A MARCH 15, 1900, Morning Leader article, filed in the Jefferson County Historical Society Research Center Obituary notebook, is titled “Two Beechers Pass Away.”
The article notes the deaths of Mary Foote Beecher Perkins, 94, and her half brother Rev. Thomas K. Beecher of Elmira, N.Y., 81, who both died March 14, 1900.
A chance sighting of this article, on a page copied while researching for another Back When column, posed the question of why it had been included in the collection of local obituaries.
Both of these Beechers were listed as children of Rev. Lyman Beecher and siblings of the nationally renowned evangelist and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The Beechers were a prominent New England family, but no local relatives were listed in the Leader article.
A brief online search on the 13 children of Lyman Beecher did not list any Pacific Northwest connections.
A recent return to the obituary notebook index looking for any “Beecher” obituaries resolved the mystery.
The first PT Beecher
Capt. Herbert Foote Beecher resided in Port Townsend for several decades between 1880 and 1910.
Herbert was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 22, 1854.
He was the youngest of the 10 children of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and Eunice White Bullard Beecher.
Herbert was educated at The Gunnery in Whitehill, Conn., Round Hill Seminary in Northhampton, Mass., and entered Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., in 1872.
Ill health forced him to leave Amherst during his sophomore year.
He later studied medicine at the Long Island College Hospital in New York City but, as his biographer in the 1893 “History of Washington” put it, “… decided his sensibilities were too keen to carry surgery to success.”
Herbert then became interested in yachting on the Hudson River and Long Island Sound.
He decided to pursue navigation as a profession and gained employment with the Norwich Line, a steamer company, working at first as a deck hand, but becoming a captain before leaving the company after four years.
Herbert moved to California in 1878 as one of five men who leased a 400,000 acre ranch upon which to raise sheep and cattle.
But Herbert did not find herding sheep in the dust of a drought time in California any more pleasing to him than surgery.
By the fall of 1879, Herbert had found employment with the Oregon Navigation Co. as a freight clerk and purser on the steamship Oregon, which ran between Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
The company then sent him to The Dalles, Ore., to supervise the unloading of boats onto railroad cars.
About a year later, Herbert became a captain on the Oregon Navigation Co. steamers running to Puget Sound.
In June of 1883, he purchased the steamer Evangel and acquired the mail route running from Port Townsend through the San Juan Islands.
He sailed that route until July 1, 1885.
Then, at age 31, Herbert was appointed to the office of Collector of Customs for the District of Puget Sound by President Grover Cleveland.
The appointment was perhaps Cleveland’s repayment of a favor to Henry Ward Beecher for his generous support of his presidential election campaign.
The appointment was a recess appointment, subject to later Senate approval.
At the time of Herbert’s appointment, his former hometown newspaper, The Brooklyn Eagle, wrote: “He is spoken of as a young man of excellent ability and character.”
Herbert took his job as customs collector seriously.
He immediately began a campaign against the smuggling of opium and Chinese people from British Columbian ports into the United States.
James McCurdy, in “By Juan de Fuca’s Strait,” wrote: “This illicit traffic had reached enormous proportions. The customs officials seemed powerless to cope with the evil.
“The old Revenue Cutter Oliver Wolcott … was proverbially slow and brought but few offenders to justice.
“The gigantic smuggling ring that had sprung up [was backed by] very far reaching interests, said to include even government officials. …
“It controlled a number of steamboats, which carried contraband in huge quantities. …
“Its influence was sufficient to cause the political ruin of those who dared to oppose it.”
Herbert’s no-tolerance policy resulted in the seizure of opium valued at $150,000, and fines of $55,000 were levied.
This alarmed the smuggling combine to the point that it ignited opposition to his confirmation in the U.S. Senate.
Herbert was not confirmed and lost his office.
False charges of defamation and embezzlement were also filed against him in 1886 and he testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, bringing with him a witness on his behalf.
