Biographical Note

Arrangement

Scope and Content

Digital Content

Restrictions on Access

Restrictions on Use

Acquisition Info

Processing Info

Related Material

Inventory   [ + ]

Subject Terms


Guide to the Eugene Semple Papers



Manuscript Collection No.: 0532
Accession No.: 0532-001
Creator: Semple, Eugene, 1840-1908
Title: Eugene Semple papers
Date Span: 1858-1908
Quantity: 7.2 cubic feet (18 boxes)
Languages: Collection materials are in English.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Biographical Note

Eugene Semple came West seeking his fortune in 1863. Semple worked as a lawyer, newspaper editor, amateur engineer and inventor, farmer, and lumberman. Semple also earned appointments to several prominent political offices--Washington Territorial Governor, Washington State Harbor Commissioner and Oregon State Printer. He was also an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Washington State.

Eugene Semple, the son of a United States Senator from Illinois, was born in 1840. He left Chicago and moved to Portland in 1863, ostensibly to practice law. By temperament, however, he was suited for other things. Semple quickly abandoned law and got involved in Democratic Party politics and journalism. Eventually, with considerable difficulty, he and a local newspaperman, Thomas Patterson, purchased the floundering Portland Daily Herald in 1869. Semple became its editor and soon began to wage a spirited editorial campaign that helped return the Democrats to control of the state government in 1870. Following the typical “spoils” policy, Governor Lafayette Grover rewarded the Herald with lucrative state printing contracts and appointed Semple State Printer, considering him “the best editor we’ve got.” In 1870, the same year he became State Printer, Semple married Ruth Lownsdale, the daughter of an early Portland settler.

Using profits from the printing contracts and from sales of his wife’s real estate, Semple plunged into a variety of land and building speculations in Portland. The Panic of 1873 wiped out these speculative investments. The years ahead were the nadir of Semple’s career. Bankrupt, he left Portland with his growing family in 1875. The Semples homesteaded in eastern Oregon until Ruth divorced Eugene in 1883 and married another man, leaving Eugene with custody of their four children.

Semple quickly rebounded from the divorce and decided to re-enter politics. Seeking President Grover Cleveland’s nomination as Washington Territorial Governor in 1885, Semple mobilized the help of his influential family in the East and his own political connections in the West. The contest for the appointment consumed more than two years, as various political factions deluged Cleveland with petitions supporting Semple or his rivals. The President eventually chose Semple in 1887 to replace Republican Governor Watson Squire.

Semple’s two-year term as governor coincided with a period of turbulence and expansive growth in the territory. The population of Washington almost doubled during these two years, reaching more than 250,000 people. Many of the immigrants were miners whose demands for better working conditions and union recognition led to violence in the coal mines of the Cascades. Semple deplored the use of company strikebreakers, but refused to intervene forcefully on the workers’ behalf when called upon. He made a sharp distinction, however, between the interests of white workingmen and those of Chinese laborers. Semple thought of the Chinese as members of “a non-assimilating race.” During his gubernatorial campaign and his administration, he refused to condemn anti-Chinese rioters in Tacoma and Seattle even though he asserted that the Chinese had a right to remain in Washington if they so desired.

In addition to labor unrest, Governor Semple had to deal with a host of other problems caused by Washington’s exploding population. He convinced the United States Congress and Interior Department to fund an expansion of the territory’s elementary school system, as well as the construction of a new penitentiary, insane asylum, and school for delinquent youth. Semple also pressed Congress and the territorial legislature to pass laws regulating Washington’s overfished waters, but to no avail.

Women’s enfranchisement was another major issue during Semple’s administration. In 1887, to the chagrin of conservatives, Semple signed a women’s suffrage bill passed by the territorial legislature. The Washington Supreme Court, however, declared the law unconstitutional. Washington women did not earn the ballot again until 1909.

Republican victories in the national election of 1888 brought an end to most Democratic appointments in the territories. In April 1889, Semple was replaced by Miles Moore, a Walla Walla banker. But Semple was not yet off the political stage. Enabling legislation had been passed by Congress before Semple left office authorizing the admission of Washington to statehood. In September 1889, Semple was chosen as his party’s candidate for governor in the first state election. He lost to Elisha Ferry, another former governor of the territory. This was Semple’s last serious projection into politics. Indeed, his two-year stint as governor was really just an interlude in his larger career as a speculator and promoter.

