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Dr. John McLoughlin
Fort Vancouver


Dr. McLoughlin came overland to Fort George (Astoria), arriving there in 1824. He soon saw that the place for a great trading and supply post should be further up the Columbia River. After careful surveys in small boats, he founded Fort Vancouver, on the north side of the Columbia River, about seven miles above the mouth of the Willamette River, and several miles below the point named Point Vancouver by Lieut. Broughtan, in 1792, the latter point being near the present town of Washougal, Washington. In 1825 Fort Vancouver was constructed, in part, and the goods and effects at Fort George were moved to Fort Vancouver. The final completion of the latter fort was not until a later period, although the work was carried on as rapidly as possible. A few years after, about 1830, a new fort was erected about a mile westerly from the original fort. Here is now located the present United States' Military post, commonly known as Vancouver Barracks.

With characteristic energy and foresight Dr. McLoughlin soon established at and near Fort Vancouver a large farm on which were grown quantities of grain and vegetables. It was afterwards stocked with cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and hogs. In 1836 this farm consisted of 3,000 acres, fenced into fields, with here and there dairy houses and herdsmen's and shepherd's cottages. In 1836 the products of this farm were, in bushels: 8,000 of wheat; 5,500 of barley; 6,000 of oats; 9,000 of peas; 14,000 of potatoes; besides large quantities of turnips (rutabaga), pumpkins, etc. There were about ten acres in apple, pear, and quince trees, which bore in profusion. He established two saw mills and two flour mills near the fort. For many years there were shipped, from Fort Vancouver, lumber to the Hawaiian Islands (then called the Sandwich Islands) and flour to Sitka. It was not many years after Dr. McLoughlin came to the Oregon Country until it was one of the most profitable parts of North America to the Hudson's Bay Company. For many years the London value of the yearly gathering of furs, in the Oregon Country, varied from $500,000 to $1,000,000, sums of money representing then a value several fold more than such sums represent today.

Fort Vancouver was a parallelogram about seven hundred and fifty feet long and four hundred and fifty broad, enclosed by an upright picket wall of large and closely fitted beams, over twenty feet in height, secured by buttresses on the inside. Originally there was a bastion at each angle of the fort. In the earlier times there were two twelve pounders mounted in these bastions. In the center of the fort there were some eighteen pounders; all these cannon, from disuse, became merely ornamental early in the thirties. In 1841, when Commodore Wilkes was at Fort Vancouver, there were between the steps of Dr. McLoughlin's residence, inside the fort, two old cannon on sea-carriages, with a few shot. There were no other warlike instruments.6 It was a very peaceful fort.

The interior of the fort was divided into two courts, having about forty buildings, all of wood except the powder magazine, which was constructed of brick and stone. In the center, facing the main entrance, stood the Hall in which were the dining-room, smoking-room, and public sitting-room, or bachelor's hall. Single men, clerks, strangers, and others made the bachelor's hall their place of resort. To these rooms artisans and servants were not admitted. The Hall was the only two-story house in the fort. The residence of Dr. McLoughlin was built after the model of a French Canadian dwelling-house. It was one story, weather-boarded, and painted white. It had a piazza with vines growing on it. There were flower-beds in front of the house. The other buildings consisted of dwellings for officers and their families, a school-house, a retail store, warehouses and shops.

A short distance from the fort, on the bank of the river, was a village of more than fifty houses, for the mechanics and servants, and their families, built in rows so as to form streets. Here were also the hospital, boat-house, and salmon-house, and near by were barns, threshing-mills, granaries, and dairy buildings. The whole number of persons, having their homes at Fort Vancouver and its vicinity, men, women, and children, was about eight hundred. The Hall was an oasis in the vast social desert of Oregon. Fort Vancouver was a fairy-land to the early travellers, after their long, hard journeys across the continent. Thomas J. Farnham was a traveller who came to Oregon in 1839. He was entertained by Dr. McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. In his account of his travels, which he subsequently published, he gives the following description of the usual dinner at Fort Vancouver:

"The bell rings for dinner; we will now pay a visit to the 'Hall' and its convivialities. . At the end of a table twenty feet in length stands Governor McLoughlin, directing guests and gentlemen from neighboring posts to their places; and chief-traders, traders, the physician, clerks, and the farmer slide respectfully to their places, at distances from the Governor corresponding to the dignity of their rank in the service. Thanks are given to God, and all are seated. Roast beef and pork, boiled mutton, baked salmon, boiled ham; beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage, and potatoes, and wheaten bread, are tastefully distributed over the table among a dinner-set of elegant queen's ware, burnished with glittering glasses and decanters of various-coloured Italian wines. Course after course goes round, . . . and each gentleman in turn vies with him in diffusing around the board a most generous allowance of viands, wines, and warm fellow-feeling. The cloth and wines are removed together, cigars are lighted, and a strolling smoke about the premises, enlivened by a courteous discussion of some mooted point of natural history or politics, closes the ceremonies of the dinner hour at Fort Vancouver."

