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BAIRD, WILLIAM TEEL – Volume XII (1891-1900)

d. 23 Feb. 1897 in Woodstock, N.B.


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Original title:  John McLoughlin

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McLOUGHLIN, JOHN (baptized Jean-Baptiste), physician, fur trader, and merchant; b. 19 Oct. 1784 near Rivière-du-Loup, Que., son of John McLoughlin, a farmer, and Angélique Fraser, daughter of Malcolm Fraser*; d. 3 Sept. 1857 in Oregon City (Oreg.).

John McLoughlin’s first choice of a career was influenced by his mother’s brother Dr Simon Fraser. McLoughlin decided at an early age to study medicine; he was only 14 when he began an apprenticeship with Dr James Fisher* of Quebec, and was not yet 19 in May 1803 when he was granted a licence to practise in Lower Canada. But on 26 April of that year he had signed an agreement with McTavish, Frobisher and Company [see Simon McTavish*; Joseph Frobisher*], partners in the North West Company, to serve as physician and apprentice clerk for five years. The sudden switch to the fur trade appears to have been motivated by an incident involving an army officer that made it prudent for McLoughlin to leave the province. His NWC agreement was negotiated by Dr Fraser, whose brother Alexander* was a partner in the concern. McLoughlin contended later that it was Simon McTavish’s virtual promise of exceptional prospects that induced him to accept a five-year engagement at the low stipend of £20 per year.

McLoughlin was sent first to the NWC depot at Kaministiquia (Thunder Bay, Ont.), where, contrary to his expectations, the departure of the medical officer, Henry Munro, made it necessary for him to act in that capacity. But he was soon spending winters at trading posts, since there was little need for professional services until the annual meeting. In 1806 he was at Rainy Lake and in 1807 he built a post at Sturgeon Lake in the Nipigon department where his winter companion was Daniel Williams Harmon*. McLoughlin’s towering physique impressed the Indians and he proved to be a shrewd and effective trader, although he was probably of only average ability as a physician.

McLoughlin would have left the NWC in 1808, when his apprenticeship expired, if it had not been for the financial needs of his brother David, who was studying medicine in Edinburgh. McTavish had promised Dr Fraser that McLoughlin would be paid £100 a year if he were required to practise medicine, but McLoughlin was told that the promise was personal and had died with McTavish in 1804. After hard bargaining McLoughlin secured a three-year agreement for £200 a year from William McGillivray*, McTavish’s nephew and successor as head of the Montreal firm, renamed McTavish, McGillivrays and Company, and in 1811 he was able to make the promise of a partnership in 1814 a condition of the contract’s renewal.

McLoughlin’s whereabouts from 1808 to 1811 remain obscure. His first posting as a wintering partner, in 1814, was to the Lac la Pluie district, where he had been stationed since 1811, but in 1815 he moved to Fort William (formerly Kaministiquia). He was becoming concerned about the violence that marked the intense and costly rivalry between the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and he was one of an NWC party which arrived “judiciously late” at the Red River settlement (Man.) in June 1816, thereby avoiding any active part in the attack on the colony that resulted in the massacre at Seven Oaks (Winnipeg) [see Cuthbert Grant]. Nevertheless, McLoughlin was one of the partners arrested by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] in mid August when he arrived with a military force and occupied Fort William. McLoughlin was not clear of the ensuing legal entanglements until he was found not guilty at a trial at York (Toronto) in October 1818.

Both before and after the trial McLoughlin continued to be stationed at Fort William. It was an excellent listening post and from what he saw and heard he became convinced that unless changes were made in management the battle with the HBC would result in the bankruptcy of the NWC. At the annual meeting of 1819 he was able to defeat William McGillivray’s efforts to have the existing agreement between the wintering partners and the Montreal agents, McTavish, McGillivrays and Company, extended or renewed, and by the autumn he was prepared to come to terms with the HBC. Through Samuel Gale*, Selkirk’s lawyer, he inquired anonymously in London whether the wintering partners “could obtain from the Hudson’s Bay Company their outfits and supplies of goods & sanction to trade” if they agreed to send their furs to the HBC. The ascendancy McLoughlin had gained over the partners is evidenced by Gale’s comment to Lady Selkirk that “the wintering partner” who posed the question possessed “influence to withdraw almost every useful member of the North West Association.”

Shortly before the annual meeting of 1820 McLoughlin had an unexpected visitor. In 1817 Governor Sir John Coape Sherbrooke* had issued a proclamation calling upon both the HBC and the NWC to keep the peace, but violence had continued. Early in 1820 Lord Bathurst, the colonial secretary, instructed the HBC to require its servants to obey the proclamation. He also sent a similar message to the NWC to be delivered by the HBC. Both orders were carried to Lower Canada by George Simpson, newly appointed governor-in-chief locum tenens of the HBC, and, with typical bravado, instead of handing Bathurst’s communication to the NWC agents in Montreal, he decided to deliver it himself at Fort William. There on 28 May he and McLoughlin met for the first time. McGillivray complained later about the cordiality of McLoughlin’s welcome, and in view of the critical importance of Simpson’s influence on McLoughlin’s later career, this first friendly encounter was of some significance.

At the annual meeting that followed, the wintering partners again refused to renew the agreement, and 18 of them authorized McLoughlin and Angus Bethune to proceed to London and negotiate with the HBC on their behalf. But Simon McGillivray*, representing the Montreal agents, also arrived in London for talks with the HBC. McLoughlin, apart from his presence, which evidenced the division in the ranks of the NWC, played no part of consequence in the negotiations that resulted in the coalition of the two companies in March 1821. He had been taken ill in London, and he spent the winter of 1821–22 in Europe, much of it under the care of his brother David in Paris. Back in North America, he attended the meeting of the Council of the Northern Department at Norway House (Man.) in July 1822. Simpson had previously intimated that McLoughlin’s experience at Rainy Lake made him the officer best qualified to manage the Rainy Lake district and he was duly appointed its chief factor in 1822 and again in 1823.

The coalition had presented many problems to Simpson, now governor of the HBC’s Northern Department, one being the policy that should be pursued in the Columbia district, a huge area west of the Rockies centring on the valleys of the Columbia River and its tributaries, in which the NWC had been active since 1813. Returns had been disappointing and in 1824 Simpson visited the Columbia district with a view to gauging its future. He had already decided that a change of command was essential; Chief Factor John Dugald Cameron was transferred to Rainy Lake and McLoughlin was assigned to Fort George (Astoria, Oreg.), the district depot. With the departure in the spring of 1825 of Chief Factor Alexander Kennedy, who was in charge of Fort George, McLoughlin would be the only chief factor in the entire district. He was probably chosen for the important post because the Columbia was vulnerable to American competition, and he had been successful in holding competing traders at check in the border district of Rainy Lake. Simpson overtook him en route and they arrived together at Fort George on 8 Nov. 1824.

McLoughlin assumed his new position at a difficult time, for in Simpson’s view “mismanagement and extravagance” had been “the order of the day” in the Columbia. “Everything,” he wrote, “appears to me . . . on too extended a scale except the Trade.” The remedies Simpson proposed included drastic reductions in personnel and the substitution of home-grown produce for the costly provisions that had been imported from Europe. To complicate matters, the agreement between Great Britain and the United States concerning joint occupation of the area was due to expire in 1828, and it remained to be seen whether it would be extended. The HBC had already concluded that the Columbia River was the farthest south boundary that the American government was likely to accept, and recognized that it might well insist upon the 49th parallel. Throughout his years in the Columbia, McLoughlin would have to reckon with the possibility that the district might at any time be riven in two by a boundary settlement.

Important changes had already been made by the end of the five months Simpson spent in the area. A new post, Fort Vancouver (Vancouver, Wash.), which would become the district’s headquarters, had been built 100 miles upstream on the north and, it was hoped, British side of the Columbia, in a country suitable for agriculture. James McMillan had been sent to explore the lower reaches of the Fraser River (B.C.) with a view to finding a possible site for a new district depot north of the 49th parallel. The activities of the Snake River expeditions which trapped far and wide south of the Columbia and its tributaries, were to be intensified, since the area was, in Simpson’s words, “a rich preserve of Beaver and which for political reasons we should endeavour to destroy as fast as possible.” Finally, McLoughlin took note of Simpson’s remark that, to the company’s shame, it was still “nearly totally ignorant” of the Pacific coast and the trading possibilities it probably presented.

Policy differences with Simpson were to play a determining role in McLoughlin’s later career, but there was no sign of friction in 1825. Simpson had been impressed by McLoughlin and, in view of the remoteness of the Columbia and the many changes he was expecting, he departed from the usual HBC policy and instructed McLoughlin in 1825 to assume “a certain discretionary or controlling power” over “appointments, Outfits,” and other important arrangements for all the posts and operations in the Columbia. McLoughlin thus became in effect, if not yet in name, superintendent of the district, a status he was to retain for nearly 20 years.

Simpson had developed a lively personal interest in the Columbia, which he was convinced could become a valuable property, both in itself and as a buffer area that would discourage American traders from penetrating to the district of New Caledonia to the north. He paid a second visit to the coast in 1828 and found that under McLoughlin’s management a very marked improvement had taken place in the Columbia’s affairs. Personnel had been reduced, the new farms at Fort Vancouver would soon make the district free of dependence on imported provisions, a flour-mill and a small sawmill were in operation, and salmon was being salted in some quantity. In 1827 the 70-ton schooner Cadboro had arrived. Although too small to make much of an impression in the coastal trade, it had enabled McLoughlin to establish Fort Langley (B.C.) on the lower Fraser and to send trial shipments of deals and spars to Monterey (Calif.) and Honolulu. McLoughlin’s managerial capacity had perhaps been best shown in his reorganization of the Snake River trapping expeditions. The parties, formerly consisting mostly of freemen and Iroquois, had been reduced in size and made to include a much higher proportion of company servants. The cost of supplies advanced to the trappers on credit had been lowered and prices paid for furs had been increased, measures that discouraged desertion and the sale of furs to American traders encountered in the wilds. Routes to be followed were left to the discretion of the commander, who from 1824 to 1830 was the redoubtable Peter Skene Ogden.

Two points of major importance had been settled by the time Simpson reached Fort Vancouver. Some months before, the joint occupation agreement between Great Britain and the United States had been extended indefinitely, and plans for the district could therefore be made on a long-term basis. Secondly, Simpson had come to the coast by way of the Fraser River, had found it useless as a travel route, and had therefore abandoned the idea of developing Fort Langley to replace Fort Vancouver as the district depot. McLoughlin, always firmly attached to Fort Vancouver, welcomed the decision and in 1829 rebuilt the fort on a larger scale on a more convenient site nearer the river.

Simpson had nothing but praise for McLoughlin’s efforts. “Your whole administration,” he wrote in March 1829 at the end of his visit, “is marked by its close adherence to the spirit of the Govr& Committees wishes and intentions, and is conspicious for a talent in planning and for an activity & perseverance in execution which reflect the highest credit on your judgement and habits of business.”

Plans for the development of the coastal trade received much attention during Simpson’s five-month stay. Although McLoughlin had been unable to participate in it effectively, he had learned a good deal about its nature. The famed sea otter, for long the only skin of much interest to traders, had become scarce. As a result, “anything and everything was included that might aid to make a paying voyage.” Beaver and other land skins were collected, and most of them, brought to the coast by inter-tribal trading, originated in the interior, in what the HBC looked upon as part of its fur preserve. The ships frequenting the coast were American, and they usually depended on a supplementary activity, furnishing supplies and provisions to the Russians in Alaska, to make their voyage profitable.

Simpson and McLoughlin soon had two countermeasures in mind: the establishment of trading posts on the coast that would intercept the furs coming from the interior, and an effort to persuade the Russians to purchase their supplies from the HBC instead of from the American ships. The coastal trade would require ships, men, and supplies, and in March, shortly before Simpson left for the east, McLoughlin’s hopes of having them available in 1829 were dashed when the supply ship William and Ann was wrecked on the Columbia bar, with the loss of its crew and cargo. The same day an American trading ship entered the river and it or its consort competed with the HBC for the next two years, forcing McLoughlin to pay higher prices for furs at the very time he was ill supplied with trade goods.

It was 1831 before he was able to see to the construction of the projected chain of coastal trading posts. The first, Fort Nass (B.C.), built by Ogden on the Nass River, was soon renamed Fort Simpson and in 1834 it was moved to Port Simpson, a better site on the coast. Fort McLoughlin (near Bella Bella), established by Chief Factor Duncan Finlayson*, his second in command, followed in 1833 and in the same year Fort Nisqually (near Tacoma, Wash.), intended to be a farming centre and depot for coastal shipping, was built by Chief Trader Archibald McDonald. McLoughlin intended to build a post some distance up the Stikine River, the mouth of which was in Russian territory. But a preliminary survey in 1833 betrayed this intention, and neither the Russians nor the Indians wished to see their trade in furs disrupted. When Ogden arrived in the Dryad to build the post, he found that the Russians had blocked the river by establishing a fort of their own and by stationing a well-armed brig in its mouth. The importance of what later became known as the “Dryad incident” arises from a statement McLoughlin sent to London that estimated costs and losses arising from the affair at no less than £22,150 – a claim that was to play an important part in later negotiations with the Russians.

McLoughlin’s experience with ships and sea captains was almost uniformly unfortunate. Shipbuilding at Fort Vancouver was not a success. The supply ships from London, arriving in the spring, were to engage in the coastal trade before sailing for London in the autumn, but wrecks, late arrivals, and drunken and uncooperative captains played havoc with the plan. From these circumstances sprang McLoughlin’s strong prejudice against ships as opposed to trading posts. Ships, he contended, were expensive to maintain and required crews with special skills, whereas someone was always available who was capable of building a trading post and taking charge of it. He made his views clear in 1834 when the brig Nereide arrived, the intention being that she should remain on the coast and her captain, Joseph Millar Langtry, should become head of a marine department. In McLoughlin’s view neither the ship nor the department was necessary, and he sent the Nereide and its captain back to England. In 1827, in what he doubtless later came to regard as a misguided moment, he had suggested that a steamboat, able to move about regardless of winds and currents, might be useful on the coast, but by the time the Beaver arrived in 1836, he looked upon it as an unnecessary and costly extravagance.

McLoughlin soon had to reckon with a marked increase in American interest in trade and settlement in the Columbia region. Late in 1832 Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth arrived at Fort Vancouver, having travelled overland from Boston. He proposed to collect furs and cure salmon to send to market in ships that would bring him supplies both to meet his own needs and for sale to American trappers in the Rockies. Nothing came of this immediately, since Wyeth’s first ship was wrecked. He spent the winter at Fort Vancouver, where McLoughlin gave him a friendly welcome. On his way eastward in the spring he sent a letter to the governor and the London committee of the HBC proposing a cooperative agreement. The committee refused, but in 1834, having established a post on the Snake on his way west, Wyeth was back at Fort Vancouver. There he renewed his proposal for a measure of cooperation, and McLoughlin finally agreed, to the displeasure of his superiors. His reasons for doing so were twofold: he was fearful that Wyeth would establish a supply line of his own if he refused, and he was confident that Wyeth’s enterprise would fail.

The episode reveals a good deal about McLoughlin’s character and trading strategy. He lacked the ruthless streak that was part of Simpson’s make-up, and saw no reason why a trading rival should necessarily be regarded as a personal enemy. Nor did he always subscribe to Simpson’s doctrine that opposition must be pressed relentlessly to the last skin. It was usually cheaper and equally effective to oppose a competitor only to the point at which his enterprise became unprofitable. This happened to Wyeth’s venture: he sold out to the HBC in 1837.

When Wyeth first appeared McLoughlin suspected that in addition to furs and salmon he was also concerned with plans to bring American settlers to the attractive valley of the Willamette River (Oreg.), which flowed into the Columbia from the south, close to Fort Vancouver. The suspicion was unfounded, but when Wyeth reappeared in 1834 he was accompanied by the Reverend Jason Lee, the first of the Methodist missionaries who were to cause McLoughlin much trouble. Unlike the missionaries of other denominations, the Methodists took a marked interest in this world’s goods, and when Lee returned to New England on a visit in 1838 he became a vigorous advocate of immigration to the Oregon country. McLoughlin was not surprised; he had long been convinced that it was only a matter of time before the area would become part of the United States. Further evidence had come late in 1836 when William A. Slacum arrived, ostensibly to view the country and visit friends. McLoughlin suspected rightly that he was an American agent. He had indeed been sent by the secretary of state to spy out the land, and his glowing report on the Columbia stimulated interest in settlement there.

McLoughlin, firmly wedded to the Columbia, had declined hitherto to leave it on furlough, but in 1838 the governor and committee of the HBC called him to London, since a review of the district’s affairs was clearly essential. He left Fort Vancouver on 22 March 1838 and returned on 17 October of the following year. The meetings were friendly and successful. Early in February 1839 the HBC concluded an agreement with the Russian American Company which gave the HBC a lease of the Alaskan panhandle. In return, the HBC agreed to supply the Russians with certain furs and commodities, including agricultural products. To provide the latter, the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company was to be organized [see William Fraser Tolmie*]. McLoughlin’s authority was to extend to the company, and in view of these new developments he received a formal appointment “to the principal superintendence or management” of the Columbia district and was granted an additional £500 a year, over and above the sum due to him as chief factor.

James Douglas*, a recently promoted chief factor who had been in the Columbia since 1830, was sent in 1840 to conclude arrangements with the Russians at Sitka (Alaska), which included the take-over of Fort Stikine and the building of Fort Taku. But McLoughlin’s cherished plans for his chain of coastal posts were to be rudely upset when Simpson, bound on a journey around the world, arrived at Fort Vancouver on 28 Aug. 1841. A week later he left in the Beaver to visit Sitka and the northern posts, and when he returned he informed McLoughlin that a complete reorganization of the coastal trade was called for; the agreement with the Russians had changed the entire trading picture of the region. All the northern posts except Fort Simpson, which would act as a northern supply depot, were to be closed, and Simpson was confident that the Beaver would “answer every necessary & useful purpose, in watching and collecting the trade of the whole of that line of Coast.” McLoughlin was outraged, and contended that this decision had been made behind his back and without consultation, but Simpson was adamant. He and McLoughlin met subsequently at Honolulu, where an HBC agency had been opened in 1833, and the coastal trade was again discussed. McLoughlin had come armed with accounts that he felt proved the superiority of forts over ships (and especially over the Beaver), but Simpson held to his decision and instructed McLoughlin to begin by closing forts Taku and McLoughlin in 1843.

A further instruction that was not to McLoughlin’s liking followed. For several reasons – the boundary question, again a very live issue, the dangers of the Columbia bar, upon which two supply ships had been lost, and the proximity of Fort Vancouver to the Willamette valley, where American immigrants were settling in some numbers – Simpson had decided that a new district depot farther north was essential. McLoughlin was therefore instructed to find a suitable site on the southern end of Vancouver Island, a decision that resulted in the founding of Fort Victoria (Victoria) in 1843.

From Honolulu, Simpson went to Sitka, but before sailing for Siberia he paid a second visit to Fort Stikine. He arrived on 27 April 1842, to find that McLoughlin’s son John, who had been in command of the post, had been murdered by his men the previous week.

