Lorraine McConaghy, historian at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), spent the summer of 2005 in “the other Washington” hoping to find treasures in the U.S. Navy’s archives. The object of this ardor was the 117 ft U.S. Navy sloop-of-war, the USS Decatur, which one hundred and fifty years earlier visited Seattle and stayed for nine months defending the village during the Treaty War.
The result is adventures all around – aboard the Decatur, inside the blockhouse, which the sailors helped the settlers complete, and in the village and in the woods behind it. All are wonderfully recounted in McConaghy’s “Warship Under Sail, The USS Decatur in the Pacific West,” a new book from the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest in association with the University of Washington Press.
John Y. Taylor, a navy doctor on board, drew this detailed likeness of the blockhouse Fort Decatur – named for the warship. Until the historian uncovered it, the drawing was buried in the archives. One of the two oldest renderings of any part of Seattle, this sketch is totally new to us. The other, also drawn from the Decatur ‘s deck, is by Thomas Phelps, Taylor’s friend and shipmate. Taylor’s rendering has greater detail. The rightfully enthused McConaghy proposes, “You could build the blockhouse from this drawing, I think.”
When the heavy boxes of microfilm copied for her from Taylor’s journals first arrived in Seattle from Yale’s Beinecke Library McConaghy recalls, “I raced to the MOHAI library and my hands were shaking with such excitement that I could hardly thread the reader. But there were Taylor’s drawings, right up on the screen, of Seattle (and much else). I laid my head in my hands and wept.”
McConaghy’s recounting of the Decatur at Seattle and in the five-year Pacific cruise required years of searching and shaping but now the book is readily available to readers and deserves lots of them. She is right: her work “allows us to see (pioneer) Seattle with completely new eyes.”
(The public is invited to Dr. McConaghy’s lecture about her book at Horizon House, on First Hill, Thursday, February 18 at 7:30 pm.)
Paul suggested we illustrate our web edition of this week’s Seattle Now & Then with several photos of surviving blockhouses, featured in our book Washington Then & Now.
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean once more we have some BLOG EXTRAS. (!!!)
UP ABOVE – and already – we inserted Thomas Phelps panorama of the village also rendered, as it were, from the Decatur. And then just below these notes and in order, we include Phelps map of the village both as he drew it (nearly), and then as incorporated in into a larger map of the first settler’s claims. Below that are two paintings of scenes from the “Battle of Seattle.” One by one of the Denny daughters show the villagers rushing to the blockhouse. The other is an “Indian’s-eye view” from the woods of First Hill.