The Oregon has one of the most frustratingly tantalizing and obscure history of all the ships here. It’s pre and post life in the US Navy is almost completely undocumented, while it’s life in service to the United States Navy is well documented. I suspect that this is partially because as the brig Thomas H. Perkins it worked the Opium trade between China and San Francisco, which even in that day was slightly frowned upon.
The first mention of the “Thomas H. Perkins” is in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s Works Volume XXX – “History of Oregon, Vol. II”. Other sources talk about this same incident, but don’t have much more useful information.
“In April 1841 the second trader appeared, the Thomas H. Perkins, Captain Varney. She remained through the summer, the Hudson’s Bay Company finally purchasing her cargo and chartering the vessel to get rid of her. Then came the U.S. exploring expedition the same year, whose vessels did not enter the Columbia owing to the loss of the Peacock on the bar. After this disaster Wilkes bought the charter and the name of the Perkins was changed to the Oregon, and she left the river with the shipwrecked mariners for California.”
This little passage makes much sense if you read between the lines and know the history of the time. As the second trading ship in the region, I suspect that the crew of the ship probably landed in Astoria to trade goods for beaver furs with the natives intending to take those to China to trade for opium and possibly slaves. The crew no doubt caused issues among the natives and of course encroached upon the Hudson Bay Company’s self created fur trade monopoly. Dr. McLoughlin purchased the cargo of trade goods to free up the ship (likely at an inflated price to make it worthwhile to the captain,) and then chartered it for use of the HBC who was constantly looking for shipping resources to help Fort Vancouver become a major trading post. Wilkes in turn then chartered the ship for $9000 to replace the Peacock.
And to make things confusing, there was a clipper ship, nearly twice as large called the Thomas Perkins which may have also been working the opium trade from 1841-1847. This ship weighed in at 595 tons. It appears that it was also engaged in the Opium Trade. But, it returned to Salem Massachusetts on June 16th, 1842. A year later it was sailing the Eastern Orient engaging in the Opium trade again.
There is also a third ship also called the Thomas H. Perkins which was built in 1845 and weighed in at 690 tons. This ship looks like it might have been heavily involved with the Irish Immigrant movement and later helped move Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson, and the New York Volunteers to San Francisco to participate in the Mexican-American War in 1846.
To tripply confuse things, various primary sources have the weight of the Oregon all over the place. Wikipedia says 250 tonnes, another ship of 208 tonnes (identified as having been built in 1825 in Amesbury, MA,) and 197 tonnes.
And then, still another ship identified as the Brig Oregon makes an appearance in a letter from December 1829!
New Orleans 25 Decem 1829
My Dear Barry.
The Brig Oregon intends leaving here tomorrow morning at day light often this opportunity which I eagerly embrace to tell you I am most dammably surprised I did not receive a single from you either by the Chester or- Ohio both directs from Philada. Mys Ann a glass of handy + water. Barry what will you drink? Hefs what will you take? John Evans will you drink Dave how are you. will you drink? Good evening Mr Heebler will take something? thank you I have a little wine + water Hefs Mr Heebler says you must not drink any thing stronger than Pat wine + water. Oh. Mr Heebler I seen him drink myself seventeen glasses. Thomas how are you. take a little Brandy + water. well I am off. Barry let us go to the Walnut Street good night Hefs. good night mys ann. We arrive at the Theatre go to the Pit. Ann how are you? Lizabeth how are you. Mary Ann How do you do? how is the Graniard ? John Collins have you found your shoe? Barry tell the Atlantic Souvenir I will pay her for her annual when I reach Philadelphia Barry will you go and take some Oysters. Eat a dozen. Bill how are you. Ah Jenkins how are you. Your Uncle does well drink boys drink now since we have met.
let […] money merry be
Says the Cobler, to the Tinker
Now since w’ave met let may + maybe .
Says the Cobler to the Tinker.
You sing Cob. Sing ler. Heft . Sing Tin. Ann Sing Rev says
the Cobler to the Tinker. now we have had a song. drink something fellows. good night I am off.
___ CH Evens
” – Letter to “My Dear Barry” from Charles H. Evans, December 25th, 1829. Transcribed Feburary 24th 2010 by Andrea Jean Zinn.
We can safely discount this last entry as the Oregon of our subject based on dates, but as you can see the history behind this ship has been incredibly frustrating to track down and sort out!
The clipper Thomas Perkins, about 1837, frequently misidentified as the Thomas H. Perkins.
The USS Niagara, a brig like the Thomas H. Perkins. Note that this is smaller ship then a clipper with only two masts instead of three. Picture by Lance Woodworth
Wilkes renamed The Thomas H. Perkins to Oregon and had it outfitted for a long expedition at Fort Vancouver. On October 1, 1841 the six ship squadron of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, (also known as the Wilkes Expedition) left Fort Vancouver and sailed south to San Francisco before heading west to Honolulu. Some sources say that only three ships, the Vincennes, the Porpoise, and the Oregon, along with the Tender Flying Fish (a light schooner), went to Hawaii.
On November 27th 1841, The Oregon and USS Porpoise were detailed to explore the reefs and shoals northwest of Hawaii and to meet up with the rest of the expedition in Singapore. Both ships arrived in Singapore on January 19, 1842 where they underwent general repairs before sailing again.
The full squadron of the expedition left Singapore on January 26th, 1842 towards Cape Town, South Africa and then to the island of St. Helena. From there the two ships split from the squadron again to head to Rio de Janeiro. They both arrived at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on June 30th, 1842.
The Oregon, having just effectively circumvented the globe, underwent repairs in New York. It was outfitted for survey service in the Gulf of Mexico, and set sail on December 6th, 1842. This survey expedition lasted until mid-summer and the Oregon returned to Norfolk, Virginia, on July 24th 1843 where she became a training school ship until October that same year. Her next duty was to carry condemned ordnance from Pensacola, Florida, to New York. This job was finished in August 1844.
In service to the US Navy, her last job was a dispatch run between Norfolk and the Republic of New Granada (now Columbia, Panama, and parts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil) and to pick up the Minister to Bogotá, an Mr. Blackford. In December 1844 this was written in local newspapers “The U.S. brig Oregon, Lieut A. Sinclair, commander, put into Kingston, Jam on the 17th ult. for provisions. All well. She was to have sailed on the 19th ult. For Carthagena, to await the arrival of Mr. Blackford, our minister at Bogotá, who is to return in the Oregon to the United States.”
This last voyage lasted from September 21st, 1844 until January 11th, 1845. She was laid up in the Norfolk Navy Yard on April 10th, 1845 and sold soon after. Among
From there her whereabouts are unknown. It is possible that she was renamed back to the Thomas H. Perkins and under that name transported the New York Regiment to California. It’s equally possible that she was broken up. The other question I have is that she was originally chartered, but reported as sold five years later. Did the Navy purchase/confiscate her? What happened to the original crew in Astoria, did some of them stay at Fort Vancouver, or were they all transported back to San Francisco?
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