The Family of Birnie

Home Origins The Kirk The Parish Data Base F.A.Q.'s Contact

The book, Beach of Heaven, by Irene Martin. This is a wonderful history of the pioneer families in Wahkiakum County, including our irascible pioneer, James Birnie. (ISBN 0-87422-156-0).

 The special centennial edition (1846-1946) of The Eagle . The  front page newspaper article reads: James Birnie, Father of Cathlamet, Landed Family, Servants and Chattels From Fleet of Canoes Here in 1816 . From his marriage to Charlot, to his song of independence from England, this is a must have edition. Inquires: The Eagle Newspaper, Cathlamet, Washington, USA.

We also recommend a visit to the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum and suggest a wee donation to their conservation program.

Contributions by Nancy Anderson, The Dorsey Family, and the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum

   James was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and joined the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) as a trading clerk. He married, Charlot, the daughter of a French Voyager and a princess of the Kootayae Indian tribe. Charlot's skill with native languages and James affable personality, contributed to their excellent relations with local Indian tribes. Although James was noted for his unusual and under appreciated management style, his career spanned 30+ years with the HBC. Induded in their houshold were 15 native slaves, well treated, and crucial to their establishment of Birnie's Retreat, a trading post at the future Cathlamet village site.

   As noted in James Birnie's service record, most of his appiontments were in the Columbia River Valley. He settled in the valley and founded the village of Cathlamet, Washington, USA . When the British and Americans settled their dispute over the lower Columbia Valley, it became part of what is now Washington State, USA.

   James Birnie was stationed at Port Simpson, B.C., a Hudson Bay fur trading post on the rugged B.C. coast. Originally settled and claimed by Russia, the British considered it as part of their (disputed) Oregon territory. A journal kept at the post recounted the lives of the Tsimshian and the Haida (Indian) clans. 1835:

“The most impressive of all the harbor scenes must have been the annual departure of the canoes for the oolichan fishery on the Nass (River). They assembled during February and early March. Then one day the seagulls would give the signal and the canoes would sweep across the Bay out of sight beyond Birnie Island* . More than seven hundred canoes took part in this flitting which might occupy two or three days. March 08,1835 - About 100 canoes started for the Nass this morning tho’ it was raining heavily.” * named after James Birnie

-- Aug. 1, 1844: The first Sisters set foot in Oregon. At Astoria, they were entertained in the home of Mr. James Birnie of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Sisters completely captivated the seven daughters of this family.

 -- Dec. 26, 1848: Father J. Lionet was sent by Archbishop Blanchet to establish a mission at Astoria which was to be called Immaculate Conception. Father Lionet chose instead a site on the north side of the Columbia River and here he founded a mission he called Stella Maris, Star ofthe Sea. From this place he made periodic visits to Indians in the north. After his departure, Stella Maris was visited periodically from Vancouver.

 -- December 1849: Father Toussaint Mesplie, later a pioneer missionary among the whites in Idaho, opened a mission among the Chinook Indians at the mouth of the Columbia River and attended various tribes in the neighborhood as well as C Astoria.

 -- October 1871: The first church at Cathlamet, Washington Territory, was built by Father Richards from Cowlitz Prairie. Located on ground donated by Mr. Birnie , it measured 46 by 22 feet. It was dedicated by Bishop Blanchet on September 26, 1875, under the title of St. Charles Borromeo. This first church was replaced by a new one in 1910. This was dedicated in honor of St. Catherine.

Excerpts courtesy of Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

Pioneer Service Record with the The North West Company (Hudsons Bay Company)

NAME: BIRNIE, James PARISH: Aberdeen, SCOTLAND ENTERED SERVICE: 1818 (NWC) DATES: b. 1799-d. 1864

Outfit Year: (1 June to 31 May)  Appointments:  HBC Post  HBC District

1821 -1823  Fort George (Astoria) Columbia

1822 -1823   Clerk, Spokane, Columbia (Washington)

1824 -1825   Clerk,  Fort Okenogan  Columbia (Washington)

1825 -1826   Clerk,  Spokane House,  Columbia (Washington)

1825 -1826   Clerk,  Fort Colvile, Columbia (Washington)

1825 -1826   Clerk,  Slave Lake Brigade to Edmonton and back. ( Now Alberta and N.W. Territories, CAN)

1826 -1829   Clerk,  Columbia,  Columbia (Washington)

1829 -1831   Clerk,  Fort Vancouver, Columbia (Washington)

1832 -1834   Clerk, Fort Colville, Columbia (Washington)

1835 -1837   Clerk, Fort Simpson, Nass  (British Columbia)

1837 -1838   Clerk, Umpqua Fort, Columbia (Washington)

1838 -1840   Clerk, Fort George (Astoria), Columbia (Washington)

1840 -1842   Clerk, Fort Vancouver (Indian Trade), Columbia (Washington)

1842 -1845   Clerk, Fort George (Astoria), Columbia (Washington)

1845 -1846   Clerk,  Fort Vancouver (Indian Trade), Columbia (Washington)

1846 -1847   Settler, Cathlamet (Birnie's Retreat), Columbia (Washington)

1854 -1859   Settler’, Cathlamet (Birnie's Retreat)’ Columbia (Washington)


1860 census: Wahkiakum County, Washington: James Birnie, age 65, farmer - Wife, Charlotte: age 47. Children: James Jr.: age 27, fisherman (m. Julia A Stilwell: age 23, c. Richard H.: age 2), Alexander: age 18, Victoria: age 22, Catherine: age 15, Thomas: age 11.

"British Columbia Coast Names..." by Capt. John

T. Walbran, Ottawa, l909 p. 52 (Birnie Island, BC, named after him)

"Fur Trade and Empire," by F. Merk Cambridge, (H.B.C.A. Library FC32l3 M4)

Search File: “Birnie, James” H.B.R.S. Vol. XXX, p. 202. Filename: Birnie, James (1799-1864) (fl. 1821-1846) MD l8/l6/91

      A pioneer history has been published by writer Nancy Marguerite Anderson. The chapter on her grandfathers, Alexander Caulfield Anderson and James Birnie, is a fascinating history of the pioneers in the U.S. Northwest.

HBO Pioneer