Eloisa McLoughlin

Photograph of Eloisa McLoughlin
This photograph of Eloisa McLoughlin was likely taken in her later life, after she moved to Oregon City. It is now part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site museum collection.

NPS PHOTO

 

Early life

Eloisa was born in 1817 at Fort William, Ontario. Her mother, Marguerite, was the daughter of a Swiss fur trader and a First Nations woman whose name is unknown. Her father, Dr. John McLoughlin, was a rising star in the North West Company, a fur trading organization that rivaled the powerful Hudson's Bay Company. At the time of her birth, Eloisa joined an already-large family - she would likely have known three half-sisters from her mother's previous marriage (a half-brother from this marriage was already in the Pacific Northwest), a half-brother from her father's first marriage, older brother John, Jr., and older sister Eliza. The family would be completed in 1821 with the birth of Eloisa's younger brother, David.

John and Marguerite McLoughlin were not officially married until 1842, when Catholic missionaries to Fort Vancouver performed the service. However, their informal marriage, though not sanctified by church or state. was a dedicated one. Despite long periods of absence because of his work, McLoughlin always returned to Marguerite and their children.

In 1821, the North West Company had effectively been absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company in a merger that McLoughlin himself had helped negotiate in London. McLoughlin was promoted to "Chief Factor," then sent to the Pacific Northwest to establish Hudson's Bay Company operations in the region. A spot was chosen on the north bank of the Columbia River, and Fort Vancouver was built and christened in 1824.

Eloisa, then seven years old, her brother David, and her mother made the overland journey from Fort William to Vancouver with their father. Elder siblings John, Jr., and Eliza remained in eastern Canada, where they were to attend school.

Coming of age at Fort Vancouver

In an account of her life, Eloisa described life at Fort Vancouver as isolating and cloistered. Though they lived in the fort's most comfortable accommodations, the Chief Factor's family was kept separate from the fort's many employees and visitors. In the Chief Factor's House, the families - women in particular - ate in a separate mess, while McLoughlin held court int he house's central mess hall. Eloisa stated, "The families lived separate and private entirely. Gentlemen who came trading to the Fort never saw the family. We never saw anybody."

A notable exception came with the arrival of American missionaries to the fort. Dr. Marcus Whitman, who arrived at the fort in 1836 while preparing to establish a mission near Walla Walla, Washington, dined in the ladies' mess along with his wife, Narcissa. In her journal, Narcissa Whitman described the nineteen-year-old Eloisa as "quite an interesting young lady."

As Eloisa approached a marriageable age, she first drew the attention of fur trader Francis Ermatinger, a Hudson's Bay Company clerk with extensive field experience. Ermatinger began his appeals to McLoughlin for his daughter's hand as early as the winter of 1831-32. Though he described her as a "fine Girl" who had "improved much by the company of the Ladies from England and America," Ermatinger's letters intermingle his desire to marry into the McLoughlin family with his interest in furthering his career and settling down after living the peripatetic life of a fur trader. After asking repeatedly, Ermatinger received his final refusal from McLoughlin in 1838. Ermatinger attributed his failure to the fact that he was too old for Eloisa (he was nineteen years her senior). At the time of that final defeat, Ermatinger wrote in a letter to his brother it was clear who Eloisa's husband was to be: William Glen Rae.

 

Eloisa's first marriage

In the spring of 1838, Eloisa was married to William Glen Rae, a clerk who had been stationed at Fort Vancouver since 1837.

The ceremony was performed by Hudson's Bay Company chaplain Reverend Herbert Beaver. Beaver had developed a strong dislike for both Fort Vancouver and (especially) Dr. John McLoughlin. Rae had earned Beaver's ire by extension, since the clerk was one of several HBC employees at the fort who openly sided with McLoughlin against him. Of the wedding, Beaver wrote that he wished he had "united the girl, who is of an amiable disposition and tolerable education" with a "young man of a milder disposition."

Rae was born in 1808 in Orkney, Scotland. His father served as a Hudson's Bay Company agent in the area, and the family lived in the Hall of Clestrain. Rae's younger brothers, Richard and John, would also join the Hudson's Bay Company. John would go on to become one of the most celebrated arctic explorers of the 19th century.

William Glen Rae arrived in Canada in 1827. In 1832, in his notorious "Character Book," in which he wrote candid descriptions of many company employees, Hudson's Bay Company Governor George Simpson wrote that Rae was "A very fine high spirited well conducted Young Man of tolerably good Education. Stout Strong and active, he is quite a Mechanical Genious [sic] and can turn his hand to any thing...[Rae] promises to become a rising Man in the country."

On February 3, 1839, Eloisa gave birth to her first child: a son named John. The witnesses at young John's baptism a week later included his uncle, John McLoughlin, Jr., who by this time had rejoined the family at Fort Vancouver and become an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company.

By 1840, former suitor Francis Ermatinger, a friend of Rae's, had no hard feelings. In a letter to his brother, Ermatinger gives us a window into the happier early years of Eloisa's marriage, writing that "Mrs. Rae is really a good woman and an affectionate wife."

Fort Stikine

In 1839, Rae was promoted to Clerk in Charge and sent to Fort Stikine, a rugged outpost in Russian Alaska. Eloisa accompanied him, perhaps with baby John. John McLoughlin, Jr., also joined them; he had been assigned to the fort as a clerk and surgeon.