The Brooklyn Eagle reported: “Captain Beecher admitted having received $326 from [Daniel] Kepler to be turned into postal money orders and mailed to parties in the East and claimed he had given it to [H.D.] Temple, an employee of the railway mail service with instructions to procure the orders and mail them.
“Temple denied having received the money. …
“As the money was never received, Beecher repaid the money to Kepler.”
Herbert submitted affidavits from Seattle and Port Townsend postmasters who knew both him and Temple, to the effect that they would “unhesitantly” believe Herbert over Temple.
Others certified Herbert’s integrity and trustworthiness.
Herbert also submitted sworn statements describing Temple’s connection to other “transactions of a questionable nature.”
The subcommittee found the charges to be without foundation.
In 1887, Cleveland appointed Herbert as special agent of the Treasury Department for the District of Oregon, Washington and Alaska, with headquarters in Port Townsend.
He served in this position until 1889, when Cleveland’s term as president ended.
Herbert then repurchased his old mail route and formed the Island Transportation Co. with the steamers J.B. Libby, Point Arena and General Miles.
He leased the Commercial Wharf and ran a general commercial shipping business.
During the first year, the J.B. Libby, enroute to the Sound with a cargo of lime, encountered rough weather in the Straits.
She lost her left rudder and shipping some heavy seas set the lime on fire.
The crew took to the small boats and were all picked up, but the steamer was a “charred hulk” that was towed into Port Townsend harbor but never repaired.
That loss and a wharf fire caused Herbert to abandon the steamboat business and accept the position as pilot of the revenue cutter Wolcott.
Herbert spent the remainder of his life as a pilot on Puget Sound.
At the end of his life, his obituary in the Weekly Leader noted: “Captain Beecher was the dean of North Pacific pilots and was known by nearly every deep sea shipmaster visiting the waters of Puget Sound.”
Herbert’s personal life
Back in 1878, Herbert met a young artist, Harriet “Hattie” Foster, in San Francisco.
Hattie was born in Mishawaka, Ind., in 1854, to Stephen C. and Mary Hadley Foster.
At the age of 21, Hattie moved with her stepfather, Dr. C.A. Fletcher, and her mother, Mary, to San Francisco, where she studied at the School of Design (later known as Hopkins Institute).
In late 1880, after spending five months studying with teachers in New York, Hattie moved to Seattle, where she opened what is believed to be the city’s first art studio.
She and Herbert were married in 1881, after which they lived in Port Townsend for a few months before returning to Seattle, where Hattie taught in the art department at the University of Washington in 1882.
In late December of that year, their first child was born and named Henry Ward Beecher II, after his grandfather.
In 1883, when Herbert purchased the mail route to the islands, he and Hattie moved to Port Townsend.
Hattie’s mother, Mary, who had been widowed, came to live with them.
For the first few years in Port Townsend, the Beechers lived at 305 Pierce St.
Their first daughter, Mary Eunice, was born there in February 1884.
Mary and Hattie designed the next home that was built for the Beechers at what is now 525 Walker St. (the original address was 225 Walker).
A contractor, whose last name was Fountain, built the house for them in 1891.
They moved into it in 1892, and lived there for most of the following 18 years.
The house was of a different architectural style than others built in Port Townsend during that period.
It did not have the usual Victorian embellishments; and it showed its New England heritage with its shingled exterior walls.
The original house was the portion on the left side of the lot and a wing with an art studio for Hattie and her students was an addition.
There have been a number of alterations to the house, including a change in the roofline and a 300-square-foot addition built by subsequent owners, but it is still standing at the same location.
After the move to the new house, the Beechers’ second daughter, Beatrice (known as Trixie), was born in July of 1892.
The Aug. 20 Back When column will tell more about the lives of Harriet Foster Beecher and the Beecher children.
Linnea Patrick is a historian and retired Port Townsend Public Library director.
Her Jefferson County history column, Back When, appears on the third Sunday of each month, alternating with Alice Alexander’s Clallam County history column on the first Sunday of the month.
Patrick can be reached at [email protected]. Her next column will appear Aug. 20.