The Unknown Mrs. Pickett

The soon-to-be famous George Pickett married a Native woman in 1857--but we do not know a lot about her, not even her name

General George Pickett's second marriage is obscured not only by the passage of time but by racist laws and record keeping. Here is what we do know about Mrs. Pickett.

George Pickett arrived in the Pacific Northwest a widower, his first wife having died in childbirth when he was stationed in Texas. He was stationed at Fort Bellingham when, in 1857, he married the second Mrs. Pickett, a Haida teenager. Such a mixed-race union was forbidden by the laws of the Washington Territory, and the ceremony might well have been a Native one. An American survey officer of the time stated, "the Haida women were very good looking with fine features."

Despite the law, marriages and less formal unions between white men and Native women were common in that era, though they are often difficult to document. "When local histories were written the best the indigenous wives got was, 'He married an Indian woman,' states author Candace Wellman in her book Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast Through Cross-Cultural Marriages. Their union was reportedly done with tribal customs which were not recognized by the Washington Territory in 1857, and therefore not recorded. It is possible that the marriage was seen as a gesture of peace towards the Northern Haida, who practiced seasonal raids on both the southern Straits Salish and the white settlers. 

What was Mrs. Pickett's life like as an indigenous wife to a non-native man? She lived with her husband in the officer's quarters of the "Head House," today known as Pickett House, in Bellingham. She soon had a child, James Tilton Pickett, born on New Year's Eve. Their son was named after Territorial Surveyor General James Tilton. Mrs. Pickett died a few months later in 1857. Her death was not documented which has led to different accounts of when she died but according to records General Pickett requested bereavement leave in April of that year.

Candace Wellman notes that "nursing mothers and infants were among the most vulnerable to winter-spring epidemics" of influenza and speculates that this may have been the case with Mrs. Pickett.

General Pickett ensured his wife was the first indigenous woman to be put to rest in the "white" cemetery which would have caused a public outcry at the time. Her grave has been lost to time as Dead Man's Point became overgrown with vegetation and the wooden grave markers disintegrated and vanished.

Their son James or "Jimmie" survived and was most likely cared for by a fort or town nursing mother, although other stories say that he was sent away to his native grandmother. George Pickett farmed out the raising of his some to various parties, eventually placing the boy with a white couple who were provided a monthly sum to take care of him. When the Civil War broke out, Virginia-raised Pickett went to join the rebellion, leaving James a Chinese Tea Chest that had belonged to his mother and a family Bible. 



Unknown Mrs. Pickett
Audio version of the story about Mrs. Pickett's life and son ~ Source: Voice Record Pro ~ Creator: Brooke Nicholson ~ Date: December 8, 2020
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