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Burch Family Cemetery ~ Nathaniel Ford ~ part of the Polk County Pioneer Cemeteries of Oregon
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Ford, Nathaniel
BORN: 22 Jan 1795 DIED: 9 Jan 1870 BURIED:  ~ Burch Family Cemetery
BIRTH PLACE:  Buckingham Co., Virginia
DEATH PLACE: Rickreall, Polk Co., Oregon
1850 OR CENSUS - Nathan Ford, age 52, occupation farmer, b. Virginia, is enumerated with Lucinda, age 52, b. Kentucky, along with Mary A., age 22, b. Missouri, Caroline, age 16, b. Missouri, Sarah E., age 13, b. Missouri, and Lucinda M., age 9, b. Missouri.  Also enumerated with the family are Harriet, age 10, (black), b. Missouri, Roxana, age 8, (black), b. Oregon Territory, and James, age 4, (black), b. Oregon Territory.

BIOGRAPHICAL (Source - Childress, Sarah, Polk County Pioneer Sketches, "Colonel Nathaniel Ford", by John T. Ford, via
"Nathaniel Ford was one of the notable statebuilders of early Oregon, and the impress of his vigorous character is written large upon the civic and political history of the commonwealth-both natural temperament and acquired habit made him a recognized leader among his fellowmen. A kindly and hospitable man of the best Southern type, yet possessing a hot temper when his personal rights were infringed, he always held the respect and friendship of his neighbors and associates.
Nathaniel Ford was a Virginian, and was born in the upper Shenandoah valley, January 22, 1795, of parents who boasted of their French descent, whose forebears emigrated to America at the time of the Huguenot exodus in 1665. James Ford, father of Nathaniel, was a soldier of the Revolutionary War, and served under Washington during the entire conflict for independence from Great Britain, having joined the Colonial forces at the age of 14 years.
The subject of this sketch emigrated to Howard county, Missouri, in 1820 and on the 11th day of July, 1822, he and Miss Lucinda Embree were united in marriage, and from this union two sons and eight daughters were born, one son and three daughters died in Missouri. He and his wife became members of the Disciples or Christian church at an early period of their married life, but the husband afterwards united with the M.E. Church, South.
When first coming to Missouri Nathaniel Ford taught school, practiced land surveying and “flatboated” from St. Louis to New Orleans; subsequently he was clerk and sheriff of Howard county, serving two terms in each office. He also participated in the demonstration against the Mormons at New Madrid, in which service he acquired the title of colonel.
The fame of the salubrious climate, fertile soil and verdant valleys of the far-away Oregon country had ere now reached the Missouri region, and was echoing through its walnut groves. Colonel Ford was among the first to respond to the slogan call of “Westward-Ho!” Early in the spring of 1844 he and his family, consisting of his wife, one son and five daughters-Mark A., Mary, Josephine, Caroline, Sarah and Lucinda, started for the land of golden dreams-the then little known Oregon country. The starting point or rendezvous was at independence, Mo., and Colonel Ford was elected captain of the emigrant train. The long journey “across the plains” was accomplished in about six months, the Ford emigrant train arrived at The Dalles late in the month of November. The golden sunsets told these wearied but undaunted homeseekers that they were nearing the Eden of their hopes, and they realized that the beautiful and evergreen Willamette valley lay just beyond the snow-capped peaks of the lofty Cascade range.
At that time the portage at the Cascades was a tedious and difficult undertaking; the men, women and children were crossed over to the north side of the Columbia river where an old Indian trail led to a landing point below the swirling rapids, and the live stock were driven over the mountains through a pass which afterwards became known as the Barlow Trail. The household effects and farming implements, etc., were loaded into a flatboat and navigated through the Cascade rapids by Colonel Ford himself, who had acquired skill in handling flatboats upon the Mississippi River. He would not permit any one to go with him. “One life is enough,” said he, “to imperil amid these mad and rushing waters.”
It was then but a short and joyful journey up and across the valley to Oregon City, which the party reached on the 7th day of December. Their long trek over trackless wastes and across swollen rivers and rugged mountain passes, harassed by heat and cold, rain and storm, hunger and fatigue, proved that these dauntless men and women were true descendants of that restless, all-conquering old Nordic race, which had overspread Western Europe, crossed over the storm Atlantic, and peopled the inhospitable shores of Eastern North America.
In the month of January, 1845, Colonel Ford, acting upon the suggestion of Dr. John McLoughlin, explored the region lying west of the Willamette river, and falling in with Jesse Applegate remained as his guest over night. The Applegate brothers, Jesse, Lindsey and Charles, had located in the Salt Creek region a year earlier, in what is now a part of Polk county. The next morning Mr. Applegate said to his guest, “I am going to show you the beautiful Rickreall valley,” this brilliant pioneer was always ornate in his language.
