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Homesteading in Washington Territory - 1889

Hungering for land, Agatha prevailed on her father Felix to help Thomas John LEWIS find work in Washington Territory. Felix accommodated the request and Thomas John was hired by Union Iron Works to install winch anchors at the Shipyards at Seabeck, Washington Territory. Thomas John sold his sloops to buy household equipment and provisions for a year in order to begin a new life in the Pacific Northwest. So less than a year after they were married, when Agatha was four months pregnant with their first child, the couple with their furniture and supplies took passage on the "Olympus" for Seabeck, Washington Territory.

The Perilous voyage to Washington Territory

In September 1881, Thomas John LEWIS and Agatha OLANIE LEWIS, took passage on the four-masted sailing ship, Olympus. Captain Edwards had with him his wife and 18 year old daughter, May. Guy Phnney, who named Phinney Avenue for himself and later gave Woodland Park to Seattle, was also a passenger.

The Olympus ws the largest single decker in the world and the finest sailing vessel ever built on Puget Sound. It was launched at Seabeck, Washington Territory, August 21st 1880 by Hiram Doncaster. She was two hundred and thirty seven feet long, forty-four feet beam, seventeen feet hold and could sail like a yacht carrying an immense cargo.

The passengers were all young. The ship was new, loaded with provisions, powder, Christmas toys and hay bound for Seabeck and other Puget Sound ports. Half-way up the coast and 400 miles off shore, the ship caught fire when a careless sailor left a lighted candle in the hold. The sailors battened down the hatches and the whole company took to the sea in two life boats. The sea was calm but it was a dark and bitter cold September day. The occupants of the life boats watched as the Olympus burnt. First the mainmast went over the side, then the mizzenmast and lastly the foremast leaving only a black and charred hulk. Fortunately, a few hours later the ship, War Hawk sighted the life boats and rescued the crew and passengers. They landed at Port Discovery on Sunday, 13, September 1881. Of the $12,000 worth of cargo, only a dog and piano were saved.

Seabeck - The Liveliest Town on Puget sound

Thomas John and Agatha literally arrived in Washington Territory with only the clothes on their backs. The arrived just two days after President Garfield had died. After stopping at Port Townsend for five months, they arrived at Seabeck, in Kitsap County, Washington Territory on February 4, 1882. The next day their first child, Henry King Lewis, was born. He lived but a day and was buried in the Seabeck Cemetery.

The indians had called Seabeck, La-Ka-Bak-hu and said, they had always found it a pleasant place to fish and dig clams and laze away the summer days. The salmon ran well and there were rich thickets of well-aged fish oil for potlatch feasting.

Seabeck was a boomtown due to the Washington Mill Co built in 1857. It had a deep clear harbor and its shores were lined solidly with big, straight trees. It primarilly served the San Francisco lumber market but timber was sent all over the world. By 1865, a shipyard was opened at Seabeck and for the next two decades, steamers, barkentines and tugs were built.

By 1877, Seabeck was much larger than Seattle. It boasted a population of 400 people along with four saloons, two hotels, two stores, a church, a little red school house and a five-acre cemetery.

The LEWIS' quickly joined the society of Seabeck. They set up housekeeping in a house in an orchard. Thomas John spent his days searching for land to homestead and pursuing his trade as a carpenter. He undoubtedly helped to build the second Seabeck mill which opened in 1883. It was unique in that it used the services of Chinese laborers to cut costs. Thomas John felt the competition of the Chinese workers and had to go elsewhere for work.

Thomas John was away working when Theresa Caroline was born prematurely on the 20th of January 1883 and the snow was deep. While returning home to see his new daughter, Thomas John came through Beaver Creek Valley. The meadows looked level and wide under their blanket of snow. Close grown stands of fir and cedar reached away in every direction. It was a lonely spot but beautiful. Five months later, in May 1883, Thomas John filed homestead rights on 320 acres of land (160 acres for both himself and Agatha).

