William and Pauline Scott were the first African-American settlers in the City of Kent that we know about. The couple arrived in Kent in 1889 and the local paper described them as Kent pioneers. Their story is both an interesting and intriguing one, for which I wish we had more answers than questions.
William was born in North Carolina in 1819, to parents also born in North Carolina, while Pauline was born in Alabama sometime between 1840 and 1865, to parents also born in Alabama. At that point in time, one would assume that both were born into slavery, but we can’t confirm that.
The 1850 US census found William living in Tiffin, Ohio, at age 28, and working as a barber.
He was married to Martha, who was 26, and they had three children; Susan, Charles, and William. The census listed that the elder William owned real estate valued at $800 or $23,000 in today’s currency. How did that happen? If he was a slave, did he run away? Or did he purchase his freedom? Or was he freed after an owner died? Or was he born a free man and simply moved to a place where slavery was illegal? Was his real estate just the barber shop, or did it include a house too?
At the dawn of the Civil War, William and Martha still lived in Tiffin, with a growing family as daughters Harriet and Martha were born. Their eldest daughter, Susan was married and living with her husband. The elder William owned real estate valued at $600 and had personal property valued at $300 for a total of 24,000 in today’s currency.
What happened after that? In 1870, William was with his son Charles, in Elko, Nevada, and both were working as barbers.
What happened to the family? The youngest daughter wouldn’t have been old enough to marry yet, and Martha died sometime between 1860 and 1880 because William is a widower in the next census. Elko in 1870 was a boom town and that the Elko Republican Club, an African American literary and political organization was established in town. Was William drawn by the prospect of work? Did he join the discussion at the Club?
In 1880, William had moved to Dayton, Washington Territory and worked as a barber. He was 60 years old.
That year, he married Pauline Cockrell in Walla Walla and the couple moved to King County in 1881. Pauline might have been half Williams age at that time, what were the circumstances of the marriage? Was it love? Companionship? Money? We might never know.
In 1883, the couple lived in Seattle with William still working as a barber.
Then in 1889, the couple moved to Kent. I suspect they were one of a number of families who moved south after the great Seattle fire of that year, but we don’t know.
By 1890, the Scott’s owned at least 160 acres in the Kent area, including one of the 5 lots that now serves as the city parking lot on Titus St. between 1st and 2nd Ave.
A young girl lived with the couple, but she was not their child and we only know her as M. Scott. Who was she? Why was she living with them? Maybe a grand daughter of a child from Williams first marriage? Or an orphan? By the next census, she was gone. What happened? The Scott’s became members of the Kent Methodist Church during this time. Were they Methodists before moving to Kent? Was that congregation more accepting of African Americans than other congregations in town?
In 1900, William and Pauline lived in a house in Kent that they owned, mortgage free but William was no longer employed. William passed away in 1908, at age 88 after a long illness.
Pauline remained in Kent for a while, working as a laundress out of her home on State Ave N, about where the Kent Multicare Clinic stands today.
Sometime between 1920 and 1930, she moved over the mountains to Yakima where she passed away 1930. There was a memorial service at the Methodist Church and she was laid to rest next to her husband at the Saar Cemetery.
This is the earliest story that the GKHS has to contribute to African American History Month. The hard work of collection was done years ago by the South King County Genealogical Society for their book, “A History of Saar Pioneer Cemetery and Its Inhabitants.” And yet there are more questions than answers.
If anyone has more information we would love to learn the rest of that story. After the William and Pauline Scott, stories of African Americans are sorely lacking in our archives.
The Greater Kent Historical Society’s mission is to collect, preserve, and promote Kent’s history. All of Kent’s history. It was easier to do when the idea of a historical society for the region started in the 1950s and there were less than 10,000 people in town. At that time, the members of the historical society started reaching out to the community to collect the artifacts, photographs, and memories for a museum.
The GKHS still needs the artifacts, photos and memories of the community, now more than ever. Just as Kent started to grow and change in the 1960s, our archives need to grow and change to reflect the Kent community. If you have a passion for history, please let us know! We are eager to find partners to help us tell all of Kent’s past!
African Americans in the Barbering Profession:
The Atlantic “The Racially Fraught History of the American Beard
Collectors Weekly “Straight Razors and Social Justice: The Empowering Evolution of Black Barbershops”
Back to Kent Stories.