After leaving the governorship, Semple spent his time managing a company he had bought while in office, the Lucia Mill Company in Vancouver, Washington. Unfortunately, the company’s profits were consumed in Semple’s unsuccessful efforts to interest Eastern investors in buying land in the Skagit Valley in the early 1890s. It was, however, in the economically-depressed Seattle of the mid-1890s that Semple undertook the most ambitious project of his business career--the south Seattle ship canal and harbor improvement scheme. Semple’s project was intended to supercede the uncompleted ship canal from Shilshole Bay into Lake Washington with a shorter, more daring route through the tidelands and hills of south Seattle, linking Seattle’s harbor directly with Lake Washington. Semple established the Seattle & Lake Washington Waterway Company and persuaded hundreds of Seattle residents to underwrite the south canal enterprise with a $500,000 subsidy pledge. Work on the south canal began in July 1895.

Semple knew that his project required a more secure form of financing than citizens’ donations. He proposed that the state allow companies to sell liens on tidelands that the companies would later reclaim. Semple planned to use the earth removed from the canal route to fill the tidelands. The legislature approved Semple’s scheme in 1893, but it did not go into effect until the Washington Supreme Court declared the law constitutional in 1898.. Many companies then entered the tideland business, filling Seattle’s tidelands and selling them as sites for waterfront industry and commerce.

The sale of tidelands did not generate enough revenue to allow Semple’s company to complete the difficult and expensive work of building the south Seattle ship canal. In addition, the wealthier and more influential backers of the northern ship canal route undermined Semple’s efforts to obtain financial backing from the local, state, or federal governments. Semple came to regard his opposition--which was pushing the north canal to completion while financial and legal problems continued to beset the south canal--as a conspiracy of “money kings.” Deeply frustrated and nearly bankrupt, Semple resigned as president of the Seattle & Lake Washington Waterway Company in 1903.

During the remainder of his life, Semple attempted to apply his ideas to similar promotions, convinced that he could still become a rich man. The most notable of these later schemes was a plan for bypassing the treacherous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River by digging a large ship canal from Astoria to Seaside, Oregon. Here too he failed, though not for a lack of vivid imagination. Semple lived out his last years on money borrowed from relatives. He died on August 28, 1908.

Arrangement

Arranged in 2 series:

  • Personal papers, 1858-1908
  • Business papers, 1869-1907

Scope and Content

The Eugene Semple papers are primarily composed of correspondence. The letters describe Semple’s editorship of the Portland Herald, his work as Oregon State Printer, his administration as Washington Territorial Governor, his numerous financial speculations, and his relations with his family. Correspondence from the gubernatorial period contains a great deal of information on anti-Chinese agitation and on the drive for women’s suffrage. Records from various businesses managed by Semple are also found in his papers. The activities of the Lucia Mill Company and the Seattle & Lake Washington Waterway Company are documented in detail.

Digital Content

View selections from this collection in digital format.

Restrictions on Access

The papers are open to all users.

Restrictions on Use

The creator's literary rights have not been transferred to the University of Washington Libraries.

Acquisition Info

The papers of Eugene Semple were received in two installments. The first was deposited by his daughter, Mary Ethel Swanstrom, in 1948; it became Accession No. 0174-001. The second was donated by his granddaughter, Lucy Adair, in 1965; it was designated Accession No. 0532-001.

Processing Info

Biographical note written by Alan Hynding in 1966 and edited by Michael Reese in 1996. Other notes written by Michael Reese in 1996.

Accession No. 0532-001 initially included the papers of Mary Swanstrom and other members of the Semple family. In 1966, the papers of everyone besides Eugene Semple were formed into a separate Semple family collection, Accession No. 4220-001. At the same time, all of Eugene Semple’s papers were processed and merged into a single collection.

Related Material

Accession No. 4220-001 consists of papers removed from the Eugene Semple collection in 1966. It measures 3.15 cubic feet and primarily consists of the papers of Eugene Semple’s children--Mary Swanstrom, James Semple, and Zoe Semple. They primarily document Mary Swanstrom’s work in the Washington State Historical Society and in restoring Fort Simcoe. They also describe the family and business affairs of the Semple children.

Microform and Newspaper Collections at the University of Washington Libraries has three microfilm reels containing Semple’s correspondence with the United States Department of the Interior during his term as territorial governor.

Additional papers from Semple’s administration can be found in Record Group 1/N of the Washington State Archives in Olympia.


Inventory

  
BoxDate
Personal papers
Arrangement: Arranged by type of record.
Outgoing letters1865-1907
Three volumes of letterpress copybooks and about 2000 unbound letters
Scope and Content: Letters reflect his legal practice, editorship of the Oregon Herald, work as Oregon State Printer, Democratic Party work in Oregon and Washington, governorship of Washington Territory and general business and family interests.
Letterpress copybooks
5Volume 11893 March 20-1893 October 1
299 pages
Physical/Technical Access: About three-fourths illegible because of water damage.
5Volume 21895 July 10-1896 November 20
299 pages
Scope and Content: Some missing pages.
5Volume 31896 December 1-1899 June 19
409 pages
Physical/Technical Access: About 50 pages illegible because of water damage.
Unbound letters
11865 February -1889 February 1865 February -1889 February
21889 March -1897 October 1889 March -1897 October
31897 November -1902 July 1897 November -1902 July
41902 August -1906 May 1902 August -1906 May
51906 June - 1907 December1906 June - 1907 December
Incoming letters
6Abbott, M.H.1865
4 items
6Abbott, Twyman O.1887-1907
13 items
6Adair, John1904
18 items
6American Publishers Association1897-1900
14 items
6Ames, Edgar1894-1903
44 items
6Ames, Henry1893-1905
27 items
6Ames, Lucy1863-1902
76 items
6Anderson, Charles Mack1888
2 items
6Andrews, E.W.1898
2 items
6Ankeny, Levi1904
1 item
6Bancroft (A.L.) Company1874
6 items
6Barnett, A. M.1888
3 items
6Bellingham Bay National Bank1892-1895
13 items
6Bingham, N.T.1875-1879
2 items
6Blackman, Henry1894
1 item
6Blackmer, W.E.1888
4 items
6Bowers Seattle-Yukon Dredging Company1897
5 items
6Bradford, Oscar1874-1879
5 items
6Brainerd, Erastus1894-1902
3 items
6Breckinridge, John Cable1887
2 items
6Bridges, Robert1897, 1898
2 items
6Brown, Webster1893
5 items
6Burke, Thomas1902
2 items
6Burke, (Thomas), Shepard, and McGilvra1892-1902
3 items
6Burton, Theodore E.1902-1904
15 items
7Cadwell, E.P.1888-1890
3 items
7Canby, E.L.1892-1893
5 items
7Cann, T.H.1889
5 items
7Carrier, B.N.1887-1888
6 items
7Carroll, Thomas1888-1893
7 items
7Cochrane, William1889
1 item
7Cushman, Francis W.1902
3 items
7Dawley, J.M.1898
2 items
7De Courey, B.W.1891
12 items
7Democratic Party, Washington1886-1904
3 items
7Dolph, Joseph N.1893
1 item
7Duniway, Abigail Scott1872, 1874
2 items
7Dutton, Chauncy N.1895-1896
3 items
7Eastwick, Philip G.1891-1892
3 items
7Egan, John G.1893-1903
9 items
7Emery, C.D.1888
3 items
7Ernst, B.C.1897
5 items
7Evans, Elwood1888
3 items
7Fay, James D.1870
2 items
7Ferry, Elisha P.1894
5 items
7First National Bank, Blaine, Washington1890-1895
9 items
7Floyd-Jones, Bel1862-1869
18 items
7Foster, Addison G.1902-1904
5 items
7Franklin County, Washington (Miscellaneous offices)1888
3 items
7Freemasons1883-1908
8 items
7Gatzert, Bailey1887
1 item
7Gilfry, Henry H.1871-1894
3 items
7Gilman, Daniel Hunt1893, 1895
2 items
7Glover, T.B.1887-1888
3 items
7Great Northern Railway Company1902-1904
6 items
7Greene, Roger Sherman1904
1 item
7Griffith (L.H.) Realty and Banking Company, Seattle1891
4 items
7Grover, Lafayette1868-1874
10 items
7Guineau, Thomas E.1894-1897
6 items
7Habersham, R.A.1891
3 items
7Hale, Julius F.1894-1904
13 items
7Hall, William H.1894
3 items
7Hanford, Cornelius H.1889
1 item
7Hemrich, Andrew1904-1905
3 items
7Hestwood, J.O.1898
7 items
7Heustis, F.D.1893
4 items
7Hicks, Gwin1888, 1889
3 items
7Hicks, U.E.1865
2 items
7Hill, George D.1887-1889
3 items
7Himes, George H.1903
1 item
7Hulbert, Ellen1864-1888
4 items
7Humphrey, William E.1903, 1908
2 items
7Isham, A.E.1888, 1889
2 items
7Jones, Wesley Livsey1902-1904
8 items
7Jones, William Carey1894-1906
5 items
7Junger, Aegidius, Bishop of Nisqually1887
2 items
7King, John Floyd1886
3 items
7King County, Washington Sheriff1889
2 items
7Kittitas County, Washington Sheriff1888-1889
9 items
7Knights of Labor, Spokane Assembly1884
4 items
8Ladd and Tilton, Bankers, Portland1895
3 items
8Lewis, James Hamilton1888-1889
10 items
8Lindsay, William1893
4 items
8Long, Clark1888, 1889
5 items
8Lucia Mill Company1895-1900
24 items
8McBride, George W.1882, 1896
2 items
8McCammon, Joseph K.1889-1903
36 items
8McGraw, John Harte1894-1896
2 items
8McNaughton, John1898-1899
3 items
8Metcalfe, J.B.1887-1888
4 items
8Miller, G.A.1890
3 items
8Miller and Stapleton1893-1894
11 items
8Mississippi Valley Trust Company1899-1905
14 items
8Mizner, Lansing B.1863-1890
40 items
8Montgomery, J.B.1893
2 items
8Moody, R.E.1900, 1902
3 items
8Moore, James A.1906-1908
23 items
8Moore, Miles Conway1889-1903
5 items
8Moran, Robert1897-1898
12 items
8Morris and Whitehead1900-1902
13 items
8Morrison, W.R.1893, 1894
2 items
8Mosher, Lafayette1873, 1875
2 items
8Muckle Brothers1891-1892
6 items
8Mullikin, U.1871
1 item
8Munn and Company1903-1907
39 items
