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1860s Sauvie Island
“A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by future descendants”
(a British Historian and Politician 1800-1859)
Click family name for additional information
Armstrong Bonser Cunningham Casto Cooper Copeland Ham
Henrici Knox Taylor Thomas. Turner
The first settler on the northern end of the island was Joseph Cunningham. He was a lumberman from the east. Joseph and his family came in 1845. They were in the wagon train led by Stephen Meek on the route now called the “Terrible Trail.” After the death of his wife Caroline, the family moved to Vancouver, Washington.
The next group coming in 1847 was the John Bonser family and their relatives, Fergusons, Halsteads, Pattersons,Lancasters, Shoemakers and others. Many of these people were the “Movers and Shakers” of the early history of Vancouver, Washington. They were also major forces in the steamboat and sternwheeler activities in early Oregon and Washington.
Later the famous riverboat captain, Uriah Bonser Scott, nephew of John Bonser, came and built some of the fastest sternwheelers on the Columbia and Willamette. There were many other members of the Bonser, Scott and Burt clan who left their mark on the river industry.
The next group to come to the northern end of the island was the Henrici family in 1851. They came across with Mr. Meier of “Meier and Frank” fame The Henricis were another important family in the riverboat industry. Henrici Bar is named after the family.
Hilton Bonser, nephew of John Bonser, brought a group across in 1852. He had left Sauvie Island and gone back to Ohio looking for brides. All his old flames were married so he headed back to Oregon with his brother Clinton. They met up with the Henry Thomas family and joined their group. In this group were the Knox, Copeland, Ham and Armstrong families.
The Henry Thomas family was another influential force in the riverboat industry. Captain Isaac Thomas, son of Henry, was a prominent captain and leader of several early steamship companies. He ran along the Lewis River in Washington.
James Copeland, son-in-law of Henry Thomas, built steamboats and he was active in the steamboat organizations. He moved to a farm on the Lewis river where he raised his family.
George Knox was married to Jane Thomas, another daughter of Henry Thomas. They lived on the island for awhile and then joined other members of the family in Clark county, Washington. They are buried in the Old City Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington.
George Ham lived on Sauvie Island for several years. His land was near his uncle, Henry Thomas. The census lists him as a farmer but he was a boat builder and a riverboat captain. He married Sarah McQuinn, daughter of Alexander and Rebecca Enyart McQuinn. George and Sarah moved to Portland where he joined Captain Tackleberry for a bit. Later he went into business as “Ham. Nickum and Kelley.” George and Sarah had no children of their own They raised her two younger sisters after the death of her parents. They had a foster daughter named Edna. Edna and her family are buried next to George and Sarah at Riverview cemetery in Portland, Oregon.
James Thomas was a resident of the island off and on for several years, working at one time for his brother-in-law, William H. H. Morgan. James was the son of Benjamin Thomas and his first wife, Harriet Jones. Benjamin was the brother of Henry Thomas.
One of James descendants married into the Hawthorne family. Another married a feisty old ships captain named Collins. He was not a good husband and they eventually divorced. There are many interesting stories about Captain Collins.
The Armstrongs stayed with the Bonsers when they first came to the island. They were brickmakers and had a business on the island. Old Timers tell of being able to pick up bricks at Armstrongs old deserted brick yard, until recently. It was located on the western end of the island closer to St. Helens.
Two of John Bonser’s daughters married Armstrong men. Elizabeth married Boone Armstrong. They had a brickyard in Vancouver near Fruit Valley School. The Vancouver Chronology lists it as the first brickyard in the area. According to some stories many of the early buildings in Vancouver were made from Armstrong brick.
John Bonser’s daughter Martha Jane was the unknowing love interest of a misguided young man who took the life of another man he thought was his rival. This resulted in the first murder trial and hanging in Washington county, Oregon. Martha eventually married Lafe Armstrong. They lived on Oak Island for a few years. They moved to Fossil in eastern Oregon and her father bought their claim.