An American Story: From Slavery to the Founding of Centralia

Most people know that Washington state was named in honor of U.S. President George Washington. But did you know that there was another George Washington who played prominently in our state’s history? The founder of Centralia was also named George Washington. In recognition of his 200th birthday, the city’s residents are commemorating his life and good works in a yearlong celebration culminating with the unveiling of a bronze statue this past August.

Centralia’s George Washington was born Aug. 15, 1817, in Virginia to a white woman of English descent and a black man who was a slave. Knowing that her child with dark skin would likely be taken from her and eventually become a slave too, the mother asked a white couple to raise him as their own. Her friends James and Anna Cochran agreed. This set the stage for Washington to live a remarkable life, though one with many hardships as well.

Washington and the Cochrans eventually made the journey west to find, as Washington said, “any decent place in this world.” Together, through hard work and legal ingenuity, they acquired 640 acres where the Skookumchuck and Chehalis rivers join. This would become a settlement known as Centerville, and later Centralia.

As the community grew, George Washington lifted it up in every way he could. Stories about his generous spirit run deep. He cared for and supported his foster parents until their deaths. He took wagons to Portland to bring back rice and supplies to feed his neighbors during hard times. He paid others’ debts to stop foreclosure on their homes. He started the city’s first floral club because he loved flowers. He was the best in town at manning a barbecue, according to local lore.

“George Washington was not only a unique figure in Pacific Northwest and American history, but he was a really good man and someone who should be celebrated,” says Brian Mittge, chair of the George Washington Bicentennial Committee. “We invite everyone to join us in celebrating our founder.”

JULIE LEYDELMEYER

For Additional Information
George Washington Bicentennial Committee
ourgeorgewashington.com