Benjamin Simpson 3/29/1818 - 5/17/1910

                                     Nancy Cooper 1820 - 1883


                               Benjamin and Nancy (Cooper) Simpson


                                   Benjamin Simpson Marker Sm.JPG (204273 bytes)          Nancy Cooper Marker Sm.JPG (184127 bytes)

                                  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. 

 Benjamin 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.

 In 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.

 About 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 David Healy.)  


          Sword 4.JPG (104717 bytes)     Sword 1.JPG (185109 bytes)     Sword 2.JPG (253217 bytes)     Sword 3.JPG (240035 bytes)

 Ben 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 d’Alene Indians.

 In 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” 

About  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 fire. While there he married Caroline Gordon; Nancy apparently having died sometime prior.

He 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 Portland, Oregon.

Ben 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.

 From 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)

Elmira Jane Wisdom who died in child birth in Platte Co.

m. Nancy Cooper (1820-1883) daughter of William Cooper, gd'

of Col. Benjamin Cooper of 1782 Blue Lick Fight in Kentucky
and Coopers Fort, Missouri, ggd of Francis Cooper of
Culpeper Co, Virginia 6 sons/4 daughters 1844-1865, first child, Sylvester
Confucius b. 1844, Platte Co, Missouri across Oregon Trail to Oregon 1846, 

lived in several places in Oregon, Benjamin active in business, politics and
government after death of Nancy in 1883, Benjamin moved to
Selma, Alabama area briefly, returned to Oregon and married
Mrs. Caroline Gordon (about whom little is known)


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:

                           BenSimpLet1.JPG (563693 bytes) Page 1              BenSimpLet2.JPG (266328 bytes)  Page 2


From website: http://freepages.history.rootsweb.com/~cchouk/oregon_trail/index1.htm

     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. 


ID: I00030


Name: Benjamin F. Simpson


Sex: M


Birth: 29 MAR 1818 in Warren Co., TN


Death: 17 MAY 1910 in Portland, Multnomah Co., OR


Note: Crossed the Oregon Trail with wife and his parents in 1846

Father: William Barnett Simpson b: 27 JUN 1793 in Warren Co., TN
Mother: Mary Polly Kimsey b: 7 JUL 1797 in Bedford Co., TN

Marriage 1 Caroline Gordon b: ABT. 1818

Marriage 2 Elmira Elzira Jane Wisdom b: ABT. 1818

Married: 28 MAY 1839 in Platte Co., MO


  1. Has children John Thomas Simpson b: 20 JUN 1841 in Platt Co., MO

Marriage 3 Nancy Cooper b: 29 MAR 1820 in Howard Co., MO

Married: ABT. 1841 in Warren Co., TN


  1. Has children Samuel Leonidas Simpson b: 10 NOV 1845 in Elm Grove, Platte Co., MO

  2.   Sylvester Confucious Simpson b: 21 MAR 1844 in Elm Grove, Platte Co., MOHas no children

  3. Has no children Francis Marion Simpson b: 1847 in Marion Co., OR

  4. Has no children Louisa Ann Simpson b: 13 APR 1849 in Clackamas Co., OR

  5. Has no children Elnora Thurston Simpson b: 7 APR 1852 in Salem, Marion Co., OR

  6. Has no children Isadora Paradine Simpson b: 28 APR 1854 in Salem, Marion Co., OR

  7. Has no children William Milton Simpson b: 5 FEB 1856 in OR

  8. Has no children Grover Benjamine Simpson b: 28 FEB 1858 in Yamhill, OR

  9. Has no children Alice Blandina Simpson b: 1862 in Polk Co., OR

  10. Has no children Charles Wellington Simpson b: 13 OCT 1865 in Salem, Marion Co., OR

From website:  http://worldconnect.genealogy.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=



From:  www.cowcreek.com/story/x01history/x11reslife.html

This article refers to Benjamin Simpson's experience as an Indian Agent.

Reservation Life

Over 800 Indians arrived at the Grand Ronde Reservation....

... shown on Map 10. They were totally dependent on the Government for survival. The Indians were surrounded and protected by the U.S. Army. The Indians were held against their will, forbidden to leave, much as slaves are held. The Indians had no tools to build shelters.

The Indians had lost everything - lost a war, and their homes. They were homesick and many died of depression. Food stocks were uncertain and the crowding of so many people into such a small area meant game quickly became scarce. Only treaty Indians were eligible for government food rations. Even the Government food supply was not guaranteed. The majority, non-Treaty Indians, were faced with starvation.

Education on the reservation was intended to destroy the Indian's old way of life, to indoctrinate them into the ways of the non-Indian. Agent Benjamin Simpson likened educating "a mind that inhabits a savage body" to "putting new wine into old bottles."


"Mind and body must be civilized at the same time, and while the one is being stored with useful knowledge the other must be taught sober, steady, industrious habits; under such a system, not only will the pupils benefit, but they will contribute largely by their influence and example toward the elevation of their races from its barbarous condition."

Many starving, homesick Indians, desperate for their homelands, escaped from the Reservation and tried to go home. Most were tracked down and returned to the reservation.


Seems Benjamin Simpson was also involved in resolving shellfish rights.  This is 

from:  http://users.wi.net/~maracon/lesson8.html 


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.







Yaquina Bay Bridge 1967 [1932]Annie Rock 1900 [6560]Yaquina Bay Lighthouse1954 [7886]


Salem Public Library Archives

     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)

     There are few names more indelibly connected with the history of Yaquina Bay than James J. Winant, who was born in upstate New York, April 12, 1838.

     In the fall of 1856 he followed his brother Mark to California where they began dealing in  oysters in San Francisco Bay; they were the real pioneers of the oyster trade on the Pacific Coast.

     Winant was master of vessels on the Pacific Coast for nearly a third of a century. He traded pearls in the South Pacific and hunted walrus  and whales along the shore of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and the Coast of Siberia.

     A salvage voyage to the coast of Mexico, where he explored the sunken ship, City of San Francisco and recovered $23,000 of her treasure, was the climax of his legendary career.

     In 1862 or 1863, the Winant brothers began the oyster trade on Yaquina Bay. The community bearing the captain's name was located at Oysterville Station on the Corvallis & Eastern Railway, about two miles due south of Yaquina City, on the north bank of Yaquina River.

     At that time, Yaquina Bay was part of the Coast Reservation, and disputes quickly arose as to who could do what, and at what cost. The government found that by the terms of the treaty setting out the Coast Reservation that "all amenities arising there from" belonged to the Indians, and the agent at Siletz, Judge Benjamin Simpson, was authorized to lease the oyster beds and protect the leasees. Simpson demanded a fee of 15 cents for each bushel harvested be paid to the tribes. (Oregon Oysters Farms History)

     Winant & Company complied; Ludlow & Company did not. Relying on the "free right of all citizens to take fish in American waters," they filed a lawsuit, which they lost. Under orders of General Benjamin Alvord, the employees of Ludlow & Company were arrested by US soldiers and removed from the reservation.  While their suit was pending, Ludlow & Company shipped several cargoes of oysters to San Francisco. The courts decided in favor of the government leasees and the military were again used for the protection of Winant & Company.

     The first merchandise store on Yaquina Bay was opened at Oysterville in 1864 by Winant & Company. The oyster business attracted considerable attention from the company from Corvallis to the head of Yaquina Bay, at the confluence of the Big Elk and Yaquina rivers, the subscribed capital being $20,000. The road was duly constructed and opened to wagons in 1866, the distance being 45 miles. People were anxious to settle the country; the pressures became strong. The Indian Department readily conceded the people's claim, and the US senator, James W. Nesmith, succeeded in having all that portion of the Coast Reservation laying between the Alsea River south, and Cape Foulweather north of Yaquina Bay, opened to settlement.




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