Delazon Smith family papers, 1848-2004

Overview of the Collection

Smith, Delazon
Delazon Smith family papers
1848-2004 (inclusive)
1848-1870 (bulk)
1.2 cubic feet, (3 document cases)
Collection Number
Coll 26
Papers of Delazon Smith, an early Oregon journalist and political figure in Linn County, Oregon, who served briefly as one of the first U.S. senators from the state. Includes letters from Delazon Smith to his wife, Mary Shepherd Smith, some of which detail Smith's journey to the east coast in 1858 and admission of Oregon to the Union in 1859. Also included are letters from Smith family members, including Delavan Smith, a soldier in the Civil War; legal documents and speeches; and transcripts of Delazon's Smith's letters to the Oregon Weekly Times describing conditons in the state and providing advice to overland travelers.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

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

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Delazon Smith was an early Oregon journalist and Democratic politician who served in the Oregon territorial legislature and as one of the state's first two U.S. senators. He was born on October 5, 1816, in New Berlin, Chenango County, New York, the son of a mechanic. His mother died in 1825, and in 1831, at the age of 15, he set out on foot to western New York, where he lived with his brother for three years. In 1834, he began attending Oberlin College in Ohio, one of the centers of the abolitionist movement, to which Smith did not subscribe. This opposition was one of the reasons he left Oberlin in 1837 and made his way to Cleveland, where he began studying law and writing for local newspapers. Also in this year he published Oberlin Unmasked, a criticism of the "underground railroad," which he viewed as an unlawful interference with private property. That same year he married Eliza Volk, with whom he would have one child, a son named Volney Smith.

In 1838, Delazon Smith accepted a position as editor for the New York Watchman, a newspaper in Rochester, a job he would hold for two years. He continued to study law and also canvassed for political campaigns. He started the newspaper The Western Empire in Dayton, Ohio, in 1841, but resigned in 1843 over a disagreement about President John Tyler. The following year Tyler appointed Smith as Special Commissioner of the United States to the Republic of Ecuador. During his tenure, the State Department lost contact with him for eleven months, and subsequently he was nicknamed “Tyler’s Lost Commission.”

Upon returning, Smith relocated to Keosauqua, Iowa Territory, in 1846. This same year his wife died, and he began studying for the ministry under Henry Clay Dean, who eventually became the chaplain for the United States Senate. In 1848, Delazon married his second wife, Mary Shepherd, with whom he would have five children: Ianthe, Viola, Lizzie, Delazon Jr., and Delavon.

In 1852, Delazon and his family spent five months in a wagon traveling to Oregon. Once there, he obtained a land claim in Linn County, near Albany, and supported his family as a farmer and a lawyer. He was elected three times to the territorial legislature as a representative of Linn County (1854, 1855, and 1856), and, during his second term, he was elected as Speaker of the House. In 1857, he was chosen as a delegate for the Oregon State Constitutional Convention. The following year, Delazon and his brother in-law, Joseph Shepherd, founded the newspaper The Oregon Democrat.

In late 1857 the territorial legislature sent Smith and General Joseph Lane to the U.S. Senate in anticipation of Oregon's admission to the Union. The admission did not come that year and Smith came back to Oregon. In 1858, he returned to Washington, D.C., via San Francisco, Panama and New York City, becoming seriously ill on the way. He oversaw the admittance of Oregon into the Union on February 14, 1859, and took his seat in the Senate along with Joseph Lane. But Smith's term was a short one, since he lost a drawing of straws with Joseph Lane, and served only from February 14 to March 3, 1859, the shortest Oregon senatorial term on record. He then returned to Oregon for what he thought would be an easy campaign to regain his seat. Yet the contest proved a bitter one, and Smith was defeated by Republican Edward Baker on October 1, 1860. On November 18 of that year he died of unknown causes. He was survived by his wife, Mary, and six children. After Delazon's death, Mary lived for a time with her family in Keosauqua, Iowa.

