ORGenWeb - Oregon Pioneer Biographies

Oregon Pioneer Biographies



     Robert Wilson Hamilton, the son of Robert Hamilton Sr. and his first wife, was born 25 June 1805 in Wilson County, Tennessee. His father took the family to Pope County, Illinois, about 1817. In 1818 Robert Sr. served as representative from Pope County to the Illinois legislature, where he was on a joint committee to secure a land grant for the seat of the state government on 8 Oct. 1818. He was nominated for justice of the peace in 1819. By the fall of 1820 he located near Bradford Station in Sangamon County. Either in Pope County or early in Springfield County, his wife died, and he remarried on 15 Feb. 1822 to widow Abigail (Robertson) Coleman. On 4 June 1821 he was let the contract for building the Sangamon County jail, and that September was appointed constable. He received partial payment for the jail construction in December, but was not fully reimbursed until four years later, in Sept. 1825. He was elected as representative for Sangamon County to the Illinois legislature on 7 Aug. 1826. In September of that year he was granted a license "to keep a public house of entertainment," or tavern, in Springfield. The last record of him in the county was a summons for grand jury duty on 4 June 1828. Around 1830 he moved with his 2nd wife and younger children to Washington County, Arkansas, where he made his will on 12 Apr. 1833 and died later that year or early the next.

     Robert Sr. had purchased land for most of the children of his first marriage in Illinois before heading to Arkansas. Thus on 19 Sep. 1825, at the age of 20, Robert Wilson Hamilton became the owner of 118.48 acres in Sangamon County. He was married there on 23 Dec. 1829 to Rebecca SMITH, the daughter of Adam or Ezekiel Smith, born 1 June 1808 in Cabell Co., West Virginia. On 4 Nov. 1830, Robert W. purchased 160 acres of land in adjoining Macon County.

     By 1837, however, he seems to have grown restless and dissatisfied with a settled life. The family is said to have made a trip to North Carolina that year, locating temporarily near Burlington, now Alamance County. From there they went to Arkansas for a year, and then to Texas for 18 months, and back to Arkansas for a year. The 1840 Census caught them in Washington County there, and again a very short time later on in Missouri. They journeyed to Iowa in 1844, then back the following spring to St. Joseph, Missouri, where they prepared to set out across the plains to Oregon with some of Rebecca’s family, including Adam, Ezekiel and Paschal Smith, John and Malinda (Smith) Martin, and perhaps others.

     Robert and Rebecca, with six children, occupied one wagon drawn by ox-team. They carried 700 pounds of flour, 300 pounds of bacon, 4 pounds of lead, 2 pounds of powder, and one gun, in addition to their household goods. The family travelled as part of the Solomon Tetherow train, which made its final start from rendezvous at Mosquito Creek on 9 May 1845. Somewhere on the journey, one of the younger sons is said to have been kidnapped by Indians, and was recovered only because a foraging party came across them by accident and secured his release at gunpoint. Upon reaching Fort Hall, the group encountered Rev. Elijah White on his return trip east, who advised them of the existence of a short-cut. A number of families, the Hamiltons and Smiths included, therefore set off across the uncharted expanse of eastern Oregon under the guidance of Steve Meek, later becoming known as the "Lost Meek Train." Somewhere along their meandering route, members of the group picked up gold nuggets but failed to recognize the rocks as valuable. None were able later to recall the exact location, giving rise to the tale of the lost "Blue Bucket Mine," a riddle that has never been solved. After a series of trials and tribulations, they reached the Deschutes River, which was crossed precariously by attaching a hack bed to ropes and pullies and hauling everything over in pieces, wagons having to be reassembled on the other side. Finally reaching The Dalles, they constructed rafts of pine logs and proceeded downriver to the Cascades. By that time, the Hamiltons were without food, and subsisted on dried salmon skins left by the Indians for three days. When they reached Fort Vancouver, Dr. McLaughlin fed them the first real food they had seen in some time.

     They resided first at Linnton, and then in 1846 at Oregon City for a time. On 8 June 1847, Robert filed on a provisional land claim in Polk County, and on 28 September 1849, settled on his donation claim (Oregon City claim #1082) in the Eola area west of Salem in Polk County.

     Little is know of the rest of the lives of Robert and Rebecca. They were still in Eola precinct as late as June 1870, when the census was taken. At that time five of their children were still unmarried and residing at home. Within the next few years the family broke up and went their separate ways, none remaining on the home place. Rebecca died before June 1880, when Robert was living as a widower in Lane County near Eugene with his son Adam, at the age of 74. No further record of him has been found.

     Robert’s brother Samuel Preston Hamilton came to Oregon with his family in 1852, and settled in Lane County and afterward in Douglas, and their sister Jane B. and her husband John Clifton, arriving in 1853, also settled in Douglas County.

Children of Robert Wilson and Rebecca (Smith) Hamilton:

  1. Mary Jane HAMILTON, b. 7 Nov. 1830 IL; probably died young before 1840.

  2. Adam Smith HAMILTON, b. 9 June 1832 Sangamon Co., IL; d. 8 Aug. 1925 Whitman Co., WA; m. 1) 2 Feb. 1854 Linn Co., OR, Melissa Jane INGRAM; m. 2) 19 Mar. 1865 Lane Co., OR, Elizabeth Ann (HAYES) FOUNTAIN.

  3. Harriett HAMILTON, b. 10 Aug. 1834 IL; d. 24 Sep. 1912 Multnomah Co., OR; m. 6 May 1850 Polk Co., OR, as his 2nd wife, Adam MATHENY.

  4. William Porter HAMILTON, b. 8 May 1836 IL.

  5. Martha Alean HAMILTON, b. 2 Apr. 1838; probably died young before 1840.

  6. Rebecca Jane HAMILTON, b. 15 Dec. 1839 Washington Co., AR; d. 20 Feb. 1918 Portland, Multnomah Co., OR; m. 27 Aug. 1857 Polk Co., OR, David THOMPSON.

  7. James Preston HAMILTON, b. 10 Sep. 1841 MO. Probably never married.

  8. Henry Bordean HAMILTON, b. 3 Aug. 1844 IA. Probably never married.

  9. Francis Marion HAMILTON, b. 1 Mar. 1847 Polk Co., OR; died young before 1860.

  10. Paschal Early HAMILTON, b. 13 June 1849 Polk Co., OR; m. 29 Apr. 1875 Lane Co., OR, Mary F. PURKERSON.

  11. George Wilson HAMILTON, b. 27 June 1851 Polk Co., OR; d. 22 June 1925 Sheridan, Yamhill Co., OR; m. c1882, Jessie A. ----- .

  12. Josephine HAMILTON, b. 9 Nov. 1853 Polk Co., OR; m. 9 July 1874 Lane Co., OR, John McINTIRE. No issue.



  1. Powers’ "History of Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois" (1876), p. 209, 353.
  2. Pope County, Illinois, House and Senate Journals, 1818-9.
  3. 1818 and 1820 Federal Census, Pope Co., Illinois.
  4. Sangamon County Proceedings, volumes 1 and 2.
  5. Sangamon County Marriage Records.
  6. Purchasers of Federal Lands before 1840 in Illinois. (Illinois GenWeb, 1998)
  7. 1830 and 1840 Federal Census, Washington Co., Arkansas.
  8. Washington Co., Arkansas, Wills.
  9. Tetherow Wagon Train Roster.
  10. Interviews with Adam Smith Hamilton, Colfax Gazette and Spokesman-Review newspapers, 1922.
  11. Family Bible Records and papers in possession of the author.
  12. Oregon Donation Land Claims and provisional claim records.
  13. Oregon Census Records, 1845-1910.
  14. Washington Territory Auditors Census Records, 1883-1889.
  15. Washington State land records.
  16. Oregon and Washington marriage records.
  17. Oregon Pioneer Association Transactions.

Contributed by Nancy Prevost -, October 23, 1998.

Return to Main Oregon Page

Return to Pioneer Biographies

Copyright © 1998 by Jan Phillips

Last updated Saturday, 01-Mar-2014 16:57:58 MST.