The Pig War

On June 15th, 1859 the incident known as the Pig War occurred on San Juan Island.  I’ll be writing more about it in another post, but suffice to say, there will be doings at the San Juan Island National Historical Park this summer for the 150th anniversary.

The “English Encampment” is one of them. Sat Morning Meeting 3 An annual event for the past 12 + years, it is very dear to my heart for the friends and history that I have learned there.  I’ll be returning as Miss Lydia to run my Academy on July 24thFather Ted and all the fixings through 26th with about 80 other enactors. Miss Lydia's Academy

Memory Day

Just a quick post. It’s beautiful out and I want to work in the garden before it gets too hot for we northwesterners. And I want to write.

But I am thinking of vets today, including my late husband who served in Vietnam and my great grandfather who was a surgeon in the Civil War.  For many, this could be a painful time. My husband never wanted to talk about his experiences except for a brief time when we first met. For others, like my great grandfather, he did want to remember.  He went all over the west and to the east coast at GAR encampments, returning for even the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg where he was captured by the rebs for a few days and set up a surgery in a church and treated everyone.

On this day of memorial, of memory, I’ll be thinking of both  men and how deeply they affected me: my true love for his opening up my eyes to many things and broadening my love of nature all those years following him on fishing trails and streams and to WF Osborn, whose Civil War journals inspired me at a young age to turn to history and seek out the ordinary, not so famous people who lived through it.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Hot off the Press, 1851, that is.

For the past few months I’ve been up to my eyeballs with the Daily Alta California, a newspaper started in San Francisco in 1849 and the state’s first daily.  Using microfilm on loan from the state library down in California, it has been both a monotonous and rewarding experience as I search for the bark Ann Parry in her new digs on the West Coast after an illustrious (and not so) life as a merchant ship and whaler. (See earlier post).

Reading this newspaper from the Gold Rush’s first pangs to the downright dangerous and tumultuous times of San Francisco streets, I not only see the history of the city and state unfold, but that of Puget Sound in Washington State as well. Two terrible fires in May and June of 1851 pretty much sent ships north into Puget Sound to get lumber and pilings to rebuild the Gold Rush town.

The dangers of the bar at the Columbia River were well known.  Local settlements such as Olympia and at Penn’s Cove in present day Washington encouraged ships to go further up the coast and into the sound.  Their successful return to San Francisco helped to create Seattle, Port Washington, Steilacoom, Fire of May 3 1851 headlinePort Washington, Port Madison, Duwamps Bay and New York, some names now gone.

Further checking the timeline of this event, I discovered that only three days before a strong earthquake also hit the town.  Fires and earthquakes seem to be the stuff of San Francisco history from its beginnings, but these fires stirred up the drive to develop resources in the region that would soon become Washington Territory.

The Ann Parry: Talking and Writing about History

For the past two years, I’ve been involved in research on the Ann Parry, a 19th century bark that had quite the career. Built in 1825 in Portsmouth NH, she was first for the trades between that town and the Atlantic, then off as a whaler all over the Pacific. She ended up on the West Coast for the Gold Rush where she lived out the rest of her  40 year life in the coastal trade between San Francisco and Puget Sound.

In about two weeks I’ll be giving a major talk on her life and adventures and her role here in the NW.  It has been a labor of love, requiring a trip to New England to see her original journals and records, reading old newspapers (1849-1855) from San Francisco, and gathering her shipping articles and registration from around the county.  In following her, I have learned more about the history of Puget Sound and our ties to San Francisco and that town’s ties to the great shipbuilders of Portsmouth, Salem and Boston.  That New England connection is in the Chinook Jargon word for American- Boston. I hope to write about her and publish.

img_0635Last year, maritime artist Steve Mayo, painted a picture of the Ann Parry arriving on Bellingham Bay July 1858 to deliver bricks for the oldest brick building in the state of Washington. Proceeds from the sale of the original painting and prints will help support the restoration of said building. People interested in the painting can contact Rick Tremaine at (360) 734-7381 to order.

History Map on-line

All places have secrets or stories to tell. How they got settled. Why they went away. Who was there first.

I have been researching the “Lost Cities of Skagit County.”  The county is located in Western Washington, about 50 miles north of Seattle. It’s uncommonly beautiful with hills and flats, rivers and creeks flowing to the Sound and majestic mountains to the east, many in snow year round. Its history goes back nearly 12,000 years with the ancestors of the present day Coast Salish peoples. Recent arrivals started appearing in earnest around 200 years ago.

Last year, the Skagit County Historical Museum mounted a popular exhibit called The Lost Cities of Skagit County.  Some 17 long- forgotten communities were highlighted with photographs and artifacts. The show was very popular with the public asking for more.

To help teachers and folks curious about the history of early white settlement in the county , I researched an additional 100 settlements and with a lot of help from friends in the county IT, saw the launching of  a history GIS map last Monday.  It can be seen at http://skagitcounty.net/museum.   Click on the map icon on the front page to enter, then click on a place on the map and a photograph and text will come up. Follow the instructions to play with it.  Explorer is needed. Have fun. Anyone find Hoogdahl?

