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Washington State

The History of Seattle

The settling of Seattle was hardly the stuff of songs. It was a cold, rainy day when the first white settlers landed near Alki Point on November 13, 1851.

The site was among the most exposed to winter storms and the date, as future climatic data would reveal, was one of the wettest of the year. Alas, Arthur Denny and his small band of pioneers had already trekked west from Illinois on the Oregon Trail and then sailed north from Portland on the schooner Exact. They forged a tiny community of log cabins near the beach and endured their first wind-swept winter on Puget Sound before moving to a more sheltered, permanent location along the Elliott Bay tidelands in the spring of 1852.

British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver had explored Puget Sound more than 50 years earlier, bestowing nearly every visible landmark with an English name to honor friends and re-pay political debts. The process of naming Seattle was more circuitous. The pioneers originally selected the grand but spoken-for "New York," later qualified by the town's relatively slow growth as "New York Alki," or "New York by-and-by" as translated from native Chinook trading jargon. Next was the original but underwhelming "Duwamps" after a tribe on the nearby Duwamish River. Soon thereafter that name was changed in honor of Chief Sealth, the respected leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish people who had welcomed the newcomers.

The little pioneer outpost was platted in 1853 and the arrival of Henry Yesler and the area's first steam sawmill sparked the local economy. A town called Seattle rose on the western-most edge of the American frontier.




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Source: Seattle CVB;
Last modified: 20080810
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