Delazon's son Volney enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was wounded and served as quarter master in various camps in Kentucky and Texas. After the war he lived in Lewisville, Arkansas, where he served as county clerk, published the Red River Post, a Republican and pro-reconstruction paper, and became lieutenant governor of the state.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection consists primarily of correspondence dating from the 1850s through 1870 and provides some detailed information about Oregon and U.S. politics from the perspective of a Democratic politician of the 1850s. There is also much information about the Smith family and their daily lives.

Over a third of the collection consists of correspondence between Delazon and his wife, Mary Shepherd Smith. Delazon's letters include some details about his political dealings, accounts of his journeys, and information about his health. Of particular interest are his letters written from 1857 to 1858 during his two trips to Washington, D.C., from Oregon. A letter written from Panama City tells of his ocean voyage and subsequent illness. A particularly significant letter of February 14, 1859, describes the final congressional vote to admit Oregon to the Union. Mary's letters describe conditions at home in Linn County and family matters. Also notable is an Oregon state document that certifies Delazon Smith and Gen. Joseph Lane as United States senators.

Included is an interesting letter of 1860 to Smith from his brother, Joseph B. Smith in Freeport, Ill., written one month before Delazon’s death. In it, Joseph tells of returning to their boyhood town of New Berlin, New York, and informs his brother of the fate of family, friends, and the town itself. Joseph also writes of the presidential election.

Another portion of the collection consists of letters to Mary Shepherd Smith from her parents, siblings, children, and friends. The bulk of these detail day -to-day life and family affairs. Of special interest, however, are letters to Mary from her brother, Charles Shepherd, and her stepson, Volney Smith. Among Shepherd’s letters are some written from the field in Virginia during the Civil War, and one describing the end of the war and a sighting of President Abraham Lincoln three weeks before his assassination. The letters from Volney Smith describe his experiences during the war, his postwar positions as a quarter-master in Kentucky and Texas, and his life in Arkansas.

Notable among the remainder of the materials is a letter from Dr. I. C. Hawthorne of Portland, Oregon, who attended to Delazon in the days leading up to his death. The letter includes a detailed analysis of Delazon’s symptoms and is augmented by a present-day diagnosis by Dr. Arne S. Jensen of Waldport, Or. Also of interest are handwritten transcripts of Delazon Smith's letters to the Oregon Weekly Times, 1852-1853, which provide details of conditions in Oregon and advice for those planning to travel overland to the west coast.

Other Descriptive InformationReturn to Top

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society owns the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

Delazon Smith family papers, Coll 26, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Alternative Forms Available

Letters from Delazon Smith were printed in the Oregon Weekly Times, 1852-1853.

Alternative Forms Available

Typed transcripts of most letters in the collection are included with the originals.

Alternative Forms Available

Letter from Delazon Smith to Mary Shepherd Smith, dated February 14, 1859, available online in OHS Digital Collections.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series 1: Correspondence between Delazon and Mary Smith, 1848-1859
  • Series 2: Letters to Mary Smith, 1859-1870 and undated
  • Series 3: General correspondence and documents, 1847-2004

Location of Originals

Originals of some of the materials are held by the Albany Regional Museum, Albany, Or.

Custodial History

It is likely that the collection was passed down through the Smith family in Albany, Oregon. It was eventually purchased by Albany businessman Rod Tripp, who donated it to the Oregon Historical Society.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Rod Tripp, Albany, Oregon, 2004-2005, Library Accession 25443 (except materials formerly in Mss 225); and gift of Julie & Randy Tripp, September 2013, Library Accession 28035.

Processing Note

Materials formerly in Mss 225 (transcript of letters to the Oregon Weekly Times and printed speech of 1847 January 19), added to present collection at time of processing.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series 1:  Correspondence between Delazon and Mary Smith, 1848-1859Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Delazon Smith to parents of Mary Shepherd, asking for her hand in marriage
1848 May 22
Letter of 1856 Jan. 7 mentions fire at state capitol and suspicion of arson
Letter of 1858 Jan. 1 discusses Oregon's prospects for admission to Union; letter of May 16 discusses election campaign.
1858 Jan.-May
1858 Sept.
Includes letters from Delazon describing journey from Oregon to New York, his sickness in Panama, and details of traveling conditions and companions
1858 Oct.
Includes letters from Delazon in Washington, D.C.
1858 Nov.
Includes Delazon's illness and Republican opposition to Oregon's admission
1858 Dec.
Mostly letters from Mary, one of which discusses Volney's misbehavior. Also contains one letter from Delazon with information on events in Washington, D.C.
1859 Jan.
Includes important letter of Feb. 14, written from the Senate chamber, announcing admission of Oregon and the drawing of lots with Joseph Lane for the length of the senatorial terms.
1859 Feb.-Mar.

