Benjamin Simpson 3/29/1818 - 5/17/1910
Nancy Cooper 1820 - 1883
Benjamin and Nancy (Cooper) Simpson
Gravestones of Benjamin and Nancy Simpson in the
Lone Fir Cemetery, 2115 SE Morrison St. Portland, Oregon
Biography of Benjamin Simpson
The following was compiled from three newspaper articles: The first in the Hillsboro Independent on November 17, 1905, the second and third in unidentified papers, published March 29, 1910 and May 18, 1910.
Benjamin Simpson was born in Warren County, near Nashville, Tennessee, on March 29th, 1818, but was taken by his parents to Missouri in 1820, and lived there until he left for Oregon in 1846. In 1839 he married Eliza Jane Wisdom, who died in 1841, shortly after the birth of their first son John Thomas. He was married again in 1843 to Nancy Cooper, and with three children, John Thomas, Sylvester C. and Samuel L. crossed the plains and settled on French Prairie in Marion County, Oregon in 1846. This was the same year the United States established its claim to the Oregon country by treaty with Great Britain. Ben's brother Barnett, reported in a newspaper article written years later, that Ben had been elected Captain of the wagon train that brought the family west. Barnett also noted that between their arrival in Oregon in 1846, and 1852, three of Ben Simpson's brothers married three sisters of the Haven family.
After the massacre of Dr. & Mrs. Whitman in 1847, at Wailatpu, near Walla Walla, Washington, Benjamin volunteered as a member of the force sent from the Willamette settlement under Colonel Gilliam to quell and punish the Cayuse Indians, and was present at the death of Colonel Gilliam which resulted from the accidental discharge of a gun. This action against the Indians was called the Cayuse War.
Simpson built one of the early steamboats to ply the Willamette River above
Oregon City. At Clackamas he owned
a sawmill and at Oregon City, a merchandise store.
In 1849 he made a voyage to California with a cargo of
lumber which was used to build sluice boxes for mining gold.
Lumber at that time was
worth $150 to $250 per thousand board feet.
He also shipped knock-down
houses which sold in San Francisco for $1000 each.
In short order he amassed quite a fortune.
1850, Benjamin Simpson was elected a member of the Second Territorial
Legislature, and served with credit to himself and his constituents.
During the course of his political career he was elected six times to the
State Legislature, four times to the State
House of Representatives after Oregon became a state, and once to the
State Senate from the counties of Marion, Clackamas, Polk and Benton.
While he was a democrat during his early life, with the firing on Fort
Sumpter early in 1861, he became a Union man, and after the close of the Civil
War, identified himself with the Republican Party.
1856, Ben was sulter at Fort Yamhill, Polk County.
It was during this time that he formed the acquaintance of Second
Lieutenant Philip H. Sheridan, and when the latter left Oregon in 1861,
expressing a desire to “attain the rank of captain before the (Civil) war
ended,” he placed all his business affairs in Mr. Simpson’s hands.
(Sheridan gave his sword to Ben; this sword is now in the possession of
Simpson was Indian Agent at the Siletz and Grande Ronde reservations for eight
years, beginning in 1862 by appointment of President Lincoln.
After the Civil War, he was appointed by President Grant to be chairman
of the “Committee of Three” which negotiated a treaty with the Coeur
1875, he was appointed Surveyor General of Oregon by President Grant, and served
out his term. After this
appointment, Ben was frequently referred to as “General Simpson”
1880, Ben moved to Selma, Alabama where he received an appointment as Post
Office Inspector and filled that role for nearly twenty years there.
During his youth, Ben had learned from family lore that he had an uncle
that had a large estate in Scotland. Not
much attention was given to this, however, for many years.
In about 1879, Ben happened to pick up a Scotch paper in Oregon in which
appeared a notice to the effect that there was a large estate in Scotland that
was about to escheat to the crown, because no one could be found who could prove
his rightful ownership thereunto, and stating furthermore, that it was believed
there were heirs in the southern part of the United States.
This accidental finding of a reference to the Simpson estate in Scotland
recalled the tradition to the same effect of his early childhood.
