“ this is a dull way of spending what few moments appertains to this life. Every day is one the less although little is thought that we are one day nearer the fatal gulf. I have not seen but one person today and that was an Indian.”
-Levi Lathrop Smith Diary, November 30th, 1847.
In 1845 Americans began settling near Puget Sound. Levi Lathrop Smith and Edmund Sylvester arrived in 1846 at what was then a small peninsula covered by old growth timber and a village inhabited by several Squaxin families. Smith built a sixteen-foot square cabin of rough cedar near this spot while Sylvester took a claim on an upland prairie to the south. Smith and Sylvester filed their claims in partnership, each naming the other his heir should one die.
Smith regularly recorded his efforts in a diary and in notes to friends. In one message he described his spread as two enclosed acres with several outbuildings including a root cellar. He cultivated a variety of vegetables, kept oxen and horses and raised chickens and pigs.
In his diary Smith often lamented the tedious solitude of his new home. While his fellow settlers visited as they passed through, the distance from the small community of Americans clustered at Tumwater left Smith lonely and isolated. His most regular visitors were natives trading salmon, cranberries and other local produce.
Smith struggled with epilepsy throughout his life. He recorded frequent bouts of ill health in his diary adding to his bleak outlook. In 1848, Smith won election as a representative to the Oregon Territorial legislature, but died of his ailments before he could serve. Afterwards, Sylvester assumed ownership of Smith’s claim and in 1850 platted a new town he called Smithfield in honor of his former partner, later renamed Olympia in reference to the Olympic Mountains to the north.
Tanis, James R., (ed.). “The Journal of Levi Lathrop Smith, 1847-1848” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 43 (1952): 277-301.
Blankenship, Georgiana Mitchell. Early History of Thurston County, Washington: Together with Biographies and Reminiscences of Those Identified with Pioneer Days. 1914., 8-9.
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