Dawn Comer Jefferson (L) and Dr. Rosanne Welch (R) present on their book, The Promise
On Friday March 21st my co-author, Dawn Comer Jefferson and I had the pleasure of making a presentation on “Slavery and the Oregon Trail” based on our book The Promise to the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades of Carpenter Avenue Elementary School as the guests of the non-profit Parents For Carpenter.
Welch: What’s interesting about the legal method, we thought, again in Oregon at that time the territory was debating “Do we want to be a slave state or a free state?” We had a little rule for a while in the United States. Any time one territory wanted to enter, they had to have 2 territories — one would be slave and one would be free so that everything in the government was balanced. So no one could out vote each other. Right? So that was their deal. So you had to decide and there was an opportunity for the west coast — California itself could have been a slave state. IF you ever drive up near Bakersfield we grow cotton in California and cotton was a crop that required slave labor. So, this was a possibility and people had both sides if the argument. And luckily, in the case that Mary’s family went through, the judge happened to be an abolitionist. And we had those people from the very beginning.
Comer Jefferson: Did everyone hear her? An abolitionist is someone who wants to abolish or destroy slavery.
Welch: Exactly. Right. And we had people like the Adams Family — not the one’s who go click click — John Adams and his family were abolitionists in their own right in New England and they actually had a place for the Underground Railroad — which is whole ‘nother book we have to write, but — So, people from the very beginning of the country were against it, but they needed enough people on their side to overturn the idea. So, in our case, in this story, the judge had abolitionist sentiments — which is hose they would have phrased it back in the day. And so he could have judged either way on this case, but he chose to judge for the slave family to point out that that was the side he was one and the side Oregon should be on.
Comer Jefferson: …and he did it based on the testimony of Mary, the 9-year-old girl who is the heroine of the book, because we really wanted to have a little girl who was a strong heroine in a story and we thought that Mary’s story was the one to tell.