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Wed, 10.27.2021

Reuben Shipley, Oregon Farmer born

*The birth of Reuben Shipley is celebrated on this date in 1811. He was a Black farmer.

He was born a slave in Kentucky to a white man named Robert Shipley. His owner moved to Missouri and brought him along. Reuben Shipley married in Missouri; his wife and sons were slaves 30 miles away on a different plantation. In Missouri, he managed Robert Shipley's plantation. Before the American Civil War, in 1853, his owner gave him the option of moving to the Oregon Territory or being sold. In exchange for helping him move to Oregon and build a home, he would grant him his freedom.

Reuben would have to leave his family behind by traveling to Oregon because they were slaves of a different family. However, he hoped that he could eventually buy his freedom and the freedom of his wife and sons. Reuben Shipley purchased his freedom upon arriving in the Oregon Territory in 1853. He tried to buy his family, but the owner informed him that his wife had died when he was on the Oregon Trail, and he refused to sell Shipley his sons.

After he purchased his freedom, Edridge Hartless, who settled one mile south of Philomath in 1846, employed him. Hartless was quite well-to-do and had many cattle. In 1849 he and Wyman St. Claire established a store at Avery, a forerunner to Corvallis. In a few years, Reuben had saved $1,500, and with a part of it, he bought a farm near Mt. Union Cemetery and Mt. Union School. Mary Jane Holmes came to Oregon with her parents, Robin, and Polly, in 1844 as the slaves of Nathaniel Ford and his family. The wagon train they came with also included Black pioneer George Washington Bush and was led by guide Moses Harris.

Nathaniel Ford freed Robin, Polly, and their youngest child in 1850, but he did not grant freedom to Mary Jane and two of her Oregon-born siblings. Robin Holmes engaged Ford in a lengthy court battle which ended with the court ordering Ford to free the three Holmes children in 1853. Despite this tension, Mary Jane Holmes lived with the Fords until she married Reuben Shipley in 1857. Even though the courts had freed her, Shipley paid $750 to Ford for permission to marry Mary Jane. The Shipleys settled in Benton County and raised six children. They were well-liked by their neighbors, and in 1861 Shipley donated two acres of his land to the county for Mount Union Cemetery. His donation included the county permit Blacks in the cemetery, Reuben, Mary Jane, and one of their daughters.

Shipley and Mary Jane raised a large family on their 80-acre farm four miles west of Corvallis. They lived the life of the church and the community without much consideration for social equality.  Rueben Shipley died in 1873 at the age of 74. Mary Jane lived in Benton County until 1880. She married Alfred Drake and lived well into the third decade of the 20th century.

Though Reuben Shipley was said to have died following a visit to Mary Jane's sister, Roxanna, in Salem, the circumstances surrounding the name on his gravestone, R. E. Ficklin, gave rise to concern that Shipley's son had donated a headstone with an incorrect name. Shipley's son Edward would take up the last name Ficklin himself, although much of the family had gone by the surname Shipley. There is no documentation to verify why or when Shipley's son Edward began using the last name Ficklin.

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