Celebrating George Washington’s Namesake
By Doug Gillis, Carolinas Chapter President
It is the Fourth of July as I write this article about George Washington Bush and the two largest American chestnut trees in North America. He was a free black man born in Pennsylvania in 1779 of an African father and an Irish woman and became a pioneer who settled in the British controlled Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River. In 1844 he traveled the Oregon Trail after leaving Missouri with his family and five other families. He was seeking land on which to settle. Being a successful farmer, Bush carried fruit and shade trees along the trail to plant once he found land on which to settle. Friends Michael T. Simmons and Jesse Ferguson also traveled with him.
George Washington Bush was a very generous man who carried silver bars in a false bottom in the bed of his wagon. He used the assets to help less fortunate members of his party and other travelers who headed west to reach their goals. He was denied the right to purchase land in Oregon south of the Columbia River, so he and others found land on the south end of the Puget Sound on which to settle in what is now Washington State. Bush, his sons, and other pioneers were instrumental in Washington becoming part of the United States of America. He had an innate understanding that our great country, despite its frailties, ultimately stands for freedom, tolerance, and respect for all.
Jesse Ferguson acquired land on Bush Prairie that now is part of the Mills and Mills Memorial Park in Tumwater, Washington. Two American chestnut trees planted there as early as 1845 are likely the two largest American chestnut trees in North America. George Washington Bush made their planting a reality.
Pictured are the two trees I viewed in early spring 2019. (Look closely and you’ll see me standing in the lower third of the photo, which helps to show the size of these trees!) Though not leafed out, the trees display a form characteristic of American chestnut growing in an open field as opposed to a forest setting.
George Washington Bush is an inspiration, a lesson in not giving in to setbacks, and in striving optimistically, with resolve, and with magnanimity toward achieving our most important goals.