George Abernethy Papers, 1833-1905

Overview of the Collection

Abernethy, George, 1807-1877
George Abernethy Papers
1833-1905 (inclusive)
0.6 cubic feet, (2 document boxes), (1 oversize folder)
Collection Number
Mss 929
Papers of a provisional governor of the Oregon Territory, churchman, and merchant. Includes letterpress copybook, 1847-1850; additional correspondence, including correspondence with Neil M. Howison, captain of the schooner Shark, wrecked on the bar of the Columbia River; papers of the Brig Henry Association, ca. 1850; papers of George's son William Abernethy; legal, military, and business papers; receipts, biographical data, clippings and ephemera.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

George Abernethy was a churchman, a merchant, and the first and only provisional governor of Oregon. He was born in New York City on October 7, 1807 and married Anne Cope in 1830. He was recruited by Rev. Jason Lee to assume financial management of the Methodist mission in Oregon and accompanied him on the ship Lausanne, sailing around the Horn to Oregon in 1840.

Abernethy was in charge of the mission store at Willamette Falls, later Oregon City. This was his center of activity where he is said to have erected the first brick structure built in the state. He also obtained a printing press and aided in the establishment of the first newspaper in Oregon.

Abernethy promoted the lumbering and fishery businesses and established commercial connections with the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands), California and the Atlantic Coast. He was in the Sandwich Islands in 1845 when he was elected governor of the Oregon Territory, two years after the first Provisional Government was founded. He was re-elected to the office in 1847.

He had many business enterprises in Oregon City, but a flood destroyed most of his physical property in 1861. Afterwards, with considerably reduced circumstances, Abernethy moved to Portland, where he lived out his declining years. There, for a time, he formed a partnership with Michael Herr. Their business card stated they were "commission & forwarding agents, for the sale or forwarding of flour, grain, mill, feed, hay, fruit, pork, bacon, lard, etc., agents for the sale of Oak Point lumber...," with offices on Knott's wharf. Abernethy died in Portland on May 2, 1877.

George Abernethy's son William was born in New York state in 1832 and came to Oregon with his family in 1840. He married Sarah Fidelia Gray, and the couple had 10 children. He died in Forest Grove, Oregon, in 1917.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

George Abernethy's papers cover the period 1834-1897 and include correspondence, legal documents, ephemera, business records, the papers of William Abernethy, George's son, and the Brig Henry Association. The papers cover business matters, political and personal activities.

Correspondents include John McLoughlin, Jason Lee, James Douglas, William Fraser Tolmie, Joel Palmer, Henry A. G. Lee, Peter Skene Ogden, and Jesse Applegate. Subjects include: mission finances, the Oregon boundary settlement, the Hudson's Bay Company, the U.S. war with Mexico, the Whitman Massacre, the Cayuse War, and other conflicts between Native Americans and settlers. Legal documents contain land and business agreements.

The letterpress copybook contains copies of approximately 250 letters, 1847-1850, dealing with Abernethy's business affairs. Although the book is physically well-preserved, the handwriting is often difficult to decipher.

Abernethy family papers (designated Mss 929-1) contain: correspondence, invoices, and statements pertaining to Abernethy's business interests, including partnerships with Michael Herr and plaster and cement business; deeds to land purchased by Abernethy, mostly in Oregon City; land records and sewing machine business correspondence of William Abernethy; letters from J. Quinn Thornton and Samuel R. Thurston; quitclaim deed for lots in Oregon City, from John and Margaret McLoughlin to J. Quinn Thornton; tax receipts; and maps.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society is the owner of the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the Research Library before any reproduction use. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.

Alternative Forms Available

Selected papers available on microfilm at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Preferred Citation

George Abernethy Papers, 1836-1897, Mss 929, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged in two series as follows

  • Series A: General papers, Mss 929, 1834-1897
  • Series B: Abernethy family papers, Mss 929-1, 1833-1905

Acquisition Information

Letterpress copybook deposited by William Abernethy, 1893

Additional papers, gift of Camilla Abernethy, Oct. 20, 1967, Library Accession 10329

Materials in Mss 929-1, gift of Dorothy Gaines, August 1985, Library Accession 18505

Separated Materials

Daguerreotype of George Abernethy & Co. store, Oregon City, ca. 1855, transferred to the Cased Images Collection, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Series A:  General papers, Mss 929, 1834-1897Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Legal documents and ephemera
Includes legal documents pertaining to a trespass case in 1846, in which George Abernethy was a defendant; certificate of the re-election of George Abernethy as Governor of the Oregon Territory, July 14, 1847; land deeds and land grants, 1857-1873.
Contains the following letters:
  • Vernon, George. Notification of Abernethy's election as mayor. 1844 January 1
  • McCloughlin, John. Concerns a woman imprisoned for wrongdoing. 1844 February 1
  • Lee, Jason. Mission finances; Ladd & Co. (original and copy). 1844 March 21
Contains the following letters:
  • McClure, John. Repair of the Peacock launch; John McLoughlin. 1846 February 7
  • McClure, John. Peacock launch. 1846 August 13
  • Tibbets, C. Fracas between settlers and Clatsop Indians. 1846 August 19
  • Howison, Neil M. Sale of Peacock launch. 1846 August 14
  • Howison, Neil M. Sale of Peacock launch. 1846 August 15
  • Howison, Neil M. Sale of Peacock launch. 1846 September 10
  • Howison, Neil M. Deserters. 1846 September 11
  • Howison, Neil M. Wreck of the Shark. 1846 October 6
  • Roberts. Shipment of millstones and other articles. 1846 October 7
  • Howison, Neil M. 1846 October 23
  • Howison, Neil M. Oregon boundary settlement; war with Mexico. 1846 October 28
January-October 1846
Contains the following letters:
  • Douglas, James. Oregon boundary, with enclosure containing a copy of a letter from A. Forbes to Sir George Seymour. 1846 November 2
  • Howison, Neil M. 1846 November 11
  • Howison, Neil M. Deserters; Hudson's Bay Co. 1846 November 25
  • Howison, Neil M. First U.S. flag in Oregon; murder of an Indian woman. 1846 December 1
  • Burnett, Peter H. Letter of resignations Supreme Court Judge. 1846 December 29
November-December 1846
Contains the following letters:
  • Howison, Neil M. 1847 January 10
  • Howison, Neil M. Mexican War news. 1847 February 9
  • Howison, Neil M. Oregon boundary and Hudson's Bay Co.; government in California and Oregon 1847 February 19
  • Brown, John. Thank you note and request for help in securing employment. 1847 April 15
  • Gary, George. Details of his passage down the Columbia River. 1847 July 30
  • Tolmie, William Fraser. Harvest; roads; temperance elections. 1847 August 21
  • Douglas, James. Whitman Massacre and military actions taken; with enclosure of copy of letter from William McBean to the Board of Management, November 30, 1847, regarding Whitman Massacre. 1847 December 7
  • Lee, H. A. G. Whitman Massacre; Indian war council at The Dalles. 1847 December 16
  • Lee, H. A. G. Wascopam; First Company of Oregon Riflemen 1847 December 26
  • Folsom, J. L. Request for report on Oregon coal resources, needed for steamers. 1847 December 27
  • Douglas, James. Proposed levy on Hudson's Bay Co. (original and copy). 1847 December 31
Cayuse War
Contains the following letters:
  • Douglas, James. Hudson's Bay Co. payments to Indians of ammunition (original and copy). 1848 January 4
  • Lee, H. A. G. Non-arrival of reinforcements; skirmish with Indians. 1848 January 20
  • Gilliam, Col. Cornelius. Plan to raid Indian camp on Deschutes River for livestock. 1848 January 25
  • Major, R. Request and plan to raise a volunteer infantry battalion to assist in Mexican War. 1848 January 28
January 1848
Contains the following letters:
  • Lee, H. A. G. Indian and military policy; Leletsa, a friendly Indian. 1848 February 8
  • Lee, H. A. G. Military tactics; battle at Meek's Crossing. 1848 February 8
  • Ogden, Peter Skene. Cayuse Ear. 1848 February 29
  • Gilliam, Col. Cornelius. Battle near Umatilla River. 1848 February 29
  • William, Capt. William. Report on fort's condition; suspicion of imminent attack. 1848 February 29
February 1848
Cayuse War
Contains the following letters:
  • Penning, John. Mr. Curry; morality and Oregonians. 1848 March 2
  • Gilliam, Col. Cornelius. Request for more men. 1848 March 10
  • Applegate, Jesse. Settler-Indian conflicts. 1848 March 12
