Saturday, June 3, 2017

William W. Winsor & James G. Swan - "Almost Out of the World"

In 2010, I finally figured out that my 3x-great-grandfather, William W. Winsor, had gone to Washington State. He was one of the early settlers of Port Angeles and briefly served as lighthouse keeper at Tatooche/Tatoosh Island in 1860. The last mention I find of him is in 1867, when W. W. Winsor is mentioned in a court case in Jefferson County, Washington.

Lighthouse at Tatoosh Island
Lighthouse at Tatoosh Island.
Original photo:
I've found other mentions of him online and one commenter mentioned a book that mentions my grandfather, Almost Out of the World: Scenes from the Washington Territory by James G. Swan, published 1971 by the Washington State Historical Society. The book is a collection of San Francisco Evening Bulletin newspaper columns that detail Swan's time spent on the Strait of Juan de Fuca from 1859 to 1861.

Fortunately, I was able to get the book at my local library via inter-library loan from the University of Nebraska at Omaha's library. I thought it might be a brief mention, but the book said some colorful and interesting things about my great-great-great grandfather and I wanted to share them.

Sure enough, page 23 mentions the invitation by Capt. William W. Winsor to James G. Swan to accompany him in his schooner, the "J. K. Thorndike." My grandfather shows up on several more pages than I expected.

On page 24, I love that he gives a colorful bit of background about how William Winsor and Rufus Holmes knew each other since childhood (both being from Duxbury, Massachusetts), and are now old, grumpy captains. He gives a description of both men on page 25:

The two captains were gigantic specimens of the growth of Massachusetts Bay, being over six feet in height and every way large in proportion; and as the cabin of the little schooner was on a rather diminutive scale, it was surprising how these giants stowed themselves away.

Swan goes on to write that my grandfather was "gifted to the art of cooking," and details an argument between Rufus Holmes and William Winsor about what to name a particular bay - "Holmes' Hole" or "Winsor's Harbor."

The adventure continues until page 29. At that point in their journey, Rufus Holmes trips over his own dog and Captain Bill, as Swan calls my grandfather, makes light of it. He seems to have a bit of a dark sense of humor, because every time the dog causes problems for Rufus, my grandfather suggests simply pitching the dog overboard or does something in retaliation.

He also appears to be a humanitarian. I think my favorite quote from my grandfather in the book is this one: "I go in for humanity," said he, "and no man, black, white or red, shall go hungry while the dogs are fed."

Other shorter mentions follow on pages 70, 74, 91, 100, 117, 118, and 121.

While the book does not answer the question of what became of William (did he ever return to his wife and children in Duxbury, or let them continue to believe he was dead while living out his life in Washington?), it gave me interesting insight into him as a person: a good cook, cantankerous, boisterous, a bit salty in his humor, and tolerant of his fellow humans regardless of skin color, which I would consider a rare and admirable thing for someone born in 1811.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

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