When my wife Asha and I pulled up to the Pickett House, we didn’t know what to expect. I scheduled an 11:00 a.m. tour of the museum and national historic site with Edradine Hovde, vice-president of Whatcom Chapter No. 5 of the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington. The Pickett House, built shortly after Captain George E. Pickett and 68 men of the Ninth Infantry arrived in August 1856, is Washington’s oldest home on its original foundation. It turned out that touring the Pickett House and meeting Edradine was the highlight of our vacation to the Pacific Northwest.
When most people hear the name George E. Pickett, they generally think of his disastrous charge at Gettysburg or his defeat at Five Forks. He had a prominent role in the 1859 Pig War (Here’s a short but excellent presentation given by Park Ranger and Historian Mike Vouri on the Pig War) and establishing Fort Bellingham to protect the local settlers in Bellingham Bay.
The Pickett House provided me with a glimpse of Pickett’s life in the Pacific Northwest. While most of the objects in the home were not owned by Pickett, there are some wonderful artifacts in the museum’s collection, such as a beautiful sketch of Pickett in uniform, a section of the old Fort Bellingham flagpole, and various photographs chronicling Pickett’s life. I was surprised to find out that George E. Pickett V, Pickett’s great-great-grandson, toured the home in May 2018.
While scanning the walls, I was drawn to a photo of a dark-skinned boy. The caption read that he was General Pickett’s son. I was stunned when Edradine revealed that Pickett had married a woman from the Haida tribe in 1857. Mrs. Pickett’s only possession was a red leather truck painted with floral designs when she moved in with Pickett. The captain enjoyed hosting, and the Picketts regularly had visitors despite there only being a front room and bedroom on the first floor. Guests who stayed overnight climbed a ladder to reach the second floor where two more rooms were located.
Mrs. Pickett gave birth to a son on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1858. The boy was named after his godfather, James Tilton, who George Pickett had known since his Mexican War days. Tragically, Mrs. Pickett died that spring.
Pickett resigned his army commission in June 1861, left his son with foster parents, and caught a steamer to San Francisco under an alias to cast his lot with the Confederacy. He sent a leather Bible—which included Jimmie’s birthdate and a lock of hair—and his original army commission as mementos. He left Jimmie with fifty dollars, a pair of shoes, pencils, children’s books, and fabric to make an outfit. Pickett attempted to maintain some semblance of a relationship with his son but they would never meet again. He died in July 1875.
Jimmie’s foster parents, Catherine and Aaron Collins, proved to be a blessing for the young boy. They treated him as their own. William Walter, a Union Civil War veteran, stepped up to act as his guardian after Aaron’s death.
James Tilton Pickett would go on to become a talented artist but died at the age of 31 on August 30, 1889. He was buried a short walk from the spot in River View Cemetery where he enjoyed to sketch and paint.
Before his death, Jimmie met his half-brother George Edward Pickett, Jr., in the spring of 1885. General George E. Pickett, Sr. married the Virginian LaSalle Corbell in September 1863 and had two sons. Unfortunately, Jimmie had a complicated relationship with LaSalle, who at one point claimed that her husband had adopted him out of the kindness of his heart, denying that he was of the same blood. The meeting between the two half-brothers did not go well when George, Jr. made comments about Jimmie’s race rather than showing him the affection and acceptance that he desired.
I couldn’t help but feel remorse for him. James Tilton Pickett’s story inspired me to visit his grave, and I had the chance to when we reached Portland.
Asha and I were engaged from the beginning to the end of Edradine’s tour. Two hours flew by like it was nothing. Frankly, if we didn’t have to catch a whale watching tour scheduled for the same day, we would have stayed much longer.
I found the story behind the preservation of the house equally as remarkable as the history of Pickett’s life in Bellingham. This historic landmark wouldn’t be standing without Edradine and other selfless individuals who continue to dedicate their time, energy, and money toward preserving it. Asha and I are already planning another visit to Bellingham and the Pickett House next year to volunteer. Edradine’s tour left a deep impression on both of us.
The Pickett House is a must-visit for anyone interested in General George E. Pickett, the American Civil War, or the Pig War. (We’ll cover this topic in the next post.) Besides its beautiful coastlines, scenic parks, great coffee, and abundance of sea life, the Pacific Northwest is also rich in Civil War history.
Recommended reading about George E. Pickett in Bellingham and his son James Tilton Pickett: Candace Wellman, Interwoven Lives: Indigenous Mothers of Salish Coast Communities (WSU Press, 2019).
The Pickett House is located at:
910 Bancroft St.
Bellingham, WA 98225
You can help to maintain the Pickett House by sending donations to:
1340 Bonanza Way
Bellingham, WA 98229