Looking Back: The life of George Brackett (1841-1927) — Part 1

George Brackett. Source: An illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties (1906)

As a child, did you ever play the game Pass it on? One boy or girl would whisper a phrase to another child — that child would then tell what was meant to be the same phrase to the next child, and it would continue on down the line in that fashion.  By the time the words got to the last child in line, the phrase had been altered from the original whispered words. That is sort of what has happened through the years with the retelling of the story of George Brackett and his life as a logger and as the founder of Edmonds. Some of the dates and other information have been changed a bit, and at times, information regarding his personal life has been overlooked.

In order to provide continuity and also additional information regarding the life of George Brackett, his family, and his neighbors, I have carefully compiled a timeline using information from different sources, such as historical books, atlases and newspapers, the Washington State Archives, records from the Bureau of Land Management, Canadian census records and our federal and state census records; also the Washington Pioneer project, as well as Mr. Brackett’s Last Will and Testament and his estate probate records. In addition, I have used some of my own personal memories from when, as a child and teenager in Edmonds, I visited at the Glen Street home of George Sumner Brackett (1878-1945), the eldest child and — as his father referred to him — beloved son.

To avoid confusion, it should be noted that there were two Daniel Bracketts who were important in the life of George Brackett—first, there was his father, the senior Daniel Brackett, who was born in Maine, lived in Canada, and died in Wisconsin. The second one was Daniel Brackett, Jr., George Brackett’s older brother and logging partner in the Seattle area.

The Timeline

1792 – 1827: Daniel Brackett, the father of Edmonds pioneer George Brackett, was born in Falmouth, Maine on Nov. 9, 1792. Mary Connell, Daniel Brackett’s future bride and mother of his children, was born in Ireland on Dec. 8, 1807.

During the 1812 War with England, Daniel Brackett, Sr. served aboard an American war vessel until the hostilities ended. Later, he journeyed to Merimichi, New Brunswick in Canada, and purchased a tract of pine forested land. After logging and selling the trees from his property, he went to Bathurst in Gloucester County, New Brunswick, where he met Mary Connell, who had arrived in New Brunswick from Ireland in 1819. Following this, Mr. Brackett traveled 100 miles to a wilderness near the Restigouche River in New Brunswick. He purchased 400 acres of timbered farmland in that area.  Daniel Brackett and Mary Connell were married Aug. 1, 1827 in the Parish of Beresford, Gloucester County, New Brunswick, Canada. After their marriage, they settled on his 400 acres of land, where he not only became a farmer, he also entered the lumber business.               

1841: Edmonds pioneer George Brackett was born May 22, 1841 on the family’s farm in Restigouche, New Brunswick, Canada, or as it was also called—Lower Canada. He was one of 20 children born to Daniel and Mary Brackett.

The Restigouche River area of Quebec, Canada, and of New Brunswick, where George Brackett was born and grew to manhood, was noted for its dense forests of eastern white cedar, balsam fir, white spruce, white and yellow birch, trembling aspen and balsam poplar.  In addition, it had what was considered to be the best of salmon fishing, and also there was the beauty of the rugged Appalachian mountain range. The men of the region were mainly lumberjacks, fishermen and farmers, and the people were tough, frugal, and hard workers. In fact, the area and the people were much like what George Brackett found when he arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

1859 – 1861: After completing his education in the New Brunswick common schools, in 1859 — at the age of 18 — George Brackett began working as a laborer-logger. The 1861 Canadian census records showed that Daniel and Mary Brackett and 12 of their children, including son George (age 20), were living on a farm on the west side of the intersecting Restigouche River in the township of Matapedia, Quebec, Canada, or as it was also called, Canada East.

Shortly after this census date, George Brackett left home and traveled to Maine, where he lived in lumber camps while working as a logger until 1865.  He then journeyed to Wisconsin — and, in that state, he mainly worked at managing lumber camps.

1869: George Brackett headed west in 1869, possibly in company with his older brother Daniel Brackett, Jr.

Arriving on the West Coast, George Brackett first went to San Francisco, where his stay was short, and he soon booked passage on a sailing ship heading north to Washington Territory. Young and ambitious, upon arrival he began logging in the virgin forest land of the Puget Sound region; meanwhile saving his money to buy oxen teams and equipment to expand his future logging operations. According to the records of the Bureau of Land Management, George Brackett secured a land patent of 162.35 acres near LaConner in Skagit County, Washington Territory. He later traded that claim for forested property in the Seattle area.

1870: While George Brackett was near the shoreline of Puget Sound in his canoe, looking for available timber sources, a sudden storm forced him to find safety on the eastern shore; a short distance north of today’s Point Edwards. Finding a place to secure his canoe amid the vast marshland, he had his first look at the future site of Edmonds. Regarding the history of Edmonds, it is interesting to note that during the 1841 maritime exploration headed by Lt. Charles Wilkes, these same marshlands were recorded as uninhabited — devoid of any tribal presence.

