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When white settlers began arriving, Native Americans inhabited all of present-day Oregon. Unfortunately, as they did in most of the America's, these white settlers considered the Native Americans to be nomads who drifted purposelessly form place to place. In reality, Oregon Indians moved from winter to summer villages and encampments to hunt, fish, and gather food. In turn, Indians did not understand white customs and traditions. As a result, Indian-white relations were marked by frequent skirmishes during the early period.

In 1543, Spanish explorers sighted the Oregon Coast near the Rogue River, but interest didn't begin growing significantly until 1778, when Captain James Cook began trade along the Oregon Coast. Publication of his journals about his voyages spurred great interest in future trade and he was followed in 1793 by Alexander McKenzie who lead an expedition over the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific, then by Lewis and Clark's expedition, which reached the mouth of the Columbia River in 1805.

In 1811, The Pacific Fur Company, founded by American financier John Jacob Astor, established a string of trading posts along the lower Columbia and in 1818, the United States and Great Britain agree on "joint occupancy" for the Oregon Country. By 1821, The Hudson's Bay Company had acquired a fur monopoly for all of British North America after merging with the North West Company.

Then in 1851, paying gold mines were discovered in the Rogue River Valley, which lead to the establishment of cities and towns in Southern Oregon wherever they examined these streams. In 1849, some Oregonians found gold at the old fort of Rogue River, but it was not worth working and was never reported as a discovery.

Then gold was discovered first in Josephine County by a party of sailors who deserted their ship at Crescent City on hearing of the discovery in the Rogue River valley, and made their way across the mountains to the head waters of the Illinois river, and commenced prospecting in the vicinity of the old mining camp of Waldo. Here they struck "pay dirt," so rich as to attract many others to the place, which from that date on went by the name of "Sailor Diggins."

Around 1852, gold dust was discovered in the sea beach sands in Coos and Curry Counties. In 1853 more than a thousand men washed gold out of the black sand along the sea shore south of Coos Bay.

This gold is supposed to have been washed down into the ocean by the coast rivers; and every big storm carried back in a fresh lot of gold dust within the reach of the miner who has patience enough to work the sands over often enough to get the gold dust out of them. Beach gold is so fine that the use of a microscope was often necessary to detect it; but with the use of quicksilver, it could be recovered in quantities. Hundreds of machines have been invented and patented to save that sea beach gold; and yet none of them seems to have much advantage over the original methods of the first miners using the quicksilver. The sand in which this sea beach gold is found exists not only on the present day sea shore but is also found on the ancient sea shore line forty miles back in the interior on the upper Coquille river.

Loading Wheat. Portland, Oregon.
Loading Wheat, Portland, Oregon

Gold aided in the established of Oregon's towns and Portland was officially "founded" in 1843. The first transportation system in Portland was the Columbia River and the Willamette River when the waterfront was thickly populated with sailing ships and steamboats. The columns of the Oregonian in 1861 and 1862 covered the gold hunting tales and success stories in Eastern Oregon.

July 23, 1861, Oregonian, Portland, Oregon

There are now arriving in this city by steamer, stage and private conveyance hundreds of miners on their way to the mines. The Julia on Monday was crowded. We learn from persons from Yreka that the exodus from Northern California is immense. Parties are constantly going to the mines by way of Klamath Lake. The Red Bluffs Independent says there is a perfect stampede from that section. Many from the Upper Willamette go by the different roads across the Cascades. By the Julia last evening $28,000 came down from the Nez Perc s mines.
Steamers from San Francisco bring large numbers bound for the mines and the overland stage comes every day loaded with miners. Besides, we have reason to believe, that numbers of miners from California take the route east of the mountains to Walla Walla. There will probably be nearly or about 5,000 persons at the mines by October. Tracy & Company brought down last night, per steamer Julia, $12,000 in gold dust.

Like San Francisco's shipping history, Portland has a dark era that began in the late 1800s with Joseph "Bunco" Kelly, a hotelier notorious for kidnapping young men and selling them to ship captains. Many bar owners and hotel operators relied on this shanghai trade to supplement their businesses, and Kelly was one of the best. Paid by unscrupulous captains to intoxicate potential crew members, Kelly would deliver his drunken quarry to waiting ships. The unfortunate men would wake up the next day - stranded at sea and forced to work for indefinite periods of time.

