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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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J.J. Van Bokkelen

Jefferson county, Washington, sheriff, 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush and early exploration of the Skagit river.
      [Ed. note: J.J. Van Bokkelen lived in Jefferson county on the Olympic Peninsula but he was an important early pioneer in Whatcom county, including the southern part that became Skagit county in November 1883. We share here our own profile of him, plus a profile of him written in 1889, some genealogical information and a story of how he was involved with the execution of a prisoner in San Juan county, along with the famous sheriff of that county, Stephen Van Buren. We hope that a reader will have a photo of Van Bokkelen and his family.]

J.J. Van Bokkelen, Washington territory pioneer
By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore
      J.J. Van Bokkelen (misspelled many ways in various sources) was one of those characters whose name has largely slipped through the cracks of Northwest history, but whose life illustrates the wild aspects of the early American frontier. His association with future Skagit county was brief, having surveyed the area during the gold rush of the Fraser river in British Columbia.
      J.J.'s father was a Dutch sea captain who emigrated to New York at the turn of the nineteenth century. During the war of 1812 his father continued the active reputation of the family by making a hazardous voyage with one Captain Main to Japan for a load of saltpeter for Uncle Sam, running the gauntlet of two British war ships on the return voyage by the Cape of Good Hope. His mother's family was Welsh and also seafaring. His maternal grandfather was the third licensed pilot in New York and was most famous for piloting the French fleet into the bay. J.J.'s early recollections extend to the visit of Lafayette, whom he saw at the house of his grandmother, whither the great Frenchman had come to present her with a golden anchor in commemoration of the services of her husband.
      J.J. was born on Oct 24, 1816, in New York. As a young man he was a clerk in New York and Alabama. In the mid-1840s he was in such ill health that he returned to his father's North Carolina home to recuperate but his physician suggested that he sail for California. The rigors of the trip around the Horn reinvigorated him and he set to digging for gold at Big Bar and Pilot Hill before returning to San Francisco, dead broke. Associates from New York used their influence to gain his appointment as inspector of customs, which would be an on-and-off occupation for him the rest of his life.
      In April 1851 he set sail for Queen Charlotte's Island, again to discover gold. The results were the same as down south, but he returned to California the next year and went back to the gold fields. This time a cave-in at his mine buried him under rocks and gravel and broke many bones. In June 1853 he set sail for the Northwest again, but this time he was with the famed Captain Thomas Coupe on the bark Success, which was bound for Penn's Cove on Whidbey Island. He helped the captain establish the town of Coupeville, felling the first tree there.
      Soon, mining beckoned again — coal at the new village of Whatcom on Bellingham Bay. But first he traveled to Nanaimo, the northernmost end of the coal vein, where he was thrown in jail after being falsely implicated in a logging accident. The Hudson's Bay Company planned to ship him to London for trail on high treason, but he was released for lack of evidence and he sailed for Port Townsend. In 1855 the Indian wars of Puget sound broke out and J.J. joined the command of Captain Isaac N. Ebey , whom he had met at Whidbey Island. He rose rapidly through the enlisted ranks, soon made captain and then was made a major in the Northern Battalion, based much of the time in Whatcom.
      By 1857 he was back in Port Townsend, where he settled for the rest of his life, except for his brief final fling at gold mining in the Fraser river district. That 1858 rush was over in months and when J.J. returned to Whatcom, he joined a survey party to the Skagit river area. They were looking for gold here, too, but found only placer grains on gravel bars. They apparently paddled canoes with Indians way upriver, but the paucity of gold and the log jams at future Mount Vernon led to a negative report back to argonauts on Bellingham Bay, according to the Northern Star newspaper.
      We find in David Richardson's 1971 edition of Pig War Islands that J.J. played a key part in the almost-Pig War of 1859, when he appointed Paul K. Hubbs Jr. assistant collector of customs for the U.S. in 1857. Richardson wrote:

      In the spring Governor Douglas sent word that 300 Northern Indians had appeared in Victoria, and another 300 in Nanaimo, apparently on their way to northern Puget Sound. Oscar Olney decided enough was enough; slipping down to Port Townsend on the next tide he handed his resignation to Major Jacobus Jan Hogerworth Van Bokkelen, who had just succeeded Ebey as Collector of Customs. Van Bokkelen had had his own run-in with the British who, following the accidental damaging of some H.B.C. machinery, put the Dutchman in jail and threatened to send him to London for trial.
      Back in Port Townsend, J.J. set about farming and was soon appointed deputy collector both at the Port and in the Colville district. Returning to the Port, he also served as county auditor and postmaster. During those years he was also a member of the territorial legislature, one term from the Colville district, and two terms from Port Townsend district, all in the house. Later he served as probate judge and sheriff for Jefferson county and was on hand at the only hanging in Port Townsend. In 1873 a half-Indian, half-Kanaka youth named Joe Nuanna, known as "Kanaka Joe," was hung for murder.
      J.J. died on Dec. 24, 1889, three years after his wife, Ann. They are buried at the Laurel Grove cemetery in Port Townsend, along with a son, John A. Van Bokkelen. His biography indicates another child born about the same age but we found no details.
      [Read more about J.J. Van Bokkelen at our website: Skagit county history by Charles Dwelley.

Research sources:
Edson, Lelah Jackson. The Fourth Corner. Bellingham: Cox Brothers, 1951. Pages 55 and 86.
History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington 1889, pages 615-16, transcribed at Janine Bork's fine website]
Laurel Grove Cemetery records
Biography of Steven Boyce, posted at:
Boyce family website

History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington 1889,
Courtesy of Janine M. Bork
      We constantly find among those that are here present lives of such incident and fullness, that any sketch must be so meager as to be well-nigh worthless. The active career of Mr. Von Bokkelen, covering more than half a century, is one of them. He inherits his name and much of his rugged mentality from an old Holland family on his father's side, which at the time of the entrance of the French and flight of the King came to New York. There the grandfather became one of the first physicians, settling in the old Bowery, he having been in Holland physician to the King's household. During the war of 1812 his father continued the active reputation of the family by making a hazardous voyage with one Captain Main to Japan for a load of saltpeter for Uncle Sam, running the gauntlet of two British war ships on the return voyage by the Cape of Good Hope. His father during the balance of his life followed a shipping and commercial business.
      On the mother's side our subject is of a hardy sea-faring Welsh family, that came to New York in 1867, his grandfather on his mother's side being the third licensed pilot in New York; and during the Revolutionary war he was most famous for piloting the French fleet into the bay. His early recollections extend to the visit of Lafayette, whom he saw at the house of his grandmother, whither the great Frenchman had come to present her with a golden anchor in commemoration of the services of her husband. His active and lively boyhood was spent in school, in society and with the New York Fire Department. He saw the opening of the Erie Canal, and with his father called upon David Clinton. there was scarcely a public event in and around New York which escaped his keen scrutiny.
      This observance of and interest in public matters during his youth and early manhood brought him into personal contact with the great events and men of the times. He early began as a clerk in a wholesale house, and led the high-pressure life of the young men of those days. In 1843 he went south to Alabama as shipping clerk in the cotton business a year, and two years longer as agent of mail contracts. The wild and reckless life into which he was thrown proved inimical to his health; and he went home to die at his father's new residence in North Carolina. A full year of sickness, however, failed to kill him; and, upon the recommendation of physicians, he set off on a voyage to California to recover his strength. By the time that the Horn was doubled and the Golden Gate reached, his old vigor had returned; and, at Big Bar and Pilot Hill, he dug gold as fast as the best of them. Hoping to make some great strike, he performed a prospecting tour in the mountains, from which he returned dead-broke and had to work his way to San Francisco, where he soon found himself appointed as inspector of customs through the influence of David Broderick and Fred Kohler, formerly his associates in New York.
      This occupation proved too slow; and with a few companions he set sail for Queen Charlotte's Island in April, 1851, to discover gold. But the findings were so small as to make him glad t take passage on a Hudson's Bay ship to Port Rupert; and he returned to California in the fall of 1852. There once more he set to digging in earnest, and was so successful as to be nearly ready to return home. But a land-slip, or cave-in, of his mine, burying him under rocks and gravel, so seriously impaired his frame, breaking bones, etc., as to detain him over winter; and in the meantime he took ship in June, 1853, with Captain Coupe on the bark Success for Puget Sound. Landing at Penn's Cove on Whidby [Whidbey] Island, he assisted the Captain in building a town; and he cut the first tree felled at Coupeville. But, hearing of the coal on Bellingham Bay, he steered thither, soon crossing over to Nanaimo. In that British region he got into a singular difficulty. Some of the squad to which he belonged felled a tree before daylight, which dropped upon and crushed some machinery just brought from England, and intended for enlarging the works at the coal mine. In their fright, these men averred that Van Bokkelen was an agent of the Bellingham Bay Company, sent secretly to persuade some twenty of the men to leave the Nanaimo mine for its American rival. He was accordingly arrested and sent to Victoria under the conduct of ten Indians. He was held in prison for a month awaiting a ship to sail to London, where he was to be tried for high treason against the Hudson's Bay Company; but, as it was manifestly impossible to establish against him any charge, he was set free; and after working around a few weeks for money he crossed the straits for Port Townsend.
      About this time the Indian war broke out; and, joining the command of Captain Ebey, he went to the Snohomish river. He rose by election to the position of orderly sergeant, and after four months to the captaincy of Company E, and was finally made a major in the Northern Battalion. He saw very active service, and was scouting constantly in the mountains.
      Returning from the war he began farming, but was soon appointed deputy collector, serving a part of the time in the Colville district. He also acted, while at Port Townsend, as county auditor and postmaster. After leaving the custom-house, he continued in the two latter offices, and subsequently served the county as probate judge and sheriff. He was also a member of the territorial council a term from Colville district, and two terms from Port Townsend district, in the house.
      His two children have reached adult life; and the daughter is married. Now, at the age of seventy-three, Mr. Van Bokkelen devotes his energies, which are but little impaired, to conducting the Seamen's Bethel at the Port, and in assisting the Methodist church of that city. Although having seen as much as anyone of the shines and shadows of life, and having tried it from all sides, none of his memories are more bright than those which relate to his mother's and father's training of his early years; and, in all his varied fortunes and misfortunes, he finds nothing of which to complain, or indeed, to regret.
      [Page 615, 616 of Elwood Evans's definite 1889 book, History Of The Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington. Evans was secretary of state for Washington. A special thanks to Marjorie Rundall Campbell for allowing these books to be transcribed. Please send her a big thanks for lending the books¨ Volumes 1 and 2 are online at this website]

