About the Area
Whidbey Island History
It was the year 1791. Captain George Vancouver of the English Navy was given orders to embark on what became known as the "Vancouver Expedition." His mission was to explore the northwest coast of North America, map and report.
His expedition consisted of two ships, one named "Discovery," a warship, and the other "Chatham," an armed tender. The group entered the waters soon to be known as the Puget Sound in May of 1792.
Given his commission, Captain Vancouver took advantage of his position of the first official cataloguer of the area to name the land formations and seas after members of the exploration party, family members and friends. For example, Puget Sound is named after Lieutenant Puget, a member of the "Discovery" crew, and Whidbey Island itself is named for Joseph Whidbey, who was master of the same ship.
Eventually the exploring party went ashore on Whidbey Island and the nearby Camano Island. Although they intended to avoid contact with the native peoples, the native tribes greeted them in a friendly way. They didn't seem to have had contact with Europeans, although they did have some artifacts of European origin. It's assumed that they traded for these items with other peoples from further to the south. They first entered Skagit Bay, then later went ashore in what is now called Penn Cove.
They found evidence of small pox outbreaks in deserted villages and mass burial sites. As they continued to explore the coastline, they were surprised to discover themselves back in Skagit Bay where they had begun. They had thought until that point that they were exploring a peninsula rather than an island. Because they felt the island had "tricked" them, they named the inlet Deception Passage.
The next European influence on the island was Father Francis N. Blanchet, who came at the invitation of one of the chiefs to perform religious services in 1840. While he helped to further religious training, he left the island after 11 months, and permanent European settlers did not arrive until 1848.
Thomas Glasgow was the first to try to establish a homesteading claim, but left in fear of the native Skagits, whom he considered threatening. Inn 1850, Thomas Ebey decided to settle on the same piece of land, and others who settled the area soon joined him. By 1856, there was a small group of homesteaders who provided joint protection and support for one another. They did have to defend themselves against the Haidah Indians, who were particularly fierce in battle. In fact, Ebey was murdered by Haidah seeking revenge for the death of one of their leaders.
By the 1870's there were several thriving communities on the island. Deception Pass Bridge was built and the ferry services began from Keystone to Port Townsend and from Columbia Beach to Mukilteo. These ferries and the one bridge are still the only access points for the island, which helps it maintain its isolated feel.
The friendly Coachman Inn front desk staff will gladly tell you more about Whidbey Island history and the communities there during your stay with them.
Before you check out the beautiful historic sites of Whidbey Island, check into the nearby Coachman Inn, where we have been voted Best of Whidbey Island for two years running and awarded the AAA Three Diamond rating, their highest rating for vacation lodging. To check availability, call the Coachman now at 800-635-0043 or click here.