McLoughlin, Father of Oregon
John McLoughlin (Dr. John) was born October 19, 1784 in Quebec. He was
baptized Catholic on November 5, though he was brought up as an Anglican,
both at home and while living with his maternal granduncle Colonel William
Fraser. In 1798, he began to study medicine with Dr. Sir. James Fisher
of Quebec when only 14. He studied for 4 1/2 years, then applied for his
license. His certicate is dated April 30, 1803.
In 1816, he was serving as doctor to the Northwest Fur Company, when a
skirmish broke out between Northwest and Hudson's Bay Company. Some Indians
were blamed for the murder of Robert Semple, governor of the Red River
colony. McLoughlin knew they were innocent so handed himself over as a
representative of the Northwest Company so they could have someone to
blame. Instead he was arrested for the murder. While crossing Lake Superior,
his arrestors' canoe collapsed and many drowned. McLoughlin almost died
himself. This was supposedly when his hair turned white over night. He
was tried on October 30, 1818, but all blame was dismissed. In 1819, he
helped negotiate the merger between Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest
Fur Company. He was temporarily promoted to the Lac la Pliue district
when the merger happened in 1820-21.
McLoughlin worked as a kind of liaison for George Simpson, the new governor
of the Northern Department. He resolved conflicts with the workers. He
did this until 1822 when Simpson sent him to Fort Frances, about 100 miles
west of his previous station. Finally, in 1824, he was appointed Chief
Factor of the Columbia District. Peter Skein Ogden would assist him.
When he arrived at Astoria, he concluded that it was unfit for a headquarters.
He built a new fort at Belle Vue Point and named it Ft. Vancouver. It
had good soil and was at the crossroads of three fur trade routes through
the Columbia, the Willamette, and the Cowlitz. He quickly made friends
with the local Indians and was soon known as the White Headed Eagle and
"hyas tyee" or Great Chief. It was McLoughlin's policy to demonstrate
to the Indians that all white men whether British or American were under
his protection. He was sometimes criticized by the "Honourable Company"
for being friendly to Americans, but he always felt it was his Christian
duty as well as humanitarian to help them. Plus he felt that good relations
should be kept up because they were "squatters" on the American
continent. The post was christened on March 19, 1825.
He built and planned the post how he saw fit. It was about 750 ft. long
and 450 ft. wide with a stockade about 20 ft. high. The Northwest corner
had two 12-lb cannon and the center had several 18-pounders. Inside were
the quarters for married officers, the Chief Factor's house, kitchen,
and wash house, and other small residences. Outside the stockade a small
town sprung up that housed the mechanics, laborers, etc. There were 20
domestic servants at the fort, all men. Meals were formal and consisted
of several courses. After dinner, the men retired to the Bachelors Hall
for smoking and conversation. He kept a large library, referred to as
the Columbia Library. He also had a museum and armory in the Bachelors
Hall. On holidays, employees got double rations and little work was done.
Christmas feasts were very lavish. There was dancing after dining, a favorite
of McLoughlin's. McLoughlin always treated guests with hospitality. David
Douglas, the famous Scottish botanist, was his first guest, before the
fort was even completed. The Douglas fir is named for him.
His oldest son was Joseph, born of an Indian woman that was McLoughlin's
first "wife." It is not known if they were married. He had a
short life from 1809 to 1848 or 49. He married a woman named Victoria,
but the date is not recorded. He lived as a farmer. They had no children.
His son, John Jr., was born August 18, 1812. In 1821, he was taken to
Montreal to attend school while living with his great-uncle Simon Fraser.
He was not a good student and was sick all the time. In 1828, he was expelled
from school, but the Company gave him a chance by giving him a clerk's
job. In 1830, he went to France to study medicine with his uncle David
McLoughlin, who was also a doctor. He seemed to be studying well, but
about 1834, David became highly displeased with John and sent him back
to Canada. None of McLoughlin's relatives wanted the problem child, and
he was passed around. Various schools would not let him in. Finally he
was hired as a physician for Hudson's Bay Company, even though he had
no credentials. He came to Ft. Vancouver because McLoughlin wanted to
keep an eye on him. In 1840, he was sent to Ft. Stikine (Stikeen) in British
Columbia, with his brother-in-law. While there, he seemed to be drunk
much of the time and dealt poorly with the French Canadian and Hawaiian
workers and Indians. On April 20, 1842, he was shot and killed, whether
by accident or on purpose is not known. He was only 29. Only a perfunctory
investigation was made--all assumed it was John's questionable character
that brought about his own demise. This made McLoughlin very upset and
he remained upset until he died, that the Company never punished anyone
for the murder. This was a contributing factor to his resignation from
Hudson's Bay Company. One story suggests that John Jr. was placed in this
position on purpose and set up to be murdered to bring disgrace on John
McLoughlin so officials could remove him.
