WA Secretary of State Blogs

“Sensation John” Brings the Confederate Cause to Washington Territory

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections | 1 Comment »


From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

The fun part about murky plots and conspiracies is that they are just that– murky, leaving a mystery for historians to argue about for decades. Even at the time the daring plan of Confederate agents in Victoria B.C. to capture a Port Townsend-based Revenue Cutter was exposed, rival newspapers could not agree on the facts of the case.

The following article was found in the March 7, 1863 Washington Statesman, a Walla Walla newspaper. John T. Jeffreys was apparently remembered in that city as “Sensation John,” from his exploits in the area serving as a lieutenant with the Oregon Volunteers during the Native American conflict of 1855-56.

The Plot to Seize the Shubricksensation

“John T. Jeffreys– ‘sensation John,’ and now, secession John– comes out in an article in the British Colonist, and acknowledges that the reported plot to seize the U.S. Steamer Shubrick and convert her into a privateer was an actuality. John’s article is characteristic, and were it not for the fact his statements are corroborated through other sources, we should be inclined to believe the whole thing a humbug. He pitches into the editor of the Colonist, for exposing the scheme, in this wise:”

“‘I admit freely that there was a Confederate Commodore here, and that he had a commission in his pocket. I admit that a crew was picked and that the object was to injure Federal commerce in these waters. In short, I admit everything that you have stated, except that the expedition was a piratical one, and that the design was to burn the mail steamer. That would never have been done, except in case of necessity, which, I think is safe to say, would never have arisen.'”

 “‘I make this statement boldly, not because I wish to render myself notorious, but because you have meanly– with a meaness which your friends never supposed you capable of– violated a confidence reposed in you, and made an affair public which you should have kept locked within your own breast. True, the thing had fallen through. True, the Commodore had left and the scheme had been abandoned; but, sir, by what right, or by whose permission, did you feel 

sensation 2

warranted in exposing the enterprise, without first consulting its leaders, or the parties who furnished you the information? I do not know who your informant was, and I do not care now, (time was when I might have cared, though) but this I will say, that he has betrayed a sacred confidence reposed in him, which he 

should have rather lost his life than to have done.'”

“Pity that this betrayer of ‘sacred confidence’ did not have the power to do it in such a manner as to have had the plotters ‘left dangling at a rope’s end.'”

Identified by some as an Alabaman, John Thomas Jeffreys was actually born in Independence, Missouri April 7, 1830. John, along with his parents and siblings, went overland by wagon train to northwest Oregon in 1845. After the 1849 death of their father Thomas Jeffreys, the family moved The Dalles.

John was in the cattle trade and along with his brother Oliver found an excellent market in British Columbia. According to F.W. Laing in the Oct. 1942 British Columbia Historical Quarterly, the brothers Jeffreys first show up in BC documents as early as 1860. Benjamin F. Gilbert in the July-Oct. 1954 issue of the same periodical has a long essay on the details of Jeffreys’ involvement in the Shubrick case.

The newspaperman who Jeffreys felt betrayed him was actually with the Victoria Daily Chronicle. His name was David Williams Higgins and he later wrote a memoir suggesting the plot was really exposed by Union intelligence rather than by journalists. According to Scott McArthur in The Enemy Never Came, the American Consul Mr. Francis informed the Shubrick’s pro-Union second in command, Lt. James M. Selden, of the plot. Apparently the skipper and other sailors were in on the plan. So when the Shubrick visited Victoria “while the ship’s captain and most of the crew were ashore, Selden and six members of the crew cast off and returned to Port Townsend.”

The rival Victoria newspaper, The Daily British Colonist, was openly critical of the Chronicle for being sensationalist and a scandal sheet. The publisher was none other than that steak-juggling eccentric, Amor de Cosmos, who we met in an earlier post.   De Cosmos had been Higgins’ mentor and employer before the two had a falling out in 1862.

Shortly after the Shubrick incident Jeffreys returned to Oregon, where he was arrested. He died in The Dalles Feb. 24, 1867, aged 36.

The Shubrick continued life as a government ship until 1886, when it was sold in Astoria, Oregon and scrapped.

Maryland native Lt. James M. Selden was promoted to Captain in the U.S. Revenue Marine Service in 1867. He died March 16, 1888, aged about 57, as the result of sunstroke while on duty.

The Washington Statesman is available in online form thanks to the efforts of our Digital and Historical Collections team. It provides a window into Washington Territory’s contemporary view of the Civil War.

WSL also holds copies of the Daily British Colonist on microfilm.

David Williams Higgins (1834-1917) merged his own newspaper with the Colonist in 1866 to form The Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle which he used as a springboard for political office.

Amor de Cosmos Juggles a Sour Grass Steak in Kalama

Thursday, January 17th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections | 1 Comment »


Amor de Cosmos

From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

Now here’s a sentence I bet no one has constructed before: This is a tale of a crazed Canadian politician juggling and insulting a steak while in the process angering a future Washington Secretary of State to the point of near fisticuffs.

The following article was found at random in the Dec. 16, 1895 issue of The Spokesman-Review. It recalls a visit to Kalama in 1873 by British Columbia’s 2nd Premier, a gentleman by the unusual name of Amor de Cosmos.

Amor de Cosmos has been described as “flamboyant,” “eccentric,” “a racist drunk,” “egotistical,” “disorderly,” “a bad smell in a high wind,” and “fearfully tedious.” He was a major figure in BC journalism and politics from the late 1850s to early 1880s. Born William Alexander Smith in Nova Scotia in 1825, he appears to have been something of an outrageous character for most of his life. In 1895 he was officially declared “of unsound mind,” and died on July 4, 1897 while under the care of his brother. Amor Lake on Vancouver Island is named after him.




 An Eccentric Character Now Lying at Death’s Door in Victoria.




 His Remarkable Performance With a Tough Beefsteak at a Kalama Hotel — Member Parliament.

 “The Hon. Amor de Cosmos, one of the first members British Columbia sent to the Dominion parliament, is very ill at his home in Victoria. The forty-niners of California will best recall him under the name of John Smith, an American, who was something of a globe-trotter, and who was the hero of many adventures. He grew to be ‘well fixed’ while sojourning at the Golden gate, and to wear an expensive white shirt front about which a heavy gold chain meandered in connection with a flowing beard and locks that would put those of the Poet-Scout Crawford to the blush.”

“Comparative wealth spoiled him, and he sickened of the ancient family name of John Smith, so he sent a bill to the de cosmos 1California legislature, praying permission to change it to the more modern one of Amor de Cosmos. Such bills generally pass without any attention whatever, but in this case a member who was something of a wag, moved as an amendment that the name be changed to Patrick McFarlan McGinnin McGinty O’Rourke, and this amendment came within one vote of being carried.”

“Mr. de Cosmos carried his new name over the border to British Columbia, and there naturalized it. He left a record in the Dominion house of commons of having, on a filibustering occasion, addressed the house for 72 hours, one of the longest speeches on record there. One of the resolutions he introduced that created some laughter at the time, was that no man should be employed on the Canadian Pacific railroad, then a government undertaking, whose hair measured more than seven inches. This was aimed at Chinese labor. Mr. de Cosmos’ hair was then 17 inches probably, and the late Sir John A. Macdonald facetiously observed: ‘That settles the cosmogony of the road for all time.'”

“‘Yes,’ said ex-Senator Fairweather yesterday, ‘I knew De Cosmos very well. The forty-niners are getting scarce. De Cosmos is a character. He resembled in appearance the late Carter Harrison, Chicago’s famous mayor. His hair and whiskers were a trifle darker and his complexion, strange to say, more of a Burgundy tint than the illustrious democrat.'”

“‘He made a great speech to save some rights of settlers in British Columbia in the early ’70s, and was completely exhausted at the hour of final adjournment. This successful effort endeared him to the people and he was sent to the Dominion parliament from the province. His last name was chosen by himself, and was certainly an improvement on Smith, Smyth or Smithe.'”

“‘After his election to Ottawa he started for the seat of government in the winter of 1873 via Tacoma, Kalama, Portland and San Francisco. No steamships were running between Victoria and sound ports to San Francisco, no transcontinental railroads existed, but the Central and Union Pacific.'”


J. H. Price

“‘When he arrived in Kalama, to his disgust the Columbia river was frozen between that point and Portland, and he had to remain there until it was opened.'”

“‘He was a guest at the Fulton house, kept then by A.M. Patterson, now the big hop grower of Cowlitz county. Secretary of State J.H. Price, myself and others made that hotel our home. The morning succeeding De Cosmos’ arrival we were late at breakfast. The dining room had been closed, but as old patrons we were admitted and Mrs. Patterson herself was waiting on Jim Price and Bob McGregor and myself when De Cosmos woke up and was admitted to the table. His hair and whiskers were as long as described in the article you have shown me.'”

“‘We were eating our sour grass steak, as all lower Columbia beef was called at that time, with contentment. When De Cosmos was served with his, the first thing he did was to gaze at it suspiciously. It was to him neither beef nor bullion. He hit the steak with his knife viciously and made no impression on it. He turned it over and performed the same operation with the same result. He then gazed at us, at the walls and ceiling and proceeded to toy with that piece of meat in a manner that astonished us. We did not know him, but concluded at once that he was a juggler.'”

“‘He turned the fork in his left hand, jabbed it into the steak, raised it to the elevation of his nose, undercut it with his knife in his right, and tossing it to the ceiling, caught it on its return with his fork and took another whack at it. After repeating this two or three times he remarked that it was not fit for a dog to eat.'”

“‘At this Price jumped up and said he had been eating that kind of steak for six months and was no dog either, and demanded an apology.'”

“‘The lover of the world got into deep water and was taken out of the dining room by Mrs. Patterson and politely requested to go elsewhere. As he left the room, however, he looked at Price enviously, and remarked that a man who could exist on that kind of beef must have a stomach like a bullion retort?'”


John Wilson Sprague

“‘He reported to General Sprague that he had been assaulted by a lot of ruffians at the hotel and asked his protection. The general entertained him at his home, and Price, who was revenue inspector at Kalama then, did not annoy him on his departure by inspecting his baggage.'”

“‘I met him 10 years later at Victoria and he treated me nicely. He was a bright man and did much for the land of his adoption.'”

It is interesting the above article assumed Amor de Cosmos was originally an American.

The teller of the tale was Handford Wentworth Fairweather (1852-1919) who was a member of the 1889 Constitutional Convention and served in the 1st Washington State Legislature as a Senator from Lincoln County.

J.H. Price was James H. Price (1847-1919), Washington’s 2nd Secretary of State, serving from 1893-1897.

General Sprague was John Wilson Sprague (1817-1894), Civil War military figure and co-founder of Tacoma. Sprague, Washington, originally called Hoodooville,  (and where Sen. Fairweather later lived) was named in his honor.

The newspapers of Amor de Cosmos, The British Colonist and the Daily British Colonist, which he edited until 1863, are in the WSL newspapers on microfilm collection.

More information about Amor de Cosmos and other British Columbia premiers can be found in: British Columbia’s Premiers in Profile : the Good, the Bad, and the Transient by William Rayner.


Thursday, September 20th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections | 1 Comment »

From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

Shortly after losing the status of Clallam County seat in an election in 1890, many in the town of New Dungeness picked up and moved across the river forming a community called, interestingly enough, Dungeness. This new hamlet even had an optimistic (although short-lived) newspaper: The Dungeness Beacon.

The following item was found at random in the July 29, 1892 issue, reprinted from Port Townsend’s Key City Graphic:


 The Gay and Festive Sea Serpent in the Vicinity of Dungeness.

 “We clip the following harrowing tale from the Key City Graphic of July 21st:”

“Yesterday morning, while the steamer Monticello was coming from Angeles to this city, and when almost directly opposite Dungeness, Captain Oliver says he saw the water in the Straits lashed into foam. Drawing near, to the surprise of the captain and all on board, a huge sea serpent, wrestling about in the waters as if fighting with an unseen enemy, was seen. It soon quieted down and lay at full length on the surface of the water. Captain Oliver estimates it to be about fifty feet in length and not less than four feet in circumference of the body. Its head was projecting from the water about four feet. He says it was a terrible looking object. It had viciously sparkling eyes and a large head. Fins were seen, seemingly sufficiently large to assist the snake through the water. The body was dark brown in color and was uniform all along. From what he says it would be capable of crushing a yawl boat and its occupants.”

“As the steamer passed on its course, the snake was seen disporting itself in the water. At the time the Straits were calm, and there could have been no mistake in recognizing the object.”

Sea serpent reports in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in general and Dungeness in particular have a long history. L.E. Bragg in Myths and Mysteries of Washington describes a sea serpent that was seen so frequently in the Strait in the 1930s that the citizens of Victoria gave it a name: “So many came forward after these reports were published that editor Archie Wills of the Victoria Daily Times held a contest to name the sea serpent. The winning entry was ‘Cadborosaurus,’ or ‘Caddy’ for short, named for Cadboro Bay just north of Victoria where it had been seen. Even after limiting reports to those that were signed and verified, Wills compiled a list of around 100 people, including three sea captains and the pilot who flew the mail between Seattle and Victoria, who had seen the beast.”

But I’d like to propose a new name for the serpent, at least for the one who hangs around the Washington State side of the Strait: