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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Tom Camfield's Port Townsend,
Vol. I and II
history series

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2006
(Camfield book cover)
The cover of Camfield's Vol. II, features this photo of a very early, unnamed saloon, showing how sports of early Port Townsend wet their whistle and took their minds off the daunting challenges of frontier life.

      While researching the extensive feature on Edward Eldridge, I pursued the files of a brief, early newspaper from Port Townsend. While casting about, two books on early Discovery Bay history caught on the hook and they were quite a tasty treat. Thomas W. Camfield has spun some wonderful yarns in An Illustrated History of Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls (2000) and The City That Whiskey Built.
      These are fun books. Tom shares our philosophy that history should be a joy to read, neither dry nor boring nor merely a list of dates and exalted Pooh-bahs. He explains how Port Townsend is important for anyone learning about early Northwest history because it was one of the earliest cities of Washington Territory. Its location made it a natural port for sailing ships, situated as it was near the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, Whidbey Island and the San Juan Archipelago and to the rich untapped resources inland. He dug deep to find stories out of archives that other historians in the second half of the 20th century overlooked. A hundred pages deep into the first volume, you will likely look up and realize that you have read straight through, introduced along the way to Indians, contraband Chinese laborers and cooks, whorehouses, men and women of character and the lowlife that were attracted to booming Territorial towns.
      Then you will learn some of the reasons why men like James G. Swan were so important to the town but were alternately dismissed by some historians as drunks or underachievers, or alternately glorified by some puff-piece biographers. Just like Doc Maynard, men like Swan who did not fit the template were often given short shrift but Swan was one of the first to record the wonders of the Washington Coast and ports after leaving his family and filing a land claim at Willapa Bay in Pacific County. In Issue 36 of the Journal we excerpt Camfield's profile of Swan (see the table of contents or the sample issue), who became a true friend and teacher of the Indians after moving to Port Townsend, while others took advantage of them. We heartily approve of the way that Tom profiled Swan, warts and all.
      I also especially like the way he profiles the town fathers and follows through with the second generation, whose members often did not quite live up to their forebear's reputation. For instance, he writes about "George E. Starrett, Would-Be Pooh-bah" (in the sense of Gilbert and Sullivan's satirical character in the Mikado). Starrett erected some of the earliest business buildings and residences in Port Townsend, owned a sawmill at Point Hudson among several other businesses and married well. He won the hand of Ann Van Bokkelen, daughter of Jefferson County Sheriff and Territorial pioneer J.J.H. Van Bokkelen and his wife, Nancy.
      Then he contrasts that respectable picture with the tale of "The Pestiferous E. Morris Starrett," who squandered the fortunes of both families but finally grew on his neighbors as a colorful character, living to the ripe old age of 87.
      Another reason I like Tom's point of view and style is that both of us started in the newspaper business while teenagers as "printer's devils" — ink-stained wretches — melting hot-metal ingots for metal type, years before off-set technology took over and then computers and other new-fangled tools.
      The books are available by mail order from the author. We were especially pleased to see his extensive index that enables the readers to check for name of people, businesses, buildings and small towns all around Jefferson County and the Olympic Peninsula. Meanwhile we will let Tom tell you how they became a labor of love following nearly four decades, off and on, with the Port Townsend Leader newspaper.

      I, myself, have lived in Port Townsend since 1929. I was born Feb. 1 that year and came to P.T. with my parents several months later, one step ahead of the Wall Street crash and Great Depression. My father went to work at the new paper mill, which my grandfather had come here from Salem to help build. I worked on the Port Townsend (weekly) Leader newspaper most of my life, having been a part-time printer's devil there during my high school years. Talk about "ink-stained!" Everything was the old-style "type-high" printing when I was a lad. I ruined many a pair of pants by hastening to the newspaper plant after school and pouring molten metal into a casting box. I also washed the ink from many a used newspaper page and job-printing press. I also used to feed the newsprint, sheet by sheet, through a newspaper printing press that would handle four pages at a time. Let the ink dry, then turned the sheets over and printed four pages on the other side. Later I was a full-time printer and then, after serving during the Korean War and finishing school at U.C. Berkeley, moving to the editorial side. I quit the local paper in 1958, went to California and published my own weekly paper for a few years up north in Plumas County. But I came back and was re-employed at the same old stand for about the 5th time and remained there until resigning in 1988.
      I had an early interest in local history and wrote innumerable stories of the old days for the paper, beginning with a photo series back in the '50s that won a national award for the preservation of local history. About that same time I also regularly wrote and sold stories of maritime history to one of the Seattle daily papers for their Sunday magazine (and don't remember now if it was the Times or the P-I). Some of my individual stories in the Leader later ran as much as a full page, one I recall a full two pages. I'm sorry to say that I never clipped and saved any of these stories from 1954 through 1988. Toward the end of my working years, I began bringing bound volumes of our newspaper home (going back to Oct. 1889), going through them page by page, and laboriously copying out individual items of interest. These notes I filed loosely away.
      I also had begun a private collection of old photos and some old newspapers, none of which I had used in my stories for the local paper. I gradually lost interest in "wasting" my historical material by sacrificing my rare personal time at home on an unappreciative publisher.
      One individual I dwelled on a bit more than others was early resident James G. Swan. I always felt he continues to be unduly glorified by many hit-and-run, fly-by-night "historians". No doubt he was highly qualified in numerous fields--but he also deserted his family, wound up an alcoholic, was a bit bigoted. He was unquestionably one of the better educated and most intelligent individuals on the scene. He wrote a number of letters to the editor of the local papers in his fading years, something that few others did during those early days. I have an old glass plate negative made from a painting/drawing he did of a couple of sailing vessels up at Neah Bay. Unfortunately, the thing broke into two pieces. I still managed to reproduce it in one of my books.
      It wasn't until I had done three 400-page hard-cover books of my family history in the 1990s that I turned to doing a book of Port Townsend History, Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls, 480 pages with a couple of hundred photos, in 2000. I followed with a slightly larger volume, The City That Whiskey Built, in 2002. These publications were inspired by my desire to get my available material into print before it eventually disappeared into oblivion. The books were never intended to turn a profit, and they have remained true to that concept. I wanted readers to have something large enough to catch and hold their interest, rather than cranking out a larger number of smaller books. I also wanted to hold the price within reason and also give local book-sellers a decent profit.
      The first volume included my first choices of colorful history: the unrighteous town of early years, including prostitution, numerous individual bios, town founding, attention to both an earliest arrival and a first "founder" generally neglected by history, Chinese/opium smuggling, so-called "shanghaiing," the nearby leper colony, various tales of the sea, a few assorted violent deaths, Kanaka Joe's hanging, "faro-fiend judge," some sports, history of the town's many newspapers — supplemented in vol. II, early squabbling at City Hall — including the ejection of a council member by the police chief, early weather highlights, and all sorts of miscellaneous topics.
      Both volumes remain "in print" but generally are not available outside of Port Townsend. They are available by mail from me at $30 and $35 respectively for Volume I and II. I pay mailing charges and tax when I sell myself, rather than giving 40 percent to a book-seller. That way, I can also inscribe and sign the books by request of the buyer.

      You can make inquiries or order the books by mailing payment to: Tom Camfield, 538 Calhoun St., Port Townsend WA 98368. If you live in Seattle, you can obtain the books through Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers, 208 1st Ave S., Seattle, WA 98104, (206) 682-3545. Tom Camfield's email address is: for either inquiries or for bookstores wanting to stock the books. Note that Tom lives on Calhoun Street, named for Dr. George Calhoun, who became a Skagit Pioneer in his own right.

Links, background reading and sources

      See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national and international events for years of the pioneer period.
      Search the entire Journal site.
      Due to continued popular demand, in the interest of furthering our "open source" policy, we are assembling a collection of CDs that will include MS Word files of our pioneer profiles and town profiles from years 1-5, so that you can print them individually at your convenience. Inquire for details today via email or see our site about the planned CDs offering.

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