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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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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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Edward Eldridge, Whatcom pioneer with
a secret that almost tripped him up

(Edward Eldridge)
Part One updated of the Eldridge series
see links to other family stories below

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, © 2006
      From the time that he and his wife arrived at Bellingham Bay in 1853, Edward Eldridge became one of the most influential early pioneers there and remained a key community leader until his death nearly 40 years later. He was born on Dec. 7, 1828, at St. Andrews, Scotland, which was then known as an important seaport before it became known as the historic birthplace of golf. Several biographies leave out an important fact, however, because Eldridge was not his christened name. He was actually a descendant of the Monro family and his christened name was recorded as Alexander Braid Munro. How and why he changed it is largely conjecture and remains a mystery, which we will try to unravel.
      When we posted the original profile in 2006, we shared the results of research that many historians had overlooked or missed and we hoped that a Munro descendant would find the story on the Internet and help us answer the questions about Eldridge's name change. In March 2008, Carolyn Bruce in Australia and Marilyn Gherashe in Montreal, Canada, found our Journal profile and answered our prayers. Both are descendants of Munro's siblings in Scotland who sailed to Australia a few years after Alexander sailed to the U.S.
      First we will summarize Eldridge's activities that made him such an important pioneer. In other Journal features about the genesis of the village of Whatcom you will learn that Capt. Henry Roeder and his partner Russell V. Peabody found a site for their planned sawmill at the foot of Whatcom Falls on Dec. 15, 1852. When the weather cleared the next spring, Roeder sailed for San Francisco to buy necessary equipment and machinery and to find experienced mill hands. While on the docks he ran across Edward Eldridge. During interviews for his book, A History of Washington, Hubert Howe Bancroft concluded that their paths crossed in the late 1840s on the Great Lakes while Roeder lived in Vermilion, Ohio, on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Roeder was a young captain or first mate on a lake schooner and Eldridge apparently signed on with the crew
      Eldridge and his wife and baby joined Roeder and other mill workers for the return voyage to Whatcom, arriving on Mary 23, 1853. The young Eldridge family rapidly became the nucleus for the settlement on the Bay and they hung in there for the next three decades, through booms and busts, and when prosperity finally visited the area in the 1880s, the Eldridges were in place to capitalize on it. Along the way, Edward became a political leader as well as a businessman. He could be a prickly character and, possibly due to his wife Teresa's influence, he championed women's suffrage.
      By the 1870s his political enemies wanted to cut him down to size and they seized on his sobriquet as the vehicle for their wrath. They tried hard but they failed. He established himself as a honorable man. A century later, such perspicacity would inspire other men to observe, "he had the right stuff." So let us return to Edward/Alexander's childhood and see the building blocks that led to both his success and his most serious challenge.

In the beginning: the Monro secret
      Bruce and Gherashe have conducted considerable research into Scottish genealogy and censuses for their family and they confirmed that the Dec. 7, 1828, birth date is indeed correct. They also noted the nightmare that all of us share when researching the name variations of Monro, Munro, Monroe and Munroe. Those variations crop up in all forms of records. They are due to a combination of factors, including clerks and clerics who were sloppy, illegible handwriting and unwarranted assumptions.
      In this case, the family name appears to have originally been Monro, but a cleric in St. Andrews changed that to Munro for Alexander and all his siblings. Thus the man we know as Edward Eldridge was recorded as Alexander Braid Munro, born in the county of Fife. St. Andrews was a town on the eastern coast, south of the larger city of Dundee and the town of Fife is 18 miles west-southwest of St. Andrews. His parents were John Monro, a plasterer by trade, who was born in Alness, County Ross, in 1787; and Anne McLeod Braid, who was born in 1790 in St Andrews. They did not discover details of John's parentage, but Anne was the oldest of seven children born to John Braid and Katherine Porterfield. Although Eldridge left his old name behind sometime in the late 1840s, we will see that when he was confronted with his past, he admitted to the Monro spelling, rather than Munro.
      Alexander was the second youngest of ten children. The oldest was Katherine Munro, one of three girls, born Aug. 26, 1813. The youngest of seven boys was James Munro, born Oct. 1, 1830. He sailed to Sydney, Australia, in 1853 and Gherashe descends from his family. Bruce descends from the second oldest of the children, Mary Munro, born in 1815. She married George Williamson Bruce and they had three children together before he died in a shooting accident. Mary sailed to Australia in 1865 to join her two youngest sons who had already emigrated to the Melbourne area. Apparently the three Monro/Munro siblings lost touch decades ago. Both Bruce and Gherashe were surprised to discover the name change; they searched for Alexander Braid Munro on the Internet and found the Journal biography on Eldridge. We also found that Edward and Teresa Eldridge's children, Hugh and Isabella, were apparently named for Alexander's next oldest brother, born in about 1826, and his next oldest sister, born in 1824.
      They both helped dispel one of the tales in the Eldridge genealogy, the claim that he was orphaned at age 11 and then soon set off to sea. We are unsure when this claim surfaced but it certainly seems to be a "tall" tale. In the 1841 Scotland census, he was recorded at age 12 as living with both his very alive parents, and the 1851 census records both of them still alive, but Alexander was long gone and living in California at that time. John Monro died at age 65 on Aug. 17, 1852, but we have no death date for Anne. The orphan story was most prominently featured in Washington West of the Cascades, by Herbert Hunt and Floyd C. Kaylor (1917), and we presume that the claim was passed on by Hugh Eldridge.
      Since the family remained mum in print on the subject, we are unaware of how much the Eldridge descendants actually knew about their real ancestors. At this point, we will return to the original narrative. We will share our own conclusions and hypotheses about the name change and various tales later in the story.

