World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Thomas J. Farnham

Thomas Jefferson Farnham
Born 1804
Vermont or Maine
Died September 13, 1848
San Francisco, California
Occupation Explorer, writer
Nationality United States
Period Mid-19th century
Genre 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 1
  • Travels 2
  • Works 3
  • Further reading 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

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 he 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] Returning to the mainland, he landed at Monterey, capital of Alta California.[1] While there, Farnham helped to secure the release (in 1841) of a group of Americans, British and Californios, arrested in Alta California in 1840 and sent by ship to San Blas, then overland to a prison in Tepic. Governor Juan Alvarado, assisted by military commander Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo,[4] accused the men, involved in what became known as the Graham Affair, of plotting a revolt against the Mexican government.[5]

During the Graham Affair, Farnham traveled to San Blas, arriving on May 16, 1840, then went on to Tepic to meet with the prisoners. Following the prisoners' release, Farnham continued across Mexico to New Orleans.[4] In 1841, he moved on 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] He died in San Francisco, California on September 13, 1848.[1] Farnham's widow Eliza moved to Santa Cruz, California and went on to become a leading abolitionist, novelist and early feminist.

Native American activists note Farnham's comments on the policy of "Manifest Destiny"; Farnham is quoted as saying; "Thomas Farnham, a Vermont lawyer, demanded that the 'Indians' bones must enrich the soil, before the plough of the civilized man can open it.... [They] must fatten the corn hills of a more civilized race!'"[6]


Travels in California, and Scenes in the Pacific (1844)
  • Travels in Oregon Territory (1842)
  • Travels in the Great Western Prairies (1843)
  • Travels in California, and Scenes in the Pacific (1844)
  • A Memoir of the Northwest Boundary-Line (1845)
  • Mexico, its Geography, People, and Institutions (1846)

Further reading

  • For list of works.  


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l 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. Encyclopædia 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. ^ Steele, Michael R. (2003). Christianity, The Other, and The Holocaust. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 75.  

External links

  • Oregon or the Grave
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.