Finding History in the Corners

I got in to history because of my great grandfather William F. Osborn’s Civil War journals. He was an assistant surgeon with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and was, for a few days, a prisoner under Confederate guard during the Battle of Gettysburg. My grandfather, his son, transcribed them sometimes in the 1940s and 50s. But I got to hold the real ones when I was seven.

Not long ago, I studied the journals more closely and discovered a wealth of information written on the end papers and sometimes upside down in the corners. A good historian always looked closer. In one journal from 1864 he laid out the order of how the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers lined up in the end papers of the front. Being a civilian in life before the war, he had to figure it out.

Right of Reg D. I. E. C. A. K. H. B. F. G. Left of Reg.

On the end papers on the back, he wrote down the officers with each company.

They were:

A Noble Capt Amstrong 1st Lieu

B Haines capt Stran Phillips

C Cap Shawl 1 L 2

D Capt Overmine (?) 1st L Hall 2 More

E Piper Hammond Briggs

F Chalfant Anderson McCutchin

Perhaps someone out there recognizes the names. Historical research is like peeling an onion or better a collection of dots that eventually connect

.

Busy Hands

Part of writing about lives past is understanding the things people used in that time period. I’ve been very fortunate to come from a tradition where women passed their sewing tools and projects down through the centuries. My great-grandmother Martha Margaret March, affectionately known as Bongie in my family, was born in 1850. When she was ten, she watched Abraham Lincoln go on his way to his inauguration in 1861. Not long after her family moved to Kansas. Her parents were Quakers.

She has written about her experiences as a young girl and later, but nothing means more to me than to have the tools that she used to quilt, sew and darn. Such riches are more powerful than gold and they help me when I create a character from her timeline to understand the craftiness and creativity that women’s hands did and still do.

Historic Plumbing Part II

porta-potty2I’m now a week into the portable outhouse in my backyard as I work getting the sewer pipes replaced. Using it brings back memories of YWCA camp in the Pennsylvania woods with wolf spiders in the corner and a black snake that liked to sun himself at 1:00 PM in path to the john.

It also reminds me of the wonderful language resource I have used for years in researching my historic novels: I HEAR AMERICAN TALKING, An Illustrated Treasury of America Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner. Now out of print, it is a wonderful study of American words and sayings, showing when they first came into use in America and their origins. This information is especially important in historic novels. Word usage from the wrong period can really bump a reader.

Under the title chapter of “WHERE’s THE BATHROOM? Flexner explains the beginnings of usage around bathrooms and outhouses. For example, when the first outhouses appeared in the colonial days, lower class and rural colonists called their outhouses a privy, privy house or outhouse. The more aristocratic or cosmopolitan person used different words such as house of office, “a necessary house or simply the necessary. If behind a house, it might be called a backhouse; if earth were used to cover the excrement it might be called the earth house.” (Flexner p. 18)

Flexner also points out the origin of the half moon on outhouses. The half moon originally meant it was an outhouse for women. The sun indicated that the outhouse was for men. These are old medieval symbols.

Chamber pots for inside usage are another matter. Here in the Northwest, they were often referred to as “thunder mugs.” I won’t go any further than that. Cousin John or Jake were used by men for both the privy or chamber pot as early as 1530 according to Flexner. The word john has survived to this day.

My blue outhouse/privy does NOT have a sun or moon, but it does its duty. I’ll be happy when it’s gone.

Historic plumbing

1914_bmc062

My house is 105 years and I’m having a fatal breakdown with the sewer line. It must be 80 or 90 years old.  I know this because in 1913, a photographer, I think Sanderson, flew over Sehome Hill in a balloon and took a picture of the neighborhood. Going up the alley past all the house there were white outhouses. Historically speaking, my pipes must have gone in the 1920s.

Plumbing has been around for a long time. Here in the Northwest early communities hollowed out logs or cut them in half , shaped them inside and put the halves back together again with wire. In some houses in mid-19th century, lead pipes were known to be used.

Now if I could get my plumbing solved, I wouldn’t feel like such a relic.

A Good Resource for Washington State History

Historylink logo

I write both fiction and non-fiction. Three of my novels take place in the Pacific Northwest in three different time periods: mid-19th century, 1906 and 1935. Each story has its own culture, technology, politics and media. My characters deal with the time they live in.

One novel, Mist-shi-mus, deals with the issue of smallpox in 1860. There are a number of fine written resources on this deadly disease and its devastating effects on communities during the 19th century. Many are available in public libraries or through inter-library programs.

For quick reference on anything about the history of Washington State, however, you can’t beat HistoryLink, the “on-line encyclopedia of Washington.” The first of its kind in the country, this resource is written by historians from around the state and is free. It currently posts 5188 “time essays” and thumbnails. Each piece is carefully researched with its sources cited at the bottom of the page. The organization takes great pride in stating exactly where what archive box that letter came from or who said what.

For an excellent essay on small pox go to http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5100

I write for HistoryLink and have enjoyed the search for interesting stories from many different communities in Western Washington. Some of my favorites are:

1) US Lumber vs the Snohomish County Commissioners (some clever folks wanted Darrington to be wet when the state was going dry) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8660

2) Shingle bolt cutters suing a local lumber mill over back wages. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8471

Both came from court cases buried at the NW Regional State Archives.

I also enjoy writing about the CCC. Check out this essay about Camp Skagit. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5657

HistoryLink can be reached at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm .