The first house and early Rose City roses

Yes, I do believe I wear a flashing invitation: come tell me when your family arrived in Oregon. I have been eager to hear stories from those “newer” to the state, along with those natives who hold the longest residency. Last week I blogged about my new friend Nancy, whose descendants include Etienne Lucier (French Canadian fur trapper) and Josette Nouette (Native American born on Northern Vancouver Island). (See: The past leapfrogs into today).

Yesterday, sitting at my author booth (sunshine yesterday, rain today) in a lovely park I had never before visited, I met Murph. After hearing me share the era of my great great great grandparents, he quickly blurted: mine came in 1810. That fact caused me to stop talking about myself, and instead, insist “tell me!” And so it was I learned about his great great great, Jonathan Wiship, whose brother Nathan wound his ship, the Albatross up the Columbia River to a landing spot a few miles from today’s Claskanie. (I had to interject at that moment to point to the cover of my book Beyond the Ripples, sharing that Claskanie is near the town of Westport where my fictitious character Ernest pulls the bottle from the Columbia River.) Nathan went on to build the first house erected by non-Natives in the Oregon Country.

After I listened to more details from Murph about his family, including their linkage to Brighton, Massachusetts (where our daughter now lives), and soon after, a bit about the other hat he wears, Clackamas County Planning Commissioner, he moved on to view more art. I quickly went online, eager to learn more. And again, as with my last post, I applaud the Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society, for being the first source I turn to when I have questions about Oregon history. In OE’s entry titled “Winship Settlement” I find these passages:

“Winship’s objectives were to harvest the abundant furs to be had in the area, to grow crops in the green and fertile valley, and to get ahead of the Russians, who had previously attempted to enter the Columbia. He and his brothers—Jonathan (who had already traded with the Russians) and Abiel—were determined to extend their family avocation of horticulture to the shores of the Columbia.”

The Oak Point settlement had been planned two years before in Brighton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston, in the office of Abiel Winship, the oldest of the Winship brothers. The post was to be an “agricultural base and from there to enlarge the coastal trade.” Jonathan Winship also “hoped to have planted a Garden of Eden on these shores of the Pacific and made that wilderness to blossom like the rose.” (When Portland was established several miles upriver in 1851, slips from Winship’s rose garden would find their way into the town’s gardens.)

By early June 1810, the timbers on the house reached ten feet high. The Albatross crew offloaded hogs and goats, began turning up the ground, and planted vegetable seeds. But on the morning of June 8, after a heavy rain, they were surprised as two feet of water from the Columbia’s spring flood washed over their new settlement. With the timbers uprooted, the ship’s officers selected a new site for the post on higher ground one-quarter mile downstream.

From Winship Settlement in The Oregon Encyclopedia: A Project of the Oregon Historical Society.

And yet, my new friend Murph’s family beginnings in Oregon ended not long after. Soon after rebuilding following the flood, the group learned their Columbia River location would negatively interrupt the Natives’ long, longtime successful trade route. These East Coasters were helped to realize this site would not be best for their own trade success, due to potential conflicts. Learning this, they travelled back down the Columbia and although they had been so successful earlier, referred to as the “Lords of the Pacific”, and with such maritime prowess to command the label “The remarkable Winship Brothers,” increased competition and unfortunate events related to the War of 1812 ultimately disrupted their early Oregon trading initiatives.

One year later – the story many Oregonians today are familiar with – John Jacob Astor founded Astoria, the oldest city in our state, and the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. And while Nathan and Jonathan’s father was best known for creating the largest meat packer market in early Massachusetts, today the Winship family might be better known by some, for their gains in horticulture, including Jonathan’s founding of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society (see: Brighton Allston Historical Society article.)

So I do wonder, what early story might next be recruited by my “flashing invitation?” And while it’s not unreasonable to imagine some day chatting with someone related to Meriwether Lewis or William Clark, curious minds want to know: what story will come my way next?

Read more about the Winship Family from the Oregon Encyclopedia, and the Brighton Allston Historical Society.

A rainy fall day at Otto Glenn Park, adjacent to the Sandy River. What to do when the rain commences? Write a blog!

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