The Astro-History of Portland, Oregon

The Astro-History of Portland, Oregon
by Gary Lorentzen

For all of us who live in this fair city and who are also interested in astrology, it is a perennial question as to the astrology of this place.  When I first moved here in 1990, I spent two months in the Oregon Historical Society library researching the founding of the city.  What a laborious process that was!  The record-keeping of the 1840s and 1850s in this area was woeful, indeed.  What I discovered is that each person who had a stake in the founding of the city gave different dates and times for the same events.  In the end, most historians have used Mr. Lovejoy’s personal journals to suggest Portland’s modest beginnings.  Mrs. Lovejoy, however, poo-pooed Mr Lovejoy’s recollection of events in an interview with the Oregonian in 1899.  She maintained he had a terrible memory and his personal journal entries regarding the founding of Portland were written some years after the events.  In short, Mr. Lovejoy’s account is suspect.

According to Mr. Lovejoy, it was the morning of November 9, 1843, when he and an acquaintance, Mr. Overton, were taking a canoe trip from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River around the peninsula and down the Willamette River to Oregon City, when they stopped at the place known as “The Clearing.” Overton noticed that the water was deep enough at that spot to accomodate large sailing ships.  Lovejoy and Overton thought perhaps they could file a claim on the land and start a town.  According to Lovejoy’s account they stopped at the Clearing “around mid-day.”

Mrs. Lovejoy’s version, and she was adamant about the time in the interview with Oregonian, gives the date exactly a year later, November 9, 1844.  She maintained that they hadn’t known Overton until he arrived in the summer of 1844.  In the same interview, Mrs. Lovejoy recounted the story of the coin toss and the friendly competition between her husband and Mr. Pettygrove, who had bought out Overton’s interest in the land claim.  Once Lovejoy and Pettygrove had filed the claim, they had an initial survey of the area done in the spring of 1845.  In the ‘summer’ of 1845, they were all having Sunday dinner in Oregon City, when the conversation once again turned to the name of the new settlement.  In the coin toss, Pettygrove, who was from Portland, Maine, won the toss and so the name of the new town became Portland.  Then sometime in August of 1845, the first sixteen square blocks of the city were surveyed and laid out. I found no historical record indicating the exact day. The problem with Mrs. Lovejoy’s account is it comes 55 or 56 years after the event. Mr. Lovejoy’s account, although also written some years later, was much closer in time to the event and he was actually there with Pettygrove.

The phrase ‘summer’ helps only a little in narrowing the possible days involved for the coin toss.  The first Sunday after the summer solstice was June 28th, then July 5th, July 12th and July 19th, July 26, and so on.   It is hard to know which of these Sundays was the historical date of the coin toss.  However, I looked at each Sunday that summer at possible dinner times, created a chart, progressed each one to three significant events in Portland’s history:   1) the great fire of August 2, 1873;  2) the arrival of the first transcontinental train, September 11, 1883, and 3) the Lewis and Clark Exposition which opened on June 1, 1905. I could not find a single time for a Sunday in the summer of 1845 that consistently works as a foundation chart.

The City of Portland, as a chartered, incorporated entity, was created by the Oregon Territorial Legislature just before the noon break on January 14, 1851 as House Bill #29 and the governor signed it on the morning of February 8, 1851.  The first municipal elections were held on April 7, 1851 and the first city council meeting took place on the evening of April 14, 1851.  The chart for House Bill #29 I put at 11:57am LMT in Salem on January 14, 1851. According to the State records, the governor signed the bill as one of the first items on his agenda for the day.  I put the time at 09:36am on February 8, 1851.

To recap the various data:

November 9, 1843, 12:02pm LMT, Portland OR. (Marc Penfield gives 12:33pm PST, which is 10 minutes later than LMT. The international time zones had not yet been created, however, and Lovejoy and Overton would have had time pieces set to Local Mean Time.) However, transits and progressions just don’t work with Penfield’s indicated time.  This is the date Mr. Lovejoy in his journal recounts stopping ‘at noon’ at the Clearing on the Willamette with Overton and discussing the possibility of starting a town there.

November 9, 1844, 12:00pm LMT, Portland OR.  This is the data given by Mrs. Asa Lovejoy in an interview with the Oregonian newspaper in 1899.  She maintains it could not have been in 1843, because Overton was not yet in the area then. I used the same ‘at noon’ time from Mr. Lovejoy’s account.

January 14, 1851, 11:57am LMT, Salem OR.  The Oregon Territorial Legislature passed House Bill #29 approving Portland’s petition for incorporation as a city.

February 8, 1851, 09:36am LMT, Salem OR.  The territorial governor signed House Bill #29 creating the City of Portland.

Now the question is, which set of data should be used as the foundation chart for Portland?  Marc Penfield uses November 9, 1843.  The official website of the City of Portland also uses the 1843 date, based on Asa Lovejoy’s journals.  I am inclined to use Mr. Lovejoy’s information and use the 1843 date, but just a couple minutes after noon.  Based on my research it is almost convincing.  As for the coin toss, it may just be part of the city’s mythos and not really usable as a foundation chart.

There’s no argument about the charts for the City of Portland.  Those are documented and it is very clear that the two charts are related when you look at the planetary positions and the ascendant and midheaven.  They are both valuable charts, but I am inclined to accept the February 8, 1851 chart as the foundation chart for the city government as a legal entity.  It was the moment in which the stroke of the Governor’s pen brought the city government into existence.

Examine the various charts and research their transits and progressions with important historical events.  Perhaps, if enough people do this, we can sometime in the future glean from the body of research the most likely moment in time Portland was founded.



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