Abernethy, Governor George
b. 1807-10-07
d. 1877-05-02
Governor George Abernethy was born on 7 October 1807 in New York. Abernethy led Oregon's first and only provisional government and guided Oregon’s response to the Whitman Massacre.1 Before his election as governor, Abernethy was a miller by trade. He came to Oregon in 1840 as part of the “Great Reinforcement” to the Methodists’ endeavours in the Willamette Valley; due to his trade he was able to open a mercantile in Oregon City which served as a source of supplies for the emigrants.2
In 1845, Abernethy won the election to become Oregon’s first provisional governor, which he won again in 1847. During this time, he also took control of Oregon’s first newspaper -- The Oregon Spectator -- which he held jurisdiction over from 1846 to 1855.3 Abernethy’s first proposal as governor was to institute a militia, adopt a standard of weights and measures, and survey a new road into the Willamette Valley.4 Amongst his propositions, Abernethy was also a strong advocate for: strong schools, a pilot service to assist ships attempting to travel across the Columbia River, and an easier system for land claims.5
At the onset of the Whitman Massacre in the late 1840s, Abernethy was still in the position of governor. He led Oregon’s response to the massacre by organizing the meetings which recruited a volunteer militia, and he financed the militia that would be involved in the upcoming war -- led by Colonel Gilliam.6 Abernethy called for immediate and prompt action mindset after the Whitman Massacre.7 In 1849, Oregon officially became a territory and along with this change, Abernethy’s position of provisional governor ended; however, he remained in Oregon City until a flood destroyed his house in 1861 which pushed him to move to Portland.8
On 2 May 1877, Abernethy died at the age of 70 in Portland. The Oregonian published the announcement of his death the next day, along with a celebratory article describing him as an early pioneer who was active and conspicuous in laying the foundation of a great common-wealth.9 During his life -- before and after his move to Portland -- Abernethy was a major philanthropist. In 1847, he contributed to the Clackamas County Female Seminary, and in 1856 he purchased Portland’s first fire engine. Today, Abernethy’s (also spelt “Abernathy”) name appears on a school and neighborhood in Portland, and a creek and island in Clackamas County.10
  • 1. David Peterson del Mar, George Abernethy: 1807-1877, The Oregon Encyclopedia.
  • 2. Ibid.; Stephenie Flora, George Abernethy, Oregon Pioneers, 1.
  • 3. Peterson del Mar, George Abernethy.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Cassandra Tate, Aftermath, History Link.
  • 8. George Abernethy, Historical Marker ; Peterson del Mar, George Abernethy.
  • 9. Flora, George Abernethy, 3.
  • 10. Peterson del Mar, George Abernethy.
Mentions of this person in the documents
People in this document

Gilliam, Cornelius

Places in this document

Columbia River

New York

Portland

Willamette Valley

The Colonial Despatches Team. Abernethy, Governor George. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/abernethy_g.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)