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Thomas Jefferson Farnham
Born 1804
Vermont or Maine
Died September 13, 1848
San Francisco, California
Occupation Explorer, writer
Nationality United States
Writing period Mid 19th Century
Genres American West

Thomas Jefferson Farnham (1804-1848) was an explorer and author of the American West in the first half of the 19th Century. His travels included interaction with missionary Jason Lee, and he later led a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. While in Oregon Country he wrote a petition to federal authorities that requested federal protection of the region from the United States government, which was signed by many of the local settlers who had come from the United States.


Early life

In 1804 Thomas Farnham was born in New England, in either Vermont or what would become the state of Maine.[1] He would then receive an education at Phillips Academy, Andover and moved to Peoria, Illinois, where became a lawyer.[1] Farnham was married in 1836 to Eliza Woodson Burhams, and they would have three children.[1] In 1839 he heard a lecture by Jason Lee on Oregon where Lee had set up a mission to preach to the Native Americans in the Willamette Valley.[1] At the time Lee was recruiting more people for the mission.[2] After this lecture Farnham joined the Peoria Party that was headed for Oregon, and became the captain of the group of 19.[1] The Peoria men called themselves the Oregon Dragoons and carried with them a flag, a gift from Mrs. Farnham, emblazoned with their motto "OREGON or the GRAVE".


Captain Farnham and the Oregon Dragoons traveled the Oregon Trail and arrived at Fort Vancouver along the Columbia River with only five people of the 19 that began the journey.[1] The other members of the party deserted the group along the way.[1] Farnham wrote a petition for the American settlers while in the region.[1] This document was signed by many of the U.S. pioneers, and called on the federal government to extend its jurisdiction over the area in order to protect Americans and their interests.[1] At the time the region was uncontrolled by any country, though both the British and Americans had economic interests and citizens in the region.[3]

Thomas Farnham then left the settlements of the Willamette Valley and sailed for the Sandwich Islands.[1] He then continued his journey of the West and sailed to Monterey, California.[1] In California he helped to secure the release of some American and English citizens that had been imprisoned by Mexican government officials, namely by Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.[4] These citizens involved in the Graham Affair of 1840 (around 100 people arrested) had been accused by the Mexican officials of planning a revolt against the Mexican government similar to what had occurred in Texas.[5]

After the Graham Affair, Farnham remained in California, arriving in San Blas on May 16, 1840, before traveling across Mexico to New Orleans.[4] In 1841, he had moved to New York City, then to Wisconsin for a brief time.[4] Farnham later moved to Alton, Illinois, before moving back to California in 1846.[4] In 1843, Farnham published his travels and studies of the West in, Travels in the Great Western Prairies.[1] He also wrote Travels in Oregon Territory, Memoir of the Northwest Boundary Line, Travels in California, and Scenes in the Pacific, and Mexico, its Geography, People, and Institutions.[6] Thomas Jefferson Farnham died in San Francisco, California on September 13, 1848.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Corning, Howard M. (1989). Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 83.
  2. ^ Jason Lee. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Retrieved on March 2, 2008.
  3. ^ Oregon Question. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on March 2, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d Thwaites, Reuben Gold. 1906. Early western travels, 1748-1846. Cleveland, Ohio: A.H. Clark Co. Vol. XXVIII, p 13-14.
  5. ^ Charles B. Churchill, Thomas Jefferson Farnham: An Exponent of American Empire in Mexican California. The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Nov., 1991), pp. 517-537.
  6. ^ Search results for 'au:Thomas Farnham'. WorldCat. Retrieved December 17, 2007.

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