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Port Townsend, Jefferson Co., WA
Van Bokkelen, Ann, died Nov 15, 1884, aged 62 years.
Van Bokkelen, J. J. H. Oct 24, 1816, Dec 24, 1889, He that overcometh shall be saved.
Van Bokkelen John A., Feb 23, 1865, May 26, 1896, Eternal rest grant him, O Lord.

Edson, Lelah Jackson. The Fourth Corner. Bellingham: Cox Brothers, 1951
      page 55 [December 1855, one year before Capt. George E. Pickett arrives]
Edward Eldridge: "The Whatcom Company, under Captain Peabody, together with a company formed on Whidbey Island, and another formed at Port Townsend, constituted the northern battalion under Major Van Bokelyn, all of whom went up the Snoqualmie, except a detachment of twelve men from the Whatcom Company, who were left under Lieutenant Eldridge to guard the settlement and coal mine."

Northern Light newspaper, July 10, 1858
      page 86, Bellingham Bay, town of Whatcom
Inspector of Customs appointed. "Major Van Bolkelen, Deputy Collector of the district, who arrived by the revenue cutter, Jeff, Davis, informs us that he visits us for the purpose of appointing, and has applinted H.C. Page, Inspector of Customs for this port. Mr. P. is one of the oldest residents of the Bay and universally esteemed."

Sheriff J.J. Van Bokkelyn, Jefferson county
Sheriff Stephen Van Buren, San Juan county
& To be hanged: Kanaka Joe — Frontier Justice

From the book, Four Generations-A Family History, By Clayton Francis Boyce
Stephen Van Buren Boyce

      This was a memorable period in island history. A man named William Fullar (also spelled Fuller) turned up missing one day about the time the British troops were being evacuated in 1872. A friend who came to visit found the doors to his house standing open, and his dog extremely excited. A search was begun, Sheriff Stephen Van Buren Boyce was called, and after several days, the dog led the searchers to a spot under a large madrona tree. There they found Fullar's body under a pile of large, heavy rocks. He had been shot through the back of the head, fallen there, and the murderer had covered his body by heaping great stones upon it.
      Fullar's murder was still unsolved when on May 13, 1873, neighbors found a farmer named Harry Dwyer shot to death in a field he had been plowing. After sending for Sheriff Stephen Boyce, they hurried up to the house and there they found the dead body of Mrs. Dwyer. She had been shot and then beaten to death. In the course of Sheriff Boyce's investigation, all signs pointed to a half-Indian, half-Kanaka youth named Joe Nuanna, known as "Kanaka Joe."

(Lucinda Elizabeth Stewart)
Lucinda Elizabeth Stewart, both photos courtesy of Katherine Mildred Beryl Wade on this website.

