The Remarkable Life of a Woman Born in the Colonial Era of the Pacific Northwest, Who Overcame Misogyny and Racism Directed at Her Métis Background to Devote Her Life to Nursing and Caring for Others
Flora Amelia Ross
Flora Amelia Ross lived only 55 years, but they were years that spanned the end of the fur trade era to the eve of the Twentieth Century. She was born on the beach of then-uninhabited San Juan Island in 1842 as her parents, Hudson's Bay Company Chief Trader, Charles Ross, and his Métis (Ojibwe) wife, Isabella Mainville Ross, travelled in a Heiltsuk canoe from Fort McLoughlin to Fort Nisqually. She grew up as settlers slowly began to arrive in Fort Victoria. She came of age as twenty thousand goldminers flooded through the colony and transformed the fort into a small town. And she became a nurse as a possible war between the U.S. and Great Britain played out just yards from her door on San Juan Island.
In 1859, at just seventeen years of age, Flora married twenty-seven year old Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr., then the Deputy Collector of Revenue on San Juan Island. Hubbs' position was primarily a figurehead role to ensure an official U.S. presence on the disputed island, then settled solely by a Hudson's Bay Company farm and a small number of American homesteaders. In that capacity, Hubbs was the instigator of the U.S. Army's occupation of the island in 1859 to claim it for the U.S., launching the military standoff known as the Pig War of San Juan Island; due to the role played by the untimely shooting of a Hudson's Bay Company boar.
Flora Amelia Ross, Matron of the Asylum, circa 1896
Image A-02445 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives
CLICK HERE for the article "Which Paul Hubbs Married Flora Ross?" or scroll to the bottom of the page.
Flora was a resident of the Company's Bellevue Farm during the military standoff, according to her wedding announcement, where she was most likely serving as a nurse to the dying wife of the farm's dairyman. It appears that she met Hubbs while living at the farm, a hundred yards from his own cabin, as they were married just as peace was negotiated five months after her arrival on the island. Unfortunately, the farm's daily journal that was kept by its manager never bothered to mention the existence of women at the farm, but for three occasions when a woman did something that improperly kept the men from their daily duties, such as dying or requiring a funeral; in which case the entry was still about the men missing their duties. Flora and her husband established a farm on the southeastern tip of San Juan Island, where she gave birth to a son in 1862, initially named Paul K. Hubbs, III. But after Hubbs became abusive and reportedly kept a mistress in a cabin on a nearby island, she divorced him in 1866 in the Washington Territory District Court, since the Colony of Vancouver Island did not yet have a civil divorce law. She managed to maintain sole custody of their son and ownership of the Ross family farm in Victoria that had been in her name (despite coverture laws that made it the property of her husband). The favorable terms of her divorce are remarkable, given that her father-in-law, Paul K. Hubbs, Sr., was a leading attorney and politician in Washington Territory at that time, in the same Port Townsend District Court in which her divorce was finalized. She returned to Victoria to resume a nursing career under her maiden name, Mrs. Ross. She also renamed her four year-old son Charles Ross, perhaps due to the difficulty that could be expected if one were to grow up in Victoria bearing the name of a controversial U.S. official, and absent father.
From its inception (informally in late 1870 in the city jail, and formally in 1872) until the time of her death in 1897, Flora served as Matron for the women's wing of what was known in her time first as the Victoria Insane Asylum, and then variously the Provincial Lunatic Asylum or Provincial Asylum for the Insane following its move to New Westminster in 1878. It proved to be a highly controversial institution throughout its existence, though one where her care of the female patients was routinely held up as the standard of care (of their time) that should be applied to all patients.
Flora Amelia Ross, circa 1872-74
Image F-05218 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives
Flora demonstrated the utmost of professionalism throughout her career, though her father's Company legacy and Scottish background likely played a substantial role in her engagement as Matron of the asylum. Being from a Company family was a valuable advantage in the colony and young province, and would have helped Flora overcome the discriminatory attitudes directed at women or anyone bearing indigenous lineage. By the time she died on November 2, 1897, her funeral was a major event covered in detail on the front page of the New Westminster newspaper.
