Letitia and David Carson

Annotated 1860 Soap Creek Valley Donation Lands Claim Map.png

This 1860 map has been annotated by Bob Zybach in 2014 to show the different donation land claim homesteads in the Soap Creek Valley in Benton County, OR. David and Letitia Carson's land is highlighted in red and shows both the 640 acres they began with and the 320 they were reduced to after Oregon Territory govt realized that David and Letitia were not married.

Indigenous removal ironically cleared the way for Letitia Carson, a Black woman, to pursue new freedoms in Oregon. Letitia was born into slavery in Kentucky, between 1814 and 1818. Nothing is known about the first three decades of her life in the South. At some point in or before 1844, Letitia met David Carson, an Irish immigrant who had settled in North Carolina and later Missouri. It was in that year that David and a pregnant Letitia left Missouri for Oregon as part of a wagon train with more than 1000 other travelers.

Letitia gave birth to their daughter, Martha Jane, while on the trail near the North Fork of the Platte River in what would become Nebraska. Later, the couple would have a second child; their son named Adam was born in Oregon in 1849. Adam’s name is inconsistent as it appears as “Andrew J” in some records but at some point, he seems to have gone by “Jack” in his adult life.

The exact nature of David and Letitia's relationship remains unclear. Historians wonder if Letitia was enslaved by David before or even after their journey to Oregon. Some evidence suggests their relationship was consensual. In her 1862 Homestead Act Claim filings, Letitia listed herself as a “widow”. 

David and Letitia Carson’s 1845 Route on the Oregon Trail


This image is an illustration the trail David and Letitia would have traveled in their 1845 journey to Oregon. It is based on Donna M. Wojcik’s book The Brazen Overlanders of 1845 written in 1976.

 Polk County recording of David Carson's Soap Creek Valley land claim in 1847

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October 19, 1847, David Carson Polk County DLC

This is the original Polk County recording of David Carson's Soap Creek Valley land claim in 1847. It is interesting that this was signed by Theo Magruder because Magruder was the man who in 1851 reported Jacob Vanderpool for violating the 1849 Black exclusion law in Oregon City. Jacob Vanderpool was an African American owner of a saloon, restaurant, and boarding house living in Oregon City, Clackamas County, Oregon at a time when the Oregon Territory government enforced an exclusion law it had passed in 1844 that prevented blacks from living in the territory. In 1851, Vanderpool's neighbor, Magruder brought suit against him, and Judge Thomas Nelson expelled him from the territory.

Letitia Carson Pioneer Apple Tree

Letitia Carson pioneer apple tree, June 12, 1999.png

Photograph of the Letitia Carson Pioneer Apple Tree from 1999, during the writing of Dr. Zybach's MAIS thesis. According to Dr. Zybach "This tree was named in honor of a pioneer black resident, who lived in the area of this tree in the 1840s and 1850s, and may have even planted it (Cook 1995). The name was given by student researchers completing a cultural resources inventory of OSU properties in Soap Creek Valley (Zybach et al., 1990)."
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This map is titled, “Township N°10 South Range N°5 West Willamette Meridian.” It depicts the land in which David and Letitia Carson had their homestead in Benton County. The map charts land plots, mountains, and rivers. At the bottom is a description of the map which reads, “The above Map of Fractional Township N°10 South go Range N°5 West of the Willamette Meridian, Oregon Territory is strictly conformable to the field notes of the survey thereof on file in this office which have examined and approved. Surveyor General’s Office Oregon City, May 5th, 1853” It is signed by the Surveyor General.

David, Letitia, and Martha arrived in the Soap Creek Valley in 1845, making Letitia and Martha two of the first Black women to settle anywhere in Oregon. In December of 1845, David journeyed south to the mid-Willamette Valley where he claimed 640 acres of land –the amount entitled to married couples. They likely built their homestead in the following spring of 1846. There they planted crops such as potatoes and established an orchard. Additionally, they raised
livestock such as cattle and hogs. Letitia was the primary cattle-raiser. The Applegate Trail ran alongside their homestead, and Letitia and David likely sold produce, dairy products, and meat to commuters on the road.

After the passage of the Donation Land Claim Act, David had to refile his Soap Creek Valley claim. In the process, his claim was halved to 340 acres, indicating that county officials did not recognize David and Letitia’s union as legitimate either because interracial marriages weren’t lawful or because it was believed Letitia was enslaved.

team with wagon load of lumber at sawmill. Driver is Jack Carson, Mulatto son of Leticia Carson.jpg

Historic Photograph, Andrew C. "Jack" Carson driving a wagon

1900s photograph of Andrew C. "Jack" Carson driving a team of horses and a wagon with a load of lumber down Cow Creek from Glendale. Jack Carson was the son of Letitia Carson.

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Historic Photograph, Martha Lavadour

Photograph of Martha Lavadour, Letitia and David Carson's daughter.

Next Page: Life in the Soap Creek Valley


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