      Port Townsend had never had an execution before, and at least two hundred people were on hand as Sheriff Boyce and his Jefferson County colleague, Sheriff J. J. Van Bokkelen brought Joe from the jailhouse to the gallows. By the time Joe was taken up the steps of the platform, virtually the whole town was on hand to witness the hanging. At five minutes past ten in the morning, Sheriff Boyce knocked away the bolt holding the trap, and the noose tightened around Joe's neck. Because the rope was new, and the boy was small and light, the knot failed to slip tight as it was supposed to do, and the noose simply cut off his wind and began slowly choking him to death. As the men on the scaffold looked on in helpless horror, Sheriff Boyce took hold of the rope, swung himself over the trap and with his feet, applied pressure to the knot. However, it was still twenty minutes before the doctor could pronounce Kanaka Joe dead.
      For more information about Boyce's and Van Bokkelen's role in the trial, you can also read David Richardson's 1971 Pig War Islands book where he writes: Hundreds carried the vision of Joe's last anguish to their own deathbeds. Port Townsend never had another hanging, and when after twenty years the next San Juan County murderer was condemned to Joe's fate, Stephen Boyce who could still hear Kanaka Joe's confident wish to "die quick" in his ears was on hand to see the deed done in far different circumstances.
      An interesting aftermath to this episode in history is that Harry Dwyer had kept his valuables in a little wooden chest. Stephen Boyce had taken it from Kanaka Joe as evidence. Following the trial and execution, there was no one to claim the little chest, and it has remained in the Boyce family's care ever since. Known in the family as the "Dwyer Box," it is now in the possession of family historian, Kitty Roberts of Friday Harbor.
      In 1858, two years after their marriage, upon hearing news of the Fraser River gold strike in Canada, Stephen, Lucinda and the two boys took a steamer to Victoria, British Columbia. In those days, the only habitation at Victoria was the Hudson's Bay Company stockade, which was enclosed and guarded. Upon their arrival, they were forced to sleep in tents, because of the lack of hotel accommodations. Soon after, Stephen again followed the lure of gold, this time to the Fraser River Caribou country, leaving Lucinda to care for her family by herself for two years. It was during this period of time, John Henry Boyce was born on January 1, 1859. As Anita Garrett put it in an article written for the Friday Harbor Journal, November, 1979, it was "under these primitive living conditions, that Lucinda showed the fortitude and strength of character that had already brought her through grief, hardship and heavy responsibility.
      In 1860, Stephen Boyce rejoined his family in Victoria. On June 1 of that year, Stephen moved his family to old San Juan Town on San Juan Island. This was an unsettled but interesting time in American history. In 1846, The British Empire and the United States had settled on a new international boundary which roughly followed the 49th Parallel, but was somewhat vague. The new boundary did not clearly define ownership of the San Juan Islands and this brought about a territorial dispute between the two countries over this matter. In 1845, the British had claimed San Juan Island as their territory, and the powerful Hudson's Bay Company began establishing themselves on the island and the surrounding waters.
      By 1859, many American settlers had moved to San Juan Island and the disagreement between Britain and the United States had steadily escalated to the point where it threatened to erupt into open warfare between the two countries. On June 15, 1859, the incident took place which evolved into the infamous "Pig War." A settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig which had continually been invading and uprooting his potato patch. This pig belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company, and because of their outrage over this incident, the matter soon took on gigantic proportions. [Ed. note: Cutlar's name is often misspelled Cutler, as it was in this piece. For a 5-part history of the Pig War, see Issue 26 of the optional Subscribers Edition of the Journal.]
      On July 27, 1859, American troops landed on San Juan Island and established a military camp on the southern end of the island. To meet this challenge to their sovereignty, in March, 1860, the British established an encampment at Garrison Bay on the northwest side of the island. San Juan Island was occupied by both military forces until a treaty was signed on October 21, 1872, establishing the San Juan Islands as a part of Washington Territory, United States of America. It is an interesting historical note that the American Civil War, which started on April 12, 1861 and ended on April 9, 1865 took place between the beginning and the end of the San Juan Island Pig War. Several of the American military personnel involved in the Pig War were also participants in the Civil War, notably, Captain (later General) George E. Pickett.
      This was the prevailing situation when Stephen and Lucinda Boyce and their family arrived on San Juan Island. Old San Juan Town was a small settlement that had sprung up near American Camp. Stephen opened a small store there with the intention of trading with the Indians, but the U. S. Army did not want competition with their sutler's [Army camp peddler] store and he was forced to close. He then took up a claim on the south end of the island near what later became known as Jensen's Beach.
      [Excerpted courtesy of this fine family history website]

Story posted on June 22, 2004, and updated on June 3, 2005
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