Bagley, Daniel (1818-1905) and Clarence B. Bagley (1843-1932)

  • By Junius Rochester
  • Posted 7/28/2001
  • Essay 3470

Daniel Bagley  was a Methodist preacher who traveled west in covered wagons with his family in 1852 as part of the Bethel Party. He and his wife Susannah Whipple Bagley (1819-1913) and son Clarence Bagley  arrived in Seattle in October 1860.  Daniel Bagley established the Brown Church in Seattle in 1865 and besides preaching became a key advocate for the Territorial University and its location in Seattle. He also managed the Newcastle coal mines. His only son, Clarence Bagley, was 17 when he arrived in Seattle. He became a printer, publisher, and writer, one of the region's first prominent historians.

The Father

Daniel Bagley was born on September 7, 1818, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Bagley worked on his father's farm clearing the land and doing chores. In 1840, he married Massachusetts-raised Susannah Rogers Whipple. Their honeymoon was spent moving to new land on the prairie of Illinois. After becoming a Methodist minister in 1842, he traveled the state of Illinois as a circuit preacher.

In 1852, the family, including their only child, Clarence, joined others as part of the burgeoning Westward movement. Their wagon train was called "The Bethel Party," and included several individuals, such as Dexter Horton (1825-1904) and Thomas Mercer, who would also have a profound influence on the growth of Seattle.

Cholera, not Indians was the main enemy along the trail. Turning south to the verdant Willamette Valley, the Bagley family settled near Salem, Oregon. The eager Methodist missionary, with a five-year engagement from the Methodist Protestant Church at $600 a year, established several churches over an eight-year period.

However, Susannah Bagley's health was poor, and the couple and their son traveled north by horse-drawn buggy -- the first such contraption to enter Seattle -- looking for the clean air of Puget Sound. His Willamette Valley work had apparently been recognized, for he was appointed a "traveling agent" of the American Tract Society, with duties in Puget Sound. The Bagley family rented a house from Henry Adams near the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and Columbia Street.

The Brown Church

In 1865, Daniel Bagley established what became known as Seattle's "Brown Church" at the northwest corner of 2nd Avenue and Madison Street. According to his son, the Brown Church's Sunday School "had become the largest in the territory with 171 officers, teachers, and pupils." Daniel also taught at the school, his son Clarence substituting for his father in the classroom on occasion.

Religious duties did not interfere with Bagley's secular interests. Perhaps his most lasting monument resulted from his service with John Webster and Edmund Carr as a Washington state university commissioner.

Arthur Denny (1822-1899), a member of the territorial legislature, hoped that Seattle would be chosen as the capital. Almost by accident, the first site of the university was at Cowlitz Farm Prairie in Lewis County. According to Neal O. Hines, in his book Denny's Knoll, Bagley convinced Denny that Seattle would benefit more from being the home of a university than from being the site of the capital.

The legislature did indeed act as Bagley hoped, passing legislation to found a territorial university in Seattle "provided, a good and sufficient deed to ten acres of land ... be first executed." Denny then stepped in and with neighboring property owners Charles C. Terry, Mary Terry, and Edward Lander, dedicated what was referred to as "the knoll" for the school (today "the knoll" is known as the Metropolitan Tract near Union and Seneca streets in downtown Seattle).

Bagley was elected president of the university's board of commissioners, becoming in effect the school's first guiding spirit. He asked his friend Asa Shinn Mercer (1839-1917) to serve as the school's first acting president at no salary. In 1894, when the new university grounds were established in North Seattle, and the Denny Hall cornerstone was laid, Bagley spoke movingly at the ceremonies about the university's early days. A plaque rests today at the University Street entrance of the Olympic-Four Seasons Hotel attesting to the efforts of Arthur Denny and Daniel Bagley to build a territorial university on that site.

The Mercer Girls Controversy

Daniel Bagley defended the 1866 arrival of "The Mercer Girls," which his friend Asa Mercer had organized. A meeting to discuss the matter was held in Yesler Hall, at which Bagley presided. Mercer's eloquence and the presence of several of the young ladies in question helped sooth misunderstandings. Bagley later officiated at the wedding of Asa Mercer and Annie E. Stephens of Baltimore, one of the "Mercer Girls." Eventually, all but one of the damsels married local men.

In later life, Rev. Bagley undertook the management of what became known as the Newcastle coal mines on the eastside of Lake Washington. He and others ran the Lake Washington Coal Company, which had been organized in 1866. After 1885, he returned fulltime to his first profession, roaming from church to church as visiting pastor in Ballard, Columbia City, Yesler Street, and South Park.

Daniel Bagley was a Master Mason from his Illinois days, and upon his death on April 26, 1905, he received full honors from Seattle's historic St. John's Lodge. Neal Hines wrote that when Daniel Bagley died at age 87, six years after Arthur Denny, he had been living with his son. "In all his years nothing had daunted (him) -- not the hardships of the trail from Illinois, not the rigors of the circuit riding in Oregon, not the whims and doubts of territorial legislatures -- and only the single tree on the old university grounds had outlasted him [a tree long gone from downtown Seattle]."

The Son

Clarence Bagley, the only child of Daniel and Susannah, was born in Troy Grove, Illinois, on November 30, 1843. At age nine, Clarence had a front-row seat while moving across the plains and Rocky Mountains to a new home near Salem, Oregon. The young man attended Willamette Institute, which later became Willamette University. He also did his share of farm duties, a necessary pioneer-days activity.

In October 1860, Clarence was a strapping 17 years old when the family climbed aboard a buggy and headed north to Seattle. In the shadow of his father, Clarence cleared timber from the site of the new university. Later, he painted, did carpentry, and took up other jobs on the fledgling university grounds. In the pages of his own History of King County, Clarence could not resist mentioning that he and R. H. Beatty, O. J. Carr, and Josiah Settle did the "flooring and shingling."

Education was a primary theme in the Bagley family. After the university building was in place, Clarence accompanied his parents on a visit to Pennsylvania. He entered Allegheny College in Meadville during their winter visit. In April 1864, with echoes of the Civil War everywhere, Clarence returned with his family to Seattle. He immediately undertook work as a painter.

Clarence married Alice Mercer (d. 1926), youngest daughter of Thomas Mercer (1813-1898), on December 24, 1865, in the "White Church." Their romance dated to his days as a young schoolteacher. He later wrote: "Among the children (his students) was a little girl who became my wife on Christmas Eve, 1865. She and I trudged through two feet of snow that led around stumps standing in Second Avenue to the little building that was already filled with friends, young and old."

Soon after his marriage, Clarence was appointed to a clerk's position in the Surveyor General's office, Olympia. His Olympia work brought him into contact with influential men engaged in building a new government and economic framework for Washington territory.

Printing, Publishing, Writing

In Olympia, his attention was drawn to printing, publishing, and writing. Those interests led him to purchase two newspapers, The Territorial Republican and The Echo. After selling his interest in those two papers he went to work for a new publication, The Commercial Age. In 1867, Daniel and Clarence Bagley sold a printing business on credit to Samuel L. Maxwell, who started The Weekly Intelligencer, forerunner of today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Like father, like son. Clarence helped run the Newcastle coalmines in 1870. He left the private sector in 1871 to return to Olympia as deputy in the office of the Internal Revenue Collector of Washington, but his interest in writing and publishing never flagged. Again, he found himself co-owner of another newspaper, The Puget Sound Courier. He then accepted the position of Territorial Printer, a job that lasted 10 years.

For a time banking attracted Clarence Bagley, then more newspaper work, and again a return to state employment. He also served as an alternate state commissioner for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Bagley's true love, however, remained writing and local history -- of which he had been an early, active participant.

Seattle and King County's Historian

Bagley's collection of regional historical material, including books, pamphlets, and old newspapers, grew into one of the largest such resources in the Pacific Northwest. He wrote articles for Edmond Meany's new Washington Historical Quarterly. In one of those pieces he described his family's crossing of the plains. In another, about the Cayuse War, he noted that white settler's "land greed" had been the major cause of poor Indian-white relations.

Clarence's authorship of Seattle and King County histories -- three volumes each -- was an academic milestone in its time. Even today, Bagley's History of Seattle, Washington and History of King County, Washington enrich the historian's path with their detailed accounts, informal portraits, and personal anecdotes.

Clarence and Alice Bagley had five children. Bagley, sometimes called "Pop," died on February 26, 1932. He and his wife are buried in Seattle's Mt. Pleasant Cemetery.

Seattle's Bagley Avenue, northward from the shores of Lake Union, honors both Daniel and Clarence Bagley.


C. H. Hanford, Seattle and Environs: 1852-1924 (Chicago and Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Co., 1924); Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County, Washington (Chicago-Seattle: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929); Neal O. Hines, Denny's Knoll: A History of the Metropolitan Tract of the University of Washington (Seattle: University of Washington, 1980); Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1931); George A. Frykman, Seattle's Historian and Promoter: The Life of Edmond Stephen Meany (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1998); Helen E. Vogt, Charlie Frye and His Times (Seattle: SCW Publications, 1995); Sophie Frye Bass, Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1937); J. Willis Sayre, This City of Ours (Seattle: Seattle School District No. l, 1936); Index to Clarence B. Bagley's History of Seattle, 1916 ed. by Sally Gene Mahoney (Seattle, WA: Seattle Genealogical Society, 1995).
Note: This essay was corrected on March 7, 2012, and on June 1, 2015.

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