Portland Oregon’s Ships and Commerce

Many vessels crossed the bar of the Columbia in 1849 and a number came up to Portland. Of these none was more serviceable than the Madonna, from New York, under Captain Couch. This was his third trip out, and by far the most successful. His cargo of mixed goods was disposed of in part at San Francisco, his lumber selling for $600 per thousand. On board were W. S. Ogden, a prominent merchant of early times, and G. H. Flanders, a sea captain, before this in the employ of John and Caleb Cushing. Capt. Flanders is a man whose energy and enterprise have done much for Portland’s commerce. Reaching the city once more, Couch had his land surveyed and platted. It is said that in laying off a street he gave his half for the use of the public, but Stark refused to meet him half way; thus making A street but half width. It is also reported that upon the surveyor finishing the job, worth about $700, Couch offered him for his pay, two blocks on Second and Third streets-which were refused. The Madonna was run on the route to San Francisco by Flanders, and the firm of Couch & Co. were so prosperous as to be able to dispatch in 1850 the brig Emma Preston to China-the first from Oregon to China.

The unfavorable condition of steam navigation, already mentioned, which supplied Milwaukie with a river steamer, and St. Helens with ocean craft, but left Portland to voyage by canoes, or to depend upon uncertain winds, was earnestly examined in order to find a remedy. A general desire and willingness to buy a steamer of their own was freely expressed by the proprietors and leading citizens, and this being rumored abroad, attracted to the northern waters the Gold Hunter. She was a side-wheeler, a staunch little vessel, but as stated by one who knew her well, having such a capacity for consuming fuel that on a week’s voyage so much of the space between decks had to be used for storing wood as seriously to interfere with room for freight, passengers or supplies. Nevertheless, when she appeared in the Willamette and promised steam communication with San Francisco and the outer world, she was deemed acceptable and bought. Sixty thousand dollars was the purchase price, sufficient to give Portlanders a controlling interest, and of this, twenty-one thousand dollars were paid on the spot; eighteen thousand six hundred dollars were furnished by the Portland proprietors and the rest was made up by the citizens in small shares. Much rejoicing was occasioned by this event, and Portland began to loom up at once as a seaport. Hall, a seafaring man then a resident of Portland, was made captain, and A. P. Dennison, purser. Each owned a few shares of stock. The jubilation, however, was short lived, and the purchase proved a disastrous failure. Some of the stockholders, contrary to expectation, disposed of their shares to the San Francisco holders, thereby giving to the latter a majority interest. After a few trips the Gold Hunter was ordered off the route and sent to Central America. This was done wholly without the knowledge of the Oregon owners, and they watched and waited in vain for the return of their steamship. She never came back, but was attached, on the southern coast for debt and involved her owners in still further expense and loss. Many blocks had to be sold by Coffin and the other proprietors to make good their unprofitable outlay. Although thus unfortunate, they did nevertheless gain their ends. The necessity of steam to accommodate Portland was made apparent, and the ability of her people to supply themselves was proven; and to forestall others from reaping the profits, the Lot Whitcomb, and the Pacific Mail steamers both made Portland their terminal point. It was in March, 1851, that the first vessel of the latter company came hither. This was the steamship Columbia, a commodious and fine vessel, which ran uninterruptedly until 1860, doing a most successful business. At the latter date she was drawn off for the China trade, and in the Oriental seas was destroyed by fire. 1

The establishment of the Oregonian, the opening of steam communication, and the construction of the wagon road to the Tualatin Plains were the things that gave Portland her first supremacy. Of the three none was more decisive than the wagon road, for it fixed the trade of the farmers, brought down loads of grain and other produce, and the droves of cattle and hogs. It made Portland popular; the occupants of the woods and plains finding here rest and relaxation from the limbo of their self-imposed exile. In April, 1851, at the first city election, which was rather a tame affair, since as yet there were no politics involved, there were cast two hundred and twenty-two votes; indicating a population of six hundred or seven hundred-as a very large proportion of the inhabitants were adult men. Although this is but the figure of a village, it shows that Portland had passed all other Oregon towns, and had assumed metropolitan importance. Indeed, whether from their spirit and energy, their cosmopolitan make-up, or their great expectations, the people of Portland have from the earliest times surrounded their city with the air and manner of a great place.

As indicating something of the strength and importance of the city in 1851, the following list of business houses is given, which is believed to be comprehensive.

H. W. Corbett, general store; Josiah Failing, with his two sons, Henry and’ John, general store; Capt. C. H. Lewis, of the firm of Allen & Lewis, general store; J. H. Couch, general store; Breck & Ogden, general store; A. M. & L. M. Starr, stove and tin store; Capt. Norton, a small store, but did the most of his trading from his vessel; Thos. Pritchard, grocery; A. M. Barnes, general store; G. W. .Vaughn, hardware; Mr. Vaughn also built the first flour mill. Northrup & Simonds, general store; Hiram Smith, who had the sign “No. 1 Smith,” to distinguish him from the later arrivals of his name, general store; Lucien Snow, dry goods; G. W. Snell, drug store; Patrick Raleigh, had on hand a stock of goods to be sold out; Frazar & Jewett, general store. Mr. Thos. Frazar, so universally known in our city came on the steamer Columbia, arriving at Astoria in March, 1851. From Astoria he found passage to Portland on a flat boat run by Capt. O’Neill, since so well known as a purser on the line of steamboats of the O. S. N. Co. Mr. Frazar was from Massachusetts, a native of Duxbury, and is a descendant of John Alden, famous in the history and poetry of New England. 2

Besides these stores there were vessels lying in the river with stocks of goods for sale. One of these was a schooner from Boston, under Capt. Watson; another, under Capt. Benj. Smith, with A. P. Dennison as partner, or assistant. A French brig under Capt. Trevalliot, lay for some time along the shore, until by reason of improper unloading, and carelessness as to -the fall of water, she careened on her side and was sunk. This Trevalliot was a notorious character, drunken and profane beyond measure. He gave undue attention to horse racing, having a dark Indian pony, that he called “Siskiyou,” upon which he charged up and down the streets, defying the town boys and countrymen.

In the latter part of 1851 there were a number of Jewish merchants who made a beginning here in the mercantile line and began to displace their Yankee competitors.

The following is a list of the names of those living at or near Portland prior to 1852. It has been very carefully made up by Mr. John M. Breck, Mr. Geo. L. Story, Mr. Henry Failing, and Mr. T. B. Trevett, all of whom were living in our city at the time mentioned. They will be recognized as among our most capable business men of the present day and merit the thanks not only of the publishers of this work, but of all interested in Portland, for their interest and efficiency in helping us to make the volume complete.

