Origin of the Name Sehome

From Romance and Intrigue on Bellingham Bay; or The Story of Old Sehome and the Origin of its Name, by Jeffcott.

The first application of "Sehome" as a place-name was that made by E.C. Fitzhugh, agent of the Bellingham Bay Coal Company, C.C. Vail and James Tilton, when on May 8, 1858 they recorded the plat of the first townsite on Bellingham Bay as "Sehome". (1)

Roth's history (2) says it was so called after the Samish Indian Chief, Sehome, who was Fitzhugh's father-in-law; and then goes on to add that the Indian interpretation of the word means a "legend or story". Roth is well substantiated in the first premise by good authority, but the second is evidently incorrect, as will be seen later, since "Sehome" is not a pure Indian word at all, but the white man's corruption of a Clallam Indian name "S'-yah-whom," the pronunciation of which was beyond his linguistic capabilities.

(1) Plat record in the Whatcom County Auditor's Office.
(2) Roth. History of Whatcom County, Washington, pp. 957.

 

Site of Chief Sehome's home on Samish Island. The photo shows the location of the Tribal Community House, said to have been 1200 feet long, which existed around the time.

Additional excerpts from Jeffcott's book, chapter V: Sehome, First town on Bellingham Bay:

In the early part of 1858, came the gold rush to the Fraser River mines and the consequent boom on Bellingham Bay. To take advantage of the great influx of population, Fitzhugh formed a partnership with C.C. Vail and James Tilton for the purpose of laying out a townsite around the Coal Mines. They employed W.W. DeLacey, a well-known surveyor who had recently completed the northern extension of the Willamette Meridian from the Columbia River to the Canadian border, to make the survey and lay out the plat.

On May 8, 1858, The Plat of the Town of Sehome was filed for record in the office of the Auditor of Whatcom County. This, Sehome became the first legally constituted municipality on Bellingham Bay, though Whatcom could boast of being the seat of the first settlement. Named by E.C. Fitzhugh, the leading proprietor, after his father-in-law, Chief Sehome, (S'-yah-whom) of the Samish Tribe, the town as laid out, consisted of thirty-three blocks, of eight lots each, except the six waterfront blocks had only four fractional lots each.

…Thus in naming the town, Fitzhugh honored his father-in-law, Chief Sehome of the Samish tribe, and though the original plat was later superceded by an amended one…it retained the name Sehome, and eventually when the too-numerous towns on Bellingham Bay united, the community saw fit to adopt the entirely new name Bellingham, in order to avoid local jealousies. But the old Chief's name lives on in Sehome Hill, Sehome Park, and Sehome High School, and when Fitzhugh is a forgotten identity, there will always be a Sehome.