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Dr. John McLoughlin
Dr. McLoughlin's Land Claim


I shall now take up the matter of Dr. McLoughlin's land claim at Oregon City. Many writers and speakers have spoken of his land claim being taken from him, in a loose way, as "unjust treatment," or as "robbery." I shall briefly state the facts, as I have found them. The early pioneers know these facts. They should be known by everyone in justice to Dr. McLoughlin and to his memory.

Prior to the Donation Land Law, there were no lawful titles to lands in Oregon, except lands given to Missions by the law establishing the Territory of Oregon. The Donation Land Law was passed by Congress, and was approved by the President September 27, 1850. Prior to the organization, in 1843, f the Oregon Provisional Government, the only law, or rule of law, in Oregon was the Golden Rule, or rather a consensus of public opinion among the few settlers in Oregon. When a person settled on a piece of land and improved it, or declared his intention to claim it, all other settlers respected his possessory rights. Each settler thought that on the settlement of the boundary line between the United States and Great Britain, his land claim would be recognized and protected, which he had thus claimed while there was joint-occupancy under the Conventions of 1818 and 1827.

It was in 1829 that Etienne Lucier, one of the Hudson's Bay Company's servants, of whom I have spoken, settled in the Willamette Valley at French Prairie, now in Marion County. Other servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, as their terms of service expired, and a few Americans, had settled at or near French Prairie prior to 1834, so that when the first missionaries came, there was a thriving, although small, settlement near where Jason and Daniel Lee established their first mission in 1834. This mission had no title to the land where the Mission was established, yet its rights were recognized and respected.

In 1829 Dr. McLoughlin for himself took possession of the land and water power at the falls of the Willamette River on the east side of the river at and near what is now Oregon City. In his land claim was the valuable, but small, island containing about four or five acres of available area in low water, and two or three acres in ordinary high water. It was separated from the east bank by a part of the river, in summer not more than forty feet wide; it was situated near the crest of the falls. Its location made it valuable for convenient use of water power. This island was afterwards known as "Governor's Island," but was called "Abernethy Island" in the Donation Land Law, and is now known by the latter name. This island is now owned by the Portland General Electric Company. It lies partly in the "Basin" at Oregon City. On it is now erected a large wooden building called, by that Company, "Station A." As I have said, in 1825 the Hudson's Bay Company knew that England did not intend to claim any part of the Oregon Country south of the Columbia River, so it did not want for itself any permanent or valuable improvements in the Willamette Valley.

In 1829 Dr. McLoughlin began the erection of a sawmill at the falls. He caused three Houses to be erected and some timbers to be squared for a mill. This work continued until May, 1830. In 1829 the Indians there burned these squared timbers. In 1832 he had a mill-race blasted out of the rocks from the head of the island. It has been asserted that these improvements were made for the Hudson's Bay Company, but were discontinued by it because it did not wish to erect valuable improvements there. But in the McLoughlin Document he says: "I had selected for a claim, Oregon City, in 1829, made improvements on it, and had a large quantity of timber squared." Who ever knew or heard of Dr. McLoughlin telling a lie? That he was a man of the highest honor and truthfulness is established beyond all doubt. This claim was taken by him in the same year that Lucier settled in the Willamette Valley. It is evident that Dr. McLoughlin took this claim, for his old age and for the benefit of himself and children.31 From about 1838 until the passage of the Donation Land Law in 1850, he openly and continuously asserted his right to his land claim, including Abernethy Island. No adverse claim was made until about July, 1840, less than sixty days after the arrival of the ship Lausanne, when certain members of the Methodist Mission began to plan to take these lands and rights from Dr. McLoughlin, and in the end succeeded, but only partially for themselves. Dr. McLoughlin's right to his land claim was as good as that of any other person in Oregon to his own land claim. April i, 1843, Dr. Elijah White, who came to Oregon in 1837, as a Methodist missionary, but was then United States Sub-Agent of Indian Affairs, in an official report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, at Washington, D. C, said of the Shortess petition, to which I shall presently refer: "A petition started from this country today, making bitter complaints against the Hudson's Bay Company and Governor McLoughlin. On reference to it (a copy was denied) I shall only say, had any gentleman disconnected with the Hudson's Bay Company been at half the pains and expense to establish a claim on the Wallamet Falls, very few would have raised any opposition."  Under the joint-occupancy every British subject had the same or equal rights in the Oregon Country that a citizen of the United States had.