A man by the name of “Billy” Doak had been taken a squatter’s claim on the Rickreall-a most lovely spot amid the fertile prairies. Mr. Ford paid the squatter $25 for his title. Land was cheap and plentiful, but money was dear and scarce in Oregon in those days. He then returned to Oregon City for his family, and they soon were enroute for their new home on the shady banks of the sparkling Rickreall. While locating his own claim, Mr. Ford also selected claims for his two brothers-in-law, one on the east of him for David Goff, and one on the west for Carey D. Embree. Colonel Ford, because of his varied experience in public life, soon became a prominent figure in the new pioneer settlement. His experience in land surveying was useful to the incoming settlers-his skill and tact unraveled many a neighborhood tangle over division lines. He also did a good deal of surveying for the government, such as laying out and subdividing townships in the Rogue River country. He was surveying on the Rogue River at the outbreak of Indian hostilities in that country in 1854, and was compelled to relinquish some of his work. He surveyed over in the Tillamook country and the lower Columbia River region in the fall of 1859. Indeed, his activities extended practically over the entire Willamette Valley, wherever cunning skill was required with compass and chain. His political activities were as notable as his civic, and his knowledge of statecraft was given without stint to the commonwealth.
Colonel Ford was a strong partisan, but the civic upbuilding of the new Oregon country was far more important to him than the success of any political party-the one was to endure for all time, the other was only ephemeral. He represented Polk county in four different sessions of the territorial legislature-from 1849 to 1859. His legislative experience in Oregon, as indicated, began in 1849, and Jesse Applegate was his colleague from Polk county. It may be of public interest to note that Applegate represented Polk county in the session of 1844, at which time the county was given the name of Polk. This sturdy and brilliant pioneer’s forceful personality has left an inexpugnable record upon the early history of Oregon, which is creditable to the wisdom of his judgment and intuitive insight of his vision.
The session of 1849 was the first regular session of the territorial legislature (all previous sessions were under the provisional government), and much time was taken up in changing the name of counties-Champoeg was changed to Marion, Tualatin to Washington, and Vancouver to Clarke. Patriotism was coming to the fore. The Legislative sessions from 1849 to 1859 were busily engaged in forming new counties and establishing roads into new settlements, besides enacting laws to meet the civic needs of the pioneer communities. The ubiquitous itch for law making was a recognized disease even in those primitive days, and each individual member always had a hat full of “pet bills” carefully marked and assorted. The habit is still with us, and it grows. Measurers of real importance, however, were not difficult to enact into laws, for those old pioneer Solons really did possess a sentiment of patriotic duty. Colonel Ford’s influence with his colleagues was effected by a shrewd knowledge of human nature, and an affable tact in presenting his cause-not by eloquent appeal and sledgehammer logic.
An amusing incident in Colonel Ford’s political career fairly illustrates some of the methods of local politics in those early days. The old fashioned political convention was then in vogue, and Mr. Ford was a candidate for legislative honors before one of these conventions, and H.N.V. Holmes was his prominent opponent. Holmes won out before the convention, but his pugnacious opponent didn’t like the petty-wire-pulling which he had observed, and he publicly announced that he would be an independent candidate against Squire Holmes. At the general election the final tally showed that Ford had won by a majority of one vote only. The people voted viva voce at that time, and it was easy to tell for whom each elector voted. Holmes contested the election on the grounds that one elector had voted who was not quite 21 years of age,-he had voted for Ford. The contested election was bitterly fought, but Colonel Ford was a skillful surveyor and he managed to have enough Holmes’ voters surveyed out of the county to defeat his opponent.
Well, there was a political feud between these two “old war-horses” for a while, but after a few years they buried the political tomahawk and were good friends again. In passing, I wish to say that Squire Holmes, as everybody called him, was one of Polk county’s finest citizens.
Colonel Ford lived an active and useful life; he was virile and energetic, and possessed a vigorous mentality. I think it was some old Athenian philosopher who said, that “he who would be saved must have good friends or violent enemies; and that he is best off who possess both.” This “best” condition, I have reasons to believe, was Nathaniel Ford’s enviable lot in life. His warm sympathies and rare open-mindness made him many devoted friends, but his mental vigor and dominant personality also made him a few enemies.
As a husband and father he was one of the most devoted and kindly of men, and his open-handed hospitality was exceptional even among a pioneering people. He left many descendants whose filial regard will always keep green the memory of his splendid achievements, and this affectionate regard even extends to the second generation.
At his loved Rickreall home on the 9th day of January, 1870, after a brief illness, Nathaniel Ford passed away from “this bank and shoal of time” like one who falls into a gentle sleep.
His loved and faithful companion survived him four years, and on the 14th day of January, 1874, her gentle spirit fell into that peaceful slumber we call death. Side by side their mortal remains quietly rest in the old Burch cemetery near the rippling waters of the beautiful Rickreall."

