PDX History: Chew on This–Our Foreign Origins

May 19, 2008

Did you know that when Pettygrove et. al first planted their roots in “The Clearing” on the west bank of the Willamette River (later known as Portland, Ore.) that Portland wasn’t even technically in the United States? If politics in the following few years had veered differently, we could be living under the British flag.

Put another way: “Father of Oregon” John McLoughlin was born in Canada, and was a British citizen, working for the Hudson’s Bay Company. So our state’s father was not born American (though he did later switch his citizenship in the 1850′s, once settled down in Oregon City).

It wasn’t until 1846, a few years into Portland’s existence, that the American flag was run up the flagpole at Fort Vancouver (Washington) and the British were formally sent packing.

Also an interesting tidbit: one of the reasons for Vancouver’s failing to become the region’s primary metropolis* is that there was speculation that the Brits might get to keep the land north of the Columbia River (today’s Washington state). Foreseeing the 640 acres of free land the US was expected to give each settler, pioneers instead chose to stay south of the river, where things were more likely to end up in American hands**.

* There are others. But this is an interesting one.
** The bill to give the 640 acres to homesteaders, as well as increase the volubility of the American claim to Oregon Territory, was introduced by a Missouri senator named Lewis Linn. This was a popular move. Hence West Linn, Linnton and Linn County, Oregon.

Eugene Snyder’s book “Portland’s Early Days: Stump Town Triumphant” and the staff at the McLoughlin House in Oregon City provided sources for this entry.

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