Early Sailing Vessels Which Visited Portland

About the year 1860, and until 1865, there began a steady change in the character of exports. It was during those years that many of the people of Western Oregon went mining in Eastern Oregon or in Idaho, and as they returned, brought with them large quantities of gold dust; while bars of the precious metals, which had been made in the mining camps or towns of the upper Columbia, began to come down to Portland and were shipped thence as treasure. These shipments soon vastly exceeded in value all other exports combined. Frequently a quarter of a million dollars, and occasionally twice or three times that sum, was sent away on a single steamer.

To begin now with a more exact account of our exports, those of 1863 are stated as follows: (It will not be supposed that these figures are exact, or wholly comprehensive, since many shipments were made of which no account was taken, and gold dust especially was carried off in the pouches of the miners, the quantity of which was altogether unknown). Apples shipped aggregated forty-two thousand and thirty-one boxes; hides, two thousand, three hundred and twenty-four; wool, two thousand pounds and fifty bales. There were butter, flour, packages of eggs, gunnies of bacon, and live stock in considerable numbers. Of treasure there were nearly three million dollars.

In 1864 the shipments of treasure rose to upwards of six million dollars, while other products swelled these export figures by about six hundred thousand dollars. Apples had come up to sixty-one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight boxes. The shipment of flour was insignificant compared with that of later days, and that of wheat figured scarcely more, although we find that the bark Almatia took down a hundred tons on one of her trips. We also find a shipment of two hundred barrels of salmon. Although this fish was caught in considerable quantity and prepared by salting for domestic consumption, it figured comparatively nothing in those days before the canneries. Of other exports we find oats, potatoes, turpentine, hoop-poles, lumber, lard, oil, fish, beans, butter and bacon. The characteristic of these early shipments is that of a community of small farmers and housekeepers, who, of afternoons, rainy days and long winter evenings, treasured up betimes the various odds and ends of their domestic and agricultural economies, rather for the sake of a little ready money when they went down to Portland, than as a regular established industry. Even the exports of wheat, flour, lumber and cattle seemed to be the picking up and saving of the odds and ends after the domestic wants had been supplied. The shipment of treasure was about the only thing that constituted a great industry. To accommodate this commerce, and to meet the wants of travelers, the steamships Oregon, Sierra Nevada, Brother Jonathan, Pacific, George S. Wright and Moses Taylor were kept in operation. These were old fashioned, side-wheelers, high and wide, and also slow. They are well known among old Oregonians, and the fate of the Brother Jonathan, which was wrecked on the reef near Crescent City, in California, is still remembered with something of the horror that fell upon the isolated communities in Oregon when the news of the great disaster was first received. The George S. Wright also suffered shipwreck, being many years later lost in the northern waters. Of sailing vessels, the barks Industry, Jennie Jones, Cambridge, Jane A. Falkenburg, Almatia, Samuel Merritt, Helen W. Almy and Panama are named.

In 1865 the value of exports is given as seven million six hundred and six thousand five hundred and twenty-four dollars, the greater portion of which was treasure.

Holladay’s California, Oregon and Victoria Steamship Line was running in that year, the Sierra Nevada (1,395′ tons) and the Oregon (1,035 tons). The California Steam Navigation Company’s line – Hensley – was now operating the Pacific (1,100 tons), and here appears also the new name Orizaba (1,400 tons). These plied to San Francisco. Their rates for transporting horses were twenty-five dollars a head; cattle, twelve dollars; sheep, two dollars and fifty cents; and hogs, four dollars. The slaughtered animals were reduced somewhat; rates for hogs, one dollar and fifty cents; while cattle were still twelve dollars. General merchandise paid ten dollars; wheat, eight dollars, and flour, six dollars per ton. To Victoria the steamer Active was run by Captain Thorn.

Sailing vessels to San Francisco were the Jane A. Falkenburg, 600 tons, Captain A. D. Wass; the H. W. Almy, 600 tons, Captain E. Freeman; the bark Almatia, 700 tons, Capt. Stannard; bark W. B. Scranton, 700 tons, Captain W. Cathcart; bark Samuel Merritt, 550 toils, Captain Joseph Williams, and bark Live Yankee, Captain Wiggins.