In 1870, when George Brackett arrived at the future site of Edmonds and looked around, he found 29-year-old Daniel Hines busily at work making shingles. Mr. Hines was living alone in a rustic cabin on the property.  However, it was the dense forest of Douglas fir and cedar trees on the steep hillside to the east of the lowlands that caught the attention of young George Brackett—and he envisioned his dream for the future.

By accident, George Brackett had discovered the 140.75-acre preemption claim of Pleasant H. Ewell, a man who had been a participant in establishing Snohomish County in 1860.

Officially, a preemption claim differs from a homestead. The Preemption Act of 1841 permitted squatters who were living on federally-owned land to purchase up to 160 acres of that land at the cost of $1.25 per acre; before it was offered for sale to the general public. To qualify under the law, the squatter had to be: head of the household or a widow, a single man over age 21, or a widow; a citizen of the U.S. (or an immigrant intending to become naturalized) and a resident on the claimed land for a minimum of 14 months.  Evidently, Pleasant Ewell had enough cash when he chose this faster method of claiming land, rather than following the more common homestead claim procedure which took four or five years before receiving title.

After Pleasant Ewell qualified for his preemption land, he was issued his patent on October 10, 1866. While living on his land claim during the qualification period, Mr. Ewell also had been operating a small business making shingles. In order to deliver his shingles to the best markets, Pleasant Ewell blazed a wagon trail from his property to Lake Washington, where the shingles could then be shipped to the Seattle area. His wagon trail very closely followed the same route we know today as State Highway 104.

Pleasant Ewell is considered to be the first person to make his home at what we now call the Bowl of Edmonds.

When he married in 1868, Pleasant Ewell decided to move to Oregon, and on March 25,1870, he sold his 140.75-acre property and his business for the sum of $200 to three of his friends from Mukilteo — businessmen and early settlers Morris H. Frost, Jacob D. Fowler and Nat B. Fowler.

1871: George Brackett was a determined young man, one who seldom sat still in one place, and the Washington Territorial census of April 14, 1871 listed him as an unmarried logger, living at the Samish Precinct of Whatcom County.

Meanwhile back in Eastern Canada, when the 1871 Canadian census was taken, George Brackett’s parents were living on a farm at Bonaventure, Restigouche District, Quebec, Canada. Four of their children were living with them: Mary, age 27; Abraham, 25; Josiah, 23; and Eliza, 20. In 1872, the senior Daniel and Mary Brackett moved to Wisconsin with son Abraham.

1872-1876: George Brackett, with his brother and partner Daniel Brackett, Jr., established camps in the forested areas around Puget Sound. One camp was located at what in 1900 became Fort Lawton. In our time, most of the land George Brackett logged in that section became part of Discovery Park, located in the Magnolia area of Seattle.

George Brackett also began logging from a camp at a settlement later named Farmdale, a few miles north of Seattle. Farmdale was a community dotted with a few small farms. However, during George Brackett’s time, it was still mostly untouched forested land. Farmdale was renamed Ballard and incorporated in 1890. Ballard became a town noted for a plethora of shingle mills and saloons.

In 1872, two years after George Brackett had first seen the old Ewell property north of Point Edwards, he returned and found there were now others living nearby. One man was Thomas F. Kennedy, a former fisherman. Mr. Kennedy had settled about 1871 on his 149.25-acre homestead, which adjoined the old Pleasant Ewell property on the north. Also nearby were James C. Purcell and his extended Indian family. Mr. Purcell and his family were living on his 79-acre homestead a short distance south. The Purcell property included the tideland marsh along the shore of Puget Sound and the bluff we know as Point Edwards. James Purcell’s homestead was located where Unocal (Union Oil of California) in 1922 established its plant, and eventually a wharf, an asphalt refinery and, on the bluff, a number of oil tanks.

Daniel Hines, the man who had been living and working on the former Ewell property when George Brackett first saw it in 1870, had moved a short distance south; just about where the Edmonds train depot is today. However, Daniel Hines didn’t stay around long enough to be counted in the 1880 census.

At this time, George Brackett didn’t remain in the Point Edwards area; instead he went back to his logging operation in the Ballard vicinity. There, George Brackett experienced a great loss. Early Seattle records show that 40-year-old Daniel Brackett, Jr., George Brackett’s older brother and logging partner, died Dec. 1, 1872 at Salmon Bay (near Ballard). The records also show that at a later date Daniel Brackett, Jr.’s body was removed from the Seattle Cemetery, where he had been buried, and was then taken to an unknown location. The cemetery — referred to as Seattle Cemetery — is very likely the former Seattle IOOF Cemetery, now known as Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Located on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, the cemetery was one of the earliest burial places in Seattle.    

1876 – Although he continued logging in the Ballard vicinity, George Brackett returned to the former Pleasant Ewell property near Point Edwards, which by this time was owned by Morris Frost and the Fowler men. He evidently had never forgotten the dense timbered forests on the nearby hillside. In fact, it was reported that six years earlier, he offered $1,000 to buy the old Pleasant Ewell claim; however, at that time, his offer was denied. In 1876, he was able to purchase the 140.75 acres from the owners — Morris Frost and Jacob and Nat Fowler — for $650 cash. The tract George Brackett bought extended north from today’s Dayton Street and included about one-half mile of waterfront, and the land up the hill, a distance of about five blocks deep. In our day, this section is considered the major part of the Bowl of Edmonds.

He built a cabin on a knoll above the beach where Brackett’s Landing is located today. He also began building trenches to drain the marshlands.

By June 24, 1876, George Brackett had 10 men working for him, along with 10 oxen on site. For those curious as to how the oxen made their way to George Brackett’s logging operation, they no doubt came by way of Pleasant Ewell’s original wagon trail.

At this same time, George Brackett also owned 80 acres of Sammamish River property — where Bothell is located today. He began another logging operation on his Sammamish River property; with his headquarters located at what is today a small park in Bothell, known also as Brackett’s Landing. In 1885, George Brackett sold his logged 80 acres of Sammamish River land to David Bothell.

On Dec. 6, 1876 — approximately four years after George Brackett’s parents moved to Wisconsin from Quebec — his father Daniel Brackett, Sr., age 84, died at the Waneca, Dunn County, Wisconsin, farm home of another son, Abraham Brackett.

1877: On June 20, 1877 in Seattle, 36-year-old George Brackett married for the first time. His bride was 18-year-old Etta Jones, daughter of Edwin Jones and Melvina Kennedy; and the stepdaughter of William Wixon. Etta’s father died when she was young and her mother had remarried. Etta Jones, her mother Melvina and her stepfather, had traveled from Minnesota with John Lund, another pioneer, who had settled at Six-Mile Point (six miles south of Mukilteo at today’s Lund’s Gulch in Meadowdale).

George Brackett’s 24-year-old sister, Eliza Brackett, was killed on Aug. 22, 1877 in a stage accident somewhere between Seattle and Lake Washington.  The newspaper stated she was survived by her brother George Brackett and his wife of Seattle. Eliza Brackett was buried at the Seattle Masonic Cemetery on Capitol Hill. The cemetery was renamed Lake View Cemetery in 1890, and is another of Seattle’s pioneer cemeteries.

1878: On March 10, 1878, George and Etta Brackett’s first child, George Sumner Brackett, was born. Shortly following the birth of their son, Mr. Brackett moved his family from Seattle to his recently purchased property at the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement (Edmonds).

The Brackett family first lived in the cabin he had built earlier. Later, at the same location, Mr. Brackett built a very attractive two-story wood framed house. The Brackett home located at Second and Edmonds Streets was once considered to be the largest house in Edmonds.  For many years, the old Brackett home was an Edmonds’ landmark, until it was razed in 1965, and replaced by the Breakwater Town Houses, a condominium-apartment complex at 300 Second Ave. N. With this, an important piece of Edmonds’ history was lost.

1879: George and Etta Brackett’s daughter Fannie Brackett was born Aug. 3, 1879 at the family’s cabin, and she became the first white child born at the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement. Four more children were born to them: Nellie, Ronald, Edith and Mary. However, even though Fannie Brackett was considered the first white child born in what was to become Edmonds, the first children born at the settlement were those from the extended native family of James Purcell.

1880: The U.S. federal census for 1880 in Dunn County, Wisconsin, listed George Brackett’s mother Mary Brackett as a widow, and blind, living with son Abraham Brackett and his wife Grace in Spring Brook, Dunn County, Wisconsin. Abraham and Grace’s three children were also listed in the household, as was 35-year-old Mary Brackett, a daughter of Daniel and Mary Brackett, and George Brackett’s younger sister.

In Snohomish County, Washington Territory, when the federal census was taken in June of 1880, the Ten-Mile Beach Settlement had 27 residents.

This 1880 census included Capt. William H. Hamlin, his wife Mary and their two children Edward and Emma, shown as living adjacent to and just to the south of the Brackett property. Robert Berry, a farm laborer, and his Indian wife Mary, and son Robert were also nearby residents.

South of Capt. Hamlin’s home, James C. Purcell (age 70) and his Indian wife Jennie were listed. Living with James Purcell was Indian Tom, a fisherman and Mrs. Purcell’s brother. With Indian Tom was his Indian wife Louisa, their daughter Alice and son Alex. Bob Indian, the son of James and Jennie Purcell, and his Indian wife Mary, were also listed as living on the property. Later, Bob Indian, a member of the Suquamish Tribe, became known as Bob Purcell.

The families of Mr. Berry and Mr. Purcell were the Indians living at the beach mentioned at times by Mrs. Brackett. It should be noted that unlike what many have assumed, Etta Brackett had not been referring to a tribal settlement near the Brackett’s home.

Other 1880 neighbors were: Alfred Lawry (widowed) and T. J. McArthur (single) both farm laborers, and Jacob Matthews, a laborer, his wife Anna, and daughter Josephine. Thomas F. Kennedy, age 68, still lived at the property north and adjacent to the Bracketts. John C. Lund, a single man, was also included in this Ten-Mile Beach Settlement census listing, even though his 80-acre homestead was actually located at Six-Mile Point, four miles to the north of Edmonds.

(To be continued)

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a former long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. Although now living in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and the people of both early-day Lynnwood and Edmonds.

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