When people talk about the founders of Forest Grove, the names Harvey Clark, Tabitha Brown, and Joseph Gale are spoken with consistency, but the name Alvin Smith does not surface as much. With this series of articles, I hope to help you learn how Alvin and those connected to him helped create this great city we live in.
In order to get a picture of who Alvin was, I’ll tell give you a brief story of his life. Alvin Thompson Smith was born November 17, 1802, in Branford, New Haven County, Connecticut. Just two months later in American history, President Thomas Jefferson sent a secret letter to Congress asking for money to fund an expedition to the Pacific Coast. He contacted Meriwether Lewis to lead the expedition and Congress appropriated the funds February 28, 1803. Although both Lewis and Clark passed away before Alvin arrived on the Tualatin Plains late September 1841, some might think they could have had a common link, one that sent them on a journey to find new land for future settlements.
Alvin spent his childhood in Branford on his father’s farm, later learning the carpenter trade. He was one of 11 children, with his ancestry leading back to Captain Thomas Smith, born 1634, probably in England. In his youth he was deeply involved in religion and his devotion throughout his adult life earned him the nickname of Alvin ‘God Almighty’” Smith.
“Mr. Smith was a very stern man, keeping the Sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday and woe betide anyone who did not do likewise. He was a tall, lanky, and angular New England Yankee with very bow legs. He was called “God Almighty” by the Indians who had often heard him pray to “God Almighty.” And what caught my youthful eye – two little braids of hair tied at the ends with thread over the bald head – but under his stern exterior was a kind heart, for him and Mrs. [Jane] Smith took into their home several girls whom they brought up and were always ready to help in church and school.” — Margaret (Dolly) Hinman
At the age of 25, Alvin left Branford and moved to Fairfield (currently named Mendon) near Quincy, Illinois, where he farmed with his brother Caleb and also worked as a carpenter. His aptitude in carpentry would be an asset to those who settled in the Tualatin Plains because of his generosity of helping those in need of shelter once they had arrived here. Alvin became a member of the Quincy Congregational Church September 1838, which was associated with the Oberlin Missionary Society, who believed the souls of the Indians in the West needed saving. These beliefs would lead Alvin to join ranks with Philo and Adelaide Littlejohn, John Smith Griffin and his wife Desire, and Harvey and Emeline Clark. (As you can see all the above men had wives which left Alvin looking for a spouse before he too could make the journey.) There are notations in his diary of the “contract” he made with Abigail Raymond, nine years his senior, to be his wife.
One of the most amazing attributes of Alvin was his discipline in making entries in his diary every day. It has been said that his diary had one of the most thorough and complete descriptions of the times he lived in as well as documentation of the journey to Oregon. One such entry was made February 12, 1840: “Talked some about going over the rocky mountains.” After many thoughts and lots of praying for a few days, his next entry was “Went to collect means to go over the Mt.” Alvin had made his mind up that he was going to leave and make his way to the Oregon Country.
In the next quarterly issue of the Friend-ly Gazette, I’ll tell you how he met Abigail, their journey, and their arrival in the Tualatin Plains, which we now call the city of Forest Grove.