Explorers, soldiers, and settlers of African-American heritage comprise an unfamiliar story to most students of American history. However, in the push westward, they were present in sufficient numbers to exert great influence on the nation's development. Among the earliest accounts is that of Isabel de Olvera, who settled in New Mexico around the year of 1600, and it is estimated that by 1750, 25% of Albuquerque's population shared discernible African ancestry. York, the well-known servant of Lewis and Clark, accompanied the legendary expedition under the auspices of the Jefferson administration, and Edward Rose traveled up the Missouri River in the same era. Within just a few years, Pio Pico became the governor of California, and George Bush became one of the first African-Americans to travel the Oregon Trail, opening that route to a flood of settlers over a 10-year period.
In parallel with these individuals came a number of African-American frontiersmen who participated in the exploration of the Western terrain, said to have numbered in the dozens. Needless to say, such a career was an unusual destiny for those who "emerged from the system of slavery". Emancipation for an American slave generally involved a dangerous and illegal trek on foot toward the north, or through the Underground Railroad network operating between states east of the Mississippi.
Given the illiteracy rates of the day, few tangible accounts of such journeys have survived, but one glaring exception is that of James Pierson Beckwourth.
©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors