David Blaine and Catharine Paine Blaine came to Seattle from Seneca Falls, New York, the site of America's first women's rights convention, in which Catharine Paine participated. The Blaines were Methodist missionaries who arrived in Seattle in 1853 via the Isthmus of Panama sea route. David founded Seattle's first church, called the "Little White Church," and Catharine became Seattle's first teacher and school administrator. After the January 1856 Battle of Seattle (a conflict with Indians), the Blaines left for missionary duty in Portland. They returned to Seattle in retirement in 1882.
David and Catharine Blaine left Seneca Falls for Seattle in 1853 as participants in a major 1840s-1850s New England evangelical movement. Seneca Falls was, in July 1848, the site of the world's first women's rights convention. Catharine Paine (Blaine) was one of the 100 signers of the historic Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions that launched the women's rights movement.
The Blaines traveled to Puget Sound, not on the famous Oregon Trail, but by ship and on mules over the steamy Isthmus of Panama. On their way north, the Blaines stopped for a few days at the Olympia home of Rev. Benjamin Close, whom they called "Brother Close," followed by a layover at Steilacoom. Arriving at Alki (present-day West Seattle) in a high wind on November 26, 1853, David took the opportunity to preach two sermons in the tiny beach settlement. This resulted in a collection of $12.50 for the young missionaries. (Both David and Catharine were still in their 20s.)
The Blaines were paddled from Alki to Seattle, where Arthur and Mary Denny graciously received them. The young couple stayed several weeks in the Denny's two-room cabin. David used the time to prepare sermons and to organize a Methodist Episcopal church.
David's first sermon was a flop: He misjudged his small but well-educated audience, talking down to them as if they were country bumpkins. Catharine signaled her husband in mid-sermon to change course, which he did, and the event ended on a lighter note.
Many considered the young Blaines Eastern effetes. The couple, in turn, were offended by the rowdy nature of early Puget Sound residents. Especially disturbing to Catharine were the habits and living conditions of the local Indians. Catharine described entertaining in their cramped quarters overnight guests who rolled up in blankets and slept at the foot of the Blaines' bed: "It seemed funny at first to undress and go to bed in a room where there are men and women, but I have got used to it."
They learned fast and immediately went to work in the fields of religion and education, making a considerable contribution to the life of early Seattle.
Seattle's First Church
Carson Boren (1824-1912), one of Seattle's first citizens, who was known as "Uncle Dobbins," contributed land for a Methodist parsonage at the southeast corner of Columbia Street and 2nd Avenue. Until the church was built, the Blaines lived in a small frame house. David held his first services in a building known as "Bachelor's Hall" or Latimer Building near 1st Avenue and Cherry Street.
David Blaine, without field skills of any kind, and often wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, set to work clearing the lots given by Boren. On May 12, 1855, the " Little White Church," so called because of the white paint, was dedicated. It was Seattle's first house of worship, and was only 24 by 40 feet in size. Rev. William Roberts, presiding Methodist elder of the district, preached a "cheering" dedicatory sermon based on the origins of Methodism. Jacob Maple (or Mapel) had done most of the carpentry on the church and Henry Adams added the white paint. Showing their Eastern upbringing, the Blaines worried about the church's dirty windows, mud from shoes on the floor, children standing on the seats, tobacco chewers expectorating wherever they wished, and wet umbrellas lying about.
The White Church was nestled next to the town's first burial ground. After David T. Denny donated land for a new cemetery, located at the present (1999) Denny Park south of Lake Union, the remains and headstones were moved to the new site far outside the city limits.
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Soon after the Blaine's arrival, neighbors collected money to employ Catharine as a school teacher at $65 a month. The first school term was held in the Latimer Building and opened in January 1854. The second term began in February 1855, in the Blaine's new house on 2nd Avenue between Cherry and Columbia streets. School week began on Tuesday, because Monday was Catharine's wash day. This schedule caused the weekly school holiday to fall on Monday, instead of on Saturday. Catharine taught classes from textbooks such as McGuffy's reader, Mitchell's geography, and Davis's arithmetic.
The first students at Catharine Blaine's school were
- Susie and Eliza Mercer,
- Laura, Virginia, and Olive Bell,
- Ursula and George McConaha,
- Hulda Phillips,
- William Smith,
- Becky Horton,
- Robie Willard, and
- Kate and Nora Denny.
The letters David and Catharine wrote to relatives are a source of rich detail about young Seattle. Catharine made jam and jelly from wild raspberries and dewberries which she and David collected by scrambling over logs. Their food included clam soup, turnips, potatoes, lettuce, gooseberry pie, stewed apples (Catharine established the first apple orchard in Seattle) and "Indian pancakes."
After a visit up the Duwamish, they were invited to stay in the loft of a house with three beds. Catharine described "sheets of thick, unbleached drilling which looked as though they had been used for years without washing, the pillow cases of dark calico knotted on the ends and so thick with dirt we could almost rub it off with our hands, and the bed covers, blankets that might have been used for we know not what, and how they smelt ... We managed to pass the night and I think escaped pollution."
A Low Turnout
David Blaine's prayer meetings seldom attracted more than four people, and David complained in a letter that "we are low in the scale of spirituality ... even those who moved in refined society at home ... now show no respect for religion, no regard for the Sabbath."
Despite these disappointments, townspeople grew to like the Blaines and supported them in many ways. Doc Maynard (1808-1873) and Carson Boren each offered land for church, parsonage, and seminary.
On January 20, 1856, a son John was born to Catharine and David Blaine. Six days later the Battle of Seattle erupted. David had duty at one of the blockhouses, but managed to get Catharine and their babe aboard the Decatur in Elliott Bay. David had described the Indians as a "poor degraded race," which would "soon disappear." Catharine compared their "stupidity and awkwardness" to that of the Irish. The Indian uprising confirmed their worst fears and prejudices.
In March 1856, after the Battle of Seattle, David and Catharine Blaine left for missionary duties in Portland, where they stayed until 1863. In 1882, after Seattle had grown into a real town, they returned in retirement. Catharine Blaine started a kindergarten, and she voted in Washington Territory in 1884.
Catharine's role as the community's first schoolteacher is remembered today in the Catharine Blaine Elementary School in Magnolia. Another reminder of Catharine and David Blaine is Blaine Street, which begins in the west at Magnolia Bluff and then, in a broken fashion, crosses near Lake Union and re-emerges at E 43rd Street.The Little White Church continued to be used by the Methodist Episcopal congregation until 1889, when its new church, a magnificent neo-Gothic edifice, was dedicated at Third and Marion. After its sale the Little White Church building reopened in several incarnations: as a gambling hall, a saloon, a restaurant, and a vaudeville house. The city of Seattle and the Blaines' good reputations seemed to survive those early raw years, and the First United Methodist Church, which moved to Second and Denny in 2010 (after nearly a century in a historic 1910 church building at Fifth and Marion that is now the Daniels Recital Hall) is a direct outgrowth of Seattle's first Christian congregation.