John Gill Campbell – Traveler, Businessman and Designer of the “Beaver” Coin

John Gill Campbell appears to hold a distinction held by few others in the early days of Oregon – he traveled by all three routes to or from the Oregon Territory – The Oregon Trail, both traveling west and returning to the east; the sea route around Cape Horn then to Oregon via the Sandwich Islands; and the sea route to the west coast of Panama, crossing the Isthmus by the land route, then boarding a ship to the Northeast.

  • John Gill Campbell was born in Pennsylvania in 1817.
  • He traveled the Oregon Trail with General Fremont’s campaign in 1843.
  • He married Rothilda Elizabeth Buck, daughter of W. W. Buck of Oregon City, on July 25, 1846.

An excellent biography appeared in the Oregon City Enterprise and is reproduced below. The biography left out just a few facts about Campbell’s life:

  • 1) He joined the First Oregon Regiment, assembled in response to the Whitman Mission incident in December 1847.
  • 2) His work for Hudson’s Bay Company was with Archibald McKinlay at his store in Oregon City.
  • 3) He was a member of the Oregon Exchange Company, who minted the “Beaver” gold coins in Oregon City in 1849. William Rector, Campbell’s previous partner in a Tuality County farm, supervised the manufacturing of the first dies, and W.H. Wilson was the Assayer. James Gill Campbell was the coinage designer. Other members of the company were George Abernethy, William K. Kilborne, Theophilus Magruder, Noyes Smith and James Taylor. The $5.00 coin had two errors – T. O. instead of O. T. for Oregon Territory and in the “ribbon” of initials for the members of the Oregon Exchange Company, the “C” for Campbell turned into a “G”. The $10.00 coin engraved by Victor Wallace used O.T. for Oregon Territory and “C” for John Gill Campbell. He also left out initials for Abernethy and Wilson.


John Gill Campbell died in Oregon City on November 21, 1872. His wife Rothilda “Ruth” Elizabeth Buck Campbell died on July 21, 1894. They are buried in the Masonic Section of Mountain View Cemetery.

Oregon City Enterprise, December 6, 1872


Mr. John Gill Campbell was born in Philadelphia, March 26th, 1818, and was at the time of his death, aged 54 years, 9 months and 21 days. When quite a lad, his father moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he resided until the time of his father’s death, after which the family returned to Philadelphia. When he had completed his education at one of the best schools in Philadelphia, he took a trip to China, and was absent for upwards of two years. Shortly after his return he was married to a daughter of General Patterson of Philadelphia. She lived but two years after her marriage. Sad and lonely at her loss, he sought where to assuage his grief. Hearing about this time of General Fremont’s intention to cross the plains to the Pacific Coast, he joined his party and crossed the continent to Oregon in the year 1843. Together with a gentleman by the name of Ransom Clark, he took up a farm in Yamhill county; after they had brought the land considerably under cultivation and had gathered around them a large band of cattle; the Hudson Bay Co. discovering his qualifications as a business man, induced him to leave his farm, and enter their employ at Oregon City as head managing clerk. While engaged as their clerk, he also did all the business for Dr. John McLoughlin. On July 26, 1846 he married Ruth E., eldest daughter of Hon. W. W. Buck, of this city, who still survives him. Early in the year 1847 he heard of the death of an uncle in Philadelphia; this made it necessary for him to return home, which he did early in the Spring of the same year, crossing the plains. After transacting the business in connection with his uncle’s death, he returned to Oregon in a government vessel, by way of the Sandwich Islands; arriving here in the Spring of 1848. Having bought, while in Philadelphia, a stock of goods, he erected a store in Oregon City (now the residence of C. W. Pope, Esq.) and established himself in business, continuing therein until the winter of ’49 – ’50. Early in the Spring of 1850, in connection with business and induced in part by the ill health of his wife, he went East by the way of the Isthmus and traveled over nearly all of the States, returning to Oregon in the Fall of the same year. During his absence on this tour, through the mismanagement of his partner, he found nearly all his property squandered, and an assignment made before his return. Thus suddenly disappointed in all his worldly prospects, and reduced to very moderate circumstances, he found it difficult to resume his former position in business. From that time until his death, he was engaged in various callings in Oregon City. During the time of the Provisional Government, he was offered the Treasuryship, but declined. When, however, Mr. Ermatinger was elected, Mr. Campbell did the business. Also after the organization of the Territorial Government, he transacted all the financial business of the Territory under General Lane’s administration. At an early day he was well known by every settler in Oregon, and universally esteemed. Mr. Campbell’s education was quite liberal, and he was well read in both ancient and modern literature. He was possessed of all the high instincts of a true gentleman and showed the influence of his early training in all his after life. His whole life was marked by kindness and generosity. He could never see any one in distress or suffering without a heart full of sympathy and a hand outstretched for their relief. The early immigrants received every mark of attention from and were generously aided by him in every possible way. His purse was open for every charitable object, and he did much in the early history of this community to the support of religious worship. The clergy ever found his house open for their reception, and were always entertained by himself and his excellent wife, in the most courteous and hospitable manner. Mr. C. leaves a wife who has the sympathy of many friends. His funeral services were conducted by Rev. John W. Sellwood, in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Nov. 23rd, 1872, and was interred in the Masonic Cemetery, near Oregon City in accordance with the beautiful ritual of that Church.


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