December 18, 1839, Senator Linn introduced a series of resolutions in the United States Senate, which were referred to a select Committee. March 31, 1840, this Committee reported a substitute. The chief feature was a provision for granting to each male inhabitant of Oregon, over eighteen years of age, one thousand acres of land. December 16, 1841, Senator Linn introduced his famous bill thereafter known as the "Linn Bill," which granted six hundred and forty acres of land to every white male inhabitant of Oregon, of eighteen years or over, who should cultivate the same for five years. This bill was favorably reported back to the Senate and subsequently passed the Senate, but failed in the House. The Oregon Donation Land Law was largely based on this bill. In neither the Linn resolution nor in the Linn bill was any difference made between American citizens and British subjects, or other aliens as to the right to take land. The Oregon Donation Land Law of September 27, 1850, applied to every white settler (including aliens) over eighteen years of age then a resident of Oregon, or who should become such a resident prior to December 1, 1850, except Dr. McLoughlin. In case of an alien he must either have made his declaration, according to law, to become a citizen of the United States prior to the passage of the Donation Land Law or do so prior to December 1, 1851. The Linn bill was largely instrumental in causing the early immigrations to Oregon. It was felt by these immigrants that it, or a similar law, was bound to pass Congress. The Oregon Donation Land Law was such a law. Dr. McLoughlin believed that such a bill was bound to become a law.

The Methodist Mission, as a mission, did not, officially, attempt to deprive Dr. McLoughlin of any of his land. There were some of the missionaries who opposed any such action. But others of them saw that if the Mission obtained any of Dr. McLoughlin's land claim, it would belong to the Mission or to the Church, so they readily proceeded, as individuals, for their own private gain. In 1840, shortly after the arrival of the Lausanne, Rev. Jason Lee, as Superintendent of the Methodist Mission, appointed Rev. A. F. Waller to labor for the Indians at Willamette Falls and vicinity. The Mission took up a claim of six hundred and forty acres north of Dr. McLoughlin's claim. The Mission's religious work was done by Waller on this claim, where Gladstone Park is now situated, and also at a point on the west bank of the Willamette River opposite Oregon City. At both of these places there were a number of Indians.33 In the summer of 1840 Waller was sent to establish this Mission. Dr. McLoughlin generously assisted the undertaking. He gave the Mission a piece of land in his claim on which to erect a mission-house; and, at the request of Rev. Jason Lee, the Superintendent of the Mission, Dr. McLoughlin loaned it some of the timbers, which he had caused to be squared, to build the mission-house. Timbers to take the place of those so loaned were never furnished to Dr. McLoughlin, nor were the timbers ever paid for. It was soon reported to Dr. McLoughlin that the Methodist Mission would try to take or to jump his claim. He at once (July 21, 1840) notified Jason Lee, Superintendent of the Mission, of the facts: That Dr. McLoughlin had taken possession of this land claim in 1829, and also of his intention to hold this land as a private claim. He gave Lee the general description of the land so claimed by Dr. McLoughlin, viz: "From the upper end of the falls across to the Clackamas river, and down where the Clackamas falls into the Willamette, including the whole point of land, and the small island in the falls on which the portage was made." This is the island later known as "Governor's" or "Abernethy" Island. After giving the notice mentioned, Dr. Mc-Loughlin concluded his letter with these words: "This is not to prevent your building the store, as my object is merely to establish my claim." A satisfactory answer was returned and Waller proceeded in the erection of the mission-house, which was divided into two apartments, one of which served as a dwelling, and the other as a storeroom for the goods of the Mission.

In 1841 Felix Hathaway, in the employment of the Mission, began to build a house on the island, at which Dr. McLoughlin remonstrated with Waller, but the latter assured Dr. McLoughlin that no wrong was intended and Hathaway stopped his building operations. Matters ran smoothly until the autumn of 1842. By this time Dr. McLoughlin had again made improvements on his claim, having it surveyed and part of it laid off in town lots and blocks, which he named Oregon City. Some of these lots and blocks he gave away, some he sold. I cannot go into all the evasive actions of Waller and the false statements and claims made by him, and by John Ricord, his attorney, in relation to Waller's supposed rights to Dr. McLoughlin's land claim. Waller employed Ricord as an attorney and asserted his ownership of all the McLoughlin land claim, except Abernethy Island, to which the Oregon Milling Company laid claim. A public proclamation signed by Ricord as attorney for Waller, although dated December 20, 1843, was publicly posted at Oregon City early in 1844. It set forth the alleged illegality of Dr. McLoughlin's claim and the imaginary rights of Waller. Whatever possession Waller had of any part of this land was due to the kind permission of Dr. McLoughlin. Waller attempted to turn this kindness into a question of right to the whole land claim, excepting Abernethy Island. An agreement or settlement, dated April 4, 1844, was executed by Rev. A. F. Waller, Rev. David Leslie, acting Superintendent of the Methodist Mission, and by Dr. McLoughlin. Under this agreement Dr. McLoughlin was compelled to pay Waller five hundred dollars and to convey to Waller eight lots and three blocks in Oregon City, and also to convey to the Methodist Mission six lots and one block in Oregon City. What right the Mission had to insist on the conveyance to it of this land has never been explained-Waller, in said agreement or settlement, surrendering and forever abandoning to Dr. McLoughlin "all claims, rights, and pretensions whatsoever" which Waller had to the land claim of Dr. McLoughlin, which is described in said agreement as "a tract of land situated at the falls of the Wallamette River on the east side of said River, containing six hundred and forty acres, and surveyed by Jesse Applegate in the month of December, A. D. 1843." This survey included Abernethy Island. There were not then any courts in Oregon to which Dr. McLoughlin could apply for relief, as he had not then joined the Provisional Government. It was probably better and cheaper for him to submit to this unfair agreement, otherwise he would have been compelled to allow Waller to take the land or to have ousted him by force.

July 15, 1844, about three months after this settlement, Rev. George Gary, who was then closing the Methodist Mission in Oregon and disposing of its property, in a letter to Dr. McLoughlin offered to sell back these lots and block given to the Mission by Dr. McLoughlin, with the improvements thereon, excluding the two lots given by Dr. McLoughlin in 1840 on which the Methodist Church was built. Gary valued the lots to be sold at two thousand, two hundred dollars, and the improvements thereon at three thousand, eight hundred dollars. Gary made the conditions that the possession of a warehouse should be reserved until June, 1845, and the house occupied by George Abernethy until August, 1845. Gary made some other reservations and wrote that there must be an answer in a day or two. Dr. McLoughlin considered this offer extortionate. He wrote an answer to Gary calling attention to the fact that he had so recently given the lots to the Mission, that it would be the fairest way for Gary to give Dr. McLoughlin back the lots, since the Mission had no longer any use for them, and let him pay for the improvements; that one of the houses was built with lumber borrowed from him and had not been paid for. He suggested that the matter be referred to the Missionary Board. But Gary rejected every proposal. Dr. McLoughlin was compelled to yield and agreed to pay the six thousand dollars demanded by Gary.38 Notwithstanding the fact that this agreement executed by Waller and Leslie, dated April 4, 1844, was made as a final settlement of the matter, the conspirators determined to deprive Dr. McLoughlin of his land claim, even if they did not profit by it. They succeeded by means of the Oregon Donation Law, as I shall presently show. These conspirators had previously arranged to take or "jump" Abernethy Island.

Rev. Dr. H. K. Hines was too honorable a man to justify these proceedings. As he came to Oregon in 1853, it appears that he did not know all the facts, but such as he knew, even from Methodist missionary sources, did not commend Waller's actions to Hines in regard to Dr. McLoughlin and his land claim. In his Missionary History, pages 353-355, Dr. Hines says: "At Oregon City the Mission as such deemed it wisest not to file any claim as against that of Dr. McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company at Vancouver, who had made some movements toward the occupation of that valuable property before the Mission was established. Perhaps all in the country at that time, Mr. Lee included, did not consider the claim of Dr. McLoughlin as a British subject and the head of a great British corporation, such a claim as would be recognized in law when the government of the United States should extend its jurisdiction over the country, which they believed it was sure to do in a short time. . . . The mission work at this general point was mostly done on the "west side of the river at The Falls, and at the villages on the Clackamas where 'Gladstone Park' is now situated, and where the Mission had a farm, and a claim of a square mile of land. This stood in exactly the same relation to the Board as did the claim at The Dalles and at Salem.