Flora lived a life of "firsts." The first person of at least partial European background born on San Juan Island. Most likely the first divorced, single-mother, career woman in the colony of British Columbia. The first female administrator of a governmental medical institution in western Canada. And one of the first, if not first, governmental administrators of indigenous background in western Canada.
The purpose of this website, and the research that its author has been carrying out over the past four decades, is to ensure that Flora is not forgotten. If you wish to contribute a link about Flora, her family, or her time, or offer evidence to suggest a change to any statement made on these pages, please do so, as the intent is to add to the accurate knowledge of Flora's life and time.
In Her Own Footsteps
Flora Ross and Her Struggle for Identity and Independence in the Colonial West
by D.J. Richardson
In Her Own Footsteps, in novelized form, tells the story of Flora's struggle to build a career as a nurse in the midst of a military stand-off that threatens to break into war, her marriage to the instigator of that dispute, her life along an ill-defined international border, and the difficulty she faced in obtaining a divorce to escape his brutality and rebuild her life and career.
Follow the author of
In Her Own Footsteps,
D.J. Richardson, at
and on social media
Which Paul Hubbs Married Flora Ross?
Flora Ross Didn't Marry a Man Forty Years Her Senior:
Flora Ross married Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr. in 1859, in Victoria, then the capital of the Colony of Vancouver Island. While that much seems to be accepted, there are several references in books, articles in print, and biographical posts on the internet, that have described Flora as having married a man forty years her senior when she was only a girl of seventeen. This is a mistaken reference to her father-in-law, Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Sr., who was forty-three years older than his daughter-in-law. Flora’s actual husband (until she divorced him), was twenty-seven years old at the time they were married, and was only ten years her senior.
Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr. was born in 1832, ten years before Flora Amelia Ross. His father, Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Sr., referred to here as “Hubbs Senior” to lessen confusion, was a businessman, diplomat, lawyer, and politician. His various pursuits meant that “Hubbs Junior” spent much of his childhood in France, and his teenage years in the gold rush era of California. But in 1853, at twenty-one years of age, Hubbs Junior had a purported falling out with his father and traveled north for adventure. He claimed to have lived for several years with the Haida along the coast of New Caledonia (soon to be called British Columbia), including taking one or more brides, and taking part in war parties.
Father and Son, Senior and Junior, One Father-in-Law and One Husband:
Hubbs Junior settled in Washington Territory in 1856, where he served as a scout in the U.S. army for about two years before accepting a posting as the Deputy Revenue Collector for San Juan Island; a figurehead position designed to secure an official U.S. presence on the disputed island. His background and manner of dress earned him the nickname of “the White Indian,” which was unlikely to have been meant as a compliment in his time.
Hubbs Senior, meanwhile, spent the 1850’s as a California state senator and the California Superintendent of Schools before deciding to move to Washington Territory in 1858, likely to escape the uncomfortable political climate that a minor political coup in 1856 by a well-armed vigilante army had created for Democratic politicians. He brought with him his second wife, Maggie Gilchrist, and their newborn son, Bayard, and they settled in Port Townsend where Hubbs Senior opened a law practice and began a busy political career in the territory. He eventually served as President of the territory’s Legislative Council, a precursor to the state senate, including a session in which Hubbs Junior represented a district in the territorial assembly. Hubbs Senior remained married to Maggie for their entire nine-year residency in Port Townsend, and Maggie gave birth to a daughter, May, in or about 1861. They divorced in 1867 after their return to California in December of 1866.
It was within the period of the Hubbs Senior/Maggie Gilchrist marriage that Flora married Hubbs Junior in 1859, and divorced him in 1866. Every primary document from the era confirms that Flora did not commit bigamy with her stepfather, but that she married his son when she was only seventeen, and he was twenty-seven.
The Likely Source of the Confusion:
So why the confusion? It stems from the habit of both men to use their “Senior/Junior” designations infrequently, particularly when they were not living in the same state or territory. In his “Reminiscences,” written in or around 1892, Dr. J.S. Helmcken mentions that he “subsequently knew very well Paul K. Hubbs” following the San Juan Island boundary dispute, whom Helmcken describes as “one of the men so common in frontier life—a rowdy—ignorant hoodlum …” He mentions that Hubbs was married to Flora Ross until she divorced him, and that Hubbs had sought Helmcken’s assistance to obtain a military pension “a couple of years ago,” which would place Hubbs Junior in Victoria in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s.
This was Paul K. Hubbs, Jr., who lived in Victoria for several years in that era, working as a schoolteacher according to census records, and working for the Hudson's Bay Company (ironically, given his role in the San Juan Island boundary dispute). Unlike his father, Hubbs Junior was a veteran of the U.S. army, had cause to seek a pension, and did receive that pension shortly before he died in 1910 according to his obituary. That same obituary published in the San Juan Islander in 1910 mentions that his first wife was a "Miss Ross, of Victoria." Hubbs Senior, on the other hand, had been a Colonel in the Pennsylvania militia, but did not serve in the U.S. Army. But an editor’s footnote to this passage in the Helmcken Reminiscences includes a citation to an 1874 obituary for "Paul Kinsey Hubbs" from the Victoria Colonist, and claims that Hubbs “died on 17 November 1874, aged seventy-five.” Although the obituary for “Paul Kinsey Hubbs” does not include a Senior/Junior designation, it is an obituary for Hubbs Senior, who died in California, where he had lived since his departure from Port Townsend in late 1866. Hubbs Junior was alive and well in 1874, living on Orcas Island, and running a small store where he was charged that year with illegally selling tobacco without paying a special tax. It was still years away from when Helmcken “knew [him] very well” in Victoria. This mistaken citation to an obituary for Flora’s father-in-law appears to have created some confusion about the age of Flora’s actual husband.
Why Does It Matter?
Why does it matter, aside from a desire to present accurate history? Flora Ross was married once in her life, and though she was only seventeen when she was married, the idea that she would have married a much older man (and potentially engaged in a bigamous marriage) rather than a man relatively close to her in age, presents a distorted picture of who she was, the decisions she made, and the life she lived. Her marriage to Paul Kinsey Hubbs, Jr., turned out to be anything but happy, as she described it in her divorce papers seven years later as “miserable in the extreme.” But it did not begin as the sad image of a seventeen year-old girl marrying an already-married man forty years her senior, and a mistaken version of her life shouldn't continue to flourish in stories about her life and her era.
The evidence begins with Flora’s marital records, which may appear somewhat ambiguous by their lack of any “Sr.” or “Jr.” designation for the groom, though other information is instructive. The Christ Church records of the wedding record that “Paul Kinsey Hubbs” married Flora Ross, without further specification. Similarly, the newspaper coverage of their marriage doesn’t include any “Sr.” or “Jr.” designation. Instead, the notice that was published in the Victoria Gazette on December 7, 1859, and in the New Westminster Times on December 10, 1859, identifies the groom as “Paul K. Hubbs, Esq., U.S. Revenue collector for the Island of San Juan.” The “Esq.” reference might suggest to a modern reader that this particular Hubbs was an attorney, though “Esq.” was a far more general reference to a gentleman at the time. But the material information contained in the notice is his position as “U.S. Revenue collector for the Island of San Juan.” The term suggests a promotion—he was “Deputy Revenue Collector”—but Junior’s position in this job is confirmed in dozens of newspaper articles and military records pertaining to the 1859 Pig War, census records, and other documents. Similarly, dozens of newspaper articles, court records, and government records from the Washington Territory Legislative Council, confirm that the father, Senior, was living in Port Townsend in 1859 (through 1866) working as an attorney and politician.
The first primary records that clearly distinguish between the father and son, and their respective wives, are the U.S. Census records for 1860, six months after the Ross/Hubbs marriage. The Census records for Port Townsend in 1860 list Paul K. Hubbs, age 55, a “lawyer,” as residing with his wife, Maggie Hubbs, age 29, and their infant son Bayard J. Hubbs, age 2. Meanwhile, the 1860 Census records for Whatcom County, which at that time included San Juan Island, show Paul K. Hubbs, Jr., age 27, working as the “Inspector of Customs,” and residing on San Juan Island with Flora Hubbs, age 18. Both Census records are available online.
Further support can be found in three letters that Junior wrote during the years of his marriage to Flora, and that can be found in the B.C. Archives. The first is a joint letter written as husband and wife on February 23, 1863. The letter is signed by “Paul K. Hubbs, Jr.” and “Flora Hubbs” on behalf of Junior’s brother, Charles, who had been convicted of illegally selling whiskey to local indigenous communities. Junior wrote a second letter five days later to James Douglas, Governor, listing his address as “Floravilla, San Juan Island,” and repeating that he was writing on behalf of his brother, Charles Hubbs. He describes the difficult relationship that “Charley” had with their father, living in Port Townsend, and the lengths “Charley” had gone to in order to escape their father’s “restrictions”—a similar reason for Junior’s own escape from California for Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii a decade earlier, in 1853.
Two years later, Junior wrote a letter to the Colonial Secretary on December 11, 1865, concerning road access to land sold “to my wife, Flora Hubbs,” in 1864. It is a reference to a portion of the Isabella Ross farm at Ross Bay that was deeded to Flora in 1864 in what appears to have been a settlement of a bigamy lawsuit arising from Isabella’s second marriage to a man determined to obtain control of her properties. Although Junior did not sign the letter with either a “Sr.” or “Jr.” designation, the signature confirms that it is his signature. Comparisons can be made to the relatively simple signature of Junior that appears on correspondence of this era and on his divorce records, and to the more flourished signature of Senior that appears on court records in the course of his legal practice.
Further confirmation is found in the couple’s divorce records, filed in September 1866 in Jefferson County District Court, in Port Townsend, and which are available from the Court’s archives. Junior is named as Defendant, and signs the papers with a “Jr.” designation. And though the papers say nothing of the ages of the couple, neither do they suggest that bigamy was grounds for the divorce—as it would have been if Flora had married Senior, who was already married to Maggie Gilchrist.
But it is two of the Hubbs’ respective obituaries that both create the confusion and help to confirm the truth. The document that appears to have created the confusion is an editor’s footnote on page 164 of The Reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken, claiming that Flora’s former husband had died in 1874 at the age of 75. Helmcken writes briefly of the 1859 Pig War, and mentions “Paul K. Hubbs” as someone involved in the dispute, who was briefly married to Flora, and whom Helmcken “subsequently knew very well.” The corresponding editor’s footnote cites to a brief article—just a sentence—that was published in the Victoria Daily British Colonist on November 25, 1874, announcing that: “Col. Paul K. Hubbs, a former resident of Port Townsend, W.T., died at Vallejo, California, on the 17th inst., aged 75.” Helmcken, however, goes on from the footnote to describe how the “Paul K. Hubbs” who had been married to Flora had approached him “a couple of years ago” when he had sought Helmcken’s assistance in obtaining his U.S. Government pension. As Helmcken’s memoir was dated 1892, “a couple of years ago” would have been more than a decade and a half after Senior had died. The editor’s footnote is the only “evidence” to be found suggesting that Flora Ross married a man “40 years her senior,” and it is an editor’s mistake.
Junior’s own obituary helps to complete the picture of evidence. Paul K. Hubbs Jr. died of a stroke on San Juan Island on February 12, 1910, at seventy-seven years of age. His obituary was published in the San Juan Islander on February 18, 1910. It includes the statement that his “first wife was a Miss Ross, of Victoria,” with the statement that he “squatted with a young Indian woman on what was for years known as Hubbs’ point.” This is likely a dual reference to Flora, who throughout her life was described variously as “English” and “Indian”—depending on the speaker—with little recognition of the discrepancy, though the latter could be a reference to whoever might have replaced Flora in the years between the divorce and Hubbs’ eventual sale of the San Juan Island homestead.
While the confusion is understandable, given the frequent failure of father and son to identify themselves with a “Sr.” or “Jr.” designation, and the mistaken editor’s footnote, there is no primary record of any kind that supports the notion that Flora Ross married a man forty years her senior.