Who was David Carson?

March 1840 David Carson Naturalization

This document is a page of naturalization certificates, at the top is one for David Carson from March 1840. In this document, David Carson filed an oath of allegiance for US naturalization and was incorrectly called a native of Scotland, he was from Ireland.

In April 1845, hundreds of Americans traveling the Oregon Trail met along the Wolf River in Missouri and formed the “Savannah Oregon Emigrating Society” - an organization set to create safety and order amidst the treacherous journey to Oregon Country. They drafted a constitution, collected fees, elected officers, and compiled a comprehensive census of those journeying from Missouri to Oregon Country. David Carson was one of seven men elected to draw up resolutions for this new group. The census listed his party as having one cow, eight oxen, two horses, four guns, 600 pounds of bacon, 600 pounds of flour, one wagon, three armed men, and a woman. That woman was Letitia Carson. 

Originally born in Antrim, Ireland in 1800, David “Uncle Davy” Carson was one of nine siblings, seven of which immigrated from Ireland to the United States, settling in North Carolina. At some point, he arrived in North Carolina, he stayed there for a period of time, but eventually moved to Missouri. It is also probable that he visited or lived in Kentucky at some point, at which time he would have met Letitia. 

In August of 1839, he was appointed as patrol by the county court for the Carroll Township along with Milton Brown, A.B. Sherwood, and W.H. Spratt. 

1839 is the first property tax list to show David Carson in Missouri, where he moved after initially immigrating to North Carolina. An early landowner list shows that he purchased 160 acres of land in Platte County, Missouri on June 5th, 1843. This land was east of East Leavenworth and North of Farley. 

An 1840 naturalization document certifies David Carson’s naturalization saying that he filed an oath of allegiance for US naturalization in March of 1840 while he was living in Platte County. Other sources confirm that he officially became a US citizen in 1844, a year before traveling to Oregon Country. 

A land deed from Platte County, Missouri 1841 informs us of David Carson's personal history prior to his journey to Oregon and subsequent land ownership in Oregon Territory with Letitia Carson. Written on December 16th, 1841, the land deed gives us a glimpse into where Carson lived in the time he may have met Letitia.

From 1839 and on, there are several court cases that provide small glimpses into David Carson’s life and relations in Platte County, Missouri. While most of these court cases detail small disagreements or monetary debts, there is one that truly reveals David Carson’s character prior to his short time in Oregon. 

David Carson in Missouri Trials

David Carson vs Susannah White

In 1844, a year before he moved to Oregon, David Carson was accused of mistreating an enslaved girl named Ann Eliza, who was only 16 at the time. Though we only have limited evidence and understanding of this case and its history, it shows us that David Carson had the potential for violence and debauchery - the accusations of this legal battle - and that this behavior could have continued into his relationship with Letitia Carson.

The beginning of this court case had begun a year earlier, in April 1843, when Susannah White hired her enslaved girl, Ann Eliza, to David Carson for twelve months. Carson agreed to “furnish said girl with good & sufficient clothing suited to the season but if she should be sick said S White is to pay all medical attention.” Additionally, he agreed to “treat said girl humainly and not expose her so as to endanger her health or produce illness.” He was to pay Susannah White $40 for the twelve months he had Ann Eliza in his possession. He signed a document certifying this in April 1843. 

 

A year later, Susannah White and her son John A. White took David to court, accusing him of both violence and debauchery and “badly treating slave” known to be Ann Eliza. It is unclear if David had other enslaved people at the time, though it is somewhat likely that he would have known Letitia at this point as they moved together within the next year. 

John A. White demanded that Ann Eliza be returned to him and his mother, and sent Quimby to go and retrieve her from Carson’s home. Carson refused and that is when John A. Discovered that  “she had been badly treated by said plaintiff, and showed to said Quimby a scar on the face of said negro girl about two inches long which said Jno A White stated had been inflicted by said plaintiff, and which had the appearance of having been inflicted by a stone or club.” John A. “acted as the Agent of said Susannah White his mother in hiring and otherwise contracting her negroes, that said Susanna White lived with the said John A. White.” 

 

John A. And his mother Susannah testified that “she was treated with inhumanity and cruelty by said plaintiff and that said plaintiff had debauched said negro girl while thus in his service and that said plaintiff continued to treat said negro girl inhumanly, cruelly and with debauching till she left him and returned home.” This testimony was rejected by the court. Another document from October 1844 states that the jury found issue for the plaintiff (David Carson) and assessed his damages at one cent. It is unclear the purpose of such an insignificantly small fine against Carson and is not yet clear how the case ultimately ended. 

 

While there is no evidence whether David ever owned Letitia, and the state of their relationship still remains unclear - the details of the Ann Eliza case prove that David did own an enslaved woman, and mistreated her in both sexual and violent ways, suggesting that he could have possibly continued this behavior into his time with Letitia. Additionally, this abhorrent mistreatment of a young Black girl provides insight into how David may have considered Letitia and suggests that their partnership was not as equal as one may think.