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Abner H. Francis to Frederick Douglass, November 20, 1851


Letter from A. H. Francis.

Dear Douglass: -
I think I promised, in my last, which I mailed to you at Astoria, on my outward trip to this place, that you should hear from me again. Our first port of entrance, after four and a half days out from San Francisco, on the Steamer Columbia, was Pacific City. So far as the appearance of the city was concerned, I was sadly disappointed, seeing only some half dozen houses and a hotel, placed in the forest, near the side of a mountain ravine, and a number of Indian tents at a distance therefrom. Aside from this, the romantic traveler, at least, would be delighted with the jaunt. Pacific City is near the mouth of the Columbia. The entrance into the harbor is quite difficult, and not safe without an experienced pilot. Once Inside, you glide along on the beautiful waters of the harbor, (which is as smooth as glass,) until mountain fastnesses, on either side, hide all other objects from view, save the city in front, and the great sandbar in the rear, around which we had just been piloted. The land is well timbered with pine, cedar, and oak, showing already some proof, that American enterprise will yet mould this portion of the continent to rank, among her richest and certainly most pleasant (in regard to climate) of all her domain. After a short stay, to land some passengers, the steamer rounded to, and passed safely out. Rounding a point, we came suddenly in view of the mouth of the Columbia river. No doubt, in many respects, one of the finest rivers in the world. I think her length is thirteen hundred miles, and breadth varying from some three to four miles at its


mouth, down to one-half mile, and were it not for some diffficult falls to pass, would be navigable to its terminus. The climate of Oregon, is best adapted for wheat, producing sixty bushels to the acre, and readily brings from ten to twelve shillings per bushel. The air must be very pure. I noticed fresh meat that had been hanging the sixth day in the open air, and the weather varying from seventy-five to ninety degrees, without its being the least affected. Fifteen miles from the mouth of the Columbia, lies Astoria. From what I had heard of this place, I again was sadly, disappointed. It contains about thirty houses, (a tavern and post-office, of course.) It lies at the foot of the hill, near the water's edge, with not sufficient timber cleared away to give them a garden-spot. Here I was compelled to stop for twenty-four hours, waiting for the smaller class steamer, which here meets the Columbia, to convey her load to Portland. Astoria is named after Jacob Astor. It is the place, or was the depot, where his five or six hundred trappers brought their effects, and through which he paved the way for his princely fortune. I was showed the house he occupied. It looks almost incredible, in view of the unsettled state of the country at the present time, that the enterprise of a man should bring him into a wilderness like this some twenty thousand miles from home, at a time when nothing was heard from human lips, but the savage yell of the Indian, along the distant shores of the Pacific and Columbia. It looks even now, as a great adventure, although the shrill whistle of the escape pipe, and the noise of the paddle-wheel of the steamer is heard along her shores. The savage is yet here to be seen floating on these waters, in his bark canoe.-- Some of them are the most perfect models I ever beheld. But poor, oppressed, and down-trodden Indian! They seem to have sunk so low that the light of Heaven cannot reach them, like the poor slave in the South. Here, they are made to fill their place. The only difference, one is voluntary, while the other is compulsion, by doing the drudgery, and depending upon the generosity of the whites for daily sustenance. The trip from the mouth of the river up to Portland


was truly pleasant. The fig tree grows in abundance along the shore, and up the side of the mountain for some two thousand feet.

I was on a pleasant Sabbath, the 10th of August, I came in sight of St. Hellens, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson, the peaks of which, and for some distance down their sides, were covered with snow. As the rays of the sun sent back the reflection (although some eighty to a hundred miles distant.) the eyesight was dazzled. The former named of these mountains, stands elevated thirteen thousand feet above the level of the sea.

I omitted to say that I stopped a short time at Fort Van Couver, which was built by the British, some fifty years ago. By treaty stipulations, it was given to the Americans, and is now, occupied by American troops. The place is quite a pleasant one. The only sad picture, was to see the Indians, (who congregate in large numbers at this place,) the most degraded, distressed looking objects, I ever saw, many of the females, almost clotheless, perfect pictures of misery, while the men, in a similar condition, fighting, gambling, runing horses, &c. I arrived in Portland on Sunday evening. It lies on the Whillhamet River, one of the branches of the Columbia, about one hundred miles from the mouth of the Columbia. The situation is a desirable one for a city, and must eventually become a city of considerable size. It is now the largest in Oregon. Oregon City lies twelve miles higher up on the same river.--Boats of a very small size are compelled to convey passengers from Portland to Oregon City, and therefore the former must continue to outstrip the latter. I like this place much, and the people also. I avow the fact, although the greater portion of the citizens are Southerners. From the desire to make money, or in consequence of no colored people living among them, they do not show out their principles as is their usual custom, God grant they never may. I am informed that some Judas had introduced, and succeeded in getting it passed in the Territorial Legislature, a resolution that no colored person should settle in the Territory. I have con-


versed with some of the leading officials of this city, in relation thereto. They say it was passed by stratagem. Although in operation, it will be repealed. Portland is less than two years old, contains three to four thousand inhabitants, (whites,) beside a large number of Indians. It is the great trading depot for the Territory, and many of the mining districts trade at this place. Government lands are rapidly being taken up, and settled by industrious farmers, who are running the products of the soil into market, and receiving enormous prices. Butter, seventy-five cents per pound; eggs, one dollar dozen; milk, one dollar gallon; potatoes, from two to two and-a-half per bushel, &c.--In this opportunity, the colored man, too, is repulsed, and has not been able to obtain any of these lands to settle, considering him not a citizen of the U.S. Wages for mechanics, at the present time, are seven and eight dollars per day. Day laborers, from three to five dollars. On steamers, and labors of that nature, from seventy-five to one hundred dollars per month. Washing, three and four dollars per dozen. I have more than filled up my sheet, and therefore bid you adieu, for the present, and subscribe myself,
Yours as ever,
A. H. Francis.


Francis, Abner H.




Abner H. Francis to Frederick Douglass. PLSr: Frederick Douglass' Paper, 20 November 1851. Describes travels in Oregon Territory.


This document was calendared in the published volume and has not been published in full before.


Frederick Douglass' Paper



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Frederick Douglass' Paper