Search billions of records on


Doctor McLoughlin retired to Oregon City in 1851 and became an American citizen in 1855. He was elected the first Mayor of the Oregon City. Finally he was honored by the Oregon Legislature by being named Father of Oregon.

He stood six foot four inches tall. His abundant hair had turned brilliantly white.

For twenty years, he had absolute control over a territory stretching from California to Alaska to Nebraska. Natives called him the White-Headed Eagle.

Legendary Doctor John McLoughlin was born in 1784 at Riviere du Loup, Quebec, the son and grandson of Irish farmers. His mother was a niece of Simon Fraser, for whom the Fraser River was named. Raised a Catholic, McLoughlin left home at 16 to study medicine. At 19, he was practicing physician in Montreal.

He took employment with the North West Company as a physician and fur trader. In 1812, he married Marguerite McKay, the Chippewa widow of a trader who had been killed in the Tonquin Ship disaster.

She brought three children, he an older son to the union, and together they parented four more children.

In 1824 the NWC was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company. McLoughlin was named co-factor of Fort George at Astoria. He was paid 16/17 of a share of the company, about $8000 a year, plus a £500 stipend.

McLoughlin was personally appointed by Governor George Simpson to head up 13 outposts from a base of operations at Fort Vancouver. He was the Chief Factor of the largest trading center west of the Rockies prior to the California gold rush. Built north of the Columbia River near its confluence with the Willamette, Fort Vancouver had eight substantial buildings within an enclosure for the 100 whites living there, and a number of smaller buildings outside the walls for a population of 300 Indians.

Indians were not allowed inside the fort, so they traded through a porthole in the door. Managing the post's fur trading activities was only part of the job. Fort Vancouver also had a 1500 acre farm producing food to  export to Alaska, a shipyard, a lumber mill, and regular harvests of the astonishing salmon runs in nearby rivers.

McLoughlin ran the Columbia district like a feudal baron, kept it free from war, and his word was law.

American immigrants began arriving in great numbers in 1834. When the overlanders arrived, quite often in dire distress, they were aided with HBC boats and food at The Dalles. McLoughlin sold them goods on credit and advised them to settle the best lands available in the Willamette Valley.

John Boardman wrote in 1843, "Well received by Doct. McLaughlin, who charged nothing for the use of his boat sent up for us, nor for the provisions, but not satisfied with that sent us plenty of salmon and potatoes, furnished us house room, and wood free of charge, and was very anxious that all should get through safe."

Immigrants were told of the Provisional Government, which was created from a desire to seek protection from HBC rules, and advised to abide by its laws. In 1845, with British subjects badly outnumbered by the  recently arrived Americans, McLoughlin agreed to bring the HBC's local operations under the Provisional Government's jurisdiction.

Clark County was created north of the Columbia River, and two HBC employees became officers in the government.

Cooperation with the Americans was McLoughlin's downfall. Governor Simpson demoted McLoughlin following an exchange of increasingly argumentative letters. Accused of violating the spirit of his contract with the company and engaging in business on his own, his stipend was eliminated. On November 20, 1845, McLoughlin sent off one last angry letter to Simpson and retired to Oregon City.

In 1829, Dr. McLoughlin had taken possession of a claim at Willamette Falls which became Oregon City.  He surveyed, platted, erected buildings, and made improvements. In 1846 he built his retirement home, but McLoughlin remained a public figure during his retirement. He donated land for a jail and female seminary, and in 1851 he was elected mayor of Oregon City.

The last years of his life were not pleasant, as many Americans could not see beyond McLoughlin's years of service to the British. And despite the aid he rendered to many overlanders and his willingness to work with the Provisional Government, a conspiracy to strip him of his claim and ruin his reputation began as soon as Oregon became a part of the United States in 1849.

Samuel Thurston, the Oregon Territory's Delegate to Congress, had written into the Donation Land Act a section giving most of McLoughlin's claim to the legislature. Thurston and Jason Lee made false statements about McLoughlin before the US Supreme Court in an effort to publicly discredit him.

McLoughlin continued to live in his house and became a naturalized American citizen in 1851, while he was serving as mayor of Oregon City. However, the legal challenge continued, and McLoughlin died in 1857 before the injustice could be rectified.

In 1862, the state returned portions of his claim to his family. In 1909, his house was saved from commercial development by being moving up the hill to where it now stands as a National Historical Site. In 1957, Dr. John McLoughlin was honored by being named "Father of Oregon" by the state legislature.