  • Douglas, James. News from Walla Walla and Fort Colville; meeting of Nez Perce Indians with commissioners; encloses copy of letter from Joel Palmer to William McBean, report on status of hostilities, March 4, 1848. 1848 March 15
  • Applegate, Jesse. Scpt. Scott; immigrants. 1848 March 20
  • Ogden, Peter Skene. 1848 March 21
  • Palmer, Joel. Resignation as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. 1848 March 28
  • English, S. Reports that the enemy is scattered. 1848 March 28
  • [Name illegible]. Complaints of officers' lack of action. 1848 April 4
  • Hardie, J. Military supplies. 1848 April 12
  • Lee, H. A. G. Military organization. 1848 April 17
  • English, S. Raising men near the Umpqua. 1848 April 24
  • Blanchet, Augustin Magloire Alexandre, Bishop of Walla Walla. Missionary work and philosophy (original and translation). 1848 April 29
March-April 1848
Cayuse War
Contains the following letters:
  • Lee, H. A. G. Council with Indians. 1848 May 5
  • Jones, Ap. C. Letter to G. E. Pickett: inability to send ships due to Mexican War; copy sent to G. Abernathy. 1848 May 24
  • Palmer, Joel. Financial difficulty in supplying the army. 1848 June 4
  • Eyck, A. Ten. Enclosing letter of June 5, 1848 to Thomas Ap. C. Jones, regarding Indian receipt of ammunition from Hudson's Bay Company and attack of Hudson's Bay Co. fort. 1848 June 11
  • Ogden, Peter Skene. 1848 June 5
  • Palmer, Joel. Suggests discharge of the men, who are restless. 1848 June 19
  • Lee, H. A. G. Conerns misunderstanding over his temporary post of Lt. Col. 1848 June 24
  • Rodgers, Alexander T. Complaint of a priest's causing a disturbance with Indians. 1848 July 9
  • Hardie, James A. Gold rush, Sacramento River, Calif. 1848 July 10
  • Palmer, Joel. Board of Loan Commissioners' refusal to supply troops. 1848 July 12
  • Burnett, L. Acknowledging receipt of Abernathy's letter. 1848 August 9
  • Rodgers, Alexander T. Asks directions concerning boatload of guns and ammunition consigned to French priests. 1848 August 21
  • U.S. House of Representatives. Disposition of arms and ammunition seized at Wascopam. undated
May-December 1848
Contains the following letters:
  • U.S. House of Representatives. Land claim. 1849 July 12
  • Prichette, K. Meeting with Cayuse cheifs for surrender of murderers. 1850 March 26
  • Morris, George. Personal. October 12 1850
  • Morris, George. Personal. undated
Contains the following letters:
  • Herr, Michael. Personal. 1851 January 5
  • Herr, Michael. Concerns his Oregon property. 1851 August 26
  • Stanley. Placement of the gallery in the Smithsonian. 1851 December 31
  • Spalding, Henry H. Solicits testimony with regard to mission claims accruing from Cayuse War. 1852 April 27
  • Hall, Margaret M. Asks news of her brother, Theodore Chambers. 1852 February 4
  • Holbrook, Henry. Political gossip about Democrats, Whigs, Oregon Legislature. 1853 December 20
  • U.S. Treasury Department. Encloses form of power of attorney for receiving money awarded to Hiram clark in Cayuse War claim. 1854 April 22
  • Gurnett, Lesley. Personal. 1855 March 15
  • Gibbs. Military road survey; territorial election. 1856 July 31
  • Hodges, Henry. Intention to marry Abernathy's daughter, Anne, and giving character references. 1858 December 30
  • Holbrook, H. Attempts to secure an appointment for Abernethy and compensation for services as Governor during Cayuse War. 1861 June 8
  • Neyce. Order for lumber. 1862 October 2
  • Clay, J. Personal. 1868 July 2
  • Hodges, Henry. Personal. 1875 September 27
  • Thurston, Samuel R. Order for foodstuffs. 1880 December 10
  • Johnson, Josephine D. Requests historical data on the Baptist Church. 1897 July 8
Letters from George Abernethy
Includes: letterpress copy of a letter from George Abernethy to President James K. Polk regarding the conditions and political situation in the Oregon Territory; letters from Abernethy to his brother, written from New York, 1851-1855; and a letter from Abernethy, probably to his son-in-law Henry Hodges, 1877, supposedly the last letter he wrote before his death.
Brig Henry Association papers
Includes land deeds and letters from the Association's agent in Massachusetts to its agent in Oregon.
Business records, general
Includes ledger sheets, probably listing gold received from various persons for purposes of refining, with location of mines.
William Abernethy papers
Includes personal letters; two orders from the Office of the Chief Quarter Master, Dept. of Columbia, to William Abernethy to examine certain properties; a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department to Henry Hodges about the condition of Hodges's accounts as Quartermaster during and following the Civil War; and Civil War letter from a friend of William Abernethy in the army of General [William Stark] Rosecrans, Sept. 5, 1863, from the Tennessee River, providing details of the campaign.
Letterpress copybook of George Abernethy

Series B:  Abernethy family papers, Mss 929-1, 1833-1905Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Abernethy & Herr business papers
George Abernethy papers
Orders for merchandise, bills
1870; 1874
Business correspondence and bills
Deeds, land transactions
Land records, general
Promissory notes and tax receipts
John McLoughlin to J. Quinn Thornton: quitclaim deed to Oregon City lots
J. Quinn Thornton correspondence
1865; 1867
William Abernethy: Land records, business correspondence
Ephemera and general papers
Includes: pages on Coos County, Oregon, from Lewis and Dryden's Railway Guide; sonnet by Herbert H. Arnston to Daisy Abernethy, 1905; and lyrics to a music hall song, I'd choose to be a baby! sung by Joe Murphy at the American Theater, San Francisco, ca.1860.
ca. 1860-1905
Oversize folder
Oversize materials
Contains: certificate for George Abernethy as a member of the New York State Artillery, 1833; land patent to George and Ann Abernethy in Clackamas County, 1873, signed by President U.S. Grant; chart of the entrance to the Columbia River, 1878; plat of Rosedale Addition to Astoria, Oregon, ca.1889.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Cayuse Indians--Wars
  • Governors--Oregon--Correspondence
  • Indians of North America--Oregon--Government relations
  • Indians of North America--Oregon--Wars
  • Pacific Coast Indians, Wars with, 1847-1865
  • Whitman Massacre, 1847

Personal Names

  • Abernethy, George, 1807-1877--Archives
  • Applegate, Jesse A., 1811-1888--Correspondence
  • Douglas, James, 1803-1877--Correspondence
  • Lee, Jason, 1803-1845--Correspondence
  • Lee, Henry A. G., 1918-1850--Correspondence
  • McLoughlin, John, 1784-1857--Correspondence
  • Ogden, Peter Skene, 1790-1854--Correspondence
  • Palmer, Joel, 1810-1881--Correspondence
  • Tolmie, William Fraser--Correspondence

Corporate Names

  • Hudson's Bay Company
  • Methodist Episcopal Church--Missions--Oregon

Family Names

  • Abernathy family

Geographical Names

  • Canada--Boundaries--United States
  • Oregon City (Or.)--History
  • Oregon--History--To 1859
  • Oregon--Politics and government--To 1859
  • United States--Boundaries--Canada

Form or Genre Terms

  • Business records
  • Letters
  • Maps


  • Governors

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Abernethy, William--Archives (creator)
    Corporate Names
    • Abernethy & Herr (creator)