Spur to Emigration on the 1840s

In 1831, a Massachusetts schoolteacher incorporated the “American Society for Encouraging the Settlement of the Oregon Territory.” His ambition was to “repeat with appropriate variations the history of the Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay.” But the real spur to emigration into Oregon was the prolonged depression that swept the country in 1837· By the year’s end, banks across the nation had closed, and by 1839 wages fell 30 to so percent. Twenty thousand unemployed laborers demonstrated in Philadelphia, and in New York two hundred thousand people were wondering how they would survive the winter. Horace Greeley told the unemployed to “go West,” but the Midwest was as hard-hit as New York. In the Mississippi valley, prices fell lower and lower. Wheat was ten cents a bushel, and corn could be given away. Steamboats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers were burning grain for fuel. As farmers surveyed the debacle, they could find fewer and fewer reasons not to escape to better lands.)

And there was another factor. In a fashion that men and women of the twentieth century will never fully understand, farmers of the Mississippi valley and the Plains states had begun to feel “crowded.·~ One farmer said that the reason he had to emigrate from western Illinois was that “people were settling right under his nose,” although his nearest neighbor was twelve miles away. He moved to Missouri, but that did not satisfy, and soon he abandoned a half-finished clearing and packed his family and household goods onto a wagon and made his way to Oregon where there was only the Pacific Ocean beside him.’