By 1886, the LEWIS' were well established at Seabeck, a new baby, Thomas Henry (my grandfather) was born in April and Thomas John must have been proud to have a son who would continue his family name. Things seemed rosy -- then tragedy struck again.

Thomas John was on the dock at Seabeck the afternoon of August 12, 1886 when the dreaded call of fire was heard. he later stated that if he had had a buck of water he could have put out the fire. A stiff breeze was blowing directly off the wharf where lay huge piles of lumber. The sparks from a donkey engine caught in the lumber and the blaze quickly got out of hand. A bucket brigade was formed but proved inadequate to the task. In two hours after the alarm was sounded a smouldering heap of ruins marked the spot where for years had stood the Seabeck mill. The wharves were destroyed, many of the piles being burned down to the waters edge.

Homesteading at Crosby

The mill at Seabeck was never rebuilt. The family continued to homestead at Crosby, five miles south of Seabeck. While Agatha and the four children lived at the homestead, Thomas John sought work around the county. To Agatha was left the job of raising the children and dealing with her mother-in-law (Eliza FENN of Woodbridge, England). She kep a shotgun on the mantle and would take it down when Indians would wander into the yard. It wasn't that Agatha disliked the Indians, she had a warm spot for all people. But she just didn't have enough food to feed all the Indians that followed the old trail by her house to attend Potlatches ont he canal.

By 1903, Thomas John and Agatha had had 12 children. Her doctor warned Agatha that her health had been destroyed by the hard life and the number of children she had born. Around this time, Thomas John began to spend more time at the ranch. Agatha chafed somewhat at her loss of independence writing,

...we lived in the West on an unimproved homestead and my husband had to go away to work most of the time for several years leaving me to care for the children, cattle and for many years I had full control fo the children and everything else until I considered that no one else had any right to give orders but myself and there's where the trouble lay. When we got along so as my husband could stay home for the first time in years, it was very hard ont he children and myself. I had to take myself to task and reason it out with myself that he was their father and they owed obedience and love to him. Well, we all gradually learned the lesson hard as it was.

Tragedy struck the LEWIS family in 1905 and again in 1906. In 1905, Nettie, the second eldest child died just before her 21st birthday leaving her three children motehrless. In March of 1906, the home that had held so much joy for the family burned to the ground with all the family possessions.

With the insurance money from the house, Thomas John purchased equipment for a sawmill. Thomas John and his sons built the sawmill on the homestead to provide a living for the family. Later, a machine shop and water power shingle mill were added. The land that was unsuitable for vegetables sure grew trees! The sawmill was operated until 1949.

A new house was built - bigger than before and was filled with childrens laughter. Agatha loved children and had a special place for motherless ones (perhaps because her own mother died young). She raised her brothers two sons, Frnacis and Alex. After Nettie died, she raised Netties' children: Monty, Myrtle and Fay. And she was foster mother to dozens of children. Agatha was both a nurse and doctor. People would come from miles around for her to sew up cuts and set broken bones.


Agatha OLANIE (age 54 years) and daughter Flo in 1916

Thomas John contributed to the community in many ways. The wooden bridges placed on roads in Kitsap County were built by him (the timbers being sawn at his sawmill from lumber from the homestead). Later he contracted for a built the school houses for Seabeck, Holly, and Crosby. A Crosby community club and grange was incorporated in 1911 and Thomas John was an early leader of this club. The center of the community, the Community Club hosted monthly dances at which all the Lewis children were present. The grange continued to operate until 1922 when it was disbanded.

During World War I, Thomas John and Agatha were forced to move to Bremerton so that the two youngest daughters could continue their schooling and so that Agatha could be nearer to medical facilities. In 1919, after an illness of two years, Agatha died after a gallstone operation. She had literally worn herself out from bearing children and homesteading. She was 57 years old.

The full story of Thomas John and Agatha: Kitsap County Pioneers is available through the Kitsap County Historical Society, Silverdale, Washington, USA.

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