His daughter Maria Elizabeth, called Eliza, was the eldest daughter. She
was educated and lived in east Canada when the family went out west. She
was born in 1814 at Lac la Pluie or Ft. William. She lived with McLoughlin's
sister, the nun, at the Ursulines convent. She was plagued by frail health
and could not make the trip to Oregon. She married at 18, sometime in
1832. Her husband was William Randolph Eppes. Between 1835 and 1849, she
had 5 girls and 1 boy. Her husband died about 1849, just before the last
child was born. McLoughlin gave her payments until his death.
His second daughter, Maria Eloisa, called Eloisa, was considered McLoughlin's
favorite. She was born at Ft. William on Lake Superior in 1817. She also
stayed with Dr. John's sister to get educated but came out west afterwards.
She was a great favorite at the fort. She took over hostess duties from
her mother, who gladly gave it up. In 1838, she married William Glen Rae,
the chief clerk at the fort. In 1840, they went to Ft. Stikine, to establish
a new post, with Rae as chief trader. In 1841, he was sent to California
to establish a new post. She joined him about 1842 at Yerba Buena, which
later became San Francisco. They had two sons and two daughters. One son
died a few days after birth. Her husband committed suicide under mysterious
circumstances. She and her children moved into a new home in Oregon City
in 1846. She remarried in 1850 to David Harvey, who was in charge of the
McLoughlin mills. They had two more sons and one daughter. In 1867, they
left Oregon City and moved to Portland. Harvey died the next year and
so did her oldest son John from her first marriage. She died in 1884 at
David was the youngest son. He was also born at Ft. William on February
11, 1821. His early education was at Ft. Vancouver. He later lived in
Paris with John's brother David. At first he studied to be an engineer.
He was about to accept a post in the military in Calcutta when Dr. John
convinced him his future was in Oregon. It may have been because John
Jr. had been such a disappointment, that Dr. John had wanted David to
be the new heir. David worked as a clerk at first. He was bored and alone
since all his other siblings had left. He resigned from the Company in
1849. He spent a number of years prospecting in Idaho and British Columbia.
About 1866, he married and rejoined the Hudson's Bay Company at a company
store in British Columbia and later Idaho. His wife was a Kootenai Indian
named Annie Grizzly, daughter of Chief Grizzly. Later she received 160
acres from the U.S. government, on which they built a home. The land was
at Porthill, Idaho, near the Canadian border. He lived there until he
died in 1903. They had 8 girls and 1 boy. Annie died in 1897. David had
made about $20,000 prospecting and had received one third of his father's
estate in 1857, which he sold for $25,000. By all accounts he should have
been fairly well off, but he had squandered it. By 1901, when he made
a trip to Portland for a celebration in which his father would be honored,
he was broke and the committee had to pay for his fare and clothing. He
had been out of touch with civilization for over 40 years.
Thomas McKay was his wife's son by a former marriage. He was born about
1797 or 98. His father was murdered on the Tonkin by Indians near Nootka
Sound in 1811. Tom was at Ft. Astoria at the time. He didn't see his mother
again until she came west as Dr. John's wife. He led wilderness expeditions
in the Willamette Valley, Fraser River Valley, the Umpqua, Klamath Country,
and Snake River Valley. He probably had 3 wives, with 6 sons and 2 daughters
among them. His first wife was Timmee, daughter of Chief Comcomly. Their
eldest son Billy was the hereditary chief of the Chinooks. His second
wife was Umatilla Woman, about whom not much is known. The third wife
was Isabelle Montour, either all white or only "slightly" Indian.
All of his children seemed to have done well for themselves. He became
a prosperous farmer and entrepreneur of the Oregon country at French Prairie
in the Willamette and Sauvie Island. In 1833, he retired from Hudson's
Bay Company and settled near Scapoose and became a U.S. citizen. He still
took out brigades, missionaries, and traders and went exploring. In 1828,
he was sent to northern California to retrieve furs stolen by Indians
from Jedidiah Smith's party. In 1834, Dr. John sent him to establish Ft.
Boise on the Boise river to rival Nathaniel Wyeth's Ft. Hall. He guided
Jason Lee's party back to Ft. Walla Walla from there. In 1841, he drove
sheep and cattle from California for Hudson's Bay Company. He participated
in the group formed to retaliate against the Cayuse Indians involved in
the Whitman Massacre in 1847.