8Nesmith, James W.1870, 1884
2 items
8Newell, William A.1888-1897
3 items
8Northern Pacific Coal Company1888
2 items
8Northern Pacific Railroad Company1887, 1893
2 items
8O'Conner, M.H.1889
2 items
8Oregon Governor1873-1887
4 items
8Oregon Improvement Company1888-1889
3 items
8Owens, H.K.1899, 1900
2 items
9Pacific Coast Company1899, 1903
2 items
9Pacific County, Washington Sheriff1887
2 items
9Paine, F.W.1887
6 items
9Parker, Frank J.1885-1892
42 items
Scope and Content: With enclosures
9Parry, Will H.1900-1907
21 items
9Paschall, George M.1897-1902
13 items
9Patterson, T[homas]1868-1883
13 items
9Perley Brothers1892-1893
5 items
9Pigott, Harry H.1906
1 item
9Plummer, Fred G.1893
3 items
9Powell, Archibald O.1906, 1907
4 items
9Prosser, William F.1891-1893
13 items
9Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company1902-1903
5 items
9Ritz, Philip1887, 1888
14 items
9Roeder, Henry1888
4 items
9Rollins, C.H.1900-1904
4 items
9Royal Arcanum1904
5 items
9Saleno, Samuel H.1897, 1898
9 items
9Scott, Julia Semple1864-1874
37 items
9Semple, James1865-1866
6 items
9Semple, Mary S.1869-1872
7 items
9Semple, Maude1883-1903
12 items
9Semple family, miscellaneous1864-1884
9 items
9Sharpstein, John L.1887, 1888
2 items
9Shipley, T.H.B.1865-1868
3 items
9Simpson, Sylvester C.1873
1 item
9Spokane City Guard1888
2 items
9Squire, Watson Carvosso1887-1894
6 items
9Stevenson, Adlai Ewing1893
1 item
9Stillaguamish and Sultan Mining Company1894, 1895
4 items
9Symons, Thomas W.1894-1907
33 items
10Tobin, Henry G.1889
5 items
10Tongue, Thomas H.1902
3 items
10Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress1895-1904
8 items
10Turner, George1887-1902
3 items
10Union Patent Investment Company1904-1905
8 items
10United States Army Corps of Engineers1892-1906
20 items
10United States Department of the Interior1889, 1904
6 items
10United States Department of Justice1887, 1889
8 items
10United States Department of the Navy1902, 1904
4 items
10United States Treasury Department1887-1889
14 items
10Vancouver, Washington Mayor1892
2 items
10Voorhees, Charles S.1887
1 item
10Wahkiakum County, Washington Sheriff1887, 1888
3 items
10Washington Attorney General1888-1897
43 items
10Washington (Territory) Hospital for the Insane1887
7 items
10Washington (Territory) National Guard1887-1889
42 items
10Washington Harbor Line Commission1890-1893
45 items
10Washington Commissioner of Public Lands1892-1906
21 items
10Washington, University of Washington1888
1 item
10Washington [Various state government offices]1891-1904
9 items
10Washington (Territory) [Various territorial government agencies]1887-1889
3 items
10Watson, D.M.1888
15 items
10Watson, W.G.1887-1888
6 items
10Wells, S.A.1887, 1888
3 items
10Western Drilling Company1888, 1889
5 items
10White, W.H.1885
1 item
10Wickersham, James1888-1892
5 items
10Wilson, John M.1891-1893
5 items
10Wintermute, J. S.1887-1895
55 items
10Women's suffrage associations1888
6 items
10Women's Christian Temperance Union1888
3 items
11Yakima County and Kittitas County, Washington District Attorney1887, 1888
6 items
11Unidentified and incomplete letters1891, 1903, 1904, undated
8 items
11Women's Suffrage Bill of 1887
100 items
11Letters and petitions recommending Semple for governorship of Washington Territory1885-1887
11 items
11Copies of letters and a petition relating to strike at coal mines at Roslyn and Newcastle1888
13 items
11Miscellaneous letters to Semple as Governor1887-1889
115 items
Scope and Content: Mainly concerning patronage, favors, arid sheriff reports.
12Genealogical material and biographical dataundated
13Telegram codeundated
13Diary1887, 1889
13Date books1865-1894
Agreements
13Semple a partyundated
13Semple not a partyundated
Court papers
13Semple a partyundated
13Cases of Lawrence & Semple Law Firm, Portland1865-1867
13Relating to Everett, Washington tidelands1893
13Miscellaneousundated
13Clippingsundated
Documents
13Relating to bankruptcy of Semple and position as Oregon State Printer1871-1885
13Relating to prospective excavation in Tacoma's harbor1893
13Abstracts of Title1858-1868
13Act incorporating the University of the Territory of Washington1888
Two certified copies
13Miscellaneousundated
13Patentsundated
14Field notes of land surveysundated
14Speeches and writingsundated
Financial records
14Relating to expenses as Governor of Washington Territoryundated
14Stocks and bondsundated
14Legislative Billsundated
14Clippings: Newspaper accounts of Semple's career from various newspapersundated
14Photographs and sketchesundated
14Miscellaneous notesundated
Ephemera
Scope and Content: Many are annotated
14"Martial Law at Seattle, Washington Territory," by Semple (Vancouver, Washington Territory, 1886)1886
14"Petition and Statements Accompanying Chart of Columbia River..." (Register Printing Office, Vancouver, Washington Territory, 1885)1885
14Report of Governor, Washington Territory, to Secretary of Interior1887
14Message of the Governor, Washington Territory, to Legislative Assembly1887
14Columbia Waterway Convention, Vancouver, Washington Territory 1886 October
14Miscellaneousundated
14Estate notes1908, 1926, undated
15Covers (envelopes)undated

  
BoxDate
Business papers
Lucia Mill Company, Vancouver, Washington
16Agreements1883-1885
16Incoming correspondence1893-1899
approximately 50 items
Bigham (A.J.) Huston Co., Vancouver, Washington
16Outgoing correspondence-- letterbook1884
300 pages
16Financial records: ledger1884
218 pages
16Leonard, Harvey Reid: papers relating to a balance wrench patent1871-1872
approximately 50 items
Herald Printing Company, Portland
16Composition book1869
Subscription list1869
16Oregon Herald1869
16Democratic Party, Oregon1869
16Lincoln Oil and Gas Company, Washington: miscellaneous papers1900-1904
approximately 20 items
16Snoqualmie Central Development Company1895
2 items
Bowers Seattle-Yukon Gold Dredging Company
Correspondence and other papers1897-1898
approximately 20 items
16Bowers, Alphonzo B.1897-1898
16Hestwood, James O.1897-1898
16Moran, Robert1897-1898
16Paschall, George M.1897-1898
Seattle General Contract and Finance Company1907
7 items
16Letters1907
16Stock certificates1907
16Articles of incorporation1907
Washington Harbor Line Commission
Papers regarding Semple's work as a Commission member1890-1892
15 items
17Northwestern Lumber Company, Hoquiam1890-1892
17Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company1890-1892
17Stimson Mill Company, Seattle1890-1892
17Semple and Hale law firm, Portland: docket book1893-1894
1 volume
Seattle and Lake Washington Waterway Company
17General correspondence1891-1907
approximately 300 items
Scope and Content: Major correspondents:
  • Ames, Edgar
  • Brainerd, Erastus
  • Burton, Theodore E.
  • Durie, David E.
  • Ferry, Elisha Peyre
  • Hale, Julius F.
  • Hemrich, Andrew
  • Jones, William Carey
  • Parry, Will H.
  • Paschall, George M.
  • Symons, Thomas W.
General Notes: See also the Letterpress books, 1893-1899 (3 volumes) in the Personal Papers series, which include both personal and business letters.
18Histories of the canal controversyundated
10 items
18Prospectuses and proposalsundated
15 items
18Majority and minority reports regarding location of canal1902
5 items
18Court papersundated
10 items
18Miscellaneous notesundated
10 items
18History of House Bill 3491893
1 item
18Map showing proposal of Major Millis1903
1 item
18Financial recordsundated
25 items
18Appraisement of Seattle Tidelandscirca 1900
1 item
18Agreementsundated
10 items
18Specifications and estimatesundated
15 items
18Stock certificatesundated
5 items
18Clippingsundated
5 items

Subject Terms

Personal Names:
Ames, Edgar.
Ames, Lucy V. S.
Parker, Frank J.
Scott, Julia Semple.
Semple, Eugene, 1840-1908--Archives.
Symons, T. W. (Thomas William), 1849-1920.
Wintermute, J. S.
Organizations:
Lucia Mill.
Munn & Co. (New York, N.Y.)
Seattle and Lake Washington Waterway Company.
Washington (State). Harbor Line Commission.
Washington (State). National Guard.
Washington (State). Office of Commissioner of Public Lands.
Washington (State). Office of the Attorney General.
Geographic Names:
Portland (Or.)--Politics and government.
Roslyn (Wash.)
Seattle (Wash.)--Politics and government.
Washington (State)--Emigration and immigration--19th century.
Washington (State)--Ethnic relations.
Washington (State)--Politics and government--1889-1950.
Washington (State)--Politics and government--To 1889.
Subjects:
Banks and banking--Washington (State)--Seattle.
Businessmen--Washington (State)--Archives.
Canals--Washington (State)--Seattle.
Capitalists and financiers--Washington (State)--Archives.
Chinese--Civil rights--Washington (State)
Chinese--Washington (State)--Government relations.
Governors--Washington (State)--Archives.
Harbors--Washington (State)--Seattle.
Journalism--Oregon--Portland.
Labor disputes--Washington (State)
Printers--Washington (State)--Archives.
Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining--Washington (State)
Women--Suffrage--Washington (State)
Genre Headings:
Diaries.
correspondence.
ephemera.
financial records.
Last modified: November 14, 2013
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