Alexander goes to sea
      According to Elwood Evans's book, History Of The Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington (1889), Alexander became a merchant sailor on ships flying the British flag by age 13, in about 1841. In her book, History of Whatcom County History (1929), Charlotte "Lottie" Roeder Roth wrote that he soon became licensed navigator as a teen and rose rapidly in stature as an accomplished seaman. In 1945, Howard Buswell of Whatcom County interviewed Mabel Munroe Noffsinger Lameraux, a daughter of John Munroe (also occasionally spelled Munro and Monroe) of Ferndale. She claimed that her grandfather was a brother of Edward Eldridge and she passed on rumors of some kind of rift between her father and the Eldridges. She told Buswell one of the most prominent tales about Alexander Munro's early sailing days, and it may be quite tall. Her family memory was that after he struck out on his own, Alexander yearned to emigrate to the U.S. She said that he went to the docks as a teenager, maybe 80 miles further up the Scottish coast at Aberdeen. On the first day, no one would take the young lad. On a subsequent day, the mate of a ship called out the names of sailors for an imminent sailing and when the name of Edward Eldridge came up, no one answered. The mate needed one more sailor and finally relented and let Alexander take Eldridge's place. According to this version, for some unexplained reason, he retained the name for the rest of his sailing career. This commonly accepted tale was partially debunked very recently when we found an 1878 Letter to the Editor in a Port Townsend newspaper, as we share below. But then again, Eldridge claimed that no one in America knew him by the name Munro, so the jury is still out.
      Roth, the daughter of Henry Roeder, wrote that Eldridge had two brushes with death as a sailor. Back in England, he had signed on to go with Dr. Sir John Franklin's heralded expedition in search of the North Pole, but he was hospitalized with a serious unnamed illness and the fleet sailed away without him. We know that Franklin's ships sailed in 1845 and in the next year they became landlocked in the Canadian Arctic near King William Island. Franklin died tragically in 1847, and the remaining crew perished in 1848, after abandoning the ships and attempting to escape overland by sledge.
      According to a consensus of the tales and his own writing, Munro/Eldridge sailed on the high seas for at least seven years, including circumnavigating the globe at least once, and within a year of his illness, he first came to Americas on a trading vessel that was fetching a cargo of mahogany logs in Honduras for shipment back to England. While in port, as the crew loaded cargo, he was struck by a heavy timber and the crew thought he had died. Eldridge later wrote that the captain of the ship laid out the body for burial, but another observant captain asked the steward, a former hospital attendant, to examine the wound and look for any life signs. Surprising everybody, Eldridge was resurrected and recovered from his wounds. Although this incident may sound like a tall tale, Candace Wellman, an expert with Whatcom genealogy and history and a volunteer research assistant with the Washington State Archives, points out that Eldridge wrote about this experience himself so it was not just a family tall tale.

Eldridge meets Roeder and is lured by '49er gold
      Combining details from various books, we can finally nail down when and where and how the two dominant personalities of early Whatcom may have met. Roth provided details of the two men's sailing activities on Lake Erie. Other Eldridge biographies either glossed over their original meeting or contend that they did not meet until they crossed paths again on the San Francisco docks in 1853. As we noted above, Bancroft learned that they did meet on Lake Erie.
      After his brush with death in 1846, he either sailed home with the ship or he recuperated in Honduras. Sometime later in that year he decided to leave the British merchant marine service and wound up hiring on with a schooner on Lake Erie, whose captain was 22-year-old Henry Roeder. Roeder emigrated from Germany with his parents at age seven, in 1831. They settled at Vermilion, Ohio, on the southern shore of the lake, between Sandusky and Cleveland. Vermilion was the cradle of several early Whatcom pioneers, including Roeder, his wife, Elizabeth Austin, and Phoebe Goodell Judson, the "Mother of Lynden."
      Eldridge left the lake sometime before 1849 to sail the high seas again, but both he and Roeder soon heard independently about the gold strike on the American River in California and their paths would soon cross out there after the territory achieved statehood. As Roth and other biographers noted, Eldridge arrived in San Francisco in October 1849 on the ship Tonquin. In this case, we were able to substantiate the claim when we found the ship's log at the Peabody/Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Capt. George H. Wilson's journal, dating from July 1-Nov. 16, 1849, was of the voyage from New York City to San Francisco, California; the Tonquin's home port was Salem, Massachusetts. The log shows that the ship sailed " 'round the horn," with the terminus at San Francisco Bay. Eldridge left the ship almost immediately and set off to the Yuba County gold fields with other argonauts. Roeder set off from Vermilion the next spring, joining a mule train in Missouri that reached Salt Lake City on the Fourth of July in time to witness Brigham Young's address in which he proposed that Utah should become an independent state. Roeder soon set off in a reorganized train and arrived in Sacramento on Aug. 14, 1850, the day of the famous Squatters' Riot. The two men did not cross paths at that time.
      Eldridge failed to strike it rich and soon went back to San Francisco, where he signed on as second mate on the Tennessee, a Pacific Mail Co. side-paddlewheel steamer that plied a regular route back and forth from there to Panama in the days before a railroad was built across the Isthmus. In the Encyclopedia of San Francisco, we discovered that the company was launched in 1848 and became quite profitable and famous both for the coastal route and for delivering large numbers of gold seekers. The investors originally banked on U.S. Mail contracts, but their timing was excellent because they soon reaped a bonanza by picking up hundreds of prospectors miners at a time in Panama, after the eager, hardy men had hacked their way through the jungles of Nicaragua.

Eldridge marries Teresa Lappin and meets Roeder again
(Tennessee paddlewheeler)
The Tennessee, courtesy of this fine website about '49er-era ships

      While on a voyage in 1851, he noticed a plucky 19-year-old Irish lass named Teresa Lappin (also spelled Lapin or Lappan in various accounts), who was born in Ireland June 24, 1832, and then later bravely left her family in County Armagh to sail unaccompanied to New York State in 1850. She answered a call from California for young women to migrate to the West and populate the new state, signing on with the wealthy Bergens family, Knickerbockers of old Gotham who lived on Long Island and who had also been bitten by that gold bug. The couple courted whenever Eldridge was in port and the married on Feb. 7, 1852, in San Francisco.
      Following their marriage, Eldridge resigned his mate's commission and took his young bride to the gold fields near Yreka in northern California. The next year was a whirlwind time of truly mixed blessings for them. Once again, Eldridge failed to strike it rich and the man who bought his sluice boxes from him sued him for allegedly stealing ore from them after the sale, which Eldridge vociferously denied. The case was thrown out of court but the official records would come back to haunt him 26 years later when his political enemies discovered them. On the plus side, the couple received a Christmas present when their daughter Isabelle (sometimes spelled Isabella) was born at the camp on Dec. 21, 1852, and Teresa learned how to cook and care for the rambunctious miners, a talent that she would draw upon often over the next decade in the village of Whatcom.
      With a young family to provide for, Eldridge told Teresa that a far brighter future awaited them if he obtained steady wages again from sailing. When he heard of a mining expedition to Australia, he moved wife and baby back to San Francisco in the spring of 1853. But his life changed radically once again when he was on the docks preparing for the trip in late April and crossed paths again with his old friend Henry Roeder, who was in port, outfitting his ship and buying equipment for the mill he planned to erect with partner Russell V. Peabody near the foot of Whatcom Falls.
      Eldridge's thoughts of Australia soon vanished as he discussed with Roeder the prospects of becoming timberland barons in the vast forests that Eldridge had not yet seen and which Roeder and Peabody discovered on December 15 of the previous year. Roeder soon hired other employees, including a millwright named William Utter, who soon become a famed Whatcom pioneer in his own right, and the crew and the Eldridge family set off for Washington Territory on a very slow, tedious trip via the schooner, William Allen

A muddy welcome at Squalicum Creek
(Teresa Eldridge)
Teresa Eldridge

      The ship arrived at Bellingham Bay on May 23, 1853, and the joyous handful of men of the tiny village at the edge of the forest carried Teresa and the baby gingerly over the Squalicum mudflats as the first non-Indian females of the community, just below the bluff where a series of stately Eldridge family homes were erected over the years. Teresa became a close friend of Roeder's wife and maintained the friendship for their lives together, even while their husbands competed in business. Used to hard work as a maid, she worked even harder in cooking and caring for the needs of the men in the village. Her days were filled with work and, although she was apprehensive at first, she let the friendly natives who were fascinated with her daughter take Isabelle with them as they fished and gathered berries and food.
      While Theresa fed and cleaned up after the mill workers, Edward initially worked there but then signed on at the Sehome coal mines and taught at the school there. The towns were then separated by a dense forest, so he rowed and back and forth. They soon took up claims for 160 acres apiece, straddling Squalicum Creek, under the Oregon Land Law of 1850. Lelah Jackson Edson described them in her book, Fourth Corner, "Her claim of 160 acres was all west of Squalicum Creek. Part of his claim of 160 acres was east of the Creek and extended to West Street," which was platted on a north-south axis and still exists, marking the border between the Eldridges' claims and that of Henry Roeder.

Eldridge launches his political career
      We refer you to the assorted biographies and obituaries in this section for the story of how Edward and Teresa Eldridge became integral members of the village of Whatcom and the county. Teresa had quite a story to tell, herself, and we wish she had written it. We also wish that Edward had written his own book because there are still a couple of mysteries that are difficult to untangle. Candace Wellman points out that Eldridge did leave some writing, however, especially with Hubert Howe Bancroft and newspaper articles.
      Between 1856 and 1858, Eldridge served as the first probate judge for Whatcom County. His subsequent political offices in included County Commissioner, County Auditor, County Treasurer and Deputy Collector of Customs. Over the next two decades, Edward became the political voice for Whatcom County in the Territorial Legislature while Henry Roeder initially devoted most of his considerable energy to economic pursuits as a shipbuilder, businessman and owner of a quarry that provided Chuckanut sandstone for many frontier buildings.
      Along the way, Eldridge made enemies, as all politicians do. Originally a Democrat by party, he switched to the Republican Party in 1862 during the Civil War. He reached the height of his power when he was elected Speaker of the Legislature during the 1866-67 session, back when legislators truly were citizens first, with actual day jobs that were independent of the halls of Olympia. In the election of 1869, his enemies list, or at least his list of major competition grew by one, his former associate, Henry Roeder. As Don Brazier wrote in History of the Washington Legislature, 1854-1963 (2000):

      He [Eldridge] served in the House in 1864, 1865, and 1866 and was Speaker in 1866. He sought to return again in 1869 but ran slightly behind the Democrat, Roeder. He challenged the seating of Roeder but his challenge failed on a 14-14 vote when one Republican, McMillan of King, voted with the Democrats. He did return to the House for one more term in 1875. Eldridge was also chairman of the Republican conventions in 1865, 1867, and 1869 which nominated Denny, Flanders, and Garfielde as candidates for Territorial delegate in Congress. In each instance the nominee was elected.

The Munro memories come back to haunt Eldridge
      We have not yet seen the Legislature documents concerning the day Eldridge had to explain his name change on the floor of the Territorial Legislature, but we and other researchers have found other documents that give a hint as to why Eldridge was finally forced to address his birth name. In 1873, he stirred up considerable enmity as a vocal advocate for women's suffrage, which he had also championed as Speaker. That was an idea whose time had definitely not yet arrived. He and Teresa took heed of the speech Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered, two decades prior, to the Seneca Falls, New York, Convention on July 19, 1848, in which she fired the cannon shot that propelled a movement:
      But we are assembled to protest against a form of government existing without the consent of the governed — to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty. It is to protest against such unjust laws as these that we are assembled today, and to have them, if possible, forever erased from our statute books, deeming them a shame and a disgrace to a Christian republic in the nineteenth century. We have met to uplift woman's fallen divinity upon an even pedestal with man's. And, strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live.
      In an essay called "Judge John Philo Hoyt and Suffrage in Washington Territory," Charles Wiggins addresses how Supreme Court Judge Hoyt was most controversial in the movement out here in Washington Territory and state, but in it he also told us how Eldridge ran against the Western frontier grain very early on, in 1867, joining the dean of territorial pioneers:
      Suffrage advocates repeatedly pressed the territorial legislature to extend the franchise to women. A. A. Denny moved to grant women suffrage in the very first territorial legislature in 1854, but Denny's motion failed. The legislature revised the election statutes in 1867 in order to deny the franchise to former Confederate soldiers, granting the right to vote to "all white American citizens 21 years of age. . . ." Edward Eldridge stated on the floor of the territorial legislature that this law granted to women the right to vote. Eldridge, a delegate to the 1889 convention, was perhaps the most vigorous advocate for placing women's suffrage in the Washington constitution.
      Although Speaker Eldridge was thwarted in his efforts back in 1867, he kept pressing for suffrage and someone apparently followed the old tradition in American politics: you can sometimes defeat your opponent about one idea or subject by sewing the seed of distrust with an unrelated personal controversy. That occurred in 1873 when someone spread the story of Eldridge's name change and added to it the charge that he did so to hide some dark secret or transgression in his past. T. A. Larson wrote in "Dolls, Vassals, and Drudges — Pioneer Women in the West" in the January 1972 edition of Western Historical Quarterly, "Edward Eldridge seems to have been unique when he argued in the Washington legislature in 1873 about the imminent disappearance of the frontier made woman . . . " The legislature spent much of one whole day in that session, addressing the matter of Eldridge's name change; and Donna Sand discovered how Eldridge put out that specific fire by filing an official application for name change.
      In an obscure 1892 book by T.O. Abbott, called "Real Property Statues," she found this reference in a section named "Laws affecting Real Property." The short description reads: "Chapter XV, Monro: Eldridge No. 1129, an act to change the name of Alexander Braid Monro to that of Edward Eldridge. Section 1. Be it enacted, etc. That the name of Alexander Braid Monro be and the same is hereby changed to Edward Eldridge. Approved Oct. 17, 1873 (See Fourth Biennial Session, 1873, p. 544). In effect from date." How do we account for the spelling of "Monro" rather than "Munro," as Eldridge later wrote? We can only conclude that such was Eldridge's preferred spelling of his own christened name.
      If Eldridge thought that the official name change application was the end of the matter, he was soon proven mistaken. His political enemies merely regrouped and in 1878, when Whatcom County representatives put his name in the running for at-large delegate to a Constitutional Convention, his enemies tried an end-around by spreading rumors about Eldridge, within days of the election, in the Letters to the Editor column of the Press Democrat newspaper in Port Townsend. Port Townsend was still at the center of the action in Washington Territory in competition with Seattle, both for industry and government contracts.

Mr. Eldridge's Reply
Whatcom, April 3,1878.
Editor, Bellingham Bay Mail
Dear Sir:
      As two communications have recently appeared in the Democratic Press, published at Port Townsend, written by two residents of this County, personal enemies of my own, for the purpose of prejudicing the public against me at the coming election; and as it is doubtful whether my reply thereto will reach the same paper in time for effective publication before the election, I would thank you to give this a place in your columns so that those who can may see it and judge for themselves.
      The only allusion I will make to the first article, as to the statement that I ran behind the head of my ticket over a hundred votes at the last election, is that the writer did not state that there were three candidates in the field for Treasurer and only two for Congress. I was defeated by five votes, the result of my own apathy and the base falsehoods circulated by these same writers just before the election, when it was too late for me to hear of and contradict them. Had I been as anxious for the office as is represented I would have had little trouble in getting it.
      The second article contains more malignant matter and assassin-like was kept back until it was beyond my power to prevent its results. No person who is thoroughly acquainted with me would believe for a moment that I would pen such a silly, childish expression to a member of a Legislature as is ascribed to me; namely, that if this county was divided, I would never again be able to get an office and therefore must not be done. If I had no more sense than to write that, then I have not sense enough to fill any office. I pronounce it false and call for the publication of the letter if true.
      The statement is made that I was once charged in California with robbing sluices, and that I left suddenly. No facts are stated; but the inference is drawn that I was guilty and fled to escape detection. Years have elapsed since that statement was first made here, but with all that time for investigation, nothing more is stated. Since my accusers cannot or will not give the facts in the case I will do it for them.
      Over twenty-five years ago I was charged, by a person who had the same feelings toward me that these writers have, with having taken gold from my own sluice after it has been attached. The charge was presented to the grand jury, examined info by them, and the charge was dismissed. This can be proven by the records of the court of sessions of Siskiyou County, California. My enemies could have stated that, had they wished to, but that was not their object. Another item I will inform them of: one of those grand jurors is now and has been for years a resident of this county, and he can inform the public whether I left suddenly or not, or whether there was any necessity for my leaving until it suited my pleasure and convenience to do so.
      As for my name, no man ever knew me by the name of Munro in America. I stated to the Legislature referred to when and where and why I changed my name, and so well satisfied were they of the truth of my statement that the bill asked for passed both Houses without a dissenting voice within half an hour of its introduction, although three-fourths of the members were my political opponents.
      As for my seeking this office, I would not have been a candidate but for the request of some of the prominent men in the county; and the fact that the county convention instructed their delegates to use all their influence to procure my nomination as delegate at large is proof whether my neighbors consider me a fraud or not.
      Were I as selfish and as fond of office as is represented I would be differently situated to what I am to-day; but gold is not my goal, and I prefer earning my bread by the sweat of my brown, and being my own master, to being the tool of any man, or set of men. Signed, E. Eldridge

