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Donegal's links with the 'Father of Oregon'

From Desertegney to United States with West Inishowen History and Heritage Group

John McLoughlin

John McLoughlin (1784-1857) The Father of Oregon

It's a case of new year, new project for Donegal's West Inishowen History and Heritage Society (WIHHS).

Speaking to Donegal Live, John Hegarty (chairperson) revealed the group was undertaking a major piece of research exploring the links between Inishowen and the West Coast of the United States.

According to John, the project was prompted by a conversation he had with Thomas 'The Miller' Doherty, an amateur historian from Buncrana.

John said: “I was chatting to Thomas and he asked me if I'd ever heard of John McLoughlin, who was known affectionately as 'The Father of Oregon.' I must admit , I hadn't.

“According to Thomas, John McLoughlin, whose father, also called John McLoughlin, emigrated from Sharagore in Desertegney in the 1700s, went on to become the most powerful man in the Pacific Northwest.

“So much so, in 1909, when John McLoughlin's home house, which had been sold by his heirs in 1867, was threatened with demolition, a local group organised a campaign to get it moved, rehabilitated and opened as a permanent memorial. The house was designated a National Historic Site in 1941, the first such designation in the west and only the 11th in the States. 

“In addition, In 1925, the San Francisco Mint put his face on a half dollar. Bronze plaques, busts and other tributes to John McLoughlin's memory have also appeared throughout the Northwest. In 1953, his statue was placed in the National Statuary Hall, as one of Oregon's two representatives,” said John Hegarty.

The National Statuary Hall is a chamber in the US Capitol devoted to sculptures of prominent Americans. 

Apparently Inishowen's John McLoughlin is depicted with a stern face and confident stance, a cane in one hand and a beaver hat in the other, a cape billowing out behind him, memorialised in bronze.

John Hegarty said John McLoughlin was given the official title of the “Father of Oregon” by the Oregon Legislature in 1957, a century after his death.

John Hegarty added: “Baptised Jean-Baptiste McLoughlin, John McLaughlin was born on October 19, 1784 on a farm near the village of Riviere-du-Loup, Canada,120 miles north of Quebec. The second of seven children, his father was a farmer from Desertegney. His mother, Angelique Fraser (1759-1842) was a member of a prominent Scottish-Canadian family. 

“Angelique's father, Malcolm Fraser took a central role in young John McLoughlin's upbringing, including raising him in the Presbyterian faith.

“Growing up in Canada, John McLoughlin naturally spoke French fluently. In May 1803, he abandoned his plans to open a medical office and signed a five-year contract with the Montreal-based North West Company, a fur trading business.

“At that time, McLoughlin, who was only 18, was described as an 'imposing figure.' He was six feet, four inches tall, with broad, muscular shoulders; steely blue eyes; and a thick mane of dark hair, which turned snow white by the time he was 40, said John Hegarty.

John McLoughlin was married twice. In his early 20s he married an Ojibway woman, the second-largest First Nations population in Canada. A few years after his first wife died, shortly after giving birth to a son (Joseph), John McLoughlin married Marguerite Wadin McKay. Marguerite spoke three languages: French, English and her native Cree. The Cree are one of the largest groups of First Nations in North America.

According to John Hegarty, John McLoughlin's successful working life ended abruptly when he “fell out of favour” with the governor of Hudson's Bay Company (fur traders) and company directors in London.

John added: “In 1846, forced out of his lifetime career, John McLoughlin wrote: 'I have drunk and am drinking the cup of bitterness to the very dregs.'

“McLoughlin subsequently settled into life in Oregon City as one of the most prosperous of its 500 citizens. He owned two sawmills, a gristmill, a granary, and a foundry. He also owned and operated one retail store and had half an interest in another. He also owned the ferry landing. 

“John McLoughlin was very generous in donating land for civic purposes. He became an American citizen in 1849. This followed the settling of the boundary issue in 1846, when Congress approved the Oregon Treaty, which established the international border at the 49th parallel. 

“By 1857, John McLoughlin's health had deteriorated. His once-vigorous frame became gaunt and frail. He was bedridden with gangrenous diabetes when he died on September 5, leaving an estate valued at $142,585. He was buried in the churchyard of St John the Apostle in Oregon City, with a headstone which read, 'Pioneer and Friend of Oregon. Also the founder of this City.'” said John Hegarty.

Within a generation McLoughlin was “virtually canonised.” 

In 1905, the Legislature renamed the 9,495 foot Mount Pitt in Southern Oregon in his honour. 

The McLoughlin Memorial Association (MMA), one of Oregon City's oldest civic organisations, was founded in 1909 to help preserve and interpret the City's historic places. 

For nearly 100 years, the association restored and cared for John McLoughlin's home. The house is now under the care of the National Park Service, however, the MMA offers tours of the home, a must for all visitors from Inishowen and wider Donegal.

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