Simpson jumped to conclusions, in some measure understandable in view of his knowledge of young McLoughlin’s past history. After making good progress in studying medicine in Paris, McLoughlin Jr had committed some unpardonable offence that forced him to leave France. Later he had become involved in the filibustering expedition led by the self-styled general James Dickson* which set out for Red River. A few stragglers, including McLoughlin, arrived there in December 1836. Simpson then intervened and offered him a clerkship. In June 1837 McLoughlin was assigned to the Columbia. There he seems to have done well. After serving at Fort Vancouver he was sent to Fort Stikine in 1840, and, owing to staff transfers, was left in sole charge of the fort in 1841. Simpson evidently assumed that young McLoughlin had simply reverted to type. He accepted the charges of terror, violence, cruelty, drunkenness, dissipation, and neglect of duty made by the men, took depositions to support them, and notified McLoughlin of the murder in a letter the wording of which was little less than brutal. He left Charles Dodd temporarily in charge and continued his journey. Later he went so far as to remark to the governor and the London committee of the HBC that the murder had been committed “under circumstances that in my humble opinion, would in an English Court of Justice be pronounced justifiable homicide.” Grief stricken and enraged, McLoughlin began a relentless effort to assemble evidence to refute Simpson’s allegations, knowing much better than Simpson the turbulent character of the men who had been assigned to Stikine, “the worst characters among our men on the Coast.” He succeeded, but he became obsessed with the matter and dealt with it at wearisome length in letter after letter to the governor and committee. He also criticized several men under his command, including Donald Manson* and John Work*, for their lack of initiative in helping him bring the murderers to justice. Although McLoughlin substantially proved his case, Simpson was indispensable to the HBC and McLoughlin was warned that he must make up his quarrel with him or face transfer or retirement. He failed to do so, and by the spring of 1844 London had decided that “nothing” would then do “but McLoughlin’s removal.”

There were, of course, other factors involved. The general management of the district was being questioned; the profits were alleged to be only a fraction of those tabulated in McLoughlin’s accounts. Differences over the merits of trading posts remained unresolved. McLoughlin’s treatment of the American immigrants who were flowing into the Willamette valley was much criticized. He was a humanitarian at heart; he received the immigrants kindly and provided the needy with seeds, implements, and supplies, often on credit. By the spring of 1844 several hundred settlers had received advances totalling £6,600, a sum that alarmed the governor and the London committee. Both they and Simpson failed to realize that, apart from other considerations, McLoughlin’s policy was realistic, for settlers were not likely to starve quietly with the well-filled warehouses of Fort Vancouver near by.

The falls on the Willamette River were the cause of further difficulties. McLoughlin had long considered them “the most important place in this country.” He and Simpson had visited them in 1828 and in later years he sought to establish claims to properties adjacent to them, both on his own behalf and, on instructions from Simpson, on behalf of the HBC, thus clashing with the Reverend Alvan F. Waller, an aggressive Methodist missionary assigned to the nearby Willamette mission. Under American law which all realized would probably apply soon, foreign corporations could not pre-empt land and Waller believed that the interests of the HBC, and probably McLoughlin’s as well, could be encroached upon with impunity. In 1842 McLoughlin had the properties at the falls surveyed and subdivided and laid out the town of Oregon City and in 1844 he was able to arrive at a settlement with the mission, when it was being closed. But disturbing developments had taken place in the interval. In 1843 a provisional government for Oregon had been organized, and in July it had adopted a law regarding land claims, a clause of which was aimed directly at McLoughlin and the HBC. McLoughlin concluded that the only way in which he could hope to protect the company’s claims was to purchase them himself, and in March 1845 he sent Simpson bills to the value of £4,173 in payment. It is still a moot point whether McLoughlin intended this to be more than a pro forma transaction, but Simpson accepted the bills and they were charged to McLoughlin’s personal account.

Simpson was well aware that this purchase would force McLoughlin’s retirement, since he would have to move to Oregon City to take personal charge of the mills and properties there, but other steps to procure his retirement had already been taken. In November 1844 Archibald Barclay, secretary of the HBC, had written to inform McLoughlin that the governor and committee felt that the advantages they had anticipated from the Columbia being placed in the charge of one person had not been realized, and that his post of general superintendent and its supplementary salary would end on 31 May 1845. In June 1845 the Council of the Northern Department set up a three-man board of management for the Columbia, to consist of McLoughlin, Ogden, and Douglas.

It was assumed correctly that McLoughlin would react by going on furlough (Work was then added to the board of management). Humiliated and bitter, McLoughlin moved to Oregon City in January 1846, and on 26 March notified the HBC that he would not be returning to active duty. The company was not vindictive; the financial terms of his retirement were generous. After the year of furlough he was granted leave of absence for two years, and formal retirement was thus delayed until 1 June 1849. Thereafter he received his full share as a chief factor for another year, and a half share for five years. The bad debts incurred by immigrants were never charged to his account.

In spite of his friendliness with American settlers, McLoughlin was so closely identified with the HBC that he continued to be a victim of their violent prejudice against the company, even after he left its service. In 1846 the British government had accepted the 49th parallel as the boundary and two years later the Oregon Territory was created. McLoughlin applied as promptly as possible for American citizenship, granted finally in 1851, but this action did not safeguard his properties. In 1850 Samuel R. Thurston, Oregon’s first delegate to Congress, sponsored the Oregon Land Donation Law, a clause of which reserved McLoughlin’s holdings for educational purposes. McLoughlin was never dispossessed, but it was not until 1862, five years after his death, that the state legislature conveyed the bulk of his properties to his legatees upon payment of a nominal sum.

McLoughlin spent the last years of his life at Oregon City, where he was active as a merchant and mill owner, and engaged in an export trade in lumber and other commodities. He was for a short time mayor of the city. His youngest son, David, recalled in 1892 that, owing to his great shock of white hair, the Indians called him “Pee-kin – the White Headed Eagle of the Whites.” Over the years the major role he had played for two decades in the early history of the northwest was recognized and he has long been known as the father of Oregon. His home in Oregon City is now the McLoughlin House Museum, a national historic site, and he was one of the two pioneers chosen to represent Oregon in the National Hall of Statuary in the Capitol, Washington, D.C.

About 1810 McLoughlin had contracted a marriage according to the custom of the country with Marguerite Waddens, daughter of Jean-Étienne Waddens*, and previously the country wife of Alexander MacKay*, who was lost in the Tonquin massacre of 1811. They had two sons and two daughters, all born before McLoughlin went to the Columbia. They were formally married on 19 Nov. 1842 at Fort Vancouver by the Roman Catholic missionary François-Norbert Blanchet. Mrs McLoughlin died in 1860 at the age of 85. McLoughlin also had another son born some time before 1810.

In his famous “Character book,” written in 1832 before any differences had arisen between them, Simpson described McLoughlin as “a man of strict honour and integrity but a great stickler for rights and priviledges” and commented upon his “ungovernable Violent temper and turbulent disposition.” He added that McLoughlin “would be a Radical in any Country – under any Government and under any circumstances,” an interesting remark in view of the sympathy McLoughlin showed a few years later for the rebels of 1837. William Stewart Wallace* has suggested that their contrasting stature was a contributing cause of the friction between McLoughlin and Simpson: “McLoughlin probably had for Simpson the almost instinctive dislike of the big man for the small man who is set over him.” The remoteness of the Columbia was also a factor; it took almost a year to receive a reply from London, and many months even to hear from Norway House (Man.). As the man on the spot, McLoughlin often felt that he knew best, and at times he had to take action before he could receive advice or direction. But the deep differences that developed in 1841–42 over the coastal trade and his son’s murder ultimately made him an impossible subordinate. In retrospect McLoughlin realized that those winter months had been the turning-point. In his last letter to Sir John Henry Pelly, governor of the HBC, written on 12 July 1846, he made the bitter comment: “Sir George Simpsons Visit here in 1841 has cost me Dear.”

W. Kaye Lamb

[The principal archival collections consulted were PAM, HBCA, A.5; A.6; A.11; A.12; B.223/a/1–7; B.223/b/1–43; D.4; D.5; E.13/1; F.8–F.26. John McLoughlin’s correspondence from Fort Vancouver to the governor and committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company was published in HBRS, 4 (Rich), 6 (Rich), and 7 (Rich). Other letters were published in Letters of Dr. John McLoughlin, written at Fort Vancouver, 1829–1832, ed. B. B. Barker (Portland. Oreg., 1948), and in John McLoughlin’s business correspondence, 1847–48, ed. W. R. Sampson (Seattle, Wash., 1973). There is a mass of material relating to the McLoughlin family, including 118 letters from 1796 to 1857, in B. B. Barker, The McLoughlin empire and its rulers . . . (Glendale, Calif., 1959); 48 of these had already been published in “Letters of Dr. John McLoughlin,” ed. J. L. Chapin, in Oreg. Hist. Quarterly (Salem), 36 (1935): 320–37, and 37 (1936): 45–75 and 293–300. Two articles, “McLoughlin proprietary account with Hudson’s Bay Company” and “The estate of Dr. John McLoughlin: the papers discovered,” both edited and published by B. B. Barker in Oreg. Hist. Quarterly (Portland), 45 (1944): 1–41 and 50 (1949): 155–85 respectively, were reprinted in The financial papers of Dr John McLoughlin, being the record of his estate and of his proprietary accounts with the North West Company (1811–1821) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (1821–1868), ed. B. B. Barker (Portland, 1949).

Dorothy Morrison and Jean Morrison, in “John McLoughlin, reluctant fur trader,” Oregon Hist. Quarterly, 81 (1980): 377–89, discuss the circumstances under which McLoughlin joined the North West Company and print the agreement he signed in 1803. Another document, drafted by McLoughlin, is published as “McLoughlin’s statement of the expenses incurred in the Dryad incident of 1834,” intro. by W. K. Lamb, BCHQ, 10 (1946): 291–97.

The present author’s three introductions in HBRS, 4, 6, and 7, are virtually a biography of McLoughlin. Earlier studies include F. V. V. Holman, Dr John McLoughlin, the father of Oregon (Cleveland, Ohio, 1907), long the standard reference; R. C. Johnson, John McLoughlin: father of Oregon (2nd ed., Portland, 1958); and R. G. Montgomery, The white-headed eagle, John McLoughlin, builder of an empire (New York, 1935).  w.k.l.]

HBRS, 10 (Rich); 29 (Williams). Simpson, “Character book,” HBRS, 30 (Williams), 151–236; Fur trade and empire (Merk; 1968). J. S. Galbraith, The Hudson’s Bay Company as an imperial factor, 1821–1869 ([Toronto], 1957). A. S. Morton, A history of the Canadian west to 1870–71, being a history of Rupert’s Land (the Hudson’s Bay Company territory) and of the North-West Territories (including the Pacific slope), ed. L. G. Thomas (2nd ed., Toronto [and Buffalo, N.Y., 1973]). Rich, Hist. of HBC (1958–59), 2. C. H. Carey, “Lee, Waller and McLoughlin,” Oreg. Hist. Quarterly (Salem), 33 (1932): 187–213. D. C. Davidson, “Relations of the Hudson’s Bay Company with the Russian American Company on the northwest coast,” BCHQ, 5 (1941): 33–51. T. C. Elliott, “Dr John M’Loughlin and his guests,” Wash. Hist. Quarterly, 3 (1908): 63–77; “John McLoughlin, M.D.,” Oreg. Hist. Quarterly, 36: 182–86; “Marguerite Wadin McKay McLoughlin,” Oreg. Hist. Quarterly, 36: 338–47. Alice Greve, “Dr McLoughlin’s house,” Beaver, outfit 272 (September 1941): 32–35. “James Douglas and the Russian American Company, 1840,” ed. W. E. Ireland, BCHQ, 5 (1941): 53–66. Charles Wilkes, “Report on the Territory of Oregon,” Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly (Portland), 12 (1914): 269–99.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. Kaye Lamb, “McLOUGHLIN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 23, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcloughlin_john_8E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcloughlin_john_8E.html
Author of Article:   W. Kaye Lamb
Title of Article:   McLOUGHLIN, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   February 23, 2024