On the trail of his enemies
      With the help of Tom Camfield, the author of Port Townsend: An Illustrated History of Shanghaiing, Shipwrecks, Soiled Doves and Sundry Souls, we are attempting to track down the issues of the Port Townsend Press Democrat, which Eldridge referenced. Launched in 1877, it was a short-lived newspaper and one of several since the first weekly started there since the 1860s in the little customs port. The second of two letters attacking Eldridge is self-explanatory in its venom still dripping off the page nearly a century and a half later. We discovered it after posting the original version of this profile.
Port Townsend Democratic Press, March 29, 1878
To: Editor, Democratic Press, March 20, 1878
      The Seattle Intelligencer of March 2d, in speaking of the [Republican, proposed State Constitution] convention and its nominees, says, "We see no reason why Eldridge should not poll the party vote." It will be the business of this paper to show why, or at least a few of the many reasons why, he should not. . . .
      Who is this our Caesar and on what meat hath he fed, that he has grown so great? The first account we have of him, he was sailing on the [Great] Lakes, before the mast, and was known as Alexander Monroe. The next time we hear of him was near Yreka, Cal., where he figures as defendant in a suit entitled State of California vs. E. Eldridge. Charge, Robbing Sluices! Any one who has ever been in a mining camp knows the character of a man must bear to be even suspected of such an offense. Our information is, that he left there very suddenly and stood not upon the order of his going. Who wishes to have it said that one of the three delegates at large is a man who has been charged with sluice robbing.
      The next we know of him he turns up at Bellingham Bay, and still known as Eldridge! and he now begins to dabble in politics and was once elected to the legislature as a Democrat, and continued to act with them until about 1862, when he changed his politics one day and came out a Republican candidate for the Legislature! and by the influence of the [Sehome] Coal Company (a prominent factor in the local politics,) made his election sure. He hung on to the company and was elected two or three times, and when, finally, the people made a determined effort and threw him overboard, he contested the election and moved heaven and earth to reverse the will of the people and keep his place at the public crib.
      He was elected once again and the principal measure of his was to log-roll a bill to change and legalize his name! Now the point is this: if his name was Eldridge he wanted no law to declare it so, and if he did need to have it legalized it was not his name before and all acts of his prior to this are void. Here we have a man who married under a false name, voted and was voted for under a false name, sat in the Legislature, voted on measures and signed laws under a false name; and thus has been a veritable, living, breathing fraud on the people of the Territory for nearly twenty years. And now comes and modestly asks from the people of this Territory the most important trust in their gift!
Signed, "Veritas." [def.: truth or true colors] (A Republican)

      Thus far, we have not found any other public utterance or writing by Eldridge regarding his name change or the reason for it, but we are still researching.

His cousins?, nephews?
(Isabelle Eldridge)
Schoolteacher Isabelle Eldridge

      Eldridge had an undefined feud with the relative, John Munroe, as we referenced above. Research into this part of the story has been especially challenging, partly because there were four variant spellings of the name, some of which occurred in the same family, and records for the same person sometimes cite two or more variations of the name.
      Furthermore, there were more Munros, et al, in the Whatcom and Northwest area than you could shake a stick at, as wags would have described the situation back then. First, there were the immigrants from Scotland who were relatives of Eldridge. Next we have studied the ancestors of our old friend, Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State. That Munro group was led by his grandfather, Alexander McKenzie Munro, who lived here long enough in the 1890s to work as a stonemason on the Old Main building at the Normal School in Bellingham, which evolved into today's Western Washington University. He eventually settled at Crystal Springs on Bainbridge Island. And then there were the Munros who emigrated to Canada first, then to Michigan and then they followed P.A. Woolley to his new company town and mill near the Skagit River, the site of present Sedro-Woolley.
      The only hints at the Eldridge/Munro family squabble that were recorded on paper, as opposed to whispers here and there, are in a series of interviews that Howard Buswell conducted in 1945 with John Munroe's daughter, Mabel Munroe Noffsinger Lameraux. Buswell grew up near the Munroe family in the town of Marietta, located just a few miles northwest of old Fort Bellingham and originally named Lummi. Buswell was a schoolteacher until ill health forced him to stop teaching and to return to his home farm, where he raised chickens with his brother Ray and compiled a huge volume of "history projects," which are now collected at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies (CPNWS) Archives in Bellingham. Mabel was two years older than Howard.
      We address first the Lameraux conclusion that brothers John and David Munroe of Marietta and Edward Eldridge were first cousins. A simple search of the 1870 Federal Census for Whatcom (which Edward enumerated) and the 1910 census showed that David was about 19 years younger (born 1847) than Edward and John was 21 years younger (born 1849). According to the 1870 census, David was born in England and the 1910 Census records the same birth-country for John Munro. Indeed, Buswell discovered in uncited documents that John Munro was born on Jan. 11, 1849, in Liverpool England, which again separates them geographically from Eldridge's nuclear family. In the notes of the 1945 conversation with Mabel, Buswell recorded her memory that John emigrated to the U.S. from Pulpatrice or Pulpatrie, Scotland, where he apparently moved after his birth. Buswell noted that he could not find any such town in a Gazetteer of Scotland and neither can we, even after consulting a list of all the historic towns and hamlets of Scotland.
      Carolyn Bruce finally found both David and John in the Census of England. Sure enough, they do appear to be Alexander/Edward's nephews, the sons of Alexander's older brother John. In the 1851 census of Liverpool, Lancashire County, John Munro was a customs officer, with a wife, Annie, both born in Scotland, and with three children, including David, age 3, and John, age 1. The 1861 census confirms the discovery. Father John was recorded as being born in St. Andrew's, David was 13 and a draper, and John was 11 and still in school. By the 1871 census, they were gone from the household, presumably gone to the United States. How did they find Alexander/Edward? That is still a mystery.
      When we saw the listing for the CPNWS documents, we assumed that the file labeled "interview" with Mabel would be a transcript of an extensive session, but we were disappointed. What we found instead was just a bundle of typewritten research cards that covered a series of dates from 1945-53. Instead of an interview, this seems to be the result of a number of conversations between Buswell and his longtime neighbor. Mabel acknowledged that there was a serious rift between her father and Hugh Eldridge, but her details of her memories contradicted each other and may have led some researchers astray.
      By the time of the last conversation, she clarified her original memory and told Buswell that she had corresponded with an aunt in Scotland and determined that there were three Munroe brothers who emigrated from Scotland — David, John and a younger brother James. From his initial research into public records, Buswell concluded that the latter was possibly the James E. Munro, who was recorded at Semiahmoo on Aug. 12, 1873, as a merchant and trader by occupation, who attempted to homestead land that surveyors later established was in Section 16, which was designated by the Territorial Legislature as school land. The Munros attempted to sue to establish their prior rights to the acreage as squatters with preemption rights and a partial record of the suit is included in the file, but we could not determine what the final result was.

