1807 - 1877 (69 years)
||George Abernethy |
||07 Oct 1807
||New York City, New York
||02 Mar 1877
||Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon
||River View Cemetery Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon
||Abernethy, George and Ann Pope
||1 Jul 2010 |
||Anne Pope, b. 10 Sep1811, Plymouth, England , d. 30 Apr 1884, New York City, New York (Age 72 years) |
||15 Jan 1830
||New York City, New York
| ||1. William Abernethy, b. 16 Sep 1831, New York City, New York , d. 30 Dec 1916, Forest Grove, Washington County, Oregon (Age 85 years)|
| ||2. Anne A Abernethy, b. Abt 1835, New York |
||12 Jul 2013 |
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Governor of the Provisional Government of Oregon
Preceded by Second Executive Committee
Succeeded by Position dissolved
Constituency Oregon Country
Born October 7, 1807(1807-10-07)
New York City, New York
Died March 2, 1877 (aged 69)
Spouse(s) Anne Pope
Occupation Merchant, politician
George Abernethy (October 7, 1807 ? March 2, 1877) was an American pioneer, notable entrepreneur, and first governor of Oregon under the provisional government in what would become the state of Oregon in the United States. He traveled to Oregon Country as a Methodist missionary where he became involved in politics and helped found the first American newspaper west of the Rocky Mountains.
Abernethy, was born October 7, 1807 in New York City. He was of Scottish descent. He received his education in New York as well as learning the commercial trade. In 1830, Abernethy married Anne Pope. Missionary Jason Lee recruited Abernethy in 1839 to join him at the Methodist Mission in Oregon Country. He, his wife, and two children joined the Great Reinforcements that sailed on the ship Lausanne around Cape Horn to the Pacific Northwest.
Arriving on June 1, 1840, Abernethy was placed in charge of the Mission?s mercantile business in Oregon City. Among his early accomplishments were building the first warehouse in the Oregon Territory, establishing the first newspaper (the Oregon Spectator) in the Oregon Territory, and establishing good business relations with the British Hudson's Bay Company. Abernethy was also a member of the Oregon Lyceum in Oregon City. In 1842 he introduced a resolution there to hold off forming an independent country. This was adopted and counter-acted a resolution introduced by Dr. John McLoughlin of the HBC that had earlier been adopted by the Lyceum.
On June 3, 1845, Abernethy was elected to serve as Provisional Governor of the Oregon Country, defeating Osborne Russell, a member of the outgoing Executive Committee. Abernethy and his supporters were American loyalists who believed that the Provisional Government was strictly interim until the question of U.S. and British claims on the Oregon Country were finalized. Russell, however, headed up the "Independents" faction which wished to create a Republic of the Pacific.
As provisional governor, Abernethy worked to build roads, levied the first property taxes, and sent representatives of the Provisional Government to Washington, D.C. to lobby for official U.S. territorial status. He was reelected in 1847 with the endorsement of the influential Dr. John McLoughlin over Asa Lovejoy, co-founder of Portland.
Among the more interesting prerogatives of Abernethy was his solution to the shortage of U.S. currency throughout the territory. He and eight other leading citizens established the Oregon Exchange Company, which became the de facto territorial mint for a short time. The organization minted the now-rare five dollar and ten dollar "Beaver Coins", making Oregon one of the few U.S. territories to ever mint its own currency.
The Abernethy administration technically ended when efforts to gain territorial status came to fruition on August 14, 1848. President James K. Polk signed the Oregon Territory Act, and appointed General Joseph Lane as the first official territorial governor. Abernethy continued to carry out his duties until Governor Lane arrived at Oregon City March 5, 1849.
Later life and legacy
After leaving office, Abernethy continued doing well in his business. Among other things he served as the Oregon City agent for the pioneer steamer Lot Whitcomb, the first steam-powered vessel built on the Willamette River and the second one built in the entire Oregon Country. Abernethy's assets were destroyed during the flood of 1861. He moved to Portland shortly after. He died in 1877 at 70 years of age. Abernethy was buried at River View Cemetery.
Today, the Abernethy Bridge in Oregon City is named in his honor. The end of the Oregon Trail, also in Oregon City, lies near an area known as Abernethy Green. Several other public works (and natural features such as streams) in Oregon are also named in his honor; though several are given the variant spelling of Abernathy.
- The pioneers now modified their form of government antd June 3, 1845, elected George Abernethy as Oregon's first, and last, provisional Governor. In that popular election his leading opponent was Osborne Russell, retiring Executive Committeemman a leader of the Independent party which, favoring formation of a Pacific Republic had the support of the Hudson's Bay group.
Dr. McLoughlin outgoing chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, had indicated his support. Abernethy was the candidate of the "American" party drawn heavily from the Mission group The aim of the Abernethy supI,orters was to make the government provisional only until such time as the United States might take the region under its protection
Abernethy, after serving two years, was re-elected in 1847, this time over A. L. Lovejoy. His second victory was due to the heavy majority given him in the counties north of the Columbia where he ran 10 to 1 over his opponent The Independents were in control in that area, and it was believed that Dr. McLoughlin put his influence behind the "American" group.
Abernethy, native New Yorker, born Oct. 6, 1807, was a merchant a Methodist, and a Whig. Generally reasonable, he showed some autocratic tendencies, as when he personally sent J. Quinn Thornton to the national capital to plead that the United States take Oregon in and help against marauding Indians. The Governor did this with out so much as notifying the Legislature or any other member of the government.
He also squelched the Democratic editors of the Oregon Spectator. Oregon's first newspaper; as the guiding force in the publishing company he wanted no politics in the paper. Two of the paper's first three editors resigned rather than carry out this policy.
