This grave marker can be found in Ocean View Cemetery west of Port Angeles. (John McNutt/for Peninsula Daily News)

This grave marker can be found in Ocean View Cemetery west of Port Angeles. (John McNutt/for Peninsula Daily News)

BACK WHEN: Marking the life of an area mother

TAKING A STROLL around a cemetery can give you a quiet time for reflection and thought. Turn off the cellphone; reception is kind of dead around there.

You may spend time at a family member’s grave or simply read what the other markers say.

If you wander around Ocean View Cemetery west of Port Angeles you might see this simple little grave marker.

It is a cylindrical marble marker with one word engraved on it, “Mother.”

No doubt her family believed that they would always remember mother. But the decades have taken their memories and few have any idea who is buried here.

“Mother” was Caroline Lee.

Local history books state she was a member of one of Port Angeles’ earliest families.

Little else is written about her.

There is so much more to her story.

Hers is a story of dreams and tragedy, strength and perseverance.

Usually we are left with pictures such as one shown here.

She looks older and dignified.

It is hard for us to imagine that she was once young, vibrant and daring.

At this point it might be fun for you, the reader, to follow along a while with Google Earth.

Caroline King Thompson was born in Oxford, Nova Scotia, on July 6, 1835, to Charles and Sarah King Thompson.

She was the second child of 10 children. They lived on a farm along the River Phillip.

Her father was a farm man, but farming would not be the direction her life would take.

Caroline married Davis Waterman Morse on Nov. 9, 1859. Caroline was 24 years old and Davis was 28.

It is both intriguing and shocking to me that the newlyweds left River Phillip the next day for California.

Neither of them ever saw Nova Scotia or their parents again.

This is very hard to conceive for us in the digital age of easy communication and travel.

The Morses desired more than just farming and wanted to start a fresh life in a new world.

It was a bold and risky decision.

The choice of California was not random.

Davis’ brother, Eben, arrived in California around May 1853.

In a letter written in January 1854, he would not be specific on why he left home.

He wrote, “You all no dought (sic) think a deal about me and I do about you all and mother in perticular (sic) for I no (sic) she thinks I never had to come here but I have reasons of my own witch (sic) I can’t explain to you now.”

The conditions were very rough for Eben.

In this same letter he wrote, “I am going to write you this letter and carried it forty miles to a post office so I shall be shur (sic) that it will go for half of the letters that is written here never goes out of the country.

“Five months I have not had neither a house nor shelter to sleep nor live in. I have sleep (sic) on the ground nothing but the leaves and branches of an oke (sic) tree to shelter me.”

It was the dream of riches in the California Gold Rush that drew him to California.

Eben didn’t make his fortune in gold, but he changed his ambitions to wood.

Homes needed roofing shingles so he moved a bit further west and started over.

By 1859, Davis and Caroline decided to join Eben and his wife in California.

They traveled by sailing vessel to the Isthmus of Panama and crossed on a small train.

On the Pacific side, they boarded another sailing ship and landed in San Francisco.

From there they traveled by stagecoach and horseback to Pescadera in Santa Cruz County.

It was wild, undeveloped country. This area is south of San Francisco.

Davis and Gay worked in the redwood forests manufacturing shingles.

They hauled the shingles by oxen to Pigeon Point to be shipped up and down the west coast.

Davis and Caroline had two children while they were there: Charles in 1860 and Sarah in 1862.

Between these two births the Civil War broke out.

The gold rush had changed California completely.

California was the most populous state when the Civil War started. California gold supported the Union.

The Confederacy was waging an ambitious campaign to control the American southwest.

Conditions were very unsettled.

The Civil War was less than two years old. Union and secessionist factions vied within Californian politics.

A quiet third party to all this was Mexico.

A door could open for Mexico if the Civil War destabilized the entire nation.

Davis and Caroline had established a home and a young family. Yet the times seemed too treacherous.

The Morse families, including a pregnant Caroline, boarded a sailing ship at Pigeon Point in February 1863, and headed north.

It was a miserable time to head north. But leaving was more important than waiting for fair weather.

They first landed in Victoria. From there they boarded the steamer Eliza Anderson and came to Port Angeles.

From the village of Port Angeles they traveled east by native canoe about five miles to settle at the mouth of a creek which later bore their name: Morse Creek.

As we all know, February can be a miserable time around here.

In fact, it was so dismal and squalid on their first day here that they would have turned back. But they couldn’t.

Their cattle had been shipped and were on their way.

On April 19, 1863, their third child, Davis Waterman Morse Jr., was born.

He might have been the first Caucasian child born in Port Angeles.

This joy soon turned to grief.

Sadly, her husband was overcome with typhoid and died July 28, 1863, just after her 28th birthday.

Caroline was starting a new and uncertain life as a single mother of three.

She spent another year at Morse Creek living with Eben Morse and his wife.

The next year, Caroline moved to Dungeness doing housework to support her family.

In 1865, she married a Dungeness farmer named Lyman Stevens. They had one child named John.

Their marriage only lasted a few years and they separated.

She started over again as a single mother of four.

In time she moved to Port Angeles where she supported her family as a cook in a hotel.

In 1870, she married Alfred Lee, a former British sailor whose service ended in Victoria. They had three children together.

Lee Creek bears their name.

The grave marker is correct.

Through her strength and courage, Caroline became “Mother” of the Morse and Lee pioneer families.

Her descendants in the Morse and Lee families, plus those from her Thompson family who joined her here, had a hand in most every milestone of growth in our community.

Caroline died June 15, 1916.


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and president of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Caroline Lee, 1835-1916. (John McNutt Collection)

Caroline Lee, 1835-1916. (John McNutt Collection)

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