A Little Hanging in Port Townsend

I’m not entirely sure what draws me to Port Townsend although there’s a lot to choose from. Perhaps it’s the beautiful Victorian homes, or the historic waterfront, or maybe just that’s it’s such a cool place. More likely all of the above. For many years I would couch at the West Coast Sea Kayak symposium but those days are a distant memory.

The view from one of our favorite restaurants ‘Sirens’; good views, and great food. (Photograph by Steve Weileman)

But I keep coming back when a little recharge of the batteries is in order. Theresa and I rolled into town last weekend and did our usual bit of routine; see what’s new at our favorite shops and and enjoy a bit of refreshment at our favorite restaurants.

But this time as we strolled past the small beach near the ferry launch I was reminded of a story I heard about while on a haunted walking tour of yet another favorite place, Victoria, British Columbia. Our guide explained that the ghost of a young Hawaiian man named Joseph Nuana was supposed to haunt the north walk of the Empress Hotel. Apparently before the hotel was built, a row of water front shanties know as Kanaka Row dotted this part of the harbor mostly occupied by Polynesians.


Sailboat making it's way up Port Townsend Bay. (Photograph by Steve Weileman)
Sailboat making it’s way up Port Townsend Bay. (Photograph by Steve Weileman)

In 1873 Joseph fleeing his crime of double murder of the Dwyer couple on the island of San Juan in the US came seeking refuge with relatives. Eventually authorities arrived and carted him back to Port Townsend to stand trail. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang; all over a box container a few coins and a watch.

Captain James Dwyer Box
The box holding the watch of Capt. James Dwyer. Courtesy of Washingon Rural Heritage

A scaffold was built at Point Hudson and on March 6, 1874 Joesph was marched to his execution. The ghoulish part of the story is that when the trap door was sprung instead of breaking Josephs neck, it began to slowly suffocate whereupon the sheriff through his weight on top of him to end his suffering. However, every-time they though Joesph was dead and they’d go to cut him down, he’d revive and the convulsion would start anew.  Needless to say this was Port Townsend’s only execution.

But it does make me wonder how many other little ‘dirty’ secrets are lost to history.

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