Couch Family Papers, 1839-1948

Overview of the Collection

Couch family
Couch Family Papers
1839-1948 (inclusive)
1870-1890 (bulk)
1.5 cu. ft., (2 document boxes, 1 card file box, 1 flat box, and 1 oversize folder)
Collection Number
Mss 952
Papers of the family of John Heard Couch, one of the original developers of the townsite of Portland, Oregon, and his descendents, including members of the Glisan and Robertson families. Papers include correspondence, legal papers, land ownership records, clippings, family Bibles, journals of John Heard Couch, and papers concerning Couch's wife Caroline and their descendants Caroline Wilson, Clementine Lewis, and Elizabeth and Rodney Glisan. Of special note is John Heard Couch's logbook, 1853-1858, for voyages on the ships Chenamus and Madonna; and the travel diary of Nan Robertson, 1911-1912, written during a trip to San Francisco and Southern Asia.
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

John Heard Couch (1811-1870) was an Oregon pioneer, sea captain, merchant, a founder of the city of Portland and founder of an important and influential Oregon family. During the 1840s he sailed ships financed by John Cushing from his home town of Newburyport, Massachusetts, with supplies for establishing a dry goods business in Oregon. In 1845 he claimed a square mile of land on the Willamette River, known as Couch's Addition, in the heart of what became Portland.

Well regarded among his fellow citizens as a fair and knowledgeable man, Couch was rewarded by several public positions, including Oregon Territorial Treasurer, Multnomah County Commissioner, Oregon Port Commissioner, Oregon Port Warden, and U. S. Inspector of Hulls for Oregon. He married Caroline Flanders (1807-1885), sister of his first mate George Flanders, in 1832. Flanders was also an Oregon pioneer, merchant and Portland founder, becoming a partner in Couch's Portland land claim in 1850.

John and Caroline Couch had four daughters, three of whom married influential Portland men. Caroline Elizabeth Couch (1833-1917) married Dr. Robert Bruce Wilson, while Clementine Couch (1838-1914) started a family with prominent Portland merchant Cicero Hunt Lewis (1826-1897). Elizabeth Raines Couch's (1842-1926) husband, Dr. Rodney L. Glisan (1827-1890), the first physician in Oregon Territory, was also an early Portland land owner and was active in Couch's Addition's real estate activities after John Couch's death.

Among Couch's descendants and relatives was Nan Robertson (1885-1928). She was a sister of Thomas Robertson (1881-1924), who married Kathleen Burns (1883-1970), a great-granddaughter of John Heard Couch.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

Papers include: Legal documents (1850-1946) such as deeds, warranty deeds, quit-claims, passport, wedding certificate, title abstracts, maps, receipts, water right certificate, tax sale; correspondence (1846-1945) to John H. Couch and others regarding property holdings; personal items, consisting of memorabilia, a Bible from the ship Chenamus, notes, newspaper clippings, and a prayer book. Also included is the travel journal (1911-1912) of Nan Robertson, an in-law of John H. Couch's great-granddaughter, documenting Robertson's trip to Australia, New Zealand, India, and Indonesia via San Francsisco.

The journal or log book (1843-1858) kept by John H. Couch includes records of his voyages on the ships Chenamus (1843-1844) and Madonna (1849). Included is information on weather, nautical position, and daily events on board. The book also contains poems and water color illustrations of vessels.

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.

Preferred Citation

Couch family papers, 1839-1948, Mss 952, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


The collection is arranged in four series as follows

  • Series A: Land records, 1854-1935
  • Series B: Correspondence and ephemera, 1849-1948
  • Series C: Diaries and journals, 1843-1912
  • Series D: Publications, 1828, 1860

Acquisition Information

The collection is composed of materials assembled by the Oregon Historical Society from many sources over a long period of time

Three title abstracts for Couch's Addition: gift of Mrs. Harry Couch, Aug. 9, 1976, Library Accession 13801

Prayer book of Mary Caroline Wilson, and Nan Robertson diary and memorabila: gift of Mrs. Donald E. Butler, Aug. 23, 1988, Library Accession 18949

Processing Note

Restoration and custom boxing were provided for the John Heard Couch journal, the Bible, and Nan Robertson's diary

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

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

Series A:  Land records, 1854-1935Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Glisan and Couch properties—deeds, land claims, titles, general
Deed of property from Couch and Hastings families to Battlen
Rodney L. Glisan—indexes to deeds and other title documents
ca. 1892
Deed of blocks 82 and 93 in Couch's addition to Henry Weinhard
Photographic copies filed as negatives OrHi 73672 and 73673, Oregon Historical Society Research Library
Description of blocks on the north and west part of Couch's addition to the City of Portland
Bound notebook, property of R. L. Glisan, including details of survey and prices for lots
ca. 1872
Abstracts of title
Lot 8, block 140, Couch's Addition
ca. 1912
Block 149, Couch's addition
ca. 1935
Part of lots 2, 3, 6, block 149, Couch's Addition (now NE corner of NW 17th Avenue and Burnside)
ca. 1934
Part of lots 2, 3, 6, Block 149, Couch's Addition (now NE corner of NW 17th Avenue and Burnside)
ca. 1935
Plat of Couch's addition to the City of Portland (map)
"Notes of survey of part of John H. Couch's land claim to be conveyed by Mssrs. Couch & Flanders to the Oregon Steam Navigation Co."
Surveyed by Charles W. Burrage; includes map of property
Oct. 6, 1864

