John Addison Slavin

Pioneer of 1850

Contributed by Joan M. Aldrich

Note: To my various relatives who receive these carbon copies.  These are simple accounts, but they are true and they are our own people.  It is now August 1947, a hundred years or nearly so since they crossed the plains and should be of at least a little sentimental interest to their descendants if not of any real historical value.  Let's hope that there is at least one child in each line of descent that cares enough to preserve family records.   ------Ardis Gilham Olsen

Copy of letter written by John Addison Slavin to his sister, Sarah, about August 1853.  The letter is in the possession of Emma Prince McGrew (Mrs. Finley C.) and is now so faded she had to decipher it with a magnifying glass.  Many capitals and punctuation marks were absent, but that was common a hundred years ago.  He was born in Boon County, Mo., May 9, 1826, crossed the plains 1850, at the age of 24, alone in regard to relatives.


Portland, Washington Count., O.T.

Dear Sister:

I received your letter dated May 29, `53, in which you stated you had moved to St. Jo, which I expected but I was not certain of it heretofore.  I have not written to you personally, therefore, but I have written to the family generally.  But I did not know until lately where you were nor what you were doing.  I am glad to learn you are doing well.  St. Jo, I suppose is a first rate place to make money, as good I expect as anywhere, almost, as it is the starting point for emigration both for Oregon and California.

Sarah, I will tell you and Tomos something about what has happened since I saw you last.  I started to California, got as far as North Platte where I fell in company with some of my old acquaintances and neighbor boys which made me feel like I was at home.  So I stayed awhile and got pretty fair wage.

So I started to go on, it being late in the season, I thought it best to go by the way of Oregon.  I landed in Portland, wages being pretty fair, I commenced work at seven dollars a day.  I continued about two weeks when I took sick from exposure in the rain.  Finally got well, as I thought, worked a short time and relapsed which lasted until spring, very near.  A great many persons though I would not live, for a long time, but finally I got well and fat.  I weighed 205 lbs.

I was in debt, went to work, paid off my debts and placing Portland to be a flourishing little town, Oregon is the place for me. I saw from all appearances that Portland was bound to make a city.  So I took a claim of land two miles and a half from that place where I now live and probably ever will.  Uncle Sam gives it to me for living on it four years.  I happened to be here in time to hold a half section.  I would not give it for all the land in Boon County and bind me to live on it.  I have been offered five hundred dollars for ten acres and refused it from the fact I think it will always bring that and if it increases in value as it has for the last two or three years there is no telling what it will be worth.  I have a small stock of cattle and hogs, a small barn with a small frame house, sixteen feet square with a pretty wife seventeen years and six months old the twelfth day of this month. (February 12, 1836, news item at the time of their Golden Wedding said, so letter must have been written in February 1853.)

We were married the 30th day of December, `52.  Her name was Emma Ruth Ross, was top daughter of Judge Mitchell, a man of considerable note in this county, he lives four miles south of me.  They were all strangers to me when I came to this country a bachelor.  I kept bachelor's ball until I could do better.  I am satisfied to live and die here.  I would like the best in the world to see you all once more, but I never can come back, I reckon, in this world.  I came to a new country to make a start with the country so as to grove with it.  And if I grow in point of prosperity as fast as the country improves, I will be satisfield.

I have never seen any person in this country that I ever saw before, that I know of before coming to Oregon, but I have found a great many acquaintances here.  I find a great many good people here.  They have good education generally.  They go pretty strong for education and we are getting pretty plenty of school houses and good schools.  Also fine large churches, preaching three or four places in the neighborhood nearly every Sunday, and you would think if you were to go to church that dry goods were very low to see how the people dress.  Well, you would not think far wrong for dry goods and groceries are not much higher than they were in Columbia when I left home and I would get a half a dollar then and now when I want to work I can make three or four dollars a day and buy my goods and groceries at the same price nearly.

I can get as much for one bushel of potatoes as I used to get for eight.  I can raise as many on one acre as I could on four easy.  Onions are worth from five to ten, cabbage from twenty-five to a dollar a head, corn green, from fifty cents to a dollar a dozen.  Turnips from one to four.  Pumpkins from twenty-five cents to a dollar apiece.

I have told you about all I know to tell you.  You must write to me and tell me all the news you know about all the old acquaintances.

                                            Farewell, dear brother and sister, nothing more as present only I remain,

                                                        Your affectionate brother until death,

                                                                    John A. Slavin


From Illustrated History of the State of Oregon by Rev. H.K. Hines p.424
"John A. Slavin is one of the worthy pioneers of Oregon, who came to the territory in 1850.  He took up a claim and persevered, and now has a farm in the outskirts of Portland that is worth from $1000.00 to $1500.00 an acre.  He had just ten cents when he located his land, and is now a well-to-do farmer.  He owns other property in Oregon and Washington, and raises on his various farms valuable horses.  (Family story is that he owned property in 23 counties in Oregon, Washington and Idaho which included two large horse ranches in Eastern Oregon, tenement houses in Spokane, etc., etc.)  It requires but a moment to tell of Mr. Slavin's success, but it took him forty-two years of hard work to accomplish it, and he richly deserves the success he attained.  His experiences would fill a large book, but only a brief outline can be given of his life.

