Sailing to Seattle, 1854-1918

This postcard appears to be an early image of the Diamond Point Quarantine Station in Washington, which grew from three to 27 buildings during its years of operation (1893-1936).

For many passengers sailing to Seattle before the Naginskys, their ships were required to stop once or even twice near the entrance to the Puget Sound before they could proceed on to their destination.

Starting in 1854, all arriving passengers would have to disembark at Port Townsend for processing. Located at the entrance to Puget Sound, this site would serve as the official customs house and port of entry for 57 years before those functions were transferred to Seattle in 1911.

After the U.S. Congress passed the National Quarantine Act in 1878 to prevent vessels from carrying infectious diseases into the United States, it subsequently authorized funds for the development of a quarantine station in Washington state — which would become another regular stop for all vessels arriving from foreign ports when it opened in November 1893. Situated opposite Port Townsend on Discovery Bay, Diamond Point would serve as the site for the inspection of all incoming passengers for symptoms of diseases such as influenza, cholera, malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria and leprosy. If necessary, ships would be fumigated with burning pots of sulphur to kill fleas, rats, lice, and other vermin that could be potential carriers of disease, as described by HistoryLink.org. The 1878 law also shifted control of the quarantine and disinfection process from states to the federal government; the Marine Hospital Service — the precursor of the U.S. Public Health Service — became responsible for these measures at ports nationwide and in 1902 took over medical examination of all immigrants.

While Diamond Point operated as a quarantine station for 43 years, it’s unclear whether it was always a mandatory stop for vessels arriving in Seattle and other nearby ports during that entire time. In September 1916, for example, the U.S. government issued instructions requiring all steerage passengers coming from Asia to disembark at Diamond Point for “bacteriological examination” — suggesting this was a change in policy. The new instructions were issued in response to an outbreak of cholera in Japan and China during the fall and winter of 1916. Ironically, the initial cases of cholera, some of them fatal, were discovered in late July 1916 aboard the Hawaii Maru as it sat in the Yokohama harbor waiting to depart on the same voyage to Seattle as Mariasia and her daughters would make on board that ship 16 months later.

Once satisfied that Japan had quelled the outbreak, the U.S. government withdrew its quarantine requirement for steerage passengers about six months later and shifted to a different strategy: inspecting ships both at the departure point and at the destination — which is likely what occurred on board the Hawaii Maru in January 1918. Dr. R.H. Earle, head of the Diamond Point station, described the new process in an article published March 29, 1917, in The Seattle Daily Times: “All ships sailing from a foreign port must have the written bill of health of a medical examiner whose salary is paid by the United States government before they sail. Failure to obtain this paper incurs a heavy fine. Then the ships are thoroughly examined before any passengers are permitted to land over here. Thus there is a double check.”

2 comments on “Sailing to Seattle, 1854-1918

  1. […] It's unclear whether the Hawaii Maru stopped there, but recent shifts in immigration policy (read this aside to learn more) as well as evidence from the ship manifest (described below) suggest they did […]

  2. […] ship gained notoriety not long after its maiden voyage in 1915. As noted in a previous aside, the Hawaii Maru was at the center of a 1916 cholera outbreak in Japan, when 55 cases were […]

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