Biography of Hall Jackson Kelley
Bith Date: February 24, 1790
Death Date: January 20, 1874
Place of Birth: Northwood, New Hampshire, United States
Hall Jackson Kelley (1790-1874), American promoter, worked to encourage the settlement of the Oregon Territory.
Hall J. Kelley was born on Feb. 24, 1790, at Northwood, N.H. He attended school at Gilmanton, then began teaching school at the age of 16. In 1813 he graduated from Middlebury College, Vt., and 5 years later took charge of a public school in Boston, where he published several textbooks. He also wrote Sunday School lesson books, helping establish the Sunday School system in the process.
In 1823 the Boston school board terminated his contract, whereupon Kelley became a surveyor and engineer, for which he was qualified by a strong background in mathematics. Five years later he became an investor-employee of a manufacturing company, but the firm's failure in 1829 left him almost penniless.
Kelley had become increasingly interested in the Oregon country, and eventually he organized the American Society for Encouraging the Settlement of the Oregon Territory, incorporated under Massachusetts law in 1831. The congressional funding he requested failed to materialize, whereupon he determined to lead a party west himself. However, public ridicule of his project caused his prospective emigrants to abandon him; some of them did go to Oregon later under the leadership of Nathaniel J. Wyeth.
Kelley was determined to see Oregon at any expense. In 1833 he settled his wife and children with relatives and went to New Orleans, where he booked passage on a ship to Veracruz. He then went overland to a Pacific port and boarded another vessel that took him to California. There he met Ewing Young, a mountain man, with whom he journeyed to Oregon.
At Ft. Vancouver, Kelley, who had been ill during most of the trip to Oregon, was nursed back to health by Dr. John McLoughlin of the Hudson's Bay Company's post. He sent Kelley by company ship to Hawaii, where he boarded a vessel sailing for Boston, arriving in 1836.
Kelley began writing about Oregon just as the financial panic of 1837 was causing many people to think of moving west. His Memoir, a personal account of the geography of Oregon, was included in a report to Congress.
Kelley petitioned Congress for reimbursement for his expenses in visiting Oregon but was unsuccessful. He became a hermit at Three Rivers, Mass., doing occasional engineering work but mainly living on the charity of neighbors. He died on Jan. 20, 1874--blind and poverty-stricken. Although he had failed personally, his writings had helped change American attitudes toward Oregon, causing many to regard it as a good place to settle.
- Fred W. Powell edited a collection of Kelley's works and letters, Hall J. Kelley on Oregon (1932), which includes biographical information. Powell also wrote a biography of Kelley, Hall Jackson Kelley: Prophet of Oregon (1917). See also John B. Horner, A Short History of Oregon (1924), and Arthur L. Throckmorton, Oregon Argonauts (1961).