Family feud?
      In her conversations with Buswell, Mabel addressed the family feud twice and after reading the documents as a whole, we see how researchers could have been confused. At one point, she recalled that the rift was so severe between the Munros and Eldridges that when John was dying, Edward's son Hugh did not visit his cousin. But in another conversation, she refers to the feud being between the Munro family and a neighboring Jones family. When we checked the land records of Section 16, we did indeed determine that there is a Jones Lane in that section.
      Furthermore, we have found other contradictions. First off, researcher Donna Sand discovered an oddity that contradicts the feud but substantiates the family relationship further. In the 1870 Federal Census, which Edward enumerated, David Munroe was recorded as living with Edward and Teresa Eldridge and family; he was 23, born in England and was a seaman like Edward in his younger days. We have not found any record of David in the county after the early 1880s. Buswell determined that David successfully filed a homestead patent on July 1, 1881, for about 150 acres of land in Section 9, just north of Section 16, the school section. In a series of transactions from 1878 on, David transferred 7 1/2 acres of his parcel to John and his wife, Ellen, but the land was always in Ellen's name. Mabel was living on that acreage when Buswell talked to her. A cursory note by Buswell indicates that at some point, David moved to California. We are still searching for a subsequent record of him.
      There was another document at CPNWS, however, that completely contradicted the feud between Hugh Eldridge and John Munro and maybe other researchers missed that key document. As we know, Hugh was the longtime postmaster of Bellingham, from 1898-1916, and then reappointed in 1921. Included in the Buswell file is a handwritten letter on post office letterhead, dated Aug. 18, 1926, from Hugh to John Munroe, Esq., Marietta, Wash:

Dear John
      Can you tell me when you got here from England? If I remember right it was the Fall of '72 that we went to the Fair at Olympia and you and Braiden [sp??] were there. You were here the year before so that would make it 1871. You came back from Olympia and staid at our house while Mother and the girls were at Frisco. I want to see who is to get the pioneer cup next year. Your cousin, Hugh Eldridge

      The next document in the file confirms that John Munro was sure enough honored at the 33rd Old Settlers Picnic in Ferndale:
This year's recipient of Oldest Settler's Cup
Bellingham Herald, July 22, 1928.

      John Monroe, pioneer, who will receive Oldest Settler's Cup, keeps faith with wife who lies beneath favorite lilac. Son in Tacoma wants father to spend his remaining days in city, but Marietta earlycomer, on 11-acre patch, answers silent prayer from beneath lilac. John Monroe, 76, will not leave his eleven-acre farm at Marietta because his wife is buried there under her favorite lilac tree. It was her wish that she be buried under the tree she used to sit beneath and do fancywork. If the pioneer moves to Tacoma to be with one of his two sons, the body of his life's companion would have to be removed.
(John Munroe)
John Munroe in 1928, a very blurred newspaper photo

After reading those two documents, including Hugh's warm regards in his letter, we are hard-pressed to conclude that there was a feud or that there were ill feelings between the men.
      Candace Wellman found an interesting detail about the Munroe brothers that initially seemed to contradict our Munroe timeline altogether. She found notes that Annie Tawes Ray recorded about the brothers both being musicians and performing in a band in Whatcom County in the 1850s and 1860s. Annie was another Whatcom child who became an important county settler. Isabelle Eldridge was the first settler girl-child to arrive in the county and Annie was the first settler girl child born in what would become Bellingham proper, after her parents, McKinney and Mary Bird Tawes, brought machinery north for the Sehome Coal Mine in 1856.
      In the case that Wellman discovered, however, Annie's memory may have been just been faulty. We know from another occasion that her recorded memory was at least confused. When she was in her 70s she insisted that she was the "first baby" in Whatcom County. In fact, Lizetta Roberts, who later married David Tuck, was born on the Bay three years later. From all the research we did regarding immigration dates and the various censuses, we conclude that her memory was faulty about the Munroe brothers and their arrival in the county. In the 1850s, they would have been of elementary-school age and presumably still living in Scotland, and we find no record of them living here in the 1860s. In fact, we found the evidence that John Munroe did not arrive in the county until 1871, a fact that both he and Hugh Eldridge confirmed.
      We also consulted Percival R. Jeffcott's 1949 book, Nooksack Tales and Trails, which covers the Tawes family extensively. By the 1870s, they had left the Sehome coal mines over a dispute with Edmund C. Fitzhugh and moved up to the western arm of the Nooksack River that flowed westerly towards Lummi Bay, near the future town of Ferndale, and they established their Cedar Grove Farm. Jeffcott quoted Annie as recalling the days when their home was the social center of that part of the county, and she specifically recalled how "D. Munro" was a spirited member of the band; that was in the mid-1870s. Edson also remarked in her book, Fourth Corner, about how David Munro entertained at social events on his banjo. Jeffcott wrote of a Monroe Brothers sawmill at the outskirts of Ferndale in the early 1880s, but he gave no details.
      The question naturally arises: why did the Munro brothers move here to join Edward if there was a family rift? Until we find more information, we will assume for now that if there was a family feud, it may have been between Edward and John and not with David and that it may have occurred after the Munroe brothers arrived here. A second question arises: was John one of the enemies, the assassins, to whom Edward referred in his 1878 letter, the ones who spread rumors about him to thwart his continuing political career? We were surprised by another family fact when we discovered that John named his son, Alexander, which was Eldridge's christened name.
      We will update the story if we find details in additional records that answer all these questions. The answer could also lie in a class difference. The Eldridges were obviously the upper crust of Whatcom County. The documents show that while John was admired by his neighbors, he never established real estate of his own, a key determinant of worth in those days, and that he was a sometimes painter with nothing else to supplement whatever crops he produced from his farm.

