African American pioneers John and Mary Conna settle in Federal Way area in 1883.

  • By Helen Lacy
  • Posted 11/07/1998
  • Essay 262
In 1883, African American pioneers John Conna (1836-1921) and Mary Conna (1840-1907) arrive in the Federal Way area and settle on their 157 acre homestead. John Conna becomes the first black political appointee in the history of Washington Territory.

The property was in the Panther Lake area between (1999 street names) 334th and 10th Avenue SW and 21st Avenue SW and 1st Avenue S. John Conna was a Civil War veteran and as such received with the claim two of the five years of required residency. In her history of the Tacoma area Winnifred Owens writes, "He came to Tacoma in 1883 and became a wealthy real estate agent."

Republican Party leaders appointed Conna Assistant Sergeant at Arms of the 1889 Washington Territorial House of Representatives, making him the first black political appointee in the Washington Territory. In addition, he served as Sergeant at Arms of the Extraordinary Session of the Senate and at the regular session in 1890.

Horace Cayton, the prominent newspaper publisher, credited John Conna with framing the Public Accommodations Act of 1890, and lobbying for it. The Act entitled all citizens, including persons of color, to civil and legal rights such as access to accommodations at inns, theaters, restaurants, and public conveyances.

Sources: Esther Hall Mumford, Calabash: A Guide to the History, Culture, and Art of African Americans in Seattle and King County Washington (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1993), 47, 48; Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle's Black Victorians, 1852-1901 (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980), 31, 184-185; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington, 1994), 43; Winnifred L. Olsen, Tacoma Beginnings (Tacoma: Tacoma School District, ca. 1969), p. 2; Tacoma Morning Globe Review, January 1, 1891; Douglas Q. Barnett (maternal grandson of John and Mary Conna) to Priscilla Long (senior editor,, June 7, 2003.
Note: This essay was revised on June 9, 2003. The source for John Conna's birth date of June 20, 1836, is his death certificate.

Related Topics:   Biographies | Black Americans | Government & Politics | Pioneers

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