NESMITH, James Willis (1820-1885)

NESMITH, JAMES WILLIS, (cousin of Joseph Gardner Wilson & grandfather of Clifton Nesmith McArthur), a Senator and a Representative from Oregon; born in New Brunswick, Canada, while his parents were on a visit from their home in Washington County, Maine, July 23, 1820; moved with his father to Claremont, N.H., about 1828; received a limited schooling; moved to Ohio in 1838 and Oregon in 1843; studied law; admitted to the bar but never practiced extensively; engaged in agricultural pursuits and stock raising; elected judge of the provisional government of Oregon in 1845; captain in 1848 and 1853 of expeditions against hostile Indians; United States marshal for Oregon 1853-1855; superintendent of Indian affairs for Oregon and Washington Territories 1857-1859; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1861, to March 3, 1867; unsuccessful candidate for reelection; appointed Minister to Austria, but his nomination was not confirmed; served as road supervisor of Polk County 1868; elected as a Democrat to the Forty-third Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Joseph G. Wilson and served from December 1, 1873, to March 3, 1875; did not seek renomination in 1874 to the Forty-fourth Congress; died in Rickreall, Oreg., June 17, 1885; interment in Polk County, Oreg., on the south bank of Rickreall Creek.

Oregon Historical Society
Portland, OR
Papers: 1845-1885. 2 feet. Correspondence, reports, speeches, Oregon voter list (1860), business records, family letters, and genealogical material. Includes political correspondence that reflects the pre-Civil War crisis in the Democratic party. Finding aid.
Additional Papers: Letters to Nesmith concerning Methodist Mission, Oregon Milling Co., and personal and political affairs in George Abernethy letters, 1840-1861; correspondence in William Lair Hill papers, 1846-1925; John Webster Perit Huntington papers, 1863-1869; Joseph Lane papers, 1848-1859; and Benjamin Stark papers, 1835-1890. Finding aid.

Oregon State Archives
Salem, OR
Papers: Miscellaneous items in the Territorial Government records, 1845-1858.

Pierpont Morgan Library
New York, NY
Papers: 1865. 1 item.

University of Oregon
Eugene, OR
Papers: 1867-1871. 2 items. 1 account book and 1 rental agreement (1865).
Additional Papers: Congressional correspondence in the Medorem Crawford papers, 1842-1891; and correspondence to Nesmith concerning administrative, political, and business affairs in Joel Palmer papers, 1851-1879, primarily official records of Oregon Superintendency of Indian Affairs.

University of Virginia
Alderman Library
Charlottesville, VA
Papers: Correspondence in the Barbour family papers, 1672-1930.

University of Washington Libraries
Manuscripts and University Archives
Seattle, WA
Papers: Corrrespondence in the Bion Freeman Kendall papers, 1812-1870 (bulk 1860-1862), Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington Territory; and Isaac Ingalls Stevens papers, 1835-1862, includes microfilm of original material at Yale University and National Archives. Finding aid.

  • Nesmith, James Willis. Two Addresses. Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1978.
  • Owen, Homer L. "Nesmith: Pioneer Judge, Legislator, Farmer, Soldier, Senator and Congressman." Reed College Bulletin 24 (June 1950): 139-176.