On May 27, 1939, Crown Prince Olav of Norway attends the dedication of the Toftezen Memorial. Stanwood and East Stanwood dedicate the massive granite monument in honor of the first Norwegian settler to make his way across North America to Puget Sound, Zakarias Martin Taftezon (1821-1901). (As with many immigrants, the spelling of the name varied widely, and the spelling on the monument differs from that in family records.) The memorial is sponsored by the Pioneer Historical Society of the Stillaguamish Valley and the Sons of Norway. With the help of the Norwegian Consulate the local Norwegian pioneers arranged for the Crown Prince and Princess to attend. Their attendance helps make this a red-letter day in the history of Stanwood and its twin city, East Stanwood.
From Norway to the Northwest
Zakarias Martin Taftezon and his family came from the Trondelag, Troms, and Finnmark areas of northern Norway. After learning the shoemaking trade in Germany and returning briefly to Norway, Martin traveled as a seaman and found himself in New Orleans. From there he left for the Gold Rush in California.
He ended up on the Oregon Trail and found himself at Fort Steilacoom. With two other adventurers, he sailed up to Whidbey Island and landed in what is now Oak Harbor. Early minutes of the memorial-ceremony planning committee spell the name with an "a" -- how it was changed on the monument is unclear. Typical of the experiences of many immigrants, the spelling of his name varied widely, appearing as Taftezon, Toftezen, Toftezon, Taftezen, and Taftzen among other variants.
When Taftezon first arrived he married a Native American woman and they had two sons. The two young sons died by 1863 and it is said that he drove away his wife because she tried to treat them with traditional Indian healing methods.
He then left for San Francisco where his mother at age 72 and sister first joined him after traveling by boat around Cape Horn. They apparently decided to return to Whidbey and also made homestead claims on Hatt Slough south of Stanwood and on Camano Island. His sister married another Norwegian, Eilert Graham of Whidbey Island, and they became the first Norwegian couple in Washington. Another brother, Christian, his wife Sophie, and daughter Marie, joined the family in 1874. Marie, called Mary, married W. L. Beebe in 1875.
Martin never remarried. He died in 1901 while living on Whidbey, having traveled many places throughout his lifetime.
A Much-Loved King
Prince Olav of Norway (later King Olav V) was the much-admired ceremonial monarch of Norway and he was the much-loved symbol of national unity for Norwegians. One year after his visit to Puget Sound and Stanwood, the Royal Family was forced to flee Norway when it was bombed by Germany. Throughout the war, though he wanted to stay to lead the resistance fighters, officials would not allow it and he made other trips to the U.S. as envoy in exile.
He became King in 1957 and died 1991, a popular ruler who led a simple and frugal lifestyle