Series B:  Correspondence and ephemera, 1849-1948Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Letters and poem
Contains: letter from John McLoughlin to John Heard Couch, Oct. 21, 1849; poem titled "A school-boy's ryme [sic] on Capt. J.H.C. [John Heard Couch]"; autographed letter, signed, from C. E. S. Wood to John Lewis, Oct. 31, 1885, stating a legal opinion regarding a dispute over property on Front Avenue, Portland
Letters concerning the estate of Mary H. Couch
Letters to John Heard Couch
Letter from John M. Cushing, regarding the voyage of the ship Chenamus
July 14, 1846
Letter from Benjamin Stark, New York, regarding the barque Hyperion
Oct. 30, 1848
Letter from Benjamin Stark, New York, regarding the barque Madonna
Jan. 15, 1849
Letter from Benjamin Stark, San Francisco, regarding business matters
March 13, 1850
Notes and memorabilia from Nan Robertson's travels in South Asia
Materials relate to diary of Nan Robertson, box 4
Rodney L. Glisan: papers and clippings
Includes marriage license for Rodney L. Glisan and Elizabeth Raines Couch, 1863; Couch family genealogy, 1948; memorial book for Rodney L. Glisan, Trinity Parrish, Portland, 1890
Marriage certificate of Rodney L. Glisan and Elizabeth Raines Couch
Passport of John Heard Couch
Includes physical description of Couch, age 29. Orignal and photostatic copy
Nov. 30, 1839

Series C:  Diaries and journals, 1843-1849, 1911-1912Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Logbook of John Heard Couch
Logbook kept by John H. Couch during his voyages on the Chenamus (1843-1844) and Madonna (1849). Information recorded includes date, weather, nautical position, and daily events on board. Logbook also includes poems and several watercolor illustrations of vessels
1843-1858; 1843-1849
Diary of Nan Robertson
Nan Robertson travelled with her family from Portland to San Francisco via train, then by ship to Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and India. Entries are detailed and descriptive

Series D:  Publications, 1828, 1860-1865Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Bible from the ship Chenamus
Bible published by Nahum Haskell and Timothy Bedlington, Boston, 1828; used on ship commanded by John Heard Couch on trip from Newburyport, Mass., to the Hawaiian Islands, 1847. Contains historical references on fly leaf.
Prayer book of Mary Caroline Wilson Burns
The book of common prayer of the Protesant Episcopal Church in the United States, published by D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1860. Gift to Mary Caroline Wilson Burns (1857-1950) from her mother, Caroline Elizabeth Couch Wilson (1833-1917). Inscribed "Ma. Carrie from her Mother, Dec. 25th 1863"

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Chenamus (Brig)
  • Frontier and pioneer life--Oregon--Portland
  • Madonna (Bark)
  • Pioneers--Oregon--Portland--Diaries
  • Real property--Oregon--Portland
  • Ship captains--Diaries
  • Voyages to the Pacific coast

Family Names

  • Couch family--Archives
  • Glisan family--Archives

Geographical Names

  • Australia--Description and travel
  • Couch's Addition (Portland, Or.)
  • India--Description and travel
  • Indonesia--Description and travel
  • New Zealand--Description and travel
  • Oregon--History--To 1859
  • Portland (Or.)--History

Form or Genre Terms

  • Deeds
  • Estate records
  • Journals
  • Journals
  • Legal documents
  • Letters
  • Maps
  • Passports
  • Receipts
  • Ships' logs
  • Watercolors


  • Ship captains

Other Creators

  • Personal Names
    • Couch, John Heard, 1911-1870--Archives (creator)
    • Couch, John Heard, 1911-1870--Diaries (creator)
    • Couch, Mary H. (creator)
    • Flanders, George H., 1821-1892 (creator)
    • Glisan, Elizabeth Raines, 1842-1926 (creator)
    • Glisan, Rodney, 1827-1890 (creator)
    • Lewis, Clementine, 1838-1914 (creator)
    • McLoughlin, John, 1784-1857 (creator)
    • Robertson, Nan, 1885-1928--Diaries (creator)
    • Stark, Benjamin, 1820-1898--Correspondence (creator)
    • Wood, Charles Erskine Scott, 1852-1944--Correspondence (creator)