Biography of Hon. Peter G. Stewart

HON. PETER G. STEWART. – Peter Grant Stewart was born on the 6th of September, 1809, in Stanford, Delaware County, New York. When eight years of age he moved to Jefferson, Scohane County, where he received a common-school education, and learned the trade of a watchmaker. He followed the occupation of watchmaker and jeweler in Middlebury until the spring of 1838, when, with a selected stock of watches, jewelry, etc., he started for the West, going by way of Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toledo and Fort Wayne to Mount Vernon, Indiana, and from there to Morganfield, Union County, Kentucky, where he located, working at his trade until fall. From Morganfield he traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, stopping at the principal points for the purpose of trade, arriving in due time at New Orleans. From there his route took him to Mobile, Mariawa, Jackson County, Florida, Columbus, Georgia, Clarksville and Pendleton, South Carolina. There he was taken sick, and returned to New York.

Having recovered his health, in January, 1840, he went to Kentucky, and in the spring to Springfield, Missouri. On the 1st of September, 1842, he was married to Miss Rebecca R. Cason. During the year 1842 he was appointed brigade paymaster by General Smith. Having made the necessary preparations during the winter, on or about the 17th of April, 1843, he left Springfield, Missouri, in company with others and bidding adieu to friends and home started to cross the trackless desert on his way to his future home in Oregon. At Spanish encampment, near Independence, a committee of three, J.W. Nesmith, Peter G. Stewart and another (name forgotten), reported a plan of organization, which, being adopted, officers were elected; and Captain Grant, a mountain man, was hired to pilot the train to Fort Hall, which afterwards proved an unnecessary expense, as Doctor Whitman overtook this train and joined them, and proved a great service to the company.

The combined trains proving to be too large a company, it was divided, one part being under the command of Jesse Applegate, with Doctor Whitman as pilot, and the other under command of Peter H. Burnett, with Captain J.W. Nesmith, second in command, and with Captain Grant as pilot, with which company Stewart and his family traveled. The progress of the company was slow and tedious, and also hazardous, on account of the high stage of water on the South Platte, Laramie Fork and other streams, being obliged to ferry across with improvised ferry-boats of wagon-beds, canoes, etc. At the crossing of the South Platte Mrs. Stewart gave birth to a daughter, and was seriously ill for a time, but finally recovered. The little child of the plains, however, lived but a short time, and was buried at Doctor Whitman’s Mission. About twenty-five of the wagons having separated from the company at Fort Hall and taken the road to California, the remainder pursued their long, weary journey without particular incident, and reached The Dalles in safety. At The Dalles, Stewart and his family, and F.C. Cason (Stewart’s father-in-law) and his family, secured the services of Indians and their canoes, and in this manner came down the Columbia and up the Willamette, reaching the objective point of their journey, Oregon City, on the 6th of November, having been nearly seven months on the journey. Locating at Oregon City, Stewart followed his trade of watchmaking.

In May, 1844, he was elected one of the executive committee of the Provisional government of Oregon for one year. In 1845 he was elected by the legislative committee first judge of the district court for Clackamas County, and served nearly a year, when he resigned. In the fall of 1848, in company with Peter H. Burnett, four of the Casons, and a large company of others, with ox-teams, he started for the gold mines of California. He mined on the Yuba until the latter part of December, and returned home in February, 1849, in company with General Lane, who was on his way to Oregon to take charge of the office of governor of Oregon Territory, which appointment he had received.

In 1850 he became interested in the townsite of Pacific City to the extent of two-twentieths of six hundred and forty acres, and held the claim in his own name to secure to himself and associates the title of the same. He lived on this place at the mouth of the Columbia river between two and three years, until it was reserved by the government for military purposes. After having spent about seven thousand dollars in money, and two a half years of hard labor in improving the claim which he had taken, he was obliged to give up the claim, and has never been able to recover anything from the government for his outlay of time and money. In addition to this loss of time and money, Mr. Stewart has been deprived of his right to take up another Donation claim, as he left the Pacific City claim in such destitute circumstances that he had to borrow money to support his family, after his return to Oregon City. In justice to Mr. Stewart, the United States government ought to remunerate him for the loss sustained by him in losing his claim. The money expended by him in improvements ought to be refunded; and he ought to receive fair compensation for his two and a half years of labor. It does seem like gross injustice that an old pioneer, after having endured the hardships and privations of an early life in the wilderness of Oregon, cannot recover a claim which seems to be so manifestly just and right.

Mr. Stewart is now an old man, and is dependent on his labor for the support of himself and family. If justice were done to him in the matter of this claim, he could spend his declining years with the comfort and satisfaction which he ought to have enjoyed long years before, and to which his services to the country and state justly entitle him. In the spring of 1853, after having moved back to Oregon City, Mr. Stewart was appointed by President Pierce surveyor and inspector of the revenue for the port of Pacific City, a position which he held for one year; but, being required to reside at Pacific City, and not being able to support himself and family at that place on account of the high prices of everything which prevailed at that time, he resigned his position and returned to Oregon City. Business being very dull in Oregon City in the spring of 1861, he moved to Portland and opened up a shop on First street.

In October, 1863, his kind and affectionate wife, who had been with him in prosperity and adversity for twenty-one years, died, leaving him and five children to mourn her loss. Mr. Stewart had buried four children previous to the loss of his wife. In the spring of 1864, on account of ill health, he paid a visit to his old home in New York, returning in the fall improved in health. Conducting his business in Portland, he enjoyed a fair degree of prosperity until the big fire of December, 1872, when he had the misfortune to be burnt out, suffering a loss of six or eight thousand dollars. The second big fire came soon afterwards; and again he was a sufferer. Then, becoming discouraged, he gave up his business in Portland and became a wandering dealer in and repairer of watches, spectacles, etc. until September, 1876, when, becoming tired of his wandering life, he married the widow of Doctor Rosecrans, formerly of Butteville. He then located at Gervais, Oregon, where he has resided since, and where he follows his old vocation of watchmaker and jeweler. Mr. Stewart was recorder of Gervais for three years, and enjoys the respect and esteem of all his neighbors.

Mr. Stewart is a prominent member of the order of F. and A.M., and enjoys the distinction of being one of three masons who issued the call for the organization of Multnomah Lodge, No. 1, F. and A.M., and became one of the charter members of that lodge. The following are the names of Mr. Stewart’s children who survived their mother: Charles F.,; Kate, who married D.B. Hannah; George L.,; Maggie, who married Samuel Perryman; and Mrs. Mary Gondy, who died a few years ago.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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