William Pope McArthur

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William Pope McArthur
Born 2 April 1814
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
Died 23 December 1850
At sea
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1832 - 1850
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Unit U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
Commands held USS Consort
US survey schooner Ewing
Battles/wars Second Seminole War

William Pope McArthur (2 April 1814 – 23 December 1850) was an American naval officer and hydrologist who was involved in the first surveys of the Pacific Coast for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Early life[edit]

McArthur was born in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri to John and Mary Linn McArthur. McArthur's uncle, Dr. Lewis F. Linn was U.S. Senator for Missouri. At Linn's request McArthur was appointed Midshipman in the U.S. Navy on 11 February 1832. In 1837 he attended the Naval School at Norfolk, Virginia.

During the Second Seminole War (1837–1838) he was promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant and placed in command of a small craft. Among the passengers was future American Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston who accompanied the vessel as a civilian topographical engineer.[1]

McArthur was wounded in both legs at Jupiter, Florida. While one musket ball was pulled from one leg, the ball remained in the other leg.

He was sent to the Naval Hospital in Norfolk where he was to court and marry the Mary Stone Young, the daughter of the Superintendent of the Hospital. Among their children is Lewis Linn McArthur, an Oregon Supreme Court Justice.

In 1840 he began a survey of the Gulf Of Mexico aboard the brig Consort.

Survey of the Pacific Coast[edit]

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

On 27 October 1848 A.D. Bache, Superintendent U.S. Coast Survey, instructed him to go to San Francisco, California to begin "the survey of the Western Coast of the United States."[1]

After sailing from New York McArthur was delayed in Panama by the influx of settlers in the California Gold Rush. In Panama, McArthur was asked to captain a former coal storage ship to San Francisco.[1] The von Humboldt left Panama on 21 May 1849 and took 102 days to arrive at San Francisco, the first 46 of which were spent getting to the Mexican port of Acapulco.[1] Among the four hundred passengers on von Humboldt were Collis P. Huntington, the future president of the Southern Pacific Railroad and San Francisco Society portrait painter Stephen W. Shaw.

In September 1849, Lieutenant Commander McArthur was placed in command of the US survey schooner Ewing. The survey faced huge problems including a mutiny when crew members rowing into the city from the Ewing threw an officer overboard in an attempt to desert to flee to the gold fields.[2]

Faced with rainy weather in the early survey of Mare Island he wintered in Hawaii meeting the Hawaiian monarch King Kamehameha III[1] and returned to San Francisco in the spring of 1850 with the coastal survey beginning of northern California on 1850-04-03 and continued up to the mouth of the Columbia River.

He returned to San Francisco in September.

Cape Disappointment and Cape Flattery Lighthouses[edit]

In 1848 Congress had appropriated funds for two lighthouses in the act creating the Oregon Territory. McArthur was to recommend placing one at Cape Disappointment on the Columbia and one at Cape Flattery at the entrance to Puget Sound. In his report McArthur wrote:

The greatly increasing commerce of Oregon demands that these improvements be made immediately… Within the last eighteen months more vessels have crossed the Columbia river bar than had crossed it, perhaps, in all time past.[3]

Oregon Territory[edit]

McArthur and some of his ship mates were quite taken with Oregon and the Willamette Valley, he wrote:

The climate is agreeable and healthy. The water is not inferior to any in the world. The face of the country is too uneven to permit as general cultivation, still it will and must soon become a great agricultural and stock growing country. The scenery is beautiful and in some places and some points of view the grandest that the eye ever beheld.

Lieutenant Blunt who accompanied him on the expedition even made a land claim on behalf of himself, McArthur and another shipmate Lieutenant Bartlett. McArthur's uncle, Senator Linn, along with Senator Thomas Hart Benton, had been an advocate of American expansion in the West.[1][4]


McArthur was not to survive the voyage; he became ill with dysentery and died. First buried in Panama, his body was later disinterred and he was reburied on Mare Island, California.[1]

Ships and Placenames[edit]

McArthur's name is applied to several ships and placenames.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g McArthur, Lewis Pacific Coast Survey of 1849 and 1850 Private history 1915 NOAA.gov retrieved 2007-12-26
  2. ^ Gudde, Dr. Erwin G.Mutiny on the Ewing The JOURNAL, Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1951-12-01, Number 4 retrieved 2008-01-02
  3. ^ Hannable. William Historylink.org 2003-12-06 retrieved 2008-01-02
  4. ^ Schwantes, Carlos Arnaldo The Pacific Northwest - An Interpretive History University of Nebraska Press 1989 1996 Rev. and enl. ed. p. 92 ISBN 0-8032-9228-7