Fraught history of Black expulsion is part of Clackamas County author’s ‘DNA’

Vassilios Demetriades

Gladstone author Sarah L. Sanderson recently released a book to tell the true story of a Black man convicted under the Oregon exclusion law in 1851 and how her white ancestors assisted in Jacob’s Vanderpool’s exile.

Sanderson, who is married to the pastor at Oak Hills Presbyterian Church located in unincorporated Clackamas County, unveiled her novel “The Place We Make: Breaking the Legacy of Legalized Hate” on Aug. 15 at Powell’s City of Books in Portland.

“The Place We Make” is an investigation into the life of a man who was exiled from the Oregon Territory in 1851 for the sole reason of being Black. Vanderpool owned and operated a boarding house in Oregon City, near what is now Fourth and Main streets, until a business competitor pressed charges against him.

Vanderpool was found guilty of violating Oregon’s Black exclusion law and was given 30 days to leave the territory. Little more is known about Vanderpool’s life despite him being such an integral part of Oregon and U.S. history as the only man to be charged and found guilty of being Black.

Sanderson throughout her new book analyzes her own prejudices, as well her lineage that can be tied back to two men who conspired to exile Vanderpool. Alongside her analysis, Sanderson examines the role that she and other white people have when it comes to reconciling with past and current injustices.

“As I traced the lines of history down from what they did to our present moment, I realized that not only do I share their DNA, but all too often I share their ignorance, their motives, their false sense of superiority and a proclivity to silence,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson explained that her intention for writing this novel was to take responsibility for these traits and to learn how to manage them.

Zachary Stocks and Taylor Stewart presented alongside Sanderson at Powell’s. Stocks is the executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers who helped Sanderson uncover much of Vanderpool’s forgotten history. Stewart is the executive director of the Oregon Remembrance Project and is championing an initiative to create a historical marker honoring Vanderpool’s life.

Stocks gave a brief explanation on what the Oregon frontier was like at the time of Vanderpool’s exile. Oregon was a popular connection point for thousands of travelers in the West who were going to California for the Gold Rush. Some of these travelers were African American sailors who were forced to stay aboard their ships due to the exclusionary laws of the time.

“In the 1850 census, there were only 54 Black people counted in the entirety of the Oregon Territory, which at that time included all present-day Washington as well as Oregon,” Stocks said.

Oregon’s exclusion law meant Black people living in the state were subject to constant scrutiny.

“Being a Black person in Oregon made you a target at all times, because of your physical difference. You could always be accused of being here illegally, and you had no recourse to defend yourself,” Stocks said.

Stewart is currently working to have a historical marker placed at the location where Vanderpool’s boarding house once stood in Oregon City. Stewart believes the marker would serve as a reminder of Oregon’s history of expulsion and to honor people of color in Oregon.

“While we no longer have legal expulsions in the state of Oregon, our cultural climate still foments an element of cultural expulsion on communities of color. And I believe that the experience of Jacob Vanderpool is still being shared by people of color in Oregon today,” Stewart said.

It could be a while before a historical marker is placed. The land where Vanderpool’s boarding house once stood is now owned by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased 23 acres around Willamette Falls within the tribe’s ancestral homelands. The tribe is focused on environmental restoration and has started demolishing the Blue Heron Paper Mill.

Stewart hopes to start talks about including a historical marker for Vanderpool once the tribe has completed the restoration process. A spokesperson for the tribe said last year, “Jacob Vanderpool’s story is important in the history of Oregon, and we’ll look more closely at the idea as we move closer to redevelopment.”

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