Samuel R. Thurston letters to Wesley Shannon, 1850 February 3-1851 February 27; 1884 April 4

Overview of the Collection

Thurston, Samuel Royal, 1816-1851
Samuel R. Thurston letters to Wesley Shannon
1850 February 3-1851 February 27; 1884 April 4 (inclusive)
0.1 cubic feet, (1 folder in shared box)
Collection Number
Mss 161
Letters from Samuel R. Thurston (1816-1851) to Wesley Shannon (1820-1890) concerning the Oregon Donation Land Law and political happenings both in Washington, D.C. and the Oregon Territory, and a letter from Shannon to E. L. Bristow about the construction of Elijah Bristow's house in 1846 in Lane County, Oregon. Samuel R. Thurston was a delegate from the Oregon Territory to the U.S. Congress from 1849 to 1851, and helped pass the Oregon Donation Land Law. Wesley Shannon came to Oregon in 1845, and was a member of the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, during which he played a role in the naming of Marion County and the selection of Salem, Oregon as the county seat.
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.


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Samuel Royal Thurston was born in 1816 in Monmouth, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1832, and was admitted to the Maine bar in 1844. He came to Oregon City in 1847, and opened a law office there. In 1848, he was elected to the Oregon provisional legislature, and then was appointed as the Oregon Territory's delegate to the U.S. Congress. As a delegate, Thurston helped pass the Oregon Donation Land Law in 1850. The law allowed white U.S. citizens to claim acreage in the Oregon Territory, the amount determined by whether they arrived before or after 1850. This attracted additional Euro-American emigrants to Oregon who displaced the region's Indigenous peoples.

While serving as a delegate, Thurston recruited Asahel Bush (1824-1913) to publish a newspaper, the Oregon Statesman, with the goal that the newspaper help to further Thurston's political career. Thurston also tasked Bush with organizing the Democratic Party in the Oregon Territory.

In 1845, Thurston married Elizabeth McLench (1816-1890, later Elizabeth Odell, and in some sources spelled as "Elisabeth"). The couple had two children: George Henry Thurston (1846-1927), and Elizabeth Blandina Thurston (1849-1904, later Elizabeth Blandina Stowell).

Thurston died on April 9, 1851, off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico, while traveling back to Oregon from Washington, D.C. Initially buried in Mexico, his body was brought to Oregon and reburied there in 1853.

Sources: Corning, Howard McKinley, editor, "Dictionary of Oregon History," second edition, 1989; "Salem Clique," by Barbara Mahoney, Oregon Encyclopedia,; "Oregon Donation Land Law," by William G. Robbins, Oregon Encyclopedia,

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Wesley Shannon was born in 1820 in Indiana. In 1845, he came to Oregon, where he settled near Salem. He was a member of the 1849 Oregon territorial legislature, and was influential in the naming of Marion County and the selection of Salem as the county seat. He moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1872.

Shannon married Elizabeth Simmons (1830-1907) in 1847. Shannon died in November 1890.

Sources: Vital records via; obituary in Eugene City Guard, November 15, 1890; obituary in the Oregonian, November 17, 1890.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection almost entirely consists of correspondence from Samuel R. Thurston to Wesley Shannon, written while Thurston was a delegate for the Oregon Territory in the U.S. Congress. Thurston's letters primarily concern politics, particularly his work in getting the Oregon Donation Land Law passed and his efforts to further his political career and solidify the Democratic Party's power in the Oregon Territory. Almost all of Thurston's letters are typescript copies, but there are two original letters in the collection. The first of these original letters, dated June 22, 1850, details Thurston's opposition to Black Americans emigrating to Oregon, and includes derogatory remarks concerning Black people. The second original letter, dated September 15, 1850, discusses political matters in the Oregon Territory, including the question of slavery in Oregon.

The sole item in the collection that is not a letter from Thurston to Shannon is an 1884 letter from Wesley Shannon to E. L. Bristow, in which Shannon details how "Uncle Bristow" (referring to Elijah Bristow) came to Lane County, Oregon, and how Shannon helped build Bristow's house there in 1846.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

A digitized version and transcript of Samuel R. Thurston's letter dated June 22, 1850, are available on the Oregon History Project website:

Preferred Citation

Samuel R. Thurston letters to Wesley Shannon, Mss 161, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

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.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Original letters most likely acquired in the late 19th or early 20th century (RL2022-081-RETRO, RL2022-082-RETRO). Typescript copies most likely the gift of Frederic F. Wolfer, Jr. in 1972 (RL2022-086-RETRO).

Related Materials

Other correspondence between Samuel R. Thurston and Wesley Shannon at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library is located in the Samuel R. Thurston family papers, Mss 379.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Legislators--Oregon--19th century

Personal Names

  • Shannon, Wesley, 1820-1890--Correspondence
  • Thurston, Samuel Royal, 1816-1851--Correspondence

Geographical Names

  • Oregon Territory--Politics and government

Form or Genre Terms

  • correspondence