Series 2:  Letters to Mary Shepherd Smith, 1859-1870, undatedReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Includes letter from Volney Smith, Sept. 22, with information on the Civil War, candidacy of George McClellan, and Volney's wounds. Also includes letter from Charles Shepherd, Mary's brother, who was an officer of an African-American regiment in the war.
Includes: letter from Charles Shepherd, May 2, regarding end of war and sighting of President Lincoln; and letter from Volney Smith as quartermaster of a military prison in Texas, with opinions on national politics.
Includes letter from Volney Smith detailing his activities after the war, and family matters.
Includes letter from Henry Clay Dean, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate, with circulars for his book Crimes of the Civil War
Includes letter, Mar. 21, from Volney Smith in Lewisville, Arkansas, with information on his life after leaving the army in 1867.
1870 Feb. 1-Sept. 25
1870 Oct.
1870 Nov.

Series 3:  General correspondence and documents, 1847-2004Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Transcripts of letters from Delazon Smith, as published in the Oregon Weekly Times
Speeches of Delazon Smith (printed)
Address before the Keosauqua (Iowa) Lyceum, 1847; and speech delivered in Keokuk, Iowa, at time of congressional election, 1850.
1847 Jan. 19; 1850 Sept. 21
Letter of Joseph B. Smith to his brother, Delazon Smith
1860 Oct. 18
Certificate of election of Delazon Smith and Joseph Lane to the U.S. Senate
1858 July 14
General correspondence
Letters to and from Smith family members. Includes letter of 1854, Oct. 29, from J. M. Shepherd to "Brother" (possibly Delazon Smith, his brother-in-law) from Sacramento, Cal., with details of the political situation there, written on a prospectus for the paper Spirit of the Age.
General documents (originals)
Includes passport for Delazon Smith as envoy to Ecuador, 1847, signed by John C. Calhoun.
Accounts and invoices
Copies of originals held by the Albany Region Museum, Albany, Or.
Bills and receipts
circa 1860-1870
Receipts, bills, and other financial documents (photocopies)
Copies of originals held by the Albany Region Museum, Albany, Or.
circa 1863-1877
1864; undated
Envelopes and ephemera
Includes Delazon Smith's business card and railroad pass
1870; undated
Letter from Dr. Hawthorne to Volney Smith, and analysis
Letter detailing the causes of Delazon Smith's death, and analysis by Dr. Arne S. Jensen or Waldport, Or.
1860 Dec. 11; circa 1995
Letters to Delevan Smith
Letters to Ianthe Smith from her mother, Mrs. Delevan S. Smith
Ianthe Smith was the granddaughter of Delazon Smith.
General information about Delazon Smith and the collection
Correspondence between Rod Tripp and the Oregon Historical Society regarding the collection
Includes appraisal by John Henley, 2004

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Frontier and pioneer life—Oregon
  • Legislators—Oregon
  • Legislators—United States
  • Overland journeys to the Pacific
  • Pioneers—Oregon–Correspondence
  • West (U.S.)—History—1848-1860
  • West (U.S.)—Description and travel

Personal Names

  • Smith, Delazon, 1816-1860—Correspondence
  • Smith, Volney—Correspondence
  • Smith, Mary Shepherd—Correspondence

Family Names

  • Smith family

Geographical Names

  • Albany (Or.)—History
  • Linn County (Or.)—History
  • Oregon National Historic Trail
  • Oregon—History—To 1859
  • Oregon—Politics and government—To 1859
  • United States—History—Civil War, 1861-1865—Personal narratives

Form or Genre Terms

  • letters
  • speeches