(This article is published with permission from the author, Brenda Pratt.)
All of us who live on San Juan Island have been asked how our county seat, Friday Harbor, got its name. Often the reply to this question is the story of a sea captain who, while entering the harbor, saw a man on shore and called, "What bay is this?" The man on shore thought he said, "What day is this?" so he answered "Friday."
It's a charming story, but it's not true.
Friday Harbor was named for a Kanakaa Hawaiian named Joseph Poalie Friday, who was employed by the Hudson's Bay Company to tend sheep on the land overlooking the harbor. His was the only habitation to be seen for miles, and when sailors coming along the coast saw the smoke from his camp, they knew they had reached "Friday's Harbor."
The name "Poalie" cannot be found in cither Andrew's Hawaiian Dictionary or the more recent Pukui-Elbert Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language. But the word for Friday, "Poalima," appears in both. Poalie may have been a shortened form of Poalima, and it is understandable that Joe might have dropped his native surname in favor of Friday when he came to the Northwest. The apostrophe and "s" were dropped from the town's name at a later time.
There is no doubt that this man existed; however, in researching the records it would appear that there were two Joe Fridays as well as a Peter Friday.
The first reference to a Joe Friday appears in 1841 when he worked for the Hudson's Bay Company on Cowlitz Farm, located on the Cowlitz River about halfway between the Columbia River and Puget Sound. He was employed as a general laborer or mid-man, which is the Hawaiian term for the paddler in the middle of a canoe, and was probably in his late teens or early 20s.
At that time in the Hawaiian Islands (or Sandwich Islands, as the British called them) jobs were scarce and commoners could not hold land. Therefore the Hudson's Bay Company found it very easy to recruit strong young men, excellent fishermen and sailors, to work for them in the Pacific Northwest.
Hudson's Bay Company records show that Friday's wage was 30 pounds a year. After working at Cowlitz for a year he was transferred to newly established Fort Victoria. He left there by boat on Jan. 10, 1845, and sailed to the Hawaiian Islands. The reason for this trip is unknown, but it must have been a compelling one, for the journey was long and costly. He may have defrayed some of the expense by signing on as part of the crew.
He did not remain in the islands but returned to the Pacific Northwest the same year, signing a three-year contract with Hudson's Bay Company, working at Fort Victoria from 1845 until 1848 when he made another trip to the Sandwich Islands for a visit. This time when he returned he appears to have stayed for good.
He was sent to Fort Rupert at the north end of Vancouver Island, where he worked for two years under contract. From then until 1861, Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Victoria records document him as a part-time worker earning "sundries." During those years, San Juan was considered part of the Fort Victoria operation and it is possible that Joe Friday tended his sheep along the harbor that today bears his name. He may also have become a British subject.
By the time the Pig War ended and the San Juan Islands were awarded to the United States, the Hudson's Bay Company had given up its operations here. In 1872 many of the British on the island, fearful for their rights, drew up a petition asking that Captain Delacomb, a British officer, be sent to watch over their affairs. Joseph Friday's is among the 60 signatures on this document. However, is it likely that Joe Friday, born in the Sandwich Islands around 1820, could write his name? Or is this the signature of another, younger Joe Friday?
The 1880 census shows a Peter Friday, age 50, living on San Juan Island. He was born in the Sandwich Islands and came to the Pacific Northwest where he married a Native American woman and had five children, the eldest of whom was called Joseph Friday, born around 1844. It seems likely that it this Joe's signature on the 1872 petition.
This younger Joe Friday also appears on the records at St. Andrew's Cathedral when he traveled to Victoria in December 1870 for his father's baptism and to witness the marriage of a friend.
For which of these Joe Fridays was the town named? At least one of them remained on San Juan and died here. Bud Geneste remembers seeing the grave, marked with a wooden post, now hidden in the thick underbrush near the University of Washington Laboratories. Bud also tells of Charlie Churchill seeing the body of Joe Friday being rowed across the harbor to be buried.
Joe Friday is remembered as an old man who died around 1905. But Peter's son Joe would have been only 54 or 55 at that time. Surely, the bones resting in the lost grave above the harbor are those of the Joe Friday who came to the Pacific Northwest from the Sandwich Islands in 1841.