Whidbey Island and Coupeville
As so often happens when it comes to history which is taught in western civilizations, the local population is overlooked and minimized. Whidbey Island is no exception.
Whidbey Island is credited with its discovery in 1790 by the Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper and Gonzalo López de Haro on the Princesa Real. Captain George Vancouver fully explored the island in 1792. In May of that year, Royal Navy officers and members of Vancouver’s expedition, Joseph Whidbey (master of HMS Discovery) and Peter Puget (a lieutenant on the ship) began to map and explore the areas of what would later be named Puget Sound. After Whidbey circumnavigated the island in June 1792, Vancouver named the island in his honor. By that time, Vancouver had claimed the area for Britain.
Of course, the island had long been inhabited by the local Native American Tribes of the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, and Snohomish. These were peaceful groups who lived off the sea and land, with fishing, harvesting nuts, berries and roots, which they preserved over the winter.
Our particular invasion began when we rolled our RAD Power bikes up the gangway of the M/V Kennewick and onto the island. It was a beautiful sunny day despite the morning forecast for rain. Just one of those flukes of the microclimates that are prevalent n the Pacific Northwest.
We turned our bikes north and started peddling our way through the open fields and pastures toward Coupeville, a small community on the south shore of Penn Cove. After short peddle we found a place on the waterfront to lock our bikes and explore some of the shops that border the cove.
This historic downtown is small but full of boutique shops and restaurants. This community was originally settled in the 1850’ by sea captains and farmers. Coupeville was named for sea captain Thomas Coupe, who arrived on Puget Sound on the bark Success. Scouting the area, Coupe settled at Penn Cove in 1852. His wife, Maria, and their family joined him there in 1853 and Captain Coupe worked as a coastal trader, sailing both the Success and the Jeff Davis, the first revenue cutter on Puget Sound (part of the armed maritime law enforcement service).
It’s a place where you can still see many of the historic homes and buildings and well worth the visit. We thoroughly enjoyed our explorations by bike.
I’ve been coming to Fort Worden State Park for just about as long as I’ve lived here in the PNW. And I’ve noticed the old dinghy placed on the dunes opposite the lower campground as well, but it wasn’t until this trip that I took the time to actually look up the unusual name painted across the bow. This really is a case where history can be hidden right under your nose!
Turns out the boat is named for a local S’Klallam Chief. He was forty years old when the first white settlers arrived at Port Townsend. The Superintendent of Indian Affairs recognized Chetzemoka as chief of the S’Klallam in 1854, holding him responsible for the “good behavior” of his people. At Point No Point, in 1855, Chief Chetzemoka signed a treaty giving up all S’Klallam land in exchange for retaining the right to fish, hunt and gather in the S’Klallam usual and accustomed areas. Such treaties, pushed by Governor Isaac Stevens and largely misunderstood by the Indians, provoked the Indian Wars in 1855-56.
During these wars, a number of S’Klallam held a secret meeting to decide whether or not to kill the whites in Port Townsend. The S’Klallam deliberated for nine days, during which Chetzemoka sent a daily signal of “danger.” On the tenth day, the message from Signal Rock was, in essence, “danger is passed.” The S’Klallam had given up their purpose. Chetzemoka was considered a hero by the white population and from that point on was immortalized by them.
Ferries, parks, streets, and benches now bear his name….and a weather-worn dinghy on the beach of Point Wilson.