Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Asa Mercer's Remarkable Life

I'm not from around here, and I am oblivious to local history. I was a volunteer tutor at Asa Mercer Middle School, and one day I stumbled on the grave of Asa Mercer on the cemetery in Queen Anne Hill (awful lot of work to haul and bury people on top of hill, a lot easier to toss them into a bog, wouldn't you think?), and later I asked who she had been. I drew an incredulous look and was told that Asa was a he, and that was the end of that conversation.

I learned later from reading the "Sons of the Profit,"* that Asa Mercer, was one of the few college graduates in Seattle, and though he was clearing trees for a living (like many college graduates since), he was chosen in 1861, mainly because he was the was the only nearby college graduate, to be the first president of the University of Washington . Exactly which college graduated him is a fact I am still trying to find. Mercer had problems hanging on to students, and in true American fashion, changed his career several times, eventually becoming a newspaper publisher and author. His contribution to the mythology of the Old West happened in two different ways. The first: at the end of the Civil War he persuaded a group of marriage eligible ladies to relocate from New England to Seattle. Previous to this, there had been a noticeable shortage of young women (see what Asa Mercer School says about this: http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/mercer/home/history2.htm).

The unintended result of Mercer's work was to blend Yankee Puritanism with Scandinavian Lutheranism. The effects of his ill advised endeavor can still be felt to this day throughout Seattle.

His second contribution: Mercer eventually settled in Wyoming and wrote about the Johnson County War. The cattlemen attacked him, and our perception of the land war, spread over the years by western novels and movies can be traced back to Asa Mercer.
By the way, the Asa Mercer on Queen Anne Hill is his nephew. The University of Texas and Texas Historical Association has a nice biography: http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/MM/fme22.html

*Thanks to Amazon, you don't have to do the Underground Tour to buy this book. This is a funny and insightful work that clearly shows that the Seattle founding fathers were most definitely not drum banging tree huggers. Anyone who thinks people back then weren't greedy or individualistic are in for a shock.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Was this the inspiration for that gem of the golden age of television: "Here Comes the Brides?"
Plot summary: "The story of logging camp operator, Jason Bolt, and his younger brothers, Jeremy and Joshua. Set in Seattle in the 1870s, "Here Come the Brides" followed the tale of how the Bolt brothers were in danger
of losing their timberland at Bridal Veil Mountain because their men were in near revolt over the lack of women in Seattle.
Using funds borrowed from rival saw-mill operator Aaron Stempel,Jason Bolt sailed back to New Bedford, Massachusettes and persuaded 100 propsective brides to return with him to the frontier. The girls,
led by "straw boss" Candy Pruitt, returned with Jason aboard Captain Clancey's decrepit ship, and the city of Seattle was soon transformed. However, if any one of the girls left before the end of a twelve month period, Jason's land would be forfeited to Stempel."