In his messages to the Legislature, Abernethy set the precedent for nearly all his successors as Oregon Governor when he emphasized the "need for more revenue" to carry out expanding government activities.
One of the Governor's most emphatic expressions was his veto of a liquor license law in 1846. That was another issue that has persisted through the years.
Governor Abernethy was one of eight members of the unincorporated Oregon Exchange Company which coined the famous Beaver money-$5 and SIO gold pieces needed during the scarcity of American currency in the territory. The young commonwealth was having "legal tender" trouble and the Legislature even made wheat legal tender, to the great disgust of Governor Abernethy's paper the Spectator. The Beaver money, however, was just too good. It contained more pure gold to the dollar than did the standard gold coins of the United States. The economic pressure of "Gresham's law"--bad money drives out good-soon forced these too valuable dollars out of circulation.
Obviously road improvement was highly important in those days of beginnings to povide easier access to the river, which was then the main avenue of travel and transport. and the Governor did what he could to promote road building and repair.
Taxation was, naturally, a vital matter right from the start. Leslie M. Scott, Oregon historian, wrote that "... an avowed policy of taxation would have defeated the creation of the provisional government" (1843) Payment of taxes was first made compulsory in 1845, at one-fourth of one per cent ad valorem on property. Government expenses were rising, what with the $1.25 a day paid to each of the members of the Legislature, and other mountainous expenses and with higher taxation staring the people in the face the Legislature in 1846 passed a resolution asking that the needed money be raised by subscription. At a general meeting the citizens approved this plan and had subscription papers prepared, with the proviso that any subscriber might "at any time withdraw his name from said subscription upon paying up all arrearages and notifying the treasurer of his decision to withdraw."
So tax collection continued a difficult matter, as Sheriff Joe Meek, serving during the Abernethy administration, found it. Dr. John McLoughlin, richest man in the territory in 1846, was assessed at $12,212, which called for a payment of $15.77 in property and poll tax--a little more than one mill on the dollar. The next richest resident, Hamilton Campbell, was on the list for $7.96.
A most favorable estimate of Governor Abernethy was expressed by pioneer Peter Hurnett, who wound up a tribute to the provisional governor by saying, "It is a matter of doubt whether in the settlement of any portion of America by the whites any greater wisdom, forbearance, and good sense have been shown, except in the celebrated case of William Penn."
The bill making Oregon a territory of the United States was signed by President Polk August 14, 1848. On receiving word of the favorable action, Governor Abernethy sent a message (Feb. 5, 1849) to the Legislature (then in special session to fill vacancies in government caused by the exodus to golden California) informing the members about the development and advising an early adjournment t let the territorial Legislature, already elected take over.
When Governor Joseph Lane (appointed by President Polk to be the Governor of the new territory) arrived on Oregon March 3, 1849, he issued a proclamation giving official notice of the change and then sent a letter to Governor Abernethy inviting him to call. But the provisional Governor (as Carey's History tells it) "with a nice sense of the proprieties, indicated in a dignified manner that he would be glad to receive Governor Lane should the latter call to pay his respects." Thus the provisional Governor took care of the protocol until his successor was regularly sworn in.
1. Turnbull, George S. Governors of Oregon. Binfords & Mort, Publishers, Portland, Or 1959.
- George Abernethy cut a wide swath through Oregon's religious, economic, and political life from his arrival in 1840 until his death in 1877.
Born in New York City in 1807 and married in 1830, Abernethy came to Oregon in 1840 as part of the "Great Reinforcement" to the Methodists' endeavors in the Willamette Valley. As the mission's financial manager, he bought out its store when the mission closed in 1844 and moved it to Oregon City, the center of Oregon's settlement and trade. Four years later, he built a sawmill.
An astute politician, Abernethy became Oregon's first and only provisional governor, winning election in 1845 and 1847. He controlled Oregon's first newspaper, the Oregon Spectator of Oregon City from 1846 to 1855.
Abernethy's financial status grew with Oregon's. He aligned himself with Oregon's early establishment and snapped up John McLoughlin's expansive claim on Government Island in the Willamette River. One critic referred to Abernethy and his associates as a "class of mungralls [sic], neither American nor anti-American?a kind of foreign hypocritical go-between."
Governor Abernethy proposed a moderate course during the tumultuous years between Oregon's organization and its admission to the United States. His first message to the legislature, in late 1845, requested that it institute a militia, adopt a standard of weights and measures, and survey a new road into the Willamette Valley. The Barlow Road was established within the year.
The governor also wanted a pilot service to assist ships in crossing the Columbia River bar, strong schools, and a system of land claims that did not require settlers to travel long distances. On the contentious question of whether Oregon would be wet or dry, he strongly favored temperance but did not insist on imposing his will. If the electorate "say, through the ballot box ?We wish liquor', then let it come free, the same as dry goods," he instructed the legislature, "but until the people say they want it, I hope you will use your influence to keep it out of the territory." Abernethy also guided Oregon's response to the killings at the Whitman Mission in 1847, quickly organizing the meeting that recruited militia volunteers and contributing funds to finance the militia that fought in the ensuing war.
The flood of 1861 destroyed much of Abernethy's property in Oregon City, and he moved his business operations to Portland, which was emerging as the young state's leading city. He used his ties with New York City wholesalers and Oregon merchants to rebuild his fortune.
Abernethy was a significant philanthropist. In 1849, he was among the major contributors to the Clackamas County Female Seminary, founded in 1850 as the territory's first nondenominational school for women. In 1856, he purchased Portland's first fire engine and continued throughout his life to work on behalf of the Methodists.
Little is known about his later life, but his name (sometimes misspelled Abernathy) appears on a school and neighborhood in Portland and a creek and island in Clackamas County.
Written by David Peterson del Mar