Friday, January 15, 2016

Pioneer Legends: Charles Terry

In Instant Frontier Family, heroine Maddie O’Rourke has reason to doubt the character of the rival bakery owner in Seattle, Charles Terry. But Maddie may have judged too harshly. In fact, according to early historian Clarence Bagley, “Charles C. Terry was recognized as one of the most honorable men and trusted citizens that Seattle has ever known.”

If one word sums up Terry, it would be entrepreneur. He left his home town of Waterville, New York, at age 19 for the California Gold Rush. But the gold must not have been enough for this enterprising young man, for he headed north when he was 21 and met up with the second half of the Denny party, among the first settlers to the Seattle area. Journeying to Washington Territory, he joined his brother Lee, who was already hard at work building the first cabins. Some sources credit Terry with naming their little establishment New York. But someone must have wanted to temper the enthusiasm, but the native word “Alki” to the name, meaning “by and by,” was appended to the name.

According to some chroniclers, Terry had already figured out from the Gold Rush that the path to fortune wasn’t in mining, but in outfitting miners. Accordingly, he set up a store in the new town, conveniently positioned to attract passing ships. He also opened his own sawmill for a time. When gold was discovered in the Fraser River, however, he was among those who rushed farther north for a time, although it is possible he was there to sell equipment, not pan for gold. Regardless, he did so well for himself, that he eventually sold his Alki property for land across the bay, in Seattle proper, as well as a farm on the Duwamish River.

In 1856, at age 26, he married one of the few unwed ladies in the area, Mary Jane Russell. They had five children together. He built her the finest residence in Washington Territory, a white house with brick-a-brack hanging from every eave. It once stood at the corner of Third and James and made Maddie O’Rourke dream of finding similar success. He opened the first bakery, built the first cracker mill. He was one of the first town trustees. And he generously offered land to make up the 10-acre tract required to attract the first Territorial University to Seattle, a school that would become the University of Washington.

Sadly, Terry died young, at only 37, approximately three months after the story ends in Instant Frontier Family. Very likely he had consumption (tuberculosis). He died one of the wealthiest men in the area, and clearly one of the most respected.

I’m sure Maddie would have been his friend long before then. 

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