William Bell: Pioneer Recollections, 1878

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2653
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William Bell (1817-1887) was a member of the Denny party that went ashore at Alki Point on November 13, 1851. The following spring he settled with his wife Sarah Ann Bell (1815-1856) and their four children in the future Belltown neighborhood of downtown Seattle. The Bells remained in Seattle until the Indian wars of 1856 (Sarah Bell died later that year). They moved to California, and William Bell returned to Seattle in 1870. This file is a transcription of Bell's handwritten account of the settling of Seattle. He wrote it at the request of the historian of the West Hubert Howe Bancroft, or for someone working for Bancroft.

Note: Bell's original syntax and spelling is retained in the transcription.

Settlement of Seattle

By Wm A Bell
Seattle June 4th 1878

I landed in Portland with my family Oct 15, 1851. Stayed some 2 weaks. Shiped on board the Schoner Exact for Puget Sound in Company With A. A. Denny and family, D. T. Denny, C. D. Boren and family, John Low and family and C. C. Terry. Landed at New York now Alka Point. [O]ur goods and chattles were sent ashore at near low tid on 13 of Nov 1851 near Noon. The Women and children of our party set to work to help get them above high tide then the ladys sat down on the loggs and took A Big Cry. We set to work making Shelter and that winter I built the first frame house ever built in what is now King Co. We stoped thare untill the third day of Aprile. I took my family and C. D. Borens family and came here in what is now caled Bell Town but it is part of Seattle now. Borren moved over in som 3 weeks. [H]im and my self having made a claim here about a month before by cuttin down a tree and Notching them dow[n] in the form of a house, it being the first tree known cut by white men on the East sid of Eliot Bay. I made me a camp like an Indian of Slabs and Mats. Lived in it 2 weeks before I got a cabbin built.

Dr Maynard came over about three hours ahead of me. Borren some 3 weaks after and A A Denny and family being unwell did not come over untill we had built him a cabin perhaps the latter part of may or the first of June. Mr. Yesler com in the fall of 52 an commenced his little Saw mill. Maynard givin of som 10 rods of his Nort[h] line and Borren giving some of his south line. All of this Being done Several years before the Survey of government was made. Dr. Joseph Williamson started the first store in Seattle [I] think in the fall of 52.

[Signed] W. N. Bell



William Bell, "Settlement of Seattle, 1878," P-B2, Hubert Howe Bancroft Collection, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley: Microfilm Edition, Newspapers and Microforms, Reel No. 21, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington.

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