Our Pacific Islander connections | Editorial

Reflecting on both Local History Month and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it is interesting to highlight the connection between Native Hawaiians and San Juan Islanders. In fact, the very name Friday Harbor can be a tribute to Joe Friday, an immigrant from Hawaii.

An article in Historylink, written by Brenda Pratt, explains the story behind the name. Joe Poalima was born on Oahu, in 1830, according to the 1880 San Juan Island Census. His Hawaiian name has been written as “Poalie,” though this word has no meaning in the Hawaiian language, and therefore was most probably “Poalima,” which translates as “Friday,” which seems to be the name he went by. While employed with Hudson’s Bay Company, from 1841 to 1860, he was referred to as “Friday.” He had a son, Joseph Friday. According to Historylink, it is believed that the child’s mother was an American Indian woman. “There may have been a marriage, and she may have died, though no record of this has been found yet. Joe’s birth probably occurred at Cowlitz Farm and is recorded in the 1880 census as taking place in Washington Territory,” the article writes.

In 1854 Friday, and his son, and most likely the mother of his child moved to Belle Vue [Sheep] Farm on San Juan Island. They lived in a wooden shack overlooking the bay and what was to become Friday Harbor. This would have been when the legend of how Friday Harbor was given its name began. The story goes that confused sailors hailed someone on land asking what bay it was. Many have said it was Joe Friday, who, not hearing correctly, responded Friday. However, it was Friday who, while tending sheep, was hailed by the sailors, not Joe Friday who would still have been a very young child. Friday left his employment with HBC at Belle Vue Farm in 1860. It appears he remained on San Juan Island in his shack for some time.

In 1870 Friday married Mary [Saaptenar] of the Songhees tribe from Canada, by whom he had a son Lassel (1866). To wed Mary he converted to Catholicism at which time he acquired the name “Peter” [Pierre]. Records of the marriage are in St. Andrews Cathedral in Victoria, BC. Thereafter, the San Juan County, Washington Territory census records him as “Peter” Friday. Peter Friday also had two other children with Mary of the Songhees tribe: John (1872) and Emma (1875).

The history link article cites the British Columbia Vital Statistics, showing that Peter Friday died on April 11, 1894, and was buried on April 13, two days later.

The Friday family were not the only Hawaiian immigrants to San Juan Islands. The Hudson Bay Company recruited a number of what were dubbed Kanakas, which referred to Pacific Island laborers. Kanaka Bay, on San Juan Island, was the location of a settlement of such laborers.

While the memory of Peter, or Friday, faded on San Juan Island, the story of Friday Harbor often erroneously remembers Joe Friday as the shepherd whose smoke from the shack served as a landmark for “Friday’s Harbor,” if any name is attributed at all. Nonetheless the island state of Hawaii and our little pacific northwest island county remain entwined through history.