When Seattle Was New York

Seattle’s story begins on November 13, 1851, when the Exact dropped off twenty two people on a prominent point of land jutting out into Puget Sound. It had been named Pt. Roberts in 1841, on Charles Wilkes’ United States Exploring Expedition but that name would not survive the settlers’ ambitions. (Of course the people who already lived here and had lived here for thousands of years had their own name for the point. Me-Kwa-Mooks is a Lushootseed (the Native language) term meaning “prairie point.) Figuring that this would be the area where a new city developed, two of the twenty two, John Low and Lee Terry, filed land claims. They were wrong.

Charles Wilkes' 1841 Map of Puget Sound
Charles Wilkes’ 1841 Map of Puget Sound

Those early settlers did not stay long and by early 1852 most had moved across Elliott Bay to what is now Pioneer Square. Only seven remained, John Low, his wife and four children, and Charles Terry, who took over his brother’s land claim and ambitiously named the area New York.  Low did not stay long however.

Charles Terry Advertisment
Charles Terry’s advertisement in The Columbian

But Terry still held out hope and opened a store, which he called New York Markook House. Markook was a Chinook jargon term for trade. (Chinook jargon was the argot of the regional trade network.) Above is his advertisement in the September 11, 1852, The Columbian, the first newspaper in Washington Territory. Those few who stopped by the store could have found anything from raisins to crosscut saw files to coffee (this was the future home of Starbucks after all) to London Ale.

Nine months later Terry changed his mind. Now, he wanted to call the town Alki. (Al-key or Al-kye, that is the great pronuciation question in Seattle. Old timers will tell you that it rhymes with tree though few others will agree. No matter what, the word means “by and by” in Chinook jargon.) The editors of The Columbian applauded his decision. “We never fancied the name of New York on account of its inappropriateness but Alki we subscribe to instanta…Well done friend TERRY, success to thee and thy Alki.”

Success did not come though and in 1856 Terry traded his 320 acres for 260 acres across Elliott Bay in a little settlement recently named Seattle.