore);
Possibly: Another account says she was a slave left behind in Missouri who followed the wagon train. The Cary family, having gotten so far from their stepping off point, could not send her back, and she joined them on the Oregon Trail. This account is based on the telling by Kolene Williams as archived at the Log Cabin Historical building in Lafayette;
Possibly: She may have escaped slavery after being sold or left behind in Missouri. This would explain why she is not listed on any slave schedule or counted in the 1850 census. Had she been an escaped slave, she would have been subject to being captured, and upon her death, her son would have most likely been subject to being returned to slavery in her place. This idea too came from another anonymous researcher. (Updated June 9, 2021)
Most Likely Fact: She gave birth to a son in 1854 in St. Joseph, Oregon ( According to Google) Saint Joseph is an unincorporated community in Yamhill County, Oregon, United States. It is located about two miles west of Lafayette near Oregon Route 99W. The area is sometimes known as “St. Joe;”
Most Likely Fact: She died sometime between 1854 and 1858, leaving her son (aged four in 1858) in the care of the Cary family. The family account according to documents in the archive is that she is buried on the original Cary family land, in St. Joe, under an oak tree;
Fact: Miles cary passed away in 1858. His will was probated in Yamhill County. Among his assets, is listed “one colored boy”, valued at 3,00.00;
Fact: The 1850 Census lists a “white” farm hand named John J. Ransom;
Fact: There is no required Census Slave Schedule on record for Miles Cary in 1850;
Possibly: Robert Hussey’s mother would have been listed on a Slave Schedule had she been a slave in 1850;
Most Likely: Robert’s mother had been a slave and was freed prior to 1850.
Fact: The 1860 Census lists a “Cary” child “Robert” aged “6” living with the Cary family;
Fact: There is no birth or death record for the child named Robert in the 1860 Census;
Fact: Cyrene Cary is not shown in any record to have given birth to a child named Robert;
Most Likely: Pioneer Cemetery burials (Note Robert Hussey listed as “son of a slave” Not sourced yet).
Link: Lafayette Pioneer Cemetery, Burials
Fact: In the 1870 census, Robert is listed as a farm hand. This is five years after emancipation. Note: In this census, race has been added to the categories. Robert is listed as M for “Mulatto” under this category. His entry falls at the top of the second page.
For what reason was Robert listed as a monetary asset in the probated list of assets from 1858, and why did Cyrene list Robert as a “Cary” in the 1860 census, after Miles death? The assets list itself would have been compiled by Cyrene and her son in law who was the executor of his estate.
In 1849, Black exclusionary laws stated that it was unlawful for any negro, or mulatto, to enter into or reside in Oregon. Robert was born in 1854, which in the legal eyes of some, may have meant that his presence in Oregon was unlawful. Keep in mind we are talking about a 4 year old mixed race child in 1858. Between 1849 and 1859, exclusionary laws were enacted, changed, and repealed in different forms. In 1857, new exclusionary laws allowed for free blacks who were in Oregon to remain, however, slavery was still legal.
This poses some additional questions that have possible answers:
What would have happened to a four year old mixed race child in 1858, living in an exclusionary state with no “guardian” or “owner?”
Most likely he would have been subject to the exclusionary laws and would have been deported and sold into slavery.
Why would the Cary family not just adopt him? Why list him as a monetary asset?
It is unlikely that the Cary family would have claimed him as “guardians” in the political climate of the time. I am not even sure if they could legally adopt him considering his status. Laws related to slavery had become quite convoluted by 1858. The Democratic party in the Oregon legislature were working to make Oregon a slave state, while the majority sided with the Union. Oregon was divided on many fronts related to how they should deal with Black people living and attempting to move into Oregon. The main idea that they all had in common was that the majority wanted a white state. Oregon was the only state to have been admitted to the Union with exclusionary laws in place. Also, at this time the Civil war was looming on the horizon. Oregon joined the Union is 1859.
The points to the possibility that Cyrene made a decision to include the boy as an asset to insure he was protected from the exclusionary laws for at least three years and from the slave trade (Slave owners were given three years to remove slaves from the territory).
In 1860, Cyrene chose to list “Robert” (age 6) as a Cary child. Oregon had been admitted to the Union, meaning that legally, Robert would have been safe from the exclusionary laws and from the slave trade.
Evidence that supports this idea:
There is no official evidence that Miles Cary owned any slaves save one entry in the assets list that would have been compiled by Cyrene Cary and her son in law.
There is no slave schedule for 1850 or 1860 which would have been required under Federal Law had he or Cyrene been slave owners. Oregon was trying to gain admission to the Union, the census would have been taken very seriously. And since he was listed in the 1858 assets, the Cary family was was not attempting to hide his existence from official documents.
In the 1860 census, a “Robert” is listed as a “Cary” child. There are neither birth nor death records for this child.
Robert is buried with the family.
Does this mean that Robert was Miles Cary’s son? That’s another question that might be impossible to answer as Robert died at the age of 24 with no wife or children being shown in the records.
Are their holes in this theory? Absolutely. But it provides relevant clues that may eventually lead to more facts, and more developed theories. Context cannot be ignored in historical research. Facts give us clues and expands our research knowledge, context tells us what events may have influenced those facts. I encourage anyone who loves history to continue discovering, and learning. For what it is worth, history is what makes our future.
The Oregon Encyclopedia. Black Exclusion Laws
African Americans on the Oregon Trail