At Fort Vancouver Dr. John McLoughlin lived and ruled in a manner Befitting that of an old English Baron in feudal times, but with a graciousness and courtesy, which, I fear, were not always the rule with the ancient Barons. Dr. McLoughlin was a very temperate man. He rarely drank any alcoholic beverages, not even wines. There was an exception one time, each year, when the festivities began at Fort Vancouver on the return of the brigade, with the year's furs. He then drank a glass of wine to open the festivities. Soon after he came to Oregon, from morality and policy he stopped the sale of liquor to Indians. To do this effectually he had to stop the sale of liquor to all whites. In 1834, when Wyeth began his competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, he began selling liquor to Indians, but at the request of Dr. McLoughlin, Wyeth stopped the sale of liquors to Indians as well as to the whites. In 1841 the American trading vessel Thomas Perkins, commanded by Captain Varney, came to the Columbia River to trade, having a large quantity of liquors. To prevent the sale to the Indians, Dr. McLoughlin bought all these liquors and stored them at Fort Vancouver. They were still there when Dr. McLoughlin left the Hudson's Bay Company in 1846.

Dr. McLoughlin soon established numerous forts and posts in the Oregon Country, all of which were tributary to Fort Vancouver. In 1839 there were twenty of these forts besides Vancouver. The policy of the Hudson's Bay Company was to crush out all rivals in trade. It had an absolute monopoly of the fur trade of British America, except the British Provinces, under acts of Parliament, and under royal grants. But in the Oregon Territory its right to trade therein was limited by the Conventions of 1818 and 1827 and by the act of Parliament of July 2, 1821, to the extent that the Oregon Country (until one year's notice was given) should remain free and open to the citizens of the United States and to the subjects of Great Britain, and the trade of the Hudson's Bay Company should not "be used to the prejudice or exclusion of citizens of the United States engaged in such trade." Therefore, as there could be no legal exclusion of American citizens, it could be done only by occupying the country, building forts, establishing trade and friendly relations with the Indians, and preventing rivalry by the laws of trade, including ruinous competition. As the Hudson's Bay Company bought its goods in large quantities in England, shipped by sea, and paid no import duties, it could sell at a profit at comparatively low prices. In addition, its goods were of extras good quality, usually much better than those of the American traders. It also desired to prevent the settling of the Oregon Country. The latter purpose was for two reasons: to preserve the fur trade; and to prevent the Oregon Country from being settled by Americans to the prejudice of Great Britain's claim to the Oregon Country.

For more than ten years after Dr. McLoughlin came to Oregon, there was no serious competition to the Hudson's Bay Company in the Oregon Country west of the Blue Mountains. An occasional ship would come into the Columbia River and depart. At times, American fur traders entered into serious competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, east of the Blue Mountains. Such traders were Bonneville Sublette, Smith, Jackson, and others. They could be successful, only partially, against the competition of the Hudson's Bay Company. Goods were often sold by it at prices which could not be met by the American traders, except at a loss. Sometimes more was paid to the Indians for furs than they were worth.

Dr. McLoughlin was the autocrat of the Oregon Country. His allegiance was to his Country and to his Company. He knew the Americans had the legal right to occupy any part of the Oregon Country, and he knew from the directors of his Company, as early as 1825, that Great Britain did not intend to claim any part of the Oregon Country south of the Columbia River. The only fort he established south of the Columbia River was on the Umpqua River. I do not wish to place Dr. McLoughlin on a pedestal, nor to represent him as more than a grand and noble man, ever true, as far as possible, to his Company's interests and to himself. To be faithless to his Company was to be a weakling and contemptible. But he was not a servant, nor was he untrue to his manhood. As Chief Factor he was "Ay, every inch a King," but he was also ay, every inch a man. He was a very human, as well as a very humane man. He had a quick and violent temper. His position as Chief Factor and his continued use of power often made him dictatorial. And yet he was polite, courteous, gentle, and kind, and a gentleman. He was an autocrat, but not an aristocrat. In 1838 Rev. Herbert Beaver, who was chaplain at Fort Vancouver, was impertinent to Dr. McLoughlin in the fort-yard. Immediately Dr. McLoughlin struck Beaver with a cane. The next day Dr. McLoughlin publicly apologized for this indignity.


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