Friday, August 14, 2015

Pioneer Legends: Daniel Bagley

[The winner of a signed copy of Frontier Engagement is Daisy! E-mail me at, Daisy, and I’ll send it right out to you. Congratulations, and thanks for commenting!]

In middle school and high school, I had two dear friends, sisters who shared a certain last name. Though we lost track of each other for a while, we recently reconnected as a result of the efforts of another friend. One of them told me that she was delighted to find their last name gracing a “character” in my Frontier Bachelors series. But I didn’t make up minister Daniel Bagley, who has a key scene in Frontier Engagement. He was one of those real-life characters who made Seattle great.

Daniel Bagley was born into a farming family in 1818 Pennsylvania, but he must have had an urge to wander from an early age, for he married when he was only 22 and promptly whisked his wife Susannah off to settle an Illinois prairie. He was ordained a Methodist minister in 1842 and took on the role of circuit preacher, riding all over the state. Ten years later, he was on a wagon train heading west to settle near Salem, Oregon. There he served as a missionary establishing churches.

The legend goes that his wife’s health drove him north to seek the “clean air” of Puget Sound. I’m not entirely sure how Puget Sound is any cleaner than Salem at that point in history. Supposedly they came by horse-drawn buggy, but I’m finding that one difficult to believe since it appears there were no roads leading north from the Portland area to Seattle until much later than 1860, when Daniel and his wife and 17-year-old son Clarence arrived. However, he reached Seattle, and whatever encouraged him to come, he started out as an agent of the American Tract society, passing out pamphlets to those who needed to repent, until he oversaw the building of what would become known as the Brown Church (as opposed to the only other church in town, which was painted white). Daniel was its first minister, preaching on Sundays and performing marriages, christenings, and baptisms for many of Seattle’s founding families.

But Daniel wasn’t content to minister only to their souls. He wanted to minister to their minds as well. He was one of the driving forces behind locating the territorial university in Seattle (what would become the University of Washington). When the legislature was persuaded to make the offer, he encouraged local landowners to donate sufficient land to make the dream a reality. He also served as president on the university board of commissioners and appointed Asa Mercer as the first university president.

And it seems he supported young Asa in other ways. He had known Asa through Asa’s brother Thomas, who originally journeyed west in the same group as Daniel. Asa worked as a laborer to craft the first building for the fledgling university. But Asa too had a dream: bringing brides to wilderness bachelors.

As we’ve seen, there are two schools of thought on Mr. Mercer’s attempts to bring young ladies from the East to “civilize” Seattle. Some thought him a visionary; others a cunning confidence man. Either way, his second voyage was plagued with rumors of financial improprieties. When a number of the women refused to marry gentlemen who claimed to have paid for their passage, Seattle erupted in controversy.

Mercer hired the use of Yesler Hall (also known as the sawmill’s cookhouse) to make his case to the good citizens of Seattle. Daniel oversaw the meeting. Supposedly Mercer’s persuasive arguments and the backing of several of his lovely charges swayed Seattle to see things his way. Daniel later married Asa Mercer to Anne Stephens, one of the women he’d brought with him. Very likely Daniel officiated at more than one marriage of Mercer’s Belles.

But he didn’t stop his wanderings. He managed the Newcastle coal mines on the east side of Lake Washington for a time, then went back to circuit riding, preaching at a number of churches in the area. He died at age 87 and is buried beside his wife in Seattle. Their son Clarence went on to become one of the area’s earliest historians, penning multivolume histories of Seattle and King County, histories to which I owe much of the information in my Frontier Bachelors stories.

So you see, I owe a lot to the name of Bagley, in fiction and in real life. As Rina likes to say, no one ever replaces a true friend. But if we are very fortunate, we may add to their number. Here's hoping you are very fortunate indeed!

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