Guide to the David Thompson Papers

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Overview of the Collection

Creator: Thompson, David, 1770-1857.
Title: David Thompson papers
Dates: 1806-1845 ( inclusive )
Quantity: .5 cubic feet (1 document case, 1 reel microfilm)
Collection Number: Mss 998
Summary: Photostat copies and microfilm of the journals, observations, Indian vocabularies, notes, and other writings of David Thompson, a British explorer of northwestern North America.
Repository: Oregon Historical Society, Davies Family Research Library
Contact Information: Davies Family Research Library
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
Languages: Materials are in English and in various Native American languages. 
Sponsor: Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical Note

English explorer, trader, and geographer David Thompson (1770-1857) was born in London and educated at the Grey Coat School, Christ's Hospital School, and at Oxford University. While still in his teens he came to Canada as an apprentice with the Hudson's Bay Company, but left in 1797 to become a partner in the North West Company. His extensive explorations of western Canada included the discovery of the source of the Columbia River in 1807, and he surveyed the entire river in 1811. He established trading posts throughout the Pacific north west, including ones on the Kootenai, Pend Oreille, and Spokane Rivers. In his later years he created a comprehensive map of the northern United States and Canada, based on the surveys he and others had completed. From 1816 to 1826 he headed the British commission that established the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. His old age was marred by poverty, and his work was largely forgotten until the posthumous publication of his writings in the early 1900s.

Content Description

The collection contains Photostat copies and microfilm of selections from Thompson's journals, notebooks, and other writings. Included are his journals, 1806-1812; observations, 1807-1809; courses and distances, 1808-1812; "Saleesh and Kullyspele [sic] vocabulary"; Mandan vocabulary; and report of experiences in the west, written in 1845. The microfilm contains Thompson's journal, 1807; account of trade of the North West Company, 1809; and remarks on the country west of the Rocky Mountains, 1813.

Use of the Collection

Restrictions on Access :  

The collection is open to the public.

Restrictions on Use :  

The Oregon Historical Society is the owner of the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the Research Library before any publication use. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.

Preferred Citation :  

David Thompson papers, Mss998, Oregon Historical Society Research Library

Administrative Information

Arrangement :

The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series A: Journals, 1806-1812
  • Series B: Observations and other writings, 1807-1845
  • Series C: Microfilmed records, 1807-1813

Acquisition Information :  

Origin of the collection is unknown.

Bibliography :  
  • Dictionary of American biography (New York : Scribner's, 1936), v. XVIII, p. 455.
Related Materials :  

David Thompson, Columbia journals (Montreal ; Buffalo : McGill-Queen's University Press, c1994)

Location of Originals :  

Originals located at the Archives of Ontario, Canada; the Royal Geographic Society, London, U.K.; and at the Royal Commonwealth Society, U.K.

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series A:  Journals, 1806-1812
1 1806 December 13-1807 July 26
2 1807 July 24-1808 February 8
3 1808 February 4-April 10
4 1808 April 20-June 8
5 1808 August 4-1809 September 26
6 1809 September 27-1810 July 22
7 "Journey from the Boggy Hole in the Saskachewan [sic] to the Athabasca River" 1810 October 29-1811 June 3
8 Journal and notes on furs, canoes, Indian 1811 July 3-1812 April 28
9 Journal, navigation of Athabasca River 1812 April 29-June 26

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Series B:  Observations and other writings, 1807-1845
10 Courses and distances 1807; 1808 April 20-May 7
11 Courses and distances on the Columbia River circa 1808-1812
12 Courses and distances 1810; 1812
13 Courses and distances, Columbia River 1811 April 17-May 9
14 Courses and distances 1811 July 3-September 22
15 Observations 1807-1809
16 Mandan vocabulary undated
17 Salish and Kalispel vocabulary undated
18 "Report on experiences in the west" with some unidentified sheets 1812; 1845

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Series C:  Microfilmed records, 1807-1813
1 Journal 1807 May 10-September 22
2 Account of trade of North West Company 1809
3 Remarks on the country west of the Rockies 1813

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The collection is indexed under the following headings in the online catalog. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings:

  • Personal Names :
  • Thompson, David, 1770-1857--Diaries.  ( creator)
  • Corporate Names :
  • North West Company.
  • Geographical Names :
  • Columbia River--Description and travel.
  • Columbia River--Discovery and exploration.
  • Northwest, Canadian--Description and travel.
  • Northwest, Canadian--Discovery and exploration.
  • Northwest, Pacific--Description and travel.
  • Northwest, Pacific--Discovery and exploration.
  • Subject Terms :
  • Fur trade--Northwest, Canadian--History.
  • Fur trade--Northwest, Pacific--History.
  • Indians of North America--Languages--Glossaries, vocabularies, etc.
  • Kalispel Indians.
  • Mandan Indians.
  • Salish Indians.
    • Form or Genre Terms :
    • Diaries.
    • Notebooks.

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