By Jerrelene Williamson (Great-Granddaughter of Henry and Lucy Breckenridge)
Above, Lucy Breckenridge, and her son John. Photo courtesy of Jerrelene Williamson
During the census of 1880 in Staunton Virginia, Henry Breckenridge was listed as 32 years of age. Lucy Breckenridge, his wife, was listed as being 25 years of age. They had a 3-year-old son named John, and a sister of Henry’s by the name of Mary. Henry was born into slavery in the year of 1851. Lucy Breckenridge was born into slavery March 18, 1857. John, their son, was born in 1877.
In 1888, the Northern Pacific Coal Company traveled to the Southern States to recruit black workers in order to help break the strike by coal miners in Roslyn, Washington. Work was so scarce for Blacks in the South at that time that many were ready to take the “free ride” to the West. They had no idea what awaited them.
The Northern Pacific Coal Company had not told blacks they were being recruited to break a coal strike by white miners. Henry, who had no job, was anxious for the chance to take himself and his family on the train to the Northwest and to gain employment. The first train to Roslyn only carried black men. Their families arrived on the second train. These “colored” men were shot at and treated roughly when they disembarked the train in Roslyn. They were not welcome in the towns of Roslyn or Ronald, Washington.
There was much fighting between the white miners and the black recruits. Many of these brave black people came from Illinois, Iowa, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas.
My Great Grandmother, Lucy Breckenridge, arrived in Roslyn on the second train along with her son John who was about 11 years old at the time. Henry Breckenridge’s sister, Mary, was also one of the people who traveled on the train to Roslyn in 1888.
After much bloodshed and a great deal of unrest, Governor Eugene Semple stepped in and tried to stop the battle. Unfortunately, he was not successful. On February 18, 1889 white miners who had not left the company accepted the company’s offer of terms and returned to work along side the black miners. However, both were armed.
In ensuing years, Roslyn became a thriving town for both black and white people. There were many businesses, restaurants, stores, homes, and barbershops. The Roslyn of yesteryear was not at all like it is today. There are many different cemeteries that remain today in Roslyn where people of various ethnic backgrounds are buried. They include Blacks, Whites, Asians, and many others. All of these pioneers helped Roslyn to prosper in its early years.
My Aunt, Mary Breckenridge, told me of the prosperity of Roslyn. Although she left Roslyn at a young age, her Aunt Mary (Henry’s sister in the 1880 census) stayed in Roslyn and handed down a great oral history of the town to our family until her death on July 4, 1926. Her name was Mary Perkins.
Henry and Lucy resided in Roslyn until 1889. They had a daughter, Mary, born in 1898. Their son, John, was married in 1886 to Alice Ackerman of Roslyn. John and Alice had a daughter, Emma, who was born in 1897.
After the mines in Roslyn had closed, Henry, Lucy, and their daughter (along with John and his wife and daughter) moved to Spokane, Washington in 1899. Soon after arriving in Spokane, a son, Abner, was born on July 7, 1899. Lucy Breckenridge’s existence is recorded in a book published by the Washington State Genealogical Society. She was one of the first citizens of Washington State. The name of the book is “Washington Pioneers” Volume 3. Her name and information appear on page 21. Henry Breckenridge passed away January 22, 1907. Lucy Breckenridge passed away April 15, 1940.
Jerrelene Williamson is the author of “African Americans in Spokane,” and she is a founding member of the Spokane Northwest Black Pioneers, established in 1989. The photographs in her book are from the collections of the Spokane Northwest Black Pioneers, the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and pioneer photographer Wallace (Wally) Hagin.