Kelly often bragged that he could gather a full crew in less than 12 hours. Inevitably a ship captain would challenge him. One evening, in his quest to fulfill a boast, Kelly ran across a group who had stumbled upon the open cellar of a mortuary. Thinking the cellar was a part of the Snug Harbor Pub; the men had each consumed cups of embalming fluid, which they had mistaken for liquor. When Kelly found them, several had died and others were dying. Claiming the dead were merely unconscious from too much drink, Kelly sold all 22 to a captain whose ship sailed before the truth was discovered.

In another attempt to make a quick buck, Kelly delivered a dime store Indian heavily wrapped in blankets to a ship. When the captain learned the next morning that his new crew member was a wooden statue, he became so angry that he threw it overboard. Two men operating a dredge nearly 60 years later recovered it.

"Sweet Mary," the proprietor of a brothel, is another interesting figure in Portland's history of the late 1800s. In order to elude taxes and city laws, she operated her bordello on a barge that ran up and down the Willamette River. Technically, she was outside everyone's jurisdiction. The turn-of-the-century, however, seems to have brought a close to Portland's colorful early years. Secure jobs in lumber mills and wealth from providing goods to the California Gold Rush helped stabilize the economy, giving the city's population more time to regulate the seedy activities of its busy waterfront.

Oregon Yacht Club.

Oregon Yacht Club.

Portland, Oregon

In the coming decades, the gold seekers were joined by legions of loggers and salmon fishermen. Many worked on their own or for small local companies. But an increasing number toiled in mills, mines, and canneries for large corporations, often based in far off cities. New industrial techniques developed as Oregon's economy came to rely on extracting natural resources such as timber, minerals, and salmon for a growing nation. As a result, Oregonians rode the same boom and bust cycles that plagued the national economy in the late 1800s. Of course, farming remained a mainstay of the economy from the earliest pioneer days. And cattle and sheep ranching expanded as more people settled in the drier areas of central and eastern Oregon during the last decades of the 1800s.

Portland was the only Oregon town that grew into a city of size in the state.

October 11, 1899, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

Aberdeen Lost Part of Her Deckload.

Captains of vessels in port have been preparing for a storm during the last twenty-four hours. A low barometer gave them warning Monday night and yesterday afternoon the weather bureau ordered the northwest storm signals displayed. On the vessels at the north end of the water front extra mooring lines were got out, while in many Instances straw fenders were put between the vessels and the wharves to keep them from chafing. Out in the stream extra anchors were let go, but the British ship Port Patrick was caught napping. She began to drag and before the second anchor could be dropped she had drifted down on the Postal Telegraph Company's cable.

A week ago the big pile raft broke the cable as it was towed up the bay. A gang of men was set to work and the tugs Alert and Transit employed and by Sunday morning the cable was repaired and in working order again. Now it is again broken and it will be several days before another one can be laid. The tug Relief was sent out to move the Port Patrick, but she was too late to prevent the damage.

A very heavy storm has been raging off the coast and every vessel making port has had a hard time of it. Captain Houdlette of the mail streamer Australia says it blew very hard from the northwest during the last part of the voyage, and Captain Smith of the City of Peking and Captain Saunders of the Newport had similar experiences. All of them agree in saying that the storm was accompanied by a heavy westerly swell.

The steamer Aberdeen "caught it" off Point Reyes. The northwest storm w as accompanied by mountainous seas, one of which broke aboard. The deck lashings were broken and part of the deckload was washed away. Some of the lumber caught in the rigging and pulled the mainmast out of the vessel. The engine room and cabin were flooded and for a time it looked as though the fires under the boilers would be put out. Captain Pedersen got his vessel before the gale and kept her there until repairs were made, after which he came on to San Francisco. The Aberdeen was docked at Lombard street wharf, and following an examination of her damages she was towed to Oakland Creek to discharge. The Aberdeen was from Portland with 600,000 feet of lumber.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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