The career of Mr. Damas has been a very eventful and interesting one, and now, at the age of sixty-four, he is the possessor of a handsome competence, the fitting reward of his well spent life. For twenty-six years he has been prominently connected with the mercantile interests of Lewiston and his efforts have been an important element in the progress and advancement of this section of the state. He was born far from his present home, being a native of Brussels, Belgium, where his birth occurred on the 18th of July, 1835. He attended school in his native country until nine years of age and then became a cadet in the celebrated naval academy at Antwerp, where he remained for several years, spending a part of the time on a school-ship at sea. During that period they sailed in every sea and visited all of the principal ports of the world, and later Mr. Damas was graduated as a second-class midshipman.
In 1848 his father sent him to Salem, Massachusetts, to learn the English language, and there, as an apprentice, he went aboard the vessel Thomas Perkins, under command of Captain William Rogers, sailing for San Francisco, California, the vessel dropping anchor in that harbor in the summer of 1849. Gold had but recently been discovered and the great excitement there caused every man to desert the ship save Mr. Damas and the captain, who had to do the common sailor’s work. Early in the spring of 1850 they secured a small crew of men and boys and sailed to the Sandwich islands, where a good crew was employed, and from there they continued the voyage around the world. They remained at Calcutta, India, for some time and returned by way of the Cape of Good Hope, visiting St. Helena and the place where one of the greatest military heroes of the world. Napoleon Bonaparte, was laid to rest. They reached Boston, Massachusetts, just before Christmas of 1851, and found Captain Rogers’ father ready to launch the Witchcraft, a very fast sailing clipper ship, making a record of eighteen miles an hour. Mr. Damas was sent aboard this ship under his former captain and was given the confidential position of secretary. They took on a cargo for San Francisco and started on a second voyage around the world. In the China Sea the vessel was totally dismantled in a severe typhoon, in which several ships were lost, but after great effort the Witchcraft managed to reach Hong Kong, where she remained four months undergoing repairs. Notwithstanding all this she made better time to San Francisco than any other vessel had previously done. From Rio Janeiro they took on four hundred Chinamen for San Francisco, arid during the voyage the Celestials mutinied, and almost succeeded in gaining control of the ship, but finally they were subdued and the Witchcraft reached San Francisco in safety. There they proceeded to prepare for another trip to Calcutta, but Mr. Damas came to the conclusion that it was advisable to seek to better his condition on land, as he saw no prospect of ever becoming owner of a vessel and probably would never be more than a third officer, or at most a second officer. The relations between himself and Captain Rogers had always been most harmonious and agreeable, and the Captain gave a very reluctant consent to Mr. Damas’ withdrawal, yet acceded the justice of his wishes to better his lot in life. He was, however, asked to remain until the ship was ready to start. While the preparations for sailing were being made the crew made considerable fun of him, assuring him that he would not be allowed to leave the ship, and he had some fears himself that such might be the case, but he packed his trunk and had all in readiness to disembark. The pilot came on board, the ship set sail, and it was not until the pilot left the Witchcraft that Mr. Damas received orders to go ashore. His trunk was then lowered into the pilot’s boat, and the Captain bade him an affectionate goodbye, placing in his hand a sealed envelope, which on opening he found to contain a letter of recommendation and a check for one thousand dollars, certainly a high tribute to the fidelity and ability of Mr. Damas!
After some time our subject went to Sierra County, California, where he engaged in mining with good success. In 1853 he took out as high as one hundred dollars per day, but he loaned his money and did not have much at the end of the year. He was one of the discoverers of the Howland Flats, a rich mining district, but before he knew the real value he sold out for a small sum and went to the Feather River, where he became interested in the building of a large flume near Oroville. He was also interested in the Spanish Flatwater ditch. From there he went to Siskiyou County, and arrived at Scott’s Bar just in time to take a part in the Indian war on the Klamath River. In 1861 the Oro Fino gold discoveries attracted him to Idaho. As the snow melted and they progressed farther into the state, they endured many hardships. In 1862 Mr. Damas arrived at Lewiston, and at Oro Fino accepted a clerkship in the store of A. P. Aukeny, remaining in that position until 1866, when, on his own account, he began packing goods to Montana. He sold out at Beartown making ten thousand dollars on the transaction. He then returned to Oro Fino and succeeded A. P. Aukeny & Company in the mercantile business. After successfully conducting a large trade there for about six years, he was taken ill and by his physician was advised to go to a lower altitude. This led to his removal to Lewiston, where he has made his home since 1872, engaged in the general merchandise business.
In that year Mr. Damas went to San Francisco, purchased a stock of general merchandise and opened the store which he thereafter carried on with eminent success. He had a large and well appointed store, carried a fine line of goods, and enjoyed a very liberal patronage from the beginning, so that he is now the possessor of a handsome competence acquired through his own well directed efforts. He sold out his business in May 1899.
In 1869 Mr. Damas was united in marriage to Miss Maria Frances Sperling, a native of New York city, who was brought to Idaho in her early girlhood, and is now one of the honored pioneer women of the state. They have one daughter. Amy D., now the wife of Frank W. Kettenbach, of Lewiston. She was born in Pierce City, in 1870, and is now one of the esteemed residents of Lewiston.
Mr. Damas has held several positions of public honor and trust. He was the first treasurer of Shoshone County, to which position he was elected in 1862. He was its first district deputy clerk and also filled the offices of justice of the peace and probate judge, but he is probably best known in connection with the Masonic fraternity, of which he is an exemplary member, his life standing in evidence of the humane, benevolent and ennobling principles of the order. He became a Master Mason in Mount Idaho Lodge, No. 9, in 1864, and since then has taken all the degrees of the York rite, and has attained the thirty-third degree of the Scottish rite, and been proclaimed a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret. He became a Royal Arch Mason in Lewiston Chapter, No. 4, has filled all of its offices, and was its high priest for four consecutive terms. He is a charter member of Lewiston Commandery, No. 2, was knighted in 1892, and has filled the office of generalissimo. Having been a close student of the teachings and tenets of Masonry, and becoming more and more impressed with its beautiful teachings, he advanced to the thirty-second degree of the Scottish rite, and has been instrumental in founding the four bodies in Lewiston. He established the Lewiston Lodge of Perfection, No. 1. fourteenth degree; Lewiston Rose Croix Chapter, No. 1, eighteenth degree; Lewiston Consistory of Knights of Kodash, thirtieth degree; and Idaho Consistory, No. 1, thirty-second degree. He now has the honor of being inspector general of the state of Idaho, and has the great honor of legally wearing the Masonic cross of honor, voted him by the supreme council of the southern jurisdiction in 1897, and in October, 1899, he was elected a thirty-third degree Mason. He is a very enthusiastic Mason, taking great delight in the work of the order, and his wife is connected with the ladies’ branch of Masonry, being a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. As pioneers of Idaho they have a wide acquaintance and many friends, and none are more worthy the high regard of their fellow townsmen.