Fort William was a fur-trading outpost built by American Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth in 1834 on the Wappatoo Island. By the time Wyeth established his outpost the island was void of any human habitation. Diseases that had swept through the lower Columbia wiped out nearly 90% of the native inhabitants. The post was built on the north end of the island, but annual flooding caused it to move toward the center of the island. Fort William was west of and on the opposite side of the river from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Vancouver which was established on the north side of the Columbia in 1822.
The following year, in 1835, the fort was the site of a murder and consequent first Euro-American trial in what is now the entire state of Oregon. The fort served as the backdrop to the first public trial by Europeans in Oregon. This situation occurred when the post’s gunsmith, Thomas J. Hubbard, attacked and killed the fort’s tailor in an argument over a young native girl. Wyeth’s friend and naturalist John Kirk Townsend who was appointed magistrate oversaw the case. A jury acquitted the gunsmith, Thomas Hubbard, when they ruled the death was justifiable homicide. This verdict was likely the result of evidence about the tailor’s alcohol induced rages.
After only a few years, in 1837, the post was leased to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Today no structure remains. The sign indicates where one of the original forts on Sauvie Island was located; however, the site is now on private land.