Biography of Hon. James G. Swan

HON. JAMES G. SWAN. – Hon. James G. Swan was born in Medford Massachusetts January 11, 1818.He came to San Francisco via Cape Horn in 1850. He came to Shoalwater Bay in 1852, which was then a part of Oregon, and remained till 1856,when he went East as private secretary to Governor Isaac I. Stevens, Delegate to Congress at Washington, District of Columbia. He returned to the territory in 1858, and settled in Port Townsend.

In 1862 he was appointed teacher in charge of the Makah Indian Agency at Neah Bay, and remained till 1866, having charge of the government property during the war. He rendered effective service in keeping peace among the Indians, and in protecting the Agency from incursions of foreign Indians from British Columbia.

At the close of the war of the Rebellion, when the Confederate steamer, Shenandoah was destroying our whalers in the Arctic ocean and Behring Sea, the people of Puget Sound were in daily apprehension of the rebel cruiser destroying the lighthouse at Cape Flattery, the agency buildings at Neah Bay, and the town and mills on Puget Sound. there were no tug-boats nor steamers on the Sound as at present; and the sight of one excited general remark. One afternoon the smoke of a large steamer was discovered from the tower of the school building at Neah village, approaching from the north. It was supposed to be the Shenandoah coming to destroy the government property. George Jones, the agency farmer, asked Mr. Swan what they should do. “Climb up the flagstaff and nail the flag to the masthead,” said Mr. Swan. “I will never haul it down to a rebel.” George climbed up and did as he was ordered; and all awaited the result. The steamer came in and anchored; but it was too dark to distinguish her flag. Soon a boat came ashore and announced that the steamer was her Majesty’s ship Devastation, Captain Fox, returning from Barclay Sound, where she had been to chastise the Ahosett Indians for killing a white man. The next morning Captain Fox came ashore and complimented the employe’s for their bravery in protecting government property. The Victoria papers related the incident; and Agent Webster, who was in Washington, complimented Mr. Swan.

In 1868 the Clallam Indians at Dungeness massacred a party of Tsimsean Indians on the 20th of September. One woman, who was supposed to be dead, finally recovered. Mr. Swan, at the request of General McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, arrested the whole of the Indian murderers, twenty-six in number, and took them to the Skohomish Indian Agency at Hood’s Canal; and, when the woman recovered, he sent her, with the presents General McKenney furnished to pacify the Tsimseans, to her home at Fort Simpson, British Columbia. Mr. Swan is acknowledged to have more influence with, and to be better known to, the coast Indians from the Columbia river to Alaska, than any other one man; and he has been able to effect much good among them.

On seven different occasions Mr. Swan has been to Alaska as a commissioner of the government to procure articles of Indian manufacture for the National Museum in Washington. The result of his labors may be seen in the largest and most valuable collection in the museum of the manufactures of the Indians of the north coast of North America. His last official visit was in 1883 to Queen Charlotte islands, British Columbia, where he made a most complete and valuable collection of Haida works of art, in gold and silver jewelry, and stone and wood carvings. It was during this cruise, the first black cod ever brought to Victoria in a merchantable condition; and he has the credit of having been the first to introduce this delicious food to public notice. Mr. Swan has been agent and correspondent of the United States Fish Commission since it was first established by the late Professor Spencer F. Baird.

He is Hawaiian consul at Port Townsend, Puget Sound pilot commissioner, commissioner for the State of Oregon, United States commissioner, and secretary to the Puget Sound Fish Preserving Company at Port Townsend.

Mr. Swan has written many elaborate contributions for the press. Among the most valuable are the following: On the manners and customs of the Indians of the Northwest coast for “Schoolcraft History, North American Indians;” volume VI; 1857. “The Northwest Coast;” one volume, octavo, 435 pages; Harper & Co., New York; 1857. Compendium with Boston Transcript on Washington Territory; 1857. Compendium with Washington and Boston papers on Washington Territory; 1858. Articles in Harper’s Magazine on Amoor river; 1858. Article in Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine on Amoor river; 1858. Series of articles in San Francisco Bulletin on Puget Sound; 1859 and 1860. A series of descriptive articles in Washington Standard, Olympia, Washington territory; 1861-68. “Indians of Cape Flattery,” published in the Smithsonian contributions to useful knowledge; 1869. “Haida Indians of Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia,” illustrated; published by the Smithsonian Institution; 1874. “Criticism on the Linguistic Treatise in volume I, Contributions to North American Ethnology;” published by the Bureau of Ethnology; 1879-80. A vocabulary of the Haidas of Queen Charlotte Islands. A vocabulary of the Makahs of Cape Flattery.

Mr. Swan has, for more than thirty years, been a regular correspondent and collaborator of the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, District of Columbia, where his contributions to the national Museum are of marked interest to all visitors; and his many valuable articles on the food fishes of the North Pacific have received honorable mention in nearly all the reports of the Smithsonian during the long period from 1856 to the present.

In November, 1871, Mr. Swan was appointed judge of the probate court of Jefferson county, Washington Territory, which office he held for seven years, and has retained the title of “Judge” ever since. Judge Swan’s reports to the Northern Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, on the Amoor river and the Asiatic commerce still to be developed in Siberia, Manchooria, Corea and Japan, have done much to direct the attention of these two great corporations to the magnitude of that trade, and will be a means of inducing its development in the near future.

As vice-president of the Association of Pioneers of Washington Territory, Judge Swan marched at the head of the pioneers in the procession at the inauguration of the new State of Washington on the 18th of November, 1889. He is an active, energetic member of the Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce, and a respected and valued citizen. He has lived in Washington through its whole territorial existence, and with his fellow-pioneers rejoices that Washington is now a state.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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