Black History Spotlight: Daniel Drew

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Civil War Soldier Turned Pioneer, Prominent Civic and Religious Figure in the Willamette Valley

By Oregon Black Pioneers | Photo credit: Courtesy Oregon Black Pioneers | Cover Illustration by Jeremy Davis

Daniel Drew was a Civil War soldier who became a minister and Chaplain of the Oregon chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Drew was born into slavery in Virginia around 1843. When he was about 18 years old, his enslavers moved to Missouri, taking their slaves with them. Daniel attempted to run away but was caught and beaten as punishment. Freedom came in 1863, when the Union Army took control of the town and liberated all the enslaved people there. Motivated to help defeat the Confederacy and earn wages of his own for the first time, Drew moved to St. Louis to enlist.

Drew volunteered for the 3rd Arkansas Infantry’s African division. The unit was dispatched to Helena, Arkansas where they served in guard duty for the town. Six months later, this unit was reorganized as the Army’s 56th Colored Infantry. Drew acted as the unit’s drummer, but in summer 1865 he saw combat for the first time. 360 of its members, including Drew, were sent to capture Confederate troops destroying local farms in Union-held Arkansas. 1000 Arkansas and Missouri Confederates met the Union forces, and an hours-long battle ended in a stalemate.

At war’s end, Private Drew stayed on as part of troops assigned to garrison duty at Helena, and a cholera outbreak decimated the unit. Drew survived, and was discharged in St. Louis. He quickly returned to Arkansas to enroll in a new Quaker vocational school, and after graduating decided to enter the clergy. In 1871 he became a minister in the Religious Society of Friends, the first Black person known to serve as a Quaker minister.

In 1901, Daniel and his wife Laura moved to Oregon. They purchased a home in Southeast Portland within walking distance of the meetinghouse of the Portland Monthly Meeting. Drew became a prominent speaker at Quaker gatherings in Marion and Yamhill counties during the 1910s. He later led Portland’s Sunnyside Meeting before becoming the minister at Portland’s Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal church.

After the Civil War, American’s Union veterans created a new organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. Unlike the military, the GAR was not segregated, and Drew became involved in the Oregon chapter. In 1902 Drew took a leadership role in a quest to raise funds for a memorial to war veterans at Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery. He gave speeches across Portland to raise support, including a speech titled “The Condition of the Colored Race, Before, During, and Since the Civil War.” The fundraising effort was a success.

Drew remained an active member of the Oregon GAR the rest of his life, and was named the chaplain of the Oregon chapter in 1919. He closed each of his reports with a quote which summarizes his own life well: “Let us be at our best at all times, supporting and encouraging in every possible way those things that are just and right.” Daniel Drew died in 1923 and was buried in Lone Fir Cemetery not far from the memorial he helped make possible. He is one of at least 15 Black Civil War veterans buried in Oregon.

Oregon Black Pioneers is Oregon’s only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans statewide. To learn more, and to support this nonprofit, visit © Oregon Black Pioneers, 2024