"It is proper that we say here that much controversy arose at Oregon City through the fact that Rev. A. F. Waller filed a claim in his own behalf on the land to which Dr. McLoughlin was also laying claim, on the ground that the latter, being a British subject, could not obtain title under the land laws of the United States. With this the Mission, as such, had no connection whatever, and hence this history does not deal with the question." Nevertheless, joint-occupancy, Senator Linn's resolution and bill, the Donation Land Law, subsequently passed, natural justice and right, and common decency should have been recognized as giving Dr. McLoughlin full right to his land claim from the beginning.

At least three of the Methodist missionaries and those connected with the Methodist Mission were not citizens of the United States at any time prior to the passage of the Donation Land Law in 1850. Rev. Jason Lee was a native of Canada and died in Canada. He did not become a citizen of the United States. His allegiance was always that of a British subject. Jason Lee was of English descent. His parents were born in the United States but settled at Stanstead, Canada, and made it their home several years prior to his birth. He was born at Stanstead in 1803 and that was his home until 1834, when he came to Oregon. For a number of years he worked in the pineries in the north of Canada. In 1826 he was "converted" and joined the Wesleyan Church of Canada. In 1827 he entered the Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts. After attending that Academy for a time, he returned to his home at Stanstead, where he stayed for several years, first teaching school and afterwards becoming a preacher of the Wesleyan Church of Canada. For several years he had desired to be a missionary among the Indians and in 1832 or 1833 offered his services as a missionary to the Indians of Canada to the Wesleyan Missionary Society of London. In 1833, while waiting a reply to his application, he was offered the appointment by the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church of "Missionary to the Flathead Indians," and was admitted as a member of the latter Conference. In the spring of 1834 he started for Oregon, which, during the rest of his life, was jointly occupied by citizens of the United States and subjects of Great Britain under the Conventions between these countries. The political status of a resident of Oregon then remained as it was when he arrived in Oregon. It could not be changed there during joint-occupancy. He died at Lake Memphremagog in Canada, March 2, 1845. His body was buried at Stanstead. These facts I have obtained mostly from Dr. Hines' Missionary History of the Pacific Northwest, and I have verified them from other reliable sources.

Rev. Daniel Lee was also born in Canada. Up to the time of his return to the Eastern States in .1843, he had not become a citizen of the United States. As the rest of his life was spent as a Methodist minister in the United States, he probably became a citizen of the latter country. Rev. Daniel Lee, I believe, took no part in, nor did he encourage, or sympathize with any action against Dr. McLoughlin.

Joseph Holman (not a relative of mine) was born in England, August 20, 1815. In 1833 he went to Canada where he lived for several years. About 1836 or 1837 he went to Ohio and later went to Illinois. In 1839 he started for Oregon. He arrived at Fort Vancouver June 1, 1840, the same day the Lausanne arrived there. In 1840 or 1841 he became connected with the Methodist Mission. Shortly after his arrival he took up a land claim a mile square near the present city of Salem. A person could not become a citizen of the United States until he had resided therein for at least five years. So he could not become such a citizen in the East for he had not resided in the United States more than three years when he started for Oregon in 1839. It was in Oregon, after the United States Courts were established in 1849, that Joseph Holman first made application to become a citizen of the United States and became one. As Jason Lee and Daniel Lee took up the land on which the Methodist Mission was situated and they were British subjects, their rights as land claimants were the same as those of Dr. McLoughlin. The Mission, as such, had no legal status to acquire land prior to the Act of 1848 organizing Oregon Territory. The land claim of Joseph Holman had the same status as that of Dr. McLoughlin - just as good, but no better.


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