Eldridge's last grand project
      Edward did indeed win that election to become delegate-at large to the 1878 Constitutional Convention, and he went on to act as a key member of the later convention that drafted the constitution for Washington state; he was ultimately lauded for his skill as being the most respected parliamentarian in the state. He died of paresis, or a paralytic stroke, at home on Oct. 13, 1892. Theresa survived him by almost 20 years, dying in Bellingham on May 10, 1912.
      Over the years, Eldridge's patience paid off as he became a director the Fairhaven and New Whatcom Street Railway Company and Puget Sound Loan, Trust, & Banking Co, and was president of the Bellingham Bay National Bank, Bellingham Bay Gas Company and Bellingham Bay & Eastern Railway. His last major project probably did not turn out the way he and his partner planned, but it did result in a tidy profit, two years before his death.

Lynden Pioneer Press, May 22, 1890
      The largest real estate deal ever recorded in Whatcom County took place on the Bay last week. Erastus Bartlett and Mr. Eldridge sold the Bellingham townsite to the Bellingham Bay company for $1,000,000. The property was placed on sale Monday morning and $250,000 worth sold that day.
      For those not familiar with the various early towns on Bellingham Bay, the original smaller townsite of Bellingham was based on part of the claim of William Pattle, an Englishman employed by the Hudson's Bay Company, who came to the Bay in October 1852 after Indians told him about "black fire dirt" they discovered near where the Chrysallis Inn stands today, north of Fairhaven.
      His claim was later platted as Unionville in 1871 by Arthur A. Denny and Dexter Horton and partners of Seattle as a hedge in case the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Bellingham Bay as its terminus. In 1883, long after Denny and Horton gave up such thoughts, Erastus Bartlett and Edward Eldridge platted the area again, this time under the name Bellingham, which became the name of the four merged towns 20 years later.
      The partners soon built a dock at the foot of the street they named Broadway, which today is named Bennett Avenue. They also built a sawmill at the bayside below 13th and State streets, which was never very profitable until after it was sold to the E.K. Wood Company in 1900, eight years after Eldridge's death. That mill was destroyed by fire on Sept. 22, 1925, and was never rebuilt.
      In the down years of the mid-1880s, the lots in the partners' townsite had few takers and the partners sold part of the site to Nelson Bennett in 1888 when he came to town to promote neighboring Fairhaven and the Fairhaven & Southern Railway. But when the boom fever was at its highest pitch, the partners finally realized a return on their investment near where Boulevard Park is today.

The Eldridge family and their homes
(John J. Edens, Isabelle's husband)
John J. Edens, Isabelle's husband

      The Eldridges had four children. Isabelle (1852-1909) was prepared to teach by Professor L.P. Venen of Olympia and then taught at the first school in Sehome through 1874. Later she taught at Sehome High School in 1877 and in 1880 she married John J. Edens (1840-1914). Edens was a Kentucky native who came to Washington Territory in 1870 and logged on Guemes Island and represented the new Skagit County in the Territorial Legislature. They moved from Guemes to Bellingham permanently in 1893 and alumni of Western Washington University will remember the old Edens Hall women's dormitory.
      Eddie Eldridge (1855-1868) was accidentally and fatally shot while in a boat on Bellingham Bay. Alice Eldridge (1858?-1886) died on Feb. 4, 1886, in Skagit County. She was educated at a convent in Victoria and then married a man named Gilligan sometime by 1876 and they then moved to Fir Island, Skagit County, where they had four children. She was the first teacher in the Ferndale area and Annie Tawes Ray credits Alice for leading a campaign to change the name for the village from "Jam" to Ferndale in 1876, much to the consternation of a steamboat captain who navigated the river near the log jams.

(House 1) (House 2) (House 3)
Top: original Eldridge 1853 cabin, photographed in 1889, courtesy of Fourth Corner; Center: 1891 Eldridge Mansion; Bottom: 1939 Hugh Eldridge Mansion, courtesy of City of Bellingham

      Hugh Eldridge (1860-1939) was County Auditor, a realtor and a town builder and promoter, besides administering his parents' property and estate. His most important office was as postmaster for Bellingham on three different occasions across nearly three decades. He also built the last of a series of homes on the family's original claim. After the Eldridges arrived in 1853, Edward built the first cabin on their claim at the mouth of Squalicum Creek. In 1862, they moved into a larger cabin, which burned on April 25, 1878, along with his extensive book collection which had served as an informal community library for the young village. Nothing was saved except for a few pieces of furniture. Teresa and Isabelle were home but escaped unscathed. Edward was in Walla Walla at the time, preparing for the convention, planned to begin on June 11, to write a proposed state constitution. We reviewed the controversy above about that appointment of Eldridge as the Whatcom County representative. Was the cabin torched by his enemies? We have not yet found any details of the fire. After that fire, the area of the Eldridges' claims was platted from 1881 to 1884 and part of that plat now encompasses part of the Eldridge Historical District, along with part of the Roeder claim.
      According to the City of Bellingham website about the property, after each of four home fires on the property, the various Eldridge families moved into "outbuildings." In 1891, a year before his death, Eldridge oversaw the construction of the luxurious Victorian "Eldridge Mansion," on Eldridge Avenue, on the bluffs overlooking Squalicum Creek. A raging forest fire destroyed that mansion in 1894. Earlier, on Feb. 23, 1893, Hugh married Dellisca J. Bowers, the former chair of language and drawing at the Normal School in Lynden in the late 1880s.
      In the early hours of March 31, 1907, a milk delivery man discovered yet another fire in what was described as the "garden house" on the site, and he woke up Hugh Eldridge and his wife and the hired help. Dellisca died in 1910 and Hugh lived on the property alone until June 24, 1922, when Hugh married a second time, to Mrs. Clara Burleigh, widow of Walter A. Burleigh of Seattle. In 1926, Hugh hired F. Stanley Piper, the same architect who designed the 1912 Bellingham National Bank Building, to design the current mansion at 2915 Eldridge Avenue for the postmaster and his wife. Hugh and his wife were still living there when he died at age 79 on Dec. 11, 1939. He had no children from either marriage. The late Hugh Eldridge "Brick" Carr's family lived in the home afterwards, except that during World War II, the U.S. Military used it for offices and living space. He descended from Edward through his daughter Alice Eldridge Gilligan and her daughter, May Carr.