Geo. L. Story, Capt. Wm. Baker, T. B. Trevett, Col. Wm.M. King, Dr. R. B. Wilson, Dr. L. C. Broy, Frank D. Camp, Rev. Horace Lyman, Rev. C. S. Kingsley, Rev. J. H. Wilbur, Rev. St. Michael Fackler, Knute Peterson, Peter D. Hardenberg, Capt. Molthrop, Samuel R. Holcomb, Nelson Northrup, Mr. Simonds, G. W. Vaughn, Peter Erpelding, Thomas G. Robinson; J. Kohn, Levi Anderson, David Weil, Uriah Harris, Jack Harris, Major Tucker, Nathaniel Coe, Lawrence W. Coe, Eugene F. Coe, Henry Coe, Mr. Tallentire, Thomas Gladwell, Capt. Ayres, A. D. Fitch, Wm. Fitch, John Thompson, Thomas Stephens, Wm. Stephens, Jas. B. Stephens, Finice Caruthers. James Terwilliger, Wm. Blackistone, Peter Guild, Col. Loring, Col. Frush, Capt. Richard Williams, Capt. Wells, Hugh D. O’Bryant, Colburn Barrell, Crawford Dobbin, Job McNamee, Richard White, Allen White, Robert Thompson, Shubrick Norris, William H. Barnhart, Thomas J. Hobbs, Nathaniel Brown, Sam R. May, Robt. N. McLaren, Finley McLaren, Henry W. Corbett, Josiah Failing, Henry Failing, John W. Failing, J. J. Lintz, Jos. W. Cleaver, Dr. Salisbury, A. M. Starr, L. M. Starr, Capt. O. H. Hall, Nathaniel Crosby, Thos. H. Smith, L. M. Simpson, Wm. Seton Ogden, John M. Breck, N. H. Owens, Orlando McNight, F. M. Smith,’ A. L. Francis, I. B. Francis, Otis J. Dimmick, John Orvis Waterman, John Thomas, Charles Lawrence, W. D. M. Carter, Mr. Southmayd (printer), Mr. Berry (printer), C. A. Reed, R. B. Comfort, Harley McDonald, George W. Higgins, Thos. Frazar, Mr. Jewitt T. B. McElroy, Sam A. Clarke, Joseph Durbrow, John Ferguson, Wm.McMillen, David Lewis, Frank Matthias, Lewis Day, Mr. Adams, Richard Hoyt, Zenas Webber, Anthony L. Davis, Jas. Warren Davis, Thomas A. Davis, Lucien Snow, Herman Wasserman, Fleming family, John M. Murphy, Dr. E. H. Griffin, Mr. Fttlinger Mr. Simonsfield, A. L. Lovejoy, F. W. Pettigrove, L. B. Hastings, D. S. Baker, Geo. W. Snell, Dr. Saml. Hooper, Deveaux Babcock, C. B. Pillow, A. V. Wilson, Clark Drew, A. B. Stuart, M. M. Lucas, Peter Fulkerson, John B. Talbot and family, John Donner and family, Mr. Bennett, O. Travalliot, Lucius H. Allen. C. H. Lewis, Peter Dewitt, John H. Couch, John P. Couch, George Sherman, P. Hibert, M. Chappellier, Mr. Daulne, John Ricketson, John Mears, Frank E. Webster, Dan Stewart, Jas. Fruit, R. R. Reese, Thos. J. Dryer, Benj. Stark, Nehemiah Northrup, Mr. Northrup, Thos. J. Holmes, D. H. Hendee, Thos. A. Savier, John D. Walker, D. C. Coleman, W. S. Ladd, Sam Bell, Lewis May, Geo. A. Barnes, Mr. Barnes, Hiel Barnes, Capt. B. F. Smith, Thos. Pritchard, Hiram Smith, I. B. Smith, Richard Kissarn Cooke, R. M. Field, James Field, S. S. Slater, A. H. Johnson, A. C. Bonnell, Zachariah Norton, R. P. Boise, Alexander Campbell, W. B. Otway, W. P. Abrams, Mr. Cheney, John Harlow, Moses Abbott, Dr. Isaac A. Davenport, Mr. Skidmore, Stephen G. Skidmore, A. P. Dennison, G. C. Robbins, C. G. Birdseye, W. B. Marye, J. Blumauer, W. W. Chapman, D. H. Lownsdale, Stephen Coffin, Thos. Hartness, J. B. Backenstos, E. D. Backenstos, Rev. Father Croke, A. B. Hallock, Frank. DeWitt, Thos. Carter, Chas. M. Carter, T. Jefferson Carter, A. N. King, George H. Flanders, R. C. Baldra, Wm. Grooms, C. C. Redman, John W. W. McKay, Frank Tilford, Sherry Ross, Mr. Ross, E. L. Goldstein, Nelson Ham, John C. Carson, Joseph S. Smith, J. B. V. Butler, Mr. McBride, Mrs. Apperson and family, C. S. Silver, Jacob Kamm, Sargent, of Sargent & Ricketson, John C. Markly, Ed. Chambreau, Samuel D. Smith, Geo. Kittridge, L. C. Potter, Danforth Balch, Capt. Irving, Gideon Tibbetts, James Wheeler, David N. Birdseye, Mr. Clinkenbeard, Mr. Wimple, Chas. P. Bacon, Wm. Sherlock, Mr. Henderson, David Fuller, J. L. Parrish, Norman Parrish, Samuel B. Parrish, Chas. W. Parrish, French Louis, Mr. Camp, Samuel Marsh, The Roberts family, Hiram Wilbur, W. B. Doublebower, Elijah B. David-son, Dr. Perry Prettyman, Edward Long, Lewis Love, Clinton Kelly, William Naylor, James Thompson, Eli Stewart, Dr. Ralph Wilcox, George Loring, John Elliott, George Elliott, Wm. L. Higgins, Wm. S. Caldwell, Richard Wiley, Wm. Bennett.


  1. It seems that there were three captains of the name of Hall; T. A. Hall, of the Ocean Bird; O. C. Hall thought to be his son, of the Gold Hunter; and William Hall who married a daughter of Captain Warren, and afterwards went to Washington county, building a flour mill, but was fatally injured by the fall of a burning tree. Crossing the Willamette in an early day was sometimes dangerous. The story is told of the first ferryman’s being forbidden by the proprietor of the East Side, to land on his premises; the crossing was made in a skiff, in the face of the loaded shot gun of the man on the East shore of the river. When the boat touched the sand, however, the ferryman, upon pretense of shipping his oars, suddenly produced a rifle and under its protection the passengers landed unmolested. The affair was watched from the Portland shore by a number of citizens who feared a bloody issue.[]
  2. As men of influence, such as were known to all in the early day, were J. P. Long, a native of New Orleans and a man of intense Southern ideas who kept a small store on Alder street; and Thos. Pritchard, an Englishman by birth, who re-moved to Victoria as early as 1861.[]


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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