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Fort William
Fur Trade Outpost
Constructed: 1834
Built for: Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth
Location: Sauvie Island, Oregon
Continent: North America
Later Ownership: Hudson's Bay Company
Abandoned: unknown

Fort William was a fur trading outpost built by American Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth in 1834. It was located on the Columbia River on Wappatoo Island in what is now part of Portland, Oregon. It was the site of a murder and the first Euro-American trial in what is now the state of Oregon. After a few years the post was leased to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1837.



The fort was built as part of the Pacific Trading Company, a joint-stock company formed by Wyeth to exploit the fur trade in the Oregon Country.[1] The island chosen was previously visited by the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and was previously inhabited by natives. However, by the time Wyeth established his outpost the island was void of any human habitation due to diseases that had swept through the lower Columbia wiping out nearly 90% of the native inhabitants.[2][3]


Wappatoo Island, now Sauvie Island, lies just north of the main confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, with the north end of the island being the location of the confluence with the Multnomah Channel. The post was built on the north end of the island, but was moved the next year towards the center of the island due to flooding.[4] Fort William was west of and on the opposite side of the river from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver that was established in 1822 on the north side of the Columbia. It was about 90 miles (140 km) upriver from the mouth of the Columbia and the Hudson's Bay Company post of Fort George (formerly Fort Astoria).


Wyeth and crew attempted various commercial interests from their outpost in the Pacific Northwest. They cut lumber and exported it to the Hawaiian Islands, built boats and canoes, and built a 60-foot (18 m) long building to use in processing fish.[2] Wyeth and his employees also attempted to trap animals in the Deschutes River watershed of central Oregon.[1] However, this proved unsuccessful and they young company was unable to overcome the competition of the Hudson’s Bay Company and, in the Rocky Mountains, the American Fur Company.[1] John Ball, one of Wyeth's men, wrote that they were no match for the Hudson Bay's Company, which would bid up fur trade prices as much as ten to one whenever any American trader appeared on the lower Columbia River.[5] The post also had difficulties with its own operations when the first supply ship sent to the Northwest Coast wrecked,[6] and the second ship was late.[1] This first ship then only shipped out salmon.[1] These problems led Wyeth to abandon the fort in 1836, but subsequently leased the installation to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1837.[1][4] After Wyeth left the Pacific Northwest, John McLoughlin, the Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver, ordered Fort William demolished and a dairy farm to be built on the island.[5] Fort Hall in present day Idaho, the other outpost in the enterprise, was sold off to the HBC the following year.


Fort William also served as the backdrop to the first public trial by Europeans in Oregon.[6] This situation occurred in 1835[7] when the post’s gunsmith, Thomas J. Hubbard, attacked and killed the fort’s tailor in an argument over a young native girl. [6] The case was overseen by Wyeth’s friend and naturalist John Kirk Townsend who was appointed magistrate.[6] The gunsmith, Thomas Hubbard,[7] was acquitted by a jury when they ruled the death was justifiable homicide.[6] This verdict was likely the result of evidence about the tailor's alcohol induced rages.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Oregon History: Land-based Fur Trade and Exploration". Oregon Blue Book. Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 2007-01-23.  
  2. ^ a b "Wappatoo Island Ap 3d 1835". Selected Letters of Nathaniel J. Wyeth. Library of Western Fur Trade Historical Source Documents. Retrieved 2007-01-23.  
  3. ^ Oregon History Project: Spreading Old World Contagions. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved on February 26, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Payette, Phil; Pete Payette (2007). "Oregon Forts". American Forts West. American Forts Network. Retrieved 2008-08-12.  
  5. ^ a b Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3.   online at Google Books
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Narrative of a Journey". New and Recent OSU Press Books. OSU Press. Retrieved 2007-01-23.  
  7. ^ a b Bevan, Dane. "Public Meeting at Champoeg, 1843". Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved 2007-01-30.  

External links

Coordinates: 45°39′14″N 122°49′48″W / 45.654°N 122.830°W / 45.654; -122.830



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