Our conclusions, hypotheses
      As with Dan Harris and Bill Jarman, some of the tales of Eldridge's early biography could well have been building blocks for Eldridge as he did what so many 19th-century pioneers did when they reappeared halfway around the world from their childhood home: he reinvented himself and reshaped anything that did not fit the new profile. Then again, there could well be a kernel of truth at the base of all the tales.
      The orphan story is obviously debunked by the Munro descendants. Mabel Lameraux's memories are contradictory and probably colored by whatever disagreement that John Munroe may have had with Eldridge. Carolyn Bruce suggests, "Perhaps Alexander was just a very adventurous, and rebellious, boy, who simply ran away from home."
      Our answers to the Munro questions were greatly aided by a combination of people besides the Munro descendants. We were initially reminded of the name change by Donna Sand, the excellent researcher whose parents owned a home in the original Bellingham plat and thinks of herself as a southsider. She and her late husband, Bob Sand, were both history lovers and now that she is a widow, she spends much of her time ferreting out facts, figures and sources about the pioneer days of the wee villages of Whatcom, Fairhaven, et al. We also studied all the available records at the Northwest Washington State Regional Archives, which shares space with the Center of Pacific Northwest Studies (hereafter CPNWS) in the Goltz-Murray Building, located at the border of the Western Washington University Campus and Fairhaven. The facility includes original records from seven northwest Washington counties and the collections of historical material and authors' research that are maintained by the Center. We very much appreciate the help of James Copher and Ruth Steele and James Moore at the Archives, as well as Candace Wellman.
      Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro was largely responsible for implementing the Goltz-Murray complex as well as similar regional centers all around the state, and his memories of his ancestor immigrants from Scotland were important for this story, as you will see. As he wrote to us, "Remember that all the Munros came from a very small area of Scotland. So somewhere back there, we are all tied together." In 2004, Ralph was president of Clan Munro of America and he informed us that the clan has launched a DNA project to determine just who descends from whom, nationwide. We hope to meet with the members of the clan when they stage their convention in Seattle in 2009.
      There was quite a wave of immigrants from this clan and several spellings of the name. We had heard rumors of the Eldridge name change years ago, but we never realized the importance of it until Sand urged us to explore the subject. As often happens when we study controversy from the past, we concluded after studying all the available documents on the subject that we cannot come to any firm conclusion and we were led down a number of blind alleys. But we hope that the published results of the research will open the subject to discussion and encourage descendants to share any memories or documents they may have.
      We were certainly happy to find the 1878 "Enemies" letters because they showed not only how the writer tried to bring down this most interesting pioneer to their level But they also substantiated that he changed his name sometime after his Great Lakes tour and before the time that he went to the gold fields of Yreka and married Teresa. When did he tell her about the name?. Was the sluice-box suit the reason for the new identity? Those questions, unfortunately, are still up in the air.
      "Brick" Carr, was probably the last Eldridge descendant who had personal conversations with the family elders about the Eldridge/Munro contretemps. He was a great-grandson who descended through Edward's daughter Alice and her daughter, May Carr.
      We still have not solved one of the larger mysteries. We wondered at first if Eldridge's principal biographer, Lottie Roeder Roth of Bellingham, decided not to address his birth name because of the friendship between her mother and Teresa Eldridge. She was the daughter of Henry and Mary Elizabeth Austin Roeder, Eldridge's fellow Whatcom pioneers. After Miss Austin came out west from Ohio in 1854 and married Roeder on Feb., 10, 1855, Teresa was her first female friend in the tiny village of Whatcom. But as we read further about the dealings between the men, we discovered that after a while, they became less friendly and more competitive, leading up to the contentious election of 1869. If anyone knew the truth about Eldridge's real name and background, it would likely have been Henry Roeder, especially if he met him on the Great Lakes and if Eldridge was still using the name Alexander Braid Monro.
      Finally, Candace Wellman delineates some incidents that illustrate the separation between the two men. In the first place, Eldridge came to Whatcom as an employee of Roeder's, not a partner. Next, once Eldridge became affiliated more with Sehome and then Unionville/Bellingham, the competition between those early towns and Whatcom drew the two men further apart even as their wives remained friends. And finally, Roeder pointedly left town at the time of Eldridge's funeral.

1. Hunt & Kaylor
      Herbert Hunt and Floyd C. Kaylor. Washington West of the Cascades, vols. I & II. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1917. [Return]

2. Elwood Evans, 1889
      The Evans profile is courtesy of this website, a transcription of the vital resource, History of The Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, by Elwood Evans, 1889, who later became Washington Secretary of State. Janine Bork and Marjorie Rundall Campbell have painstakingly transcribed almost all of the two volumes of this 1889 book, for which all we researchers should be eternally grateful. They share the information in hopes that family researchers and students will learn from it. Please thank them personally: Bork and Campbell. Ms. Bork has authorized us since 2000 to use excerpts for educational purposes; please be very careful how you share this information and please request permission to re-publish it. [Return]

3. Lottie Roeder Roth
      Lottie Roeder Roth. History of Whatcom County, vols. I & II. Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1926. [Return]

4. Clan Munro
      Read more about Clan Munro of America) [Return]

Links to other features in the Eldridge Section.
      In part two of this Eldridge section, profiles of Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge
      In part three of this Eldridge section, you will find these additional profiles of Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge and their descendants
      Part four:

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Story posted on Sept. 24, 2006, last updated on March 11, 2008
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