Oregon Donation Land Claim Act
Samuel Thurston (1816-1851) // ba019662; CN 020665
When white Oregonians formed a provisional government in 1843, settlers in Oregon Country could claim a full section of land—640 acres. But when Oregon became a territory five years later, Congress nullified the land grants. There was some doubt about the fortunes of the grantees until Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which allowed an adult white male to claim a half section of land for himself and, if he were married, another half section in his wife’s name. The Act was one of the first allowing women to hold property under their own name. The promise of additional land contributed to a steep, although temporary, increase in Oregon’s marriage rate.
The man largely responsible for the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act was the territory’s first delegate to Congress, Samuel Thurston. Thurston had arrived in Oregon in 1847 and settled in Hillsboro, where he practiced law. He joined the provisional government’s legislative assembly in 1848 and was elected as a congressional delegate the following year. Thurston’s bill attracted thousands of settlers to Oregon Territory. By the time the Act expired in 1855, over 7,000 land patents had been issued. Thurston did not live to see the success of his legislative efforts. He died in 1851.