Abel Douglass

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Abel Douglass
Abel Douglass, 1890
Occupation Whaler

Abel Douglass was born on Isle au Haut, Maine as part of a seafaring maritime family. Family history states that their origin in Scotland was also connected with maritime seafaring. Spurred by American desires of westward expansion, and searching for opportunity in the California Gold Rush, like many Americans in the mid-19th century, the family traveled to San Francisco, California on the California Packet in 1849. The Douglas family and several dozen other families in Maine contributed to the construction of the California Packet, and under the dirtection of Captain Kimball they all sailed together to California, where the ship was immediately sold and all families immigated to various cities in California. The Douglass family first settled in Antioch, then moved to Petaluma CA. They built the first house in Petaluma on what is now Washington Street. The house had been built in Maine and shipped around the horn and up the Petaluma Slough. It was put together with pegs. They also built the American Hotel[disambiguation needed], the first hotel in Petaluma, and are presumed to have helped build many of the other first buildings in town. In the early 1860s Abel, and brother Albert, went to San Francisco to seek their fortunes. They met James Dawson[disambiguation needed] and Abel traveled to Victoria to join him in the fledgling Whaling business. Albert settled in Seattle and established a sailboat rental business in Lake Union.

Dawson and Douglass Whaling established the best record for whaling catches in the next ten years with Douglass serving as the Captain. Douglass became known as a "Down East Scotsman" because of the family Scottish heritage, his origin on the east coast, and his family avocation of mariners. Dawson was a pioneer in whaling in the Straits and invented the rocket-propelled exploding harpoon. Douglass and Dawson established a whale oil processing station on Cortes Island which they called Whaletown. Later the team split up and Douglas went his own way establishing a record of captaincy in the Straits. Douglass was associated with several schooners in his time, the Kate, May Belle, Arietes, Industry, and Annie C. Moore with Victoria his port of call. The May Belle was named after his favorite niece in Petaluma.

Captain Douglass maintained a longtime common-law relationship with Maria Mahoi (Mary Mahoy, Mahoya), with whom he fathered eight children. They had a house on Salt Spring Island. Many of their descendants still live on the island or in British Columbia. Some of their sons helped Abel with sealing, dog-fish oil and other maritime business in the 1890s.

Captain Douglass was the Ship's Captain of the Pacific Coast part of the Geological Survey of Canada which surveyed the islands in the Straits. Later Douglass served on sealing ships. One of his ships, the May Belle, was seized by the United States in the Fur Seal Arbitration between Great Britain and the United States decided in Paris before an international court consisting of leaders of numerous countries including the King of Prussia. The seized ships rotted away in Alaska while the outcome of the sealing conflict was being resolved in the international court. After losing the May belle, Abel served on other schooners as a seal hunter. Before the conflict was resolved Captain Abel Douglass died in King County, Washington in about 1907. Resolution for British citizens came in 1911, but Captain Douglass's family were not paid for many years later because of the complications of Abel's American citizenship.

See also[edit]

  • History of Whaling. More information about Abel Douglass and James Dawson at the Rorqual Fishery chapter.

Annotated bibliography[edit]