BIOGRAPHICAL (Source - Polk County Historical Society, Historically Speaking, Vol. I. (1967) pg 24):"Nathaniel Ford, who with his brother-in-law, David Goff, was a Wagon master of 1844, settled at Rickreall in 1845.  In 1848 he built the first frame house north of California."

BIOGRAPHICAL (Source Statesman Journal 1 Jun 2004):
A Pioneer’s long legacy
By Capi Lynn

Nathaniel Ford was a surveyor, schoolteacher, flatboatman and sheriff before emigrating to Oregon.
The resourceful pioneer then added postmaster and state legislator to his résumé after settling in Polk County.
But he is perhaps most remembered for being a slaveholder.
Ford is buried in a secluded cemetery on private farm land a mile southwest of Rickreall.
Jim Musgrave stumbled upon the site, hidden among an oak grove, more than three decades ago when he was a student at what then was the Oregon College of Education in Monmouth. Musgrave wrote his senior paper about “The Negro in Oregon Before Statehood,” devoting several pages to Ford.
“He was the last person to legally own slaves in Oregon,” said Musgrave, who now lives in Lebanon.
Nathaniel Ford settled in Rickreall in 1845. At that time, it was called Dixie because of the Southern sentiment in the community.
Historical accounts state that Ford and his family brought a slave couple and their children along on the journey from Missouri to Oregon.
Some accounts indicate Ford promised the couple freedom upon arrival. Others suggest that they begged Ford to bring them along and no such promise was made.
The controversy ultimately had to be settled in court—Robin Holmes vs. Nathaniel Ford—with the slave couple eventually gaining custody of their children.
In the meantime, Ford treated Holmes and his family well. He built Robin and his wife, Polly, their own quarters and let them sell the produce they grew on his land.
Names of the Holmes children were recorded in the Ford family Bible. A framed copy of the one page hangs today in the Polk County Museum. The museum also has an exhibit on Ford with photographs, documents, and articles.
A copy of the wagon train manifest notes that Ford’s company contained 358 people. That included 55 married men with wives, 80 single men and 168 children. It also notes that the company had 54 wagons, 500 cattle, 60 horses and 28 mules.
Inside a glass case in the exhibit are kitchen items that belonged to his wife, Lucinda—a rolling pin, large wooden bowl and woven basket.
Nathaniel and Lucinda had two sons and eight daughters. Four of the children died before they came to Oregon.
The Fords settled on the shady banks of Rickreall Creek, with Nathaniel paying a squatter’s right of $25. He built a log cabin to get them by, then a few years later what was believed to be the first frame house north of California.
Ford helped start the first school in Polk County, was the first postmaster in Rickreall and served several terms in the state legislature.
“I think he is on of the most important men in Polk County history,” local historian Arlie Holt said.
Ford offered the use of one of the rooms in his log cabin for the county’s first school.
The Rickreall post office, established June 30, 1851, operated out of the second home ford built.
Years later, a great-granddaughter passed along stories about the post office to a reporter with the Oregon Journal. She said someone on horseback would deliver mail to the Ford house every two weeks.
Ford worked primarily as a surveyor in Oregon. He helped incoming pioneers locate land claims and was called upon to settle disputes. He also helped Jesse Applegate in surveying for the Applegate Trail.
Musgrave, in researching his senior paper in college, discovered that Ford and another man once had difficulty surveying a portion of the Oregon-Idaho border.
“As the story goes, they got so drunk that by the time they reached the Idaho border, they were six miles off,” he said.
Aside from that, Ford made many contributions to the history of Polk County and Oregon. He just happens to be most famous for bringing slaves to the state and getting embroiled in a lawsuit.
Nathaniel Ford
Jan. 9, 1870
74 Y's 1 M 26 D's
(shares marker with Lucinda)

Footstone: N.F. - L.D.F.
Branigar Survey
Saucy Survey & Photographs
1850 OR CENSUS (Polk Co., FA #113)
Polk County Pioneer Sketches
Historically Speaking, Vol. I, pg 24
SJ 1 Jun 2004

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