Perpetuating Errors of Fact

Jul 1, 2019 | 0 comments

At the Oysterville Cemetery

A number of years ago, more-or-less out of the blue, Wikipedia came up with a new factoid about Oysterville — that John Douglas had founded it in 1841.  It’s amazing to me how this “fake history” has spread over the years despite contemporary documentation by both actual founders, Isaac A. Clark and Robert H. Espy.

The “John Douglas settled Oysterville” statement is an erroneous bit of information that has been picked up by writers for Discovery Coast several times previously, but no matter how much alternative “proof” is provided, it seems a popular enough notion to continue resurfacing.  In Paragraph #4 of this season’s “Oysterville” article, author Webb states:  Native Americans have always lived here.  Oysterville itself was first settled in 1841 by John Douglas who married a local Chinook woman.

Envelope with I.A. Clark History

Well, in 1844 John Douglas did, indeed, settle about a mile south of the area that would become Oysterville ten years later.  Douglas even took out a Donation Land Claim in July of 1854 and, interestingly, signers of supporting affadavits were I.A. Clark, R.H. Espy, and George Dawson.  But Douglas no more “settled” Oysterville than George Easterbrook settled Long Beach.  (Easterbrook took out a Donation Land Claim in the [now] Cranberry Road area in 1854, but Long Beach was “settled” by Gilbert Tinker in 1889.  Look it up.)  Taking out a DLC is not synonymous with founding a town.  Nor is settling in the area nearby.

John Douglas was, however, a very interesting man.  As I wrote in my October 5, 2010 blog: Douglas was born in Maine about 1811 and first arrived at Fort George (now Astoria) in 1840.  He was a cooper aboard a whaling vessel that had docked to unload blubber for rendering into lamp fuel.  On its next voyage to the Columbia in 1841, the ship wintered in Astoria and Douglas took advantage of the time to have a look around.  He liked what he saw and decided to come back some day and “drop anchor” permanently in the Shoalwater area.

My Great Grandfather R.H. Espy (The H is for Hamilton)

For the next few years Douglas sailed the South Pacific.  He was off Hawaii in 1846 when a barrel rolled against him, breaking one of his legs.  The resulting lameness put an end to his seafaring career.  He returned to Shoalwater Bay and laid out a donation land claim of 320 acres along its western shore, somewhat south of the location that would later become Oysterville.  There he built a “studdin’” house of upright posts, with a cedar shake roof and an attic with a gable-end door and an outside stairway.  And, there, John Douglas settled with his Chinook wife, Jalak.

Douglas is buried in the Oysterville Cemetery and two tales are told regarding his death.  One says simply that he died of pneumonia at the age of 59, though his grave marker puts him at 67.  The other story says that in the 1870s, while serving as a United States Marshal, Douglas had the misfortune to severely injure his foot.  He died from gangrene because he stubbornly refused to allow a new boot (hard to come by in those days) to be cut from his swollen, infected foot.  If that’s the true story, it puts a whole new twist to “dying with your boots on.”

Personally, I think the facts (as far as I’ve been able to research them) about Douglas are far more interesting than the fanciful idea that he settled Oysterville.  Oh well…  And, by the way, his granddaughter, Irene Nelson, lived across the street when I was a little girl.  I knew her.  And that’s a fact.


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