  • Anderson, Eric & Alyne, Genealogy of Martha Ellen Tupper; The First Caucasian girl born in Petaluma and descendants, 1620-1995, Dillon Beach, 1995.Contains: genealogical information for many generations of the Douglass. Includes stories and photos.
  • Argus Courier newspaper. Petaluma, CA. Several issues in the past century have histories and biographies of families from Petaluma, especially the Douglass families. Need exact references.
  • Barman, Jean. Maria Mahoi of the Islands, New Star Books, 2004 Contains: Captain Abel Douglass and descendants from British Columbia. Photos and genealogy, some references and genealogy attributed to David Lewis.
  • Barman, Jean, Whatever Happened to the Kanakas? "They're alive and well in British Columbia". In The Beaver (journal), December 1997/January 1998, Vol. 77:6. Contains: Maria Mahoi, Abel Douglass and family.
  • Caldwell, Bill, Islands of Maine: Where America Really Began, Down East Books, 1981. Contains: Douglass and Rich family, story of building of California Packet and California gold rush.
  • D'Armond, R.N. & John Lyman, The Sailing Fleet, San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1957 – February 25, 1958. Contains: additional information about several of Captain Abel Douglass’s and James Dawson’s (partners) schooners.
  • Hamilton, Bea, Salt Spring Island, Vancouver, 1969. Contains: Maria Mahoi, Abel Douglass and family, photos, contextual information.
  • Heig, Adair, History of Petaluma: A California River Town, Scottwell Associates, 1982. Contains: some contextual information about the American Hotel, appendix contains information about Douglass family.
  • Jordan, David Starr, The Fur Seals and Fur-Seal Islands of the North Pacific Ocean: Part 1, Part 3, GPO 1898. Contains: information about Abel Douglass and his sealing schooner, and his involvement in an international sealing conflict between Canada and the United States.
  • Kahn, Charles, Salt Spring, the Story of an Island, Harbor, 1998. Contains: Maria Mahoi and Family, photos.
  • Munro-Fraser, J. P. Alley, Bowen and Company, History of Sonoma County: Including its geology, topography, mountains, valleys and streams. Salem, Mass. : Higginson Book Co. Contains: information of prominent citizens, Robert Douglass, Evans, American Hotel. Some stories and photos.
  • Murray, Peter, The Vagabond Fleet: A Chronicle of the North Pacific Sealing Schooner Trade, Sono Nis Press, 1988. Contains: information about Abel Douglass and his sealing schooner, and his involvement in an international sealing conflict between Canada and the United States.
  • National Archives Project Division of Community Service Programs Work Projects Administration, Ship Registers and Enrollments of Machias Maine 1780-1930, Part 2, 1942. Contains: original ship ownership registry for the California Packet.
  • Pratt, Charles, Here on the Island: Being an account of a way of life several miles off he coast of Maine, Harper and Row, 1974. Contains: Douglass and Rich family history.
  • Rinehart, Katherine J., Petaluma A History in Architecture, Images of America, Arcadia Publishing, 2005. Misses details about family history in architectural planning in Petaluma, and information about the first Petaluma Hotel, the American Hotel built by Robert Douglass and family.
  • Rowe, William Hutchinson, The Maritime History of Maine: Three Centuries of Shipbuilding & Seafaring, Norton, 1948. Contains: story of California Packet.
  • Schmitt, F. P., C. de Jong, and F. H. Winter. 1980. Thomas Welcome Roys: America's Pioneer of Modern Whaling. University Press of Virginia. Chapter 12, "One Last Try," p. 168-179.Roys was the whaler who invented the exploding-Rocket propelled whaling spear, he experimented in the Straits of Georgia in competition with Dawson and Douglass company. Roys was never able to match the take of the competition and eventually moved elsewhere. Book contains significant info on the Dawson and Douglass company.
  • Selwyn, Alfred R.C., Geological Survey of Canada, Report of Progress for 1874-75, 1876. Contains: biographical account of the Canadian geological survey and how they hired Abel Douglass and his ship to ferry them around the coast of British Columbia.
  • Simpson, Dorothy, The Maine Islands in Story and Legend, Lippincott Company, 1960. Contains: Douglass and rich families.
  • Victoria Colonist Newspaper, Victoria B.C., 1860-1880. Microfilm copy, Abel Douglass whaling and daily ship arrivals and departures. Stories of whaling successes, conflicts, competitions, and ship's names. Also contains first reference to Abel Douglass arriving in Victoria from California.
  • Wasson, George S., Sailing Days on the Penobscot, Marine Research Society, 1932. Contains: information on the thorofare and story of building the California packet.
  • Watts, Edith Spofford, Deer Island, Maine, From Pre-History to the Present, 1997. Contains: Douglass and Rich histories.
  • Webb, R. L. 1988. On the Northwest: Commercial Whaling in the Pacific Northwest 1790-1967. University of British Columbia Press. Chapter 4, "Glancing Blows," p. 115-141. (have not seen this yet)
  • White, Howard, ed., B.C. Whaling: The White Men, Raincoast Chronicles First Five, Harbour Publishing 1976. Contains: information on whaling and the contribution of Douglass and Dawson’s company.
  • Tom Koppel articles, Koppel has published some on the Internet.
  • Mariner’s book?, with info on Abel Douglass, including his schooners, and the only extant picture of Abel. Mentions that Abel was a Scotsman.