The Hawaiian Packet line comprised the bark A. A. Eldridge, of 400 tons, under Captain M. Abbott, and the bark Comet, of 700 tons. Of this line, McCraken, Merrill & Co. were agents.

While the lines of commerce were thus maintained to ports outside the State, the internal commerce on our rivers was very active and attained large proportions. The O. S. N. Co., ran steamers to Astoria, to the Cowlitz river, to The Dalles, and the Snake river. To Astoria, the J. H. Couch; to Monticello, a place at the mouth of the Cowlitz river, which was washed away in the flood of 1866, and

has since been called Freeport, the Cowlitz or Rescue; to the Cascades, the New World, Wilson G. Hunt, Cascade or Julia, to connect by means of the portage railway with the Oneonta, Idaho, or Iris. The fare to The Dalles was six dollars; freight, twelve dollars per ton. Connection was made between The Dalles and Celilo, by means of another portage railway, with the Owyhee, Spray, Okanogon, Webfoot, Yakima, Tenino, or Nez Perces Chief, for Umatilla, or the Snake river. Fare to Umatilla was twelve dollars, and freight seventeen dollars and fifty cents. To Lewiston the fare was twenty-two dollars, and freight sixty dollars.

The People’s Transportation Company ran between Portland and Oregon City the Senator and Rival, to connect at Canemah with the Reliance or Fannie Patton. For Eugene, the Enterprise ran from Canemah.

Some independent steamers, then as now, were moving upon these inland waters, among which were the Alert, for Oregon City, to connect at Canemah with the Active for points above; the Union, plying between Canemah and Lafayette; the Echo, for Eugene; and on the Columbia between Portland and Vancouver, the Fannie Troupe.

In 1866 the total export amounted to $8,726,017. The details are given as follows: Pork, 72 barrels @ $20; apples, 68,860 boxes (a) $1; eggs, 1763 packages (a $10; bacon, 4376 gunnies @ $16; hides, 4674 @ $1.50; onions, 1.325 sacks @ syrup, 185 barrels @ $8; wool, 1671 bales (are; $40; pitch, 292 barrels @ $6; varnish, 124 cases @ $10; dried apples, 2603 packages @ $10; flour, 29,815 barrels @ $5; salmon, 2564 packages at $8.50; staves and headings 59,203; shooks, 14,972 @ 40 cents.

The foregoing items foot up $555,457; to which should be added $200,000 for cargoes of which no manifests were made. The shipments of treasure aggregated $8,070,600.

During this year the steamer Ranger was put on the Vancouver line, and the steamer Yamhill made tri-weekly trips to Hillsboro.

To San Francisco the new steamer Montana first appeared; and the schooner Alfred Crosby, to Victoria; the schooner Champion, and the bark Ethan Allen, were found in our trade. The steamship Fideliter, a small, low screw propeller, which always went with a buzz, and at least preserved the appearance of activity, took up the route to Victoria. This same year also the dashing and swift steamer Oriflamme, began to ply on the route to San Francisco.

For 1867 the total export is given as $6,463,793.75. This appears to be more than $2,000,000 less than the preceding year, but this diminution is due to a great decrease in the export of treasure which fell from more than $8, 000, 000 to about $4,000,000.

