Morton M. McCarver

"General" Morton Matthew McCarver (January 14, 1807 April 17, 1875) was an American politician and pioneer in the West. A native of Kentucky, he helped found cities in Iowa, Oregon, and Washington while also involved in the early government of California. He served in the Provisional Legislature of Oregon, including as the first speaker of that body, and also fought in the Rogue River Wars.

Morton Matthew McCarver
Speaker of the Provisional Legislature of Oregon
In office
June 18, 1844  August 20, 1845
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byRobert Newell
ConstituencyTuality District
Personal details
BornJanuary 14, 1807
Lexington, Kentucky
DiedApril 17, 1875(1875-04-17) (aged 68)
Tacoma, Washington
Resting placeTacoma Cemetery
Political partyDemocrat
Spouse(s)Mary Ann Jennings
Julia Backalow

Early years

Morton Matthew McCarver was born on January 14, 1807, to Joseph and Betsy McCarver (née Morton) in Lexington, Kentucky.[1] His father died during Morton's youth, and the younger McCarver left home at the age of 14.[2] McCarver headed south and spent a few years in Texas and Louisiana before returning to Kentucky.[2] He moved to Illinois in 1829 where he married Marry Ann Jennings on May 6, 1830, at Monmouth, Illinois, and the couple had two children before her death in 1846.[2] In 1832, he fought with the Illinois militia in the Black Hawk War.[2]

After moving to what would become Iowa, he helped found Burlington, Iowa, in 1833 and 1834.[1][3] He had established a ferry across the Mississippi River in 1833, but his settlement was twice burned out as a trespasser on land then owned by Native Americans.[4] Once the Black Hawk Purchase was complete in June 1833 he rebuilt his cabin in what was then the Iowa Territory.[4] While in Iowa he served as commissary general of Iowa, earning him the nickname of general.[1] In 1843, he joined the Great Migration and traveled the Oregon Trail west to the Oregon Country, arriving at the Willamette Valley in November of that year.[1][4]

In the West

Once in Oregon, McCarver settled along the Columbia River in what is now Portland, Oregon.[1] He made a land claim and founded Linnton in 1843, which is now part of Portland.[1] On June 18, 1844, he was selected as the speaker of the Legislative Committee, the forerunner to the Oregon House of Representatives.[5] In 1845, he was again elected to the Provisional Legislature of Oregon from Tuality District and was selected as the speaker of the then renamed House of Representatives, the first to hold that position.[1] The next year he started an orchard near Oregon City after buying the land claim next to that city.[1] In 1848, he married Julia Backalow, and they had five children; Thomas J., Jennie, Mary A., Naomi, Julia, Elizabeth, and Dollie.[1][2][6]

McCarver left Oregon for the California Gold Rush in August 1848, but left his family in Oregon City to hold the land claim.[4] In 1849, he claims to have helped to found Sacramento, where he constructed housing to rent out.[4] McCarver was then elected to a legislature designed to govern the city on April 30, 1849.[7] He was also elected to serve at the Constitutional Convention of 1849 that was held in Monterrey, as one of eight people representing the Sacramento district.[8][9]

Also in 1849, along with some others, he purchased three passenger ships, including the Ocean Bird.[1] The Ocean Bird was then put into service between San Francisco Bay and Milwaukie, Oregon.[1] Due to flooding and fires, McCarver decided to return to Oregon aboard the Ocean Bird,[4] bringing with him a house that had been cut in Boston.[1][4]

This Aladdin House was then constructed in 1849 on his farm near Oregon City.[4] His farm became known as the Locust Farm.[1] During the Rogue River Wars of 1855 to 1856 McCarver served as commissary general and set up his base at Roseburg in Southern Oregon.[6][10] McCarver also participated in a gold rush in Idaho in 1862, setting up a company in what became Idaho City.[2]

In March 1868, McCarver then moved north and helped found Tacoma, Washington.[2] He first went to Olympia, capital of the then Washington Territory, and procured a map to study the area and consider the most likely terminus of the then planned transcontinental railroad.[11] On April 1, 1868,[12] McCarver arrived at Commencement Bay, a likely railroad terminus on Puget Sound due to its proximity to Snoqualmie Pass, and then purchased the land of Job Carr.[11][13] He continued buying up available land along Commencement Bay in anticipation of the railroad.[3] McCarver also convinced Hanson, Ackerson & Company to build a sawmill in the area while he platted a town site and sold-off lots.[3] McCarver wanted to call the city Commencement City, but after a suggestion by Philip Ritz of the Northern Pacific Railroad, McCarver changed his mind.[14] Anthony Carr, Job's son, had already filed a plat for "Tacoma" on November 30, 1869.[15] McCarver chose to call his neighboring plat "Tacoma City," when he filed his plat map on December 3, 1869.[15] The word "Tacoma" may be the purported Native American name for nearby Mount Rainier.[3] Alternatively, it may have been used by Native Americans in the Puget Sound region to describe all snow-topped peaks in the region, and was not specific to Mount Rainier.[11]

Tacoma City was official recognized by Pierce County on May 21, 1874 and incorporated by the territorial legislature on November 12, 1875.[16]

Death and legacy

Morton Matthew McCarver died on April 17, 1875, at the age of 68.[2][9] He was buried at Tacoma Cemetery, the first adult buried at that cemetery.[2] McCarver had also selected that site for a cemetery not long before he died.[2] In November 1926, a Tacoma school was named in his honor.[4] His former home in Oregon City was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and a Liberty Ship built during World War II was also named in his honor.

In 1877, McCarver's daughter Virginia married the newspaper proprietor and historian Thomas W. Prosch, who later wrote a biography, McCarver and Tacoma (1906).[17]


  1. Corning, Howard M. (1989) Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 159.
  2. Meany, Edmond S. (1911). "Morton Matthew McCarver, Frontier City Builder". Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1909. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press: 173–179.
  3. Meany, Edmond Stephen (1909). History of the state of Washington. Macmillan Co. p. 232.
  4. Dye, Eva Emery (November 21, 1926). "Tribute Paid to Founder of Many Western Cities". The Oregonian. p. 12.
  5. Lang, Herbert O. (1885) History of the Willamette Valley, Being a Description of the Valley and Its Resources, with an Account of Its Discovery and Settlement by White Men, and Its Subsequent History Together with Personal Reminiscences of Its Early Pioneers. G.H. Himes, Book and Job Printer, p. 283.
  6. Lang, p. 618.
  7. Willis, William Ladd (1913). History of Sacramento County, California. Historic Record Company. p. 88.
  8. Browne, John Ross (1850). Report of the Debates in the Convention of California on the Formation of the State Constitution, in September and October, 1849. Washington: J. T. Towers. p. 11.
  9. "General Morton M. McCarver". The Oregonian. April 19, 1875. p. 2.
  10. Lang, p. 399.
  11. O'Shea, Pat (July 7, 1974). "Mount What?". The Oregonian. p. TV Magazine 11.
  12. "Promoter Morton Matthew McCarver arrives at Eureka, later Tacoma, on April 1, 1868. -". Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  13. "Job Carr arrives at future site of Tacoma on Commencement Bay on December 25, 1864. -". Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  14. "McCarver, Carr & Tacoma". Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  15. Hunt, Herbert (1916-01-01). Tacoma: Its History and Its Builders; a Half Century of Activity. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.