Eloisa described Fort Stikine as "a miserable place...There were only flat rocks and not trees around close. Within half a mile; just bare rocks." Alcohol was a prominent part of life at Stikine, and Eloisa describes its contributions to the fort's turbulent, destructive atmosphere, explaining that the fort's employees were "buying liquor and fighting all the time among themselves just outside the fort. I did not like it at all; it was terrible."

In 1841, Rae received a new assignment, and the family boarded the steamship Beaver, heading south. Heavily pregnant at the time of their departure, Eloisa gave birth aboard the Beaver to her daughter, Margaret Glen, on March 21. By May 15, the Raes had arrived at Fort Vancouver, where Margaret Glen was baptized.

California

For years, John McLoughlin had resisted the Hudson's Bay Company's desire to set up a post in California. However, by 1841, he had relented and, without consulting HBC officials, sent William Glen Rae to establish a post in Yerba Buena, a city we today call San Francisco. With the new position came an illustrious new title: Chief Trader. After a period of recuperation in Vancouver, Eloisa and their two children joined him there.

McLoughlin had assigned Rae with establishing the post without having gotten the explicit support of Governor George Simpson. In 1842, McLoughlin visited the San Francisco post with Simpson. After leaving the post, Simpson decided that it should be closed by the end of 1843. McLoughlin resisted the ruling, insisting that the post could be successful.

In her autobiography, Eloisa describes a vibrant, interesting Spanish community in the growing town. While there, she gave birth to her third child - a daughter named Louisa, born in 1843. Her husband, however, was plagued by a host of issues in running the San Francisco post: a lack of open lines of communication with the HBC, a lack of reliable help, and hostile local authorities. His problems were magnified by his own involvement in contentious local politics, and a combination of alcoholism and depression. On January 19, 1845, William Glen Rae committed suicide.

In the days leading up to this tragedy, Eloisa had been "confined in childbirth" as she prepared for the birht of the couple's fourth child. Rae had discussed his fears that he was to be attacked by local militants because of his misguided interference in local revolutionary politics, and had expressed his suicidal intentions. Eloisa pleaded with him, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Shortly after Rae's death, she gave birth to a son, William Glen Rae, Jr., who died shortly after his birth.

Not knowing what had happened, that March, McLoughlin sent a ship to San Francisco with orders to close the post. It returned to Fort Vancouver in June, carrying widowed Eloisa, her three children, and news of the tragic fate of the Hudson's Bay Company's Californian ambitions.

Oregon Country

The deteriorating relationship between McLoughlin and the Hudson's Bay Company came to a head in the spring of 1845, when McLoughlin's tenure as the head of the Columbia District was ended. Additional financial penalties issued by the company forced McLoughlin to reture at a home he built on his land claim in Oregon City, Oregon, near the Willamette Falls. Dr. John, Marguerite, Eloisa, and her children, moved into the house in early 1846.

In 1850, Eloisa married Daniel Harvey, an Englishman who was in charge of McLoughlin's Oregon City mills, and who had previously been a Hudson's Bay Company employee. The couple had three more children - Daniel, Jr. (born in 1851), Mary Angelique (born in 1854), and James William McLoughlin (born in 1856). Together, the McLoughlins and the Harveys - a blended family of ten total people - lived in the four-bedroom Oregon City house.

Dr. John McLoughlin died in 1857, and Marguerite died in 1860. In 1867, the Harveys moved to Portland, Oregon. In 1868, Daniel Harvey died. At the age of fifty, Eloisa was widowed for a second time.

Her daughters Margaret Glen and Louisa and sons Daniel Jr. and James William McLoughlin remained in the area. In her will, Eloisa spoke especially kindly of James - her youngest child - for the care he gave her in her later years.

Eloisa McLoughlin died on October 1884, at the age of sixty-six. She is buried in Portland's Lone Fir Cemetery, alongside Daniel Harvey, Sr., and her sons Daniel Harvey, Jr., and James William McLoughlin Harvey.

 

Bibliography

Beaver, Herbert. Reports and letters of Herbert Beaver: Chaplain to the Hudson's Bay Company and missionary to the Indians at Fort Vancouver, 1836-38. Champoeg Press; First edition 1959.

Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest: Vancouver, Volumes I and II, and Stellamaris Mission, Vol. II. St. Paul, Oregon: French Prairie Press, 1972.

Harvey, Eloisa McLoughlin Rae. Life of John McLoughlin, Governor, the Hudson's Bay Company's Possessions on the Pacific Slope at Fort Vancouver. Interview conducted by A.B. Bancroft. Portland, Oregon, 1878. Unpublished.

McDonald, Lois Halliday. Fur Trade Letters of Francis Ermatinger. Northwest Historical Series, Vol. 15. Arthur H. Clark, Pub., 1980.

Nafus Morrison, Dorothy. Outpost. Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 2005.

Rich, E. E. (Ed.). The Letters of Dr. John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, Second Series, 1839-1844. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1943.

Rich, E.E. (Ed.). The Letters of Dr. John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, Third Series, 1844-1846. Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1944.

Whitman, Narcissa Prentiss. My Journal. Ye Galleon Press; 6th edition, 2002.

Last updated: June 9, 2016

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