He is a native of Boone County, Missouri, born May 9, 1925.  His father, William Slavin was born in Garrett County, Kentucky, wherehis father, John Slavin, a pioneer, also, was a veteran of the war of 1812.  The family is of Irish ancestry, coming to America prior to the Revolution.  All of the family are noted for their noble, honest qualities.  The grandfather lived to be ninety-six and all were long-lived.  This is the stock from which our subject sprang.  His father (William Slavin) married Frances Wood of Kentucky, daughter of William Woods of Kentucky.  They had nine children three of whom are living.  Mr. Slavin was raised in Boone County on a farm, and had a limited education.  While there he worked at the wagon works, partly acquiring the trade.

His father gave him a farm of 100 acres, and he worked it until his 24th birthday, when he decided to go to Oregon, as he could not get a title to the farm from his step-mother, his father being dead.  (The family story is that his father followd him out on the plains for five hundred miles after his quarrel with his step-mother, and tried to get him to come back, which must have been an error.  John Slavin must have given this information in a personal interview as this was published years before his death.)  He started in 1850 with some young men for California, but they did not agree so Mr. Slavin traveled alone.  He had some cousins who were operating a small ferry across the Platte River, and he stayed and helped them for some weeks, for which they paid him ten dollars a day.  They charged the emigrants $5.00 per wagon to ferry them across.  Mr. Slavin saved one man's live while he was there as he was attempting to cross the river by himself.

While crossing the plains three of his horses were stolen, but he recovered them next day and never knew who stole them.  (The family story is that when he left home he took with him his own herd of Kentucky horses).  All food was very dear and hard to obtain.  His horses gave out at Grande Ronde and he traded them for a pony, paying $10.00 in addition.  When he reached the Dalles, what remained of his outfit sold for $62.50.  He paid $10.00 for his passage in a bateau or small boat (there being no steamboats running in these waters at that time) to Portland, and the bargain was that he should pull one oar.  When he reached Portland he boarded with old Mrs. and Mr. Skidmore, at $12.00 a week.  In a short time he obtained work at house building.  They were obliged to prepare all their timber.  He proved so expert at this that his wages were advanced from $2.00 to $10.00 a day; later he was hired by Mr. Stephen Coffin, and was to take Porland property in payment.  He earned a number of such blocks as the post-office is on (the Pioneer Post Office, Fifth and Morrison) then valued at $150.00, but Mr. Coffin was unable to give him a deed, and the matter dragged along until he supposed he had lost it, but Mr. Coffin, like the honorable man he was, paid him the money.

In 1851 he came to his land which was covered with a thicket of trees (and 52 springs).  He cut such poles as he could handle and built a small hut, binding the gable ends with split boards.  After getting started he returned to Portland and was hired by Capt. Rufus Ingles to go with the troops as an extra teamster.  The troops were sent to California and were expected to clear out the Indians they met on the way.  He went with them as far as the South Umpqua, and saw in the valley a fine country.  He carried the Express back to Vancouver, and Quartermaster Ingles sent him to gather up the stray animals belonging to the government.  He did much hard riding and had many narrow escapes.  When he accomplished his mission he was paid at the rate of $10.00 a day.  He took his money home and hid it; later he took $300.00 with him to buy a cow, and left the remainded in the house.  When he returned he found that someone had entered his house, made coffee, eaten some of his provisions, but the money was safe.  He later found out that it was four young ment who had been hunting and had stopped to rest.

He bought several head of cattle, until he had fourteen, and seven horses.  The following winter was so severe that the lost all his horses and cattle except one little calf.  He kept account of the proceeds of this same calf, a heifer, and found that he sold $900.00 worth of cattle and had four cows and several yearling left.

He married, December 1852, Emma R. Ross, of Delaware, Ohio, daughter of Luther and Mary (Arnold) Ross.  She crossed the plains with her step-father and family in 1847.  His name was Israel Mitchell of Kentucky, a grand nephew of Daniel Boone.  They started from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Capt. White's Company and forty wagons, April 15.  They arrived at the Dalles in August.  The Indians were troublesome and one night two horses were stolen from the wagon in which Mrs. Slavin and her sister slept.  Mr. Mitchell took his claim at the corner of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties, so that some of it was in all of them.  He planted an orchard and the land in now part of West Portland.  Mr. Mitchell died at the home of Mr. Slavin in 1873, in his 77th year.  Mr. and Mrs. Slavin began housekeeping in the little house in the woods; they enlarged it until in 1864 they built a good farm house.  They had six children three of whom are living (Billie, Mrs. Newton L. Gilham of Hillsdale; Mary, Mrs. R.C. Prince of Portland; John R. residing with parents.

Mr. Slavin is a republican in politics, and he and his wife both take an active part in all school questions, both having held school offices.  He served two years as Commissioner of his county.  He has been an energetic business man and is favorably and well known throughout the state."

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