Sunday, 24 January 2010

Mrs Rebecca Lena Graham (later Fitzhenry) - pioneer of Native American property rights

I came across an article detailing the life of Rebecca Lena Graham (1861-1946) during one of my periodic trawls around the internet.
Written by the historian and genealogist Patricia Hackett Nicola, it is the story of a woman who was born to a male white settler and a Native American woman from a local tribe near what is now Seattle, and how she had to fight for her right to be recognised as his heir and to inherit his property.
Click here to read the story. It really is a cracking read.

Although Rebecca finally won her court case, she was not so fortunate in family matters.
Her first husband John C. Holmes by whom she had four children, became violently psychotic after the death of one of them. He died after being committed to a hospital for the insane in 1889.

She married Victor E. Graham in 1890. Two more of her children died shortly afterwards.
It was under the name Rebecca Lena Graham that she started her successful court action in 1893 to secure the property of her natural father Franklin Matthias.
Sometime after 1900, Victor Graham left the family to prospect for gold in Alaska and did not return.

Rebecca married George W. Fitzhenry, a native of Maine in 1911. She was then 50 years old and there were no children from this marriage. She signed an affidavit that she was a member of the Duwamish Tribe under the name Rebecca L. Fitzhenry in 1916 (image of this affidavit in the article). But by 1920 George had moved away to Aberdeen, WA and had remarried.
My own research about George shows he was born about 1875, to Robert H Fitzhenry (Maine) and Bridget McElroy (Ireland). The Fitzhenry family moved from Maine to King County, Washington Territory (before it was a state) sometime in the 1870s. Rebecca seems to have been his first wife, and he then married Allie Craig. He died in 1935.

Rebecca died in 1946, a wealthy and respected pillar of the community in Seattle. Her obituary describes her as "one of the first white settlers to be born here", her Native American ancestry conveniently forgotten.

Rebecca Lena Graham's Fight for her inheritance
Patricia Hackett Nicola
Pacific Northwest Quarterly, summer 2006

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