Commercial Independence

During this whole period, from about 1845 until 1868 or 1869, the Oregon merchants, although industrious and active, and carrying on, as we have seen, a considerable volume of business, had been in reality working under the hand of San Francisco dealers. In the first part of this time many of them entertained the idea that as Oregon was the region from which the mines of California drew supplies, she must ultimately secure the gold that flowed forth from the depths of the earth. They believed that Oregon would become the head of business, and that her citizens would not only send supplies to California, but also control, to a very large extent, the trade and shipping between the two States. But while this reasoning had much foundation in the natural relation between the two regions, the time was not, however, ripe for its full justification. The out-put of gold in California was so enormous, so much of it was carried off at once by the miners, the California business men showed such preternatural activity, and the agricultural capacities of the Golden State proved to be so great that the greater portion of the capital developed from the mines was held in California and used in building up the great city at the Golden Gate. Oregon products, although always in good demand in California, did not figure by any means as the exclusive supply. The proprietors of Portland, in the loss of the Gold Hunter, found themselves unable to hold the carrying trade, or to control commerce between Portland and California. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company soon controlling this line, found it to their advantage to court the. favor of the California money kings rather than that of the Oregon pioneers. In the course of time the steamship lines passed into the hands of Californians exclusively, and the northern trade was looked – upon by them as a perquisite of San Francisco.

During all these years, and even up to the present time, the merchants and people of California, partly on account of the money value of this policy and partly out of egotism and profound belief in the superiority of their own section, continually disparaged Oregon and Oregonians. The “Web-Footers” became the butt of all the little jokes that were going upon the streets and in social circles, much as Portlanders, at present, refer to the inhabitants of Tillamook as embodying all that is outlandish and slow in back-woods life. The rivers of Oregon were constantly represented as too shallow and rocky to be fit for navigation, while the mouth of the Columbia river was invested with all of the horrors which had lived over in romance and poetry from the writings of Irving. Merchants and insurance companies either refused to send ships to a place which was scarcely a recognized port, and of which nothing but evil appeared in the commercial papers. Our climate was spoken of as detestable and intolerable to civilized man-as being perpetually gloomy and wet, and, for at least nine months of the year, unfit for out-door occupation. This spirit of humorous jealousy was indeed carried to a most absurd extreme, and, by means of all the exaggeration of wild western fancy, made Oregon, and more particularly the region of Portland and vicinity, to appear as the fag-end of the American continent, suitable only for the abode of those whose natural inertia and lack of ambition led them to avoid the close competition and high energy of more favored countries-of which California clearly stood at the head. While much of this may be excused as simply humor and vanity on the part of our neighbors, it, nevertheless, worked a real injury to our commerce and to the development of our State.

About the time that railroad communication with the outside world was seriously agitated it began to be seen clearly by the people of Portland that, in order to build up anything like commerce, they must get themselves upon an independent basis before the world.

If they were to bring down to Portland their crops of wheat, aggregating many millions of bushels, and worth many millions of dollars, they must not follow the policy of shipping all this produce to California, there to be reshipped as the product of that State. Their pride in Oregon was suffering many hard blows from being ignored in commercial circles. They saw by shipping reports that their flour and wheat, which, they fondly believed was the best in the world, all appeared in the markets of the world as from their neighbor State, and went to swell her fame among the nations. Portland was not known in the newspapers of the east, except perhaps as an insignificant point somewhere on the northern coast. The name Oregon was also carefully suppressed, and ships bound for Astoria or Portland were simply reported as having cleared for the Columbia river, leaving it uncertain to one whose geographical knowledge was imperfect whether this river was in some northern county of California or in British Columbia. Preparations were made for purchasing goods at New York and importing them to Portland direct, thus saving the expense of port duties at San Francisco, the toll paid to her merchants, and the tariffs of reshipping on the California steamers. The name of the first vessel thus chartered was the Sally Brown, and her captain, Matthews. She was soon followed by the Hattie C. Besse. There was a sort of “I great awakening” on the part of everyone, and the newspapers exhibited fully the disadvantages of shipping to California. Said The Oregonian: “Now we believe that it can and will be demonstrated to the commercial world that vessels of sufficient capacity to make profitable voyages can load on this river. But our interests in this regard have been strangely neglected by our people. We have preferred to let San Francisco manage matters to suit her own convenience, instead of trying to do anything for ourselves. There is no longer any question about vessels of a larger class being able to cross the bar at the mouth of the river; and, for a long time, as is well known here, vessels large enough for direct trade have no difficulty in reaching Portland. But the impressions which were formed abroad in regard to the Columbia river still remain, which is not strange when we consider the manner in which our trade has been carried on. “


Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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