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Dangerous Subjects

James D. Saules and the Rise of Black Exclusion in Oregon

Kenneth R. Coleman

6 × 9. 10 B&W drawings. Map. Notes. Bibliography. Index. 240 pages.

2017. ISBN 978-0-87071-904-2. Paperback, $19.95.

Dangerous Subjects describes the life and times of James D. Saules, a black sailor who was shipwrecked off the coast of Oregon and settled there in 1841. Before landing in Oregon, Saules traveled the world as a whaleman in the South Pacific and later as a crew member of the United States Exploring Expedition. Saules resided in the Pacific Northwest for just two years before a major wave of Anglo-American immigrants arrived in covered wagons.

 

In Oregon, Saules encountered a multiethnic population already transformed by colonialism—in particular, the fur industry and Protestant missionaries. Once the Oregon Trail emigrants began arriving in large numbers, in 1843, Saules had to adapt to a new reality in which Anglo-American settlers persistently sought to marginalize and exclude black residents from the region. Unlike Saules, who adapted and thrived in Oregon’s multiethnic milieu, the settler colonists sought to remake Oregon as a white man’s country. They used race as shorthand to determine which previous inhabitants would be included and which would be excluded. Saules inspired and later had to contend with a web of black exclusion laws designed to deny black people citizenship, mobility, and land.

 

In Dangerous Subjects, Kenneth Coleman sheds light on a neglected chapter in Oregon’s history. His book will be welcomed by scholars in the fields of western history and ethnic studies, as well as general readers interested in early Oregon and its history of racial exclusion. 

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