Louis Southworth, Fiddled His Way to Freedom in 1858

Written by Jae Jones

arrived in Oregon in 1853, a time that was very difficult and uninviting to African-Americans. Although, was not legal in Oregon there were still laws that prohibited Blacks from living in the state. Southworth moved to Oregon with his owner James Southworth. Even in Oregon his owner still considered Southworth to be his property. Louis lived for a short time on an Oregon Donation Land Clam of Benjamin Richardson’s in Lance County. He was not allowed to stay because Donation Land Claims were only open to whites. Goldmining was a major industry and James Southworth allowed Louis to work in the gold fields around Jacksonville, Oregon and to play his fiddle. He would give the money he earned to James Southworth to apply toward his freedom.

Louis Southworth had a passion for playing the fiddle and he found that he could make good money playing for dance schools. It wasn’t long before he had worked and saved enough money to buy his freedom completely. In 1858, he had raised 1,000 dollars which would be well over that today.


Southworth lived in a few other places before settling with family in Alsea Valley. He cleared around 12 acres per year in a 6-year period with a small plow. He built a sawmill and also ferried people up the Alsea River. Southworth stayed active in the community, he gave  land away for a school and kept playing his fiddle for entertainment. Southworth attended the Baptist church, however, the members did not like the fact he played the fiddle. So, Southworth told them he wanted to stay in attendance at church but be allowed to continue playing his fiddle, but if he had to go he understood, but he couldn’t part with his fiddle because it was all he had most of the time. Southworth died in 1917.




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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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