Which Paul Hubbs Married Flora Ross?
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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. Hubbs Senior 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 photo, above, from a 1910 newspaper obituary for Paul K. Hubbs, Jr., may be the only surviving photo of him].