He was very successful in maintaining relations with the Indians. He also
doctored them when necessary. Diseases were worse among some tribes who
frequently prostituted their own women, who then spread diseases. In 1833,
two doctors, Merideth Gairdner and William Frazer Tolmie, arrived to take
care of the sick. In 1840, Forbes Barclay came, replacing Tolmie. McLoughlin
opened the first school west of the Rockies in 1832. John Ball was the
teacher. McLoughlin's youngest child David attended this school. Solomon
H. Smith took over for him in 1833.
McLoughlin read the church services himself until a regular minister arrived.
Reverend Herbert Beaver and wife Jane came in 1836 to do that duty. They
were from England and were highly disdainful of the primitive conditions
around them. They were bigoted in their religious views. Right away, they
did not get along with John McLoughlin, especially after they insulted
his half-breed wife. They did not want to associate with the Indians,
who they'd been hired to teach. Fortunately, they left only two years
later, unfit for frontier life, after causing much friction. They still
tried to make trouble for McLoughlin, even after they returned to England.
Father Francois Blanchet and Father Modeste Demers, Catholic priests came
in November, 1838. Blanchet conducted the first Catholic services in Oregon
on January 6, 1839. John wanted the natives to get religion, and one of
the first things he taught them was the cruelty and indignity of slavery.
During this time, John returned to Catholicism under which he had been
baptized. He did not stop others from practicing their own religions,
however. Captain Aemithius Simpson, a Hudson's Bay Company sailor, brought
the infamous apple seeds about this time.
By 1841, Simpson and McLoughlin were in complete disagreement about how
the district should be run. Simpson and McLoughlin disagreed over the
matter of establishing posts on the coasts and keeping ships in port.
Dr. John did not want ships because of the unpredictability of ships crews
and their harassment and problems with Indians. McLoughlin did not like
Simpson's callous handling of his son's murder. Also, Simpson did not
like the Yerba Buena idea, especially since it was sure to be U.S. territory,
south of the Columbia. At this time, his superiors realized the many settlers
coming might result with the fort being on U.S. soil. So McLoughlin was
ordered to move everything to Vancouver Island and build a new fort there.
This fort was called Adelaide, which eventually became the city of Victoria.
After his retirement in 1846, he took his wife, son David, daughter Eloisa
and her three chidlren to Oregon City. James Douglas took over for him
at the fort. James Douglas came to the U.S. at 16 in 1819 and was John's
protege. He was apprenticed as a clerk for Hudson's Bay Company and was
a long time friend of John McLoughlin's. He went on to Vancouver Island
when Hudson's Bay moved there in 1849. In 1850, the old Ft. Vancouver
became a military fort. Douglas eventually became governor of Vancouver
McLoughlin's new neighbors were hostile to him. He immediately took steps
to get U.S. citizenship, hoping this would help the land ownership question.
But problems with his land ownership continued and eventually he lost.
He was permitted to continue living there, however. He served as mayor
of Oregon City in 1851, winning 44 of 66 votes. In 1850, he celebrated
his first 4th of July. He built houses, sawmills, and gristmills providing
employment for needy immigrants. He built a canal around the falls at
his own expense. He gave away 300 lots of private and public use, including
land given to a Catholic school, and Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian,
Catholic, and Congregational churches. The Oregon City high school is
on land given by John McLoughlin to a Protestant seminary. He also gave
land for a city jail. In 1847, he was given the Knighthood of St. Gregory,
bestowed own him by Pope Gregory. He died of old age on September 3, 1857.
After his death, future Oregon governor, L. F. Grover, fulfilled his promise
to McLoughlin, and sponsored a legislative act that returned his Oregon
City property to his heirs. Many still owed him at the time of his death,
even some of his own relatives. Many still owed him at the time of his
death, even some of his own relatives. Earlier he had taken many to court
to get his money or property in lieu of money. His total worth was about
$142,582.02. One mystery that was discovered while going through his accounts:
who was Catherine O'Gorman, who from 1838-57 he paid quarterly payments
from 10 to 50 pounds. She was not in his will. John and Margaret were
first buried at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. They were moved
July 4, 1948 to the site of the new church. On August 31, 1970, they moved
again to a site between the McLoughlin House and the Barclay House. There
are many memorials around the Pacific Northwest and even Canada, named
for him, including streets, schools, buildings, and events.
-Copyright 2000 by Beth