Ben Simpson secured the Post Office Inspector position in the south with
the intention of establishing his claim to the estate,
which, upon investigation he learned was valued at several millions of
dollars. After a number of years of
strenuous effort, he abandoned the project, because the kind of evidence
required could not be found. He
satisfied himself however, that he was the legitimate heir, and that he could
have proved his claim had it not been for the destruction of family papers by
While there he married Caroline Gordon; Nancy apparently having died sometime prior.
While there he married Caroline Gordon; Nancy apparently having died sometime prior.
and Caroline returned to Oregon to the home of his daughter and son-in-law, W. M.
Killingsworth, at 229 Alberta Street, Portland, Oregon,
about 1900. Ben Simpson died
on May 17, 1910, at the age of 92, three weeks after he fell over an obstacle on
the floor in his bedroom and broke his left arm, while preparing for bed.
The following morning complications developed and he passed away three
weeks later. The funeral was held
at the Finley Undertaking Rooms, and Ben was buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery in
Simpson was the founder of a well-known family in Oregon.
His sons were: Samuel L.
Simpson, famed poet and author of “Beautiful Willamette”; Sylvester C.
Simpson, long time editor of the Oregon Herald of Portland, State Superintendent
of Public Instruction 1873-74, subsequently a historical and legal writer for
the Bancroft Company; Grover Simpson, a high officer of the Wells-Fargo Company
in Chicago; William Simpson, of Pocatello, Idaho; John Simpson of Sheridan,
Oregon: and Clarence, industrial agent of the Wells-Fargo Company in New
Orleans. He was survived by two
daughters: Mrs. W. M. Killingsworth
and Mrs. W. T. Burney, of Portland.
a newspaper article written March 29, 1910, “General Simpson was one of the
most vigorous characters in early Oregon affairs, and his native energy stays
with him even in his advanced age. “Time
that scars us, maims and mars us,” as Sam Simpson wrote in his most noted
poem, has not impaired the mind of this pioneer and he still has active use of
his physical faculties. In
industry, Indian fighting, politics and commonwealth building, General Simpson
left his mark on the affairs of Oregon.
From notes of Kirke Wilson, May, 1991:
Benjamin Simpson (1818-1910)
of Col. Benjamin Cooper of 1782 Blue Lick Fight in Kentucky
lived in several places
in Oregon, Benjamin active in business, politics and
From notes of Lynn Beedle ("Old Times, Vol. 24, No. 1, August 23, 1995):
"It's evident that Ben Simpson was a man of many talents --- and many jobs. He was an entrepreneur, sometimes legislator, politically inclined. He was a postal inspector. His last job was as Surveyor General. In 1865 he bought a newspaper in order to promote himself for a political position. Hired sons Sylvester and Sam as editors."
Ben wrote an 1897 letter of Sylvester (from Selma, Alabama). Only about 80% accurate, but certainly his comments that he knew President McKinley well are accurate.
Copy of a letter from Benjamin Simpson to son Sylvester C. Simpson and Family:
Benjamin Simpson was the son of my great great great grandfather William Simpson. William and his wife, Mary Kimsey Simpson must have had their hands full bringing their children and their families across the Oregon Trail. One daughter, Cassia Casey Simpson Kimsey, died on the journey; leaving a husband and 6 year old daughter. Nineveh Ford married William's daughter Martha Jane Simpson June 15, 1848 in Marion County, OR.
This article refers to Benjamin Simpson's experience as an Indian Agent.
Over 800 Indians arrived at the Grand Ronde Reservation....
Seems Benjamin Simpson was also involved in resolving shellfish rights. This is
The Yaquina Bay oyster industry began with a shipwreck. In January 1852, the schooner Juliet was forced by storms, and her captain and crew were stranded in in this area for two months. When they reached the Willamette Valley, the captain reported that the Yaquina River was abundant with oysters, clams and fish of all kinds.
Other visitors also reported on the abundance of oysters, and 1863, two commercial oyster firms appeared on Yaquina Bay. The first was Winant & Company, represented by James Winant and Solomon Dodge, who established a community known as Oysterville. The second was Ludlow & Company, represented by Richard Hillyer. (Oregon Oyster Farms History)
A detailed and enthralling account of the roles played by Benjamin, Sylvester and Samuel Simpson in early Oregon history is contained on the Oregon Historical Website: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ohq/105.4/lau.html