Today, the Oregon Trail Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin describes the first —and only—provisional governor of Oregon who took office 170 years ago.
In the book Oregon, Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature, John B. Horner included this section about Mr. Abernethy:
GOVERNOR GEORGE ABERNETHY (June 12, 1845— March 3, 1849)
“O bearded stalwart, westward man. So tower-like, so Gothic built! A kingdom won without the guilt Of studied battle.” — Joaquin Miller.
First Provisional Governor of Oregon.
An election had been held on June 3, 1845, for governor and other officers, at which time George Abernethy and A. L. Love- joy were candidates for governor. Mr. Abernethy was elected by a majority of 98 votes in a total of 504 and was inaugurated on the third of the following August.
Two years later the same candidates were again before the people for the same office and Governor Abernethy was successful by a plurality of 16 votes in a total of 1807.
Conditions During Abernethy’s Administration.
Il lustrating conditions in that formative period of government, the following in Governor Abernethy’s message to the legislature in December, 1846, is of special interest:
“I regret to be compelled to inform you that the jail located in Oregon City and the property of the Territory, was destroyed by fire on the night of the 18th of August last, the work, I have no doubt, of an incendiary.
A reward of $100 was immediately offered, but, as yet, the offender has not been discovered.
Should you think best to erect another jail I would suggest the propriety of building it of large stones clamped together.
We have but little use for a jail, and a small building would answer all purposes, for many years, no doubt, if we should be successful in keeping ardent spirits out of the territory.”
With more detail, the Oregon Native Son and Historical Magazine, Volume 1 gave background of the first and only provisional governor in their 1899 publication:
Oregon’s first governor was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1807. The family moved to the United States soon after, and the future executive spent the first 32 years of his life in New York.
In 1839 Rev. Jason Lee was in the East after recruits for the Methodist mission established in the Willamette valley, and Mr. Abernethy joined the expedition as a lay member. It came in the ship Lausanne, which arrived at Vancouver June 1, 1840.
Mr. Abernethy was placed in charge of the mission store at Willamette Falls, now Oregon City.
What interest he took in the formation of a government by the settlers was of a negative or indifferent nature until it was conceded to have become firmly established.
In 1843 the executive powers of the common wealth were vested in a committee of three; in 1845 it was determined to change this and elect one, a governor, instead.
There were several conflicting interests, which put up several candidates for the honor.
Mr. Abernethy was absent in the Sandwich islands on business at the time, but his supporters succeeded in electing him to the position by a small majority.
At the close of his term he was re-elected, and before the end of his second term Oregon became by action of the government a territory of the United States.
This gave him the honor of being the only provisional governor Oregon ever had.
Governor Abernethy was a wise executive, and all unite in saying that his administration was economical, clean and beneficial.
He was instrumental in the starting of various enterprises in Oregon City, the then metropolis of Oregon.
In some of his speculations he was unfortunate. Others, however, paid him handsome revenues.
In 1861 he was considered well-to-do, when the great flood of that year swept away his buildings and effects, and in these vanished the savings of his active life.
With but a small remnant of his fortune he removed to Portland in that year so disastrous, where he resided until his death, which occurred in May, 1877.
He was married in New York city January 15, 1830, to Miss Ann Pope, who died in New York April 30, 1884.
He left a family consisting of a son, William, and a daughter, Anne. The former married a daughter of William H. Gray, a pioneer of 1836, and the latter became the wife of Colonel Henry Hodges, U. S. A.
The Oregon Trail Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with a picture of Governor Abernethy.