They Called Them the Mercer Girls

Mercer Girls Links

Last Updated November 2009
The Voyage West
The story of the Mercer Girls trip from Massachusetts to Washington Territory
Lowell Papers 1864
Lowell, Massachusetts newspapers announce the arrival of Asa Mercer in their city with the purpose of procuring female teachers to go to Washington Territory.
Asa Mercer's letter to the New York Times
This letter was written to the skeptics who questioned Mercers reasons for taking young ladies to Wasnington Territory
Annie May Adams
She hadn't intended on going to Washington Territory.
Ann M. Murphy
Didn't stay long in Puget Sound. She went to San Francisco where she taught school.
Josie & Georgia Pearson
They made the trip to Washington Territory with their father
Sarah Elizabeth Cheney
She was a teacher and artist
Sara Jane Gallagher
The daughter of Irish Immigrants
Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Ordway
Lizzie was very prominent in the beginnings of the educational system of the state.
Antoinette Josephine Baker
She taught school in her home an grew flowers for her neighbors.
Catherine Clement Stevens
Catherine and her family moved north to live in Victoria,Canada.
Catherine Stickney
Catherine married a prominent Seattle pioneer, but died young.
Asa Shinn Mercer
He brought the Girls to Washington Territory
Aurelia "Lillie" Coffin
A Mercer Girl who moved to California and wound up in Illinois
Lowell Dailey Courier, March 1864
Read a copy of the article in the Lowell paper describing the departure of Mercer and his group of girls.

Descendants Reception 1998
Descendants of the Mercer Girls meet in Seattle to celebrate the arrival of their ancestors 134 years earlier.
Descendants Photo Album
A collection of photos of descendants of these early pioneers of Seattle.

A List of Fiction Books about Mercer Girls

Brides on TV
TV series of the 1960's portray Mercer's Girls.

Peri's Genealogy Home Page
Meet Peri, the Mercer Girls researcher, and learn a little about her family history.

HistoryLink
HistoryLink offers a growing collection of biographies, narratives, profiles, images, facts and chronologies relating to Seattle and King County's history. The site includes both educational features and searchable databases.

Washington Research Links
Great Links for doing Washington State Research



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They Called Them the
"Mercer Girls"

Washington Territory's Cargo of Brides

More than 18 years ago I started collecting primary and secondary sources which gave details about the lives of the ladies known as the Mercer Girls. I did so mostly to fullfill my own curiosity.

I found them to be fascinating women with wonderful life stories.

People starting asking me to share the information I had gathered and that is what lead me to put the Mercer Girls web pages online.

I hope to publish (in book form) the information I have gathered. Unfortunately there are those that want to publish the material I have gathered and claim it as their own research.

PLEASE, if you wish to use the information I have work so hard to uncover contact me first. I am happy to help as long as I am given credit for the original research.

Peri Muhich

Mercer Girls Historian
Camas, Washington

Some of you may recall the popular television series which aired from 1968-70 called "Here Come The Brides". It starred Robert Brown, David Soul and teenage heart throb Bobby Sherman. It was the story of the Bolt brothers who owned a logging operation in the new settlement of Seattle in Washington Territory. The story was set in the mid 1860s at a time when Seattle was young and there were plenty of men in the new frontier town but few women. Jason Bolt, the oldest brother (played by Robert Brown), had a plan to bring single ladies from the east to the west to marry the single men who worked for him. Few people realize that this series was based on true events in Seattle's history.

Well, there weren't really any Bolt brothers in the early days of Seattle but there were the Mercer brothers. One of them was a young man named Asa Shinn Mercer and in 1864 he brought a group of ladies to the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle they are fondly remembered as the Mercer Girls.

History, in general, tends to be remembered and told from the perspective of men, while women are sorely neglected. We find an example of this in the way the story of the Mercer Girls has been recorded through the years.

In 1864 eleven ladies (referred to in history only by the title given them that referred to the man who arranged their journey) embarked upon a courageous endeavor. They left their comfortable homes in cities in the east to travel to the far western shores of the North American continent, arriving in a new town called Seattle.

Historians have done well in educating us about Asa S. Mercer, the man who lent his name to this group of ladies. We know he was the son of Aaron & Jane Mercer. He was born June 6, 1839 in Princeton,Illinois and graduated from Franklin College in 1860. He went to Seattle, after college, to visit his brothers, Tom and Aaron Mercer. We also have been told how while in Seattle he helped to construct the Territorial University and upon its completion was appointed as its first president. According to history it was Asa’s idea, at a time when men out numbered women 9 – 1, to go east to seek ladies of quality and refinement to help balance the male/female ratio of the region.

We have been told how Mercer took this group of ladies, via a steam ship, from New York to Aspinwall/Colon, then across the Isthmus by train where another ship was waiting to take them to San Francisco. From San Francisco they traveled by way of a lumber bark to Seattle, arriving May 16th, 1864.

But what do we know of the ladies? Who were they? Where did they come from? What made them leave their homes and families for all the unknowns and uncertainties of the Pacific Northwest? And most importantly what became of them once they were in Seattle?

Over the last several years I have been on a quest to document the lives of the courageous young ladies who left their homes and families to travel to a settlement that still had dirt streets and oil lamps.

This is their story.

I want to emphasize that this is an on-going research project and the facts are true to the best of my knowledge. I have spent many months, days and hours looking for primary sources to verify the information I have posted on these pages. I have searched birth, marriage and death records, census, journals, newspapers, land records, probate records, local history books and had interviews with descendants. There are still some gaps, but I hope to fill those in as my research continues. My goal is to someday publish the story of these ladies lives. I hope you enjoy this peak at some of what I have discovered.

If you are interested in the sources I used to verify any of this informaton please contact me. I will not be publishing a list of my source material here.

Early Spring 1864, Lowell, Massachusetts

It had only been a few weeks since Asa Shinn Mercer, the newly elected president of the University in Seattle, stood at a podium in the Unitarian Church in Lowell and told how Seattle, in Washington Territory, was a fast growing town and was in need of teachers and ladies of quality. The city had more than doubled in the years since the first families had landed across the bay at Alki, and the University had been opened just the year before. Mercer explained that as the community grew there were more children of school age but few to teach them. To those willing to go west with him, Mercer made promises of honorable work in the schools and good wages. This was a welcome idea to many in attendance since the war had caused the loss of jobs and left families without men to support them.

Before the civil war Lowell had been a flourishing mill town, but now with no cotton coming from the southern states, most of the mills had shut their doors. The few jobs that were left had been taken by the men that, for one reason or another, had not gone to fight in the war. Many families had lost their men in the fighting and the women were struggling to support themselves and their children. For the young ladies of marrying age the prospects of finding a husband in Lowell looked very dim. Mr. Mercer had come to Lowell to invite ladies to go west with him to a place where jobs and men were abundant. The cost of the trip, Mercer explained, would be $250.00. They would travel west by ship to Aspinwall, Panama then by train to Panama, City and by ship again to San Francisco and then to Seattle. All by the best of accommodations. The people of Seattle had agreed to put the ladies up in their homes and welcome them into the community, while finding them jobs in the various schools. (Read Mercer's letter to the New York Times)

As the meeting adjourned that evening you could hear the excitement in the conversations of those leaving. Many were interested in going west with Mercer but only a small number of ladies could come up with the $250.00 needed to make the trip. So, it was on a cold, blustery afternoon in March of the year 1864, that eight ladies boarded a train in Lowell that would take them to a ship waiting in a New York harbor. In New York they would be joined by two ladies from Pepperell, Massachusetts and another from Boston. Their eyes were filled with tears as they said good-bye to family and friends but their hearts were full of excitement. For this was the beginning of a journey that was to lead them to a new life out west in a place called Washington Territory.

The eight ladies and one gentleman, under the charge of Asa Shinn Mercer who left Lowell, Massachusetts by train that afternoon were;

Antoinette Josephine Baker, age 25.

Ann Murphy, age 24

Sarah Cheney, age 22

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ordway, the oldest at age 35

Aurelia Coffin, age 20

Josephine (Josie) Pearson, age 19

Sara Jane Gallagher, age 19

Georgianna (Georgia) Pearson, age 15

Josie and Georgia were accompanied by their father, Daniel Pearson who had been ill for a time and felt that the change of climate might be good for his health. He was to leave behind in Lowell his wife, Susan, son, Daniel and youngest daughter Flora. They would join him two years later with the second Mercer expedition.

Joining the group in New York were two ladies and one man from Pepperell, Massachusetts (a small town near Lowell);

Catherine Adams Stickney, age 28

Katherine Stevens, age 21 and Katherine's father Rodolphus Stevens.

And from Boston there was;

Annie May Adams, age 16 who intended to stay in San Francisco but later decided to journey on to Seattle.

To continue with the Mercer Maids on their journey visit The Voyage West

Questions or comments regarding the Mercer Girls? Email -pmuhich@yahoo.com


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Copyright © 1997-2013 by Peri Lane Muhich. All rights reserved. This site may be linked freely but please do not duplicated in any fashion without my permission. Copying, retransmission or unauthorized reuse of this work not only violates federal copyright law, punishable by civil and criminal sanctions, but is outright theft. Please don't do it.