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As It Was: Black Woman Prospers Despite Closed Doors

Born between 1814 and 1818 as a slave in Kentucky, Letitia Carson died in 1888 on her own Southern Oregon ranch with a two-story house, smokehouse, cattle, pigs, and an orchard of more than 100 trees.

It was a long road, literally and figuratively, from slavery to modest wealth.

Carson arrived on the Oregon Trail in 1845 with Irish immigrant David Carson and their baby daughter born along the way. Carson took a 640-acre land claim near Wells, Ore., but the Oregon Donation Land Act cut the claim in half in 1850 because it was illegal for the mixed couple to get married and a black person couldn’t file a claim.

When David Carson died two years later, a wealthy white neighbor executed the estate, declaring that Letitia and her children, as slaves, were property and not entitled to an inheritance.  She sued twice, successfully winning a fair share of property.

In 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant certified her federal Homestead Act claim for 160 acres on South Myrtle Creek in Douglas County, where she lived for 20 years before her death in 1888.  She’s buried in the nearby Benjamin Stephens pioneer family graveyard.

Source: Zybach, Bob. "Carson, Letitia (ca.1814-1888)." Douglas County Historical Society. N.p., 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.