Calif. Families Lewelling Henderson Contact

Henderson & Seth Lewelling


Henderson Lewelling
Born23 Apr. 1809Randolph Co., NC
Moved1820-25Henry Co., Indiana
Marriedc. 1830 Henry Co., Indiana
Movedc. 1837Salem, Iowa
Moved1847Milwaukie, Oregon
Death1883Oakland, CA
Seth Lewelling
Born6 Mar 1820Randolph Co., NC
Moved1820-25Henry Co., Indiana
Marriedc. 1830 Henry Co., Indiana
Movedc. 1837Salem, Iowa
Moved1847Milwaukie, Oregon
Death?Oakland, CA

Henderson and his brother, Seth, were the first people to plant fruit trees in Iowa and were pioneering nurserymen in Oregon and Calif. In 1837 they planted 35 varieties of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums, and small fruits. Ten years after arriving in Salem, Lewelling moved to Oregon and established a new nursery with 350 plants that had survived the long journey--the first grafted nursery stock planted on the Pacific Coast. Lewelling's brother, Sewth, joined him in 1850 and was responsible for propagating the Bing cherry. (The bing accounts for 2/3 of cherry sales today.) In 1851 he established branch nurseries in Salem and Albany. In 1853, taking advantage of the Gold Rush, Lewelling moved to California, established a nursery and founded the community of Fruitvale in Oakland. Today, Lewelling is known as the Father of the Pacific Fruit Industry. His activities in Salem, Iowa, also make him an important figure in the Underground Railroad movement. (Source: Article about his Salem IA, House at the National Park Svc. ParkNet.)

Henderson Lewelling was sixteen years of age when he arrived in Indiana with his family. He assisted on his father's farm and in the nursery for several years. On December 30,1830, at the age of 22, he married Miss Elizabeth Presnell, who came from North Carolina and was also a Quaker. He established a home of his own and in 1835 he and his brother John, who owned adjoining land, went into the nursery business together. Shortly after this the brothers heard glowing accounts of the Black Hawk Purchase in Iowa. Ever alert for something better, Henderson Lewelling determined to move to Iowa. This change was made in 1837 and he and his brother John secured land near the new town of Salem and opened up a nursery there.

After the coming of Henderson and John Lewelling to Iowa, other members of the family followed. An older brother, William, settled in Salem and engaged in teaching. He was a preacher among the Quakers and a public speaker of great merit. A nephew, Jehu Lewelling, and a niece, Jane Lewelling Votaw, also came to Salem. Jehu was a Baptist minister, and Jane Votaw was a preacher for the Quakers.

The Lewellings became opponents of the institution of slavery, as were many members of the Society of Friends. The controlling body of the church was too indifferent to the demands of the anti-slavery element, and a separation in the church took place, caused by the difference of views on the attitude which the church should adopt on the slavery question. The new branch of the church was called the Anti-slavery Friends. The Lewellings were prominent leaders of this group. A branch of the new church was established in Salem, and Henderson Lewelling sat as head of the meeting.

Source: The Lewelling Family--Pioneers by O.A. Garretson

Account of journey from Iowa to Oregon:
Henderson is also famous for bringing a wagon full of tree seedlings on the trip to Oregon.

In her article "Prospecting for Genealogical Gold Out West" at, Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG, relates:
"A 1922 interview with William T. Toney, age ninety-five, who traveled across the plains when he was only twenty-two. Toney tells the story of Henderson Luelling whom everyone thought was some kind of fool for bringing his traveling nursery across the Plains. Luelling, says Toney, built two long, narrow boxes that fit into the bed of his wagon, filled each with charcoal, manure, and earth and planted apples, pears, plums, cherries, quinces, grapes, and other fruits in them. Luelling watered his plants night and morning. In spite of everyone's advice that he would never get them across the Plains, Luelling got the plants and trees to The Dalles, Oregon, where he took them out of their boxes, wrapped them carefully, and took them to the Columbia River to start a nursery. Ultimately Luelling's fruit trees became the parent stock of most of the orchards in Oregon's Willamette Valley."

His encounter with Indians during their trip from Iowa to Oregon is depicted on a mural in Milwaukie.

Aaccording to oral history Indians set out to attack them, and showed up on horses with war paint, but on seeing the wagon full of trees backed off. They left and came back, without war paint, in canoes and helped them with a dangerous river crossing.

In an article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly (2.) it says:
"Eliza Luelling, one of Henderson's daughters, later related that a Christian Indian told her father that the nursery saved the lives of the family when they camped near a large band of Indians: 'He said that the Indians believed that the Great Spirit lived in trees and seeing a man crossing the wilderness with a wagonload of them, they thought that he must be under the special care of the Great Spirit, and so they did not harm him'"

Tree Wagon In the children's book "Tree Wagon", Evelyn Sybley Lampman describes Henderson's explanation on page 166 as follows:

"I know why we haven't had any trouble with Indians. It's because of the tree wagon. They believe that spirits live in trees. And since we have this wagonload of trees, each one with its own special spirit inside, we have special protection. When that war party came at us this morning - and it was a war party - they thought they'd insulted the spirits in the trees. The only way they could make it up to them was by helping us on our way."

Later on Indians take Mrs. Lewelling, who was pregnant, part way down the river in a canoe, because the bumpy wagon ride was making her sick.

According to the book, Lewelling met Dr. Whitman along the way. Presbyterian lay physician Dr. Marcus Whitman, had been chosen to lead one of the early missions established in Oregon. Whitman's mission was among the comparatively warlike Cayuse Indians. They tried to teach the Indians to use grist mills but could not convince them to become farmers. On November 29, 1847, the Whitman Mission was attacked by Cayuse Indians. Mr. and Mrs. Whitman and 14 others were killed. Measles is thought to have been at the root of the violence: there had been an epidemic among the Cayuse, and rumors spread that the Whitmans were trying to poison them.

It was rumored that these were the same Indians who had helped the Lewellings. According to some, these two stories got put together into a story that Indians attacked the wagon train and were killing people, but saved the Lewellings when they saw the tree wagon.


  • "Tree Wagon", a childrens book by Evelyn Sybley Lampman is an account of this.
  • "The Journey with Henderson Luelling", Pome News, Winter 1994, by Larry McGraw
  • "Migrations: Henderson Luelling and the Cultivated Apple, 1822-1854", David Diamond's PhD Thesis.

His house in Salem, IA is open to the public.

He is listed in Notable Iowa Persons.
See Also:
The Lewelling Family--Pioneers at The Iowa History Project
Million-Dollar Wagon
1. "The Royal Memory of Mr. Lewelling", a newspaper article (Prob. Sacramento Bee)
2. "Henderson Luelling, Sewth Lewelling and the Birth of the Pacific Coast Fruit Industry", Oregon Historical Quarterly, V. 68, no. 2 (June 1967)
Cherry City at
History of Fruit Growing in Oregon
History of Fruit Growing in the Pacific Northwest Henderson Luelling and Seth Lewelling
Fruit Genetics and Breeding at U. Wisc.,
Des Moines Register Article,
Dimond Park/Fruitvale History at Friends of Sausal Creek Page.
The Lewelling Family--Pioneers by O.A. Garretson

Other Genealogy pages:
Charlotte Powell's database at roots web
Steve Harrison's database at roots web
Henderson Lewelling Page at FamilySearch

Return to the Lewelling Familiy Page.

last updated 2 July 2007