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
II. The San Juan Island Years:
I. From Childhood to Marriage
III. The Early Asylum Years
IV. The New Westminster Years
Following their marriage, Flora and Hubbs established a farm at the southeastern point of San Juan Island, on a hundred and sixty acres of land that Hubbs had staked off for a homestead during the military standoff. