Piracy in the Pacific Northwest

In the thousands of inlets, islands, and channels of the Puget Sound area, the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands, and the coasts of Washington and Oregon in general, you’d think there would be a hundred stories of pirates and their conquests. But there are surprisingly few. Most of the action in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s was taking place along the coasts of the Caribbean and the West Indies, where tales of gold and treasure ran rampant, and the fierce coral defenses around the land forms took their tribute in sunken ships.

But there are one or two pirates of that period—Iron Jim Sallow, for instance, who was said to have hidden a treasure somewhere in the Puget Sound area. When one of his crew stole the map to it, he pursued the man relentlessly—so much so that neither was ever heard from again. Neither was the treasure.

Vancouver Island 1700s
An early map of the Vancouver Island and northern Washington area, sadly not the Northwest Passage the fur traders were looking for.

Years later, James Colnett was a member of the British Royal Navy, serving under Captain James Cook for a time. Colnett is remembered largely for his involvement in the Nootka Crisis of 1789—sparked by the fur trade and initially a dispute between British traders and the Spanish Navy over the use of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. The original Lady Washington was also involved. (A replica of this beautiful ship is now at home in the Seattle area and featured in movies and TV shows such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Trek: Generations, Once Upon A Time, and Revolution.)

Captain Colnett was a hot-tempered sort who seized Spanish ships when that nation declared the west coast belonged to Spain. Things escalated and became an international crisis that led Britain and Spain to the brink of war before being peacefully resolved through diplomacy and the signing of the Nootka Conventions.

A century and a half later, the Prohibition period was downright lively in this neighborhood, with rum-runners bringing whiskey in on small ships in the dead of night, landing on nameless beaches and supplying the speakeasies and saloons of the Pacific Northwest with demon liquor.

And then there was the Wolf of the West, most feared pirate of them all. But that’s for another blog post!

(Very) Old Friends at the Cove

I’ve been working hard to catch up on a deadline and haven’t been able to craft a good post for this week. I looked back in my notes and found this old article from last summer’s June 25th edition of the Corsair’s Cove Courier. I hope it fills the bill, and trust I’ll be back on track next week!

The Cove’s Hidden Industry: Fact or Hoax

Corsair’s Cove has history. All places do, but most history has the good manners to finish up and move on in an orderly fashion. In the Cove, the past tends to hang around to check out the new kids.

This happens in a number of ways. There are the families, of course. You can find names that go back generations—just ask Kate Trelawney, the Cove’s resident history buff. She knows where the bodies are buried, quite literally.

Then there are the buildings. Looking ahead sometimes means looking backward, and people aren’t so quick to tear things down when a good piece of the town’s revenue comes from tourism.

And then there are the pieces of history that like to put their feet up at the Zephyr’s Rest and think about the good old days. No, I’m not talking about the lawn bowling club and the time Elvis passed through the Cove—the poor boy must have been lost. I mean the folks from the 1870s, or the 1930s, or the 1850s, if you like the Wolf of the West and his cronies. We’re talking about the ghosts. You can’t swing a Ouija board in the place without someone spelling out a reply.

According to industry experts writing for Mediums at Large, a peer-reviewed journal for the psychically gifted, Corsair’s Cove is the most haunted location in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, there are more specters per capita than most major historical centers in Europe. The town supports a variety of paranormal tourism start-ups, including Ghostcapades Walking Tours and a veritable roster of tea-leaf readers and table rapping experts in the back of Belle’s Books and Candles.

Of course, there is natural skepticism as to whether these phenomena actually exist or whether they have been manufactured to assist the thriving tourist trade. Local farmer Henry Fitzgibbet invites such detractors to spend the night in his guest house. The 1880s cottage overlooks the site of the Cove’s old lighthouse. He doesn’t say what guests are expected to witness there, but he’ll pay $200 to anyone who can spend the hours between midnight and 6:00 a.m. without setting foot outside the door. When asked if anyone has succeeded, Fitzgibbon merely chuckles.

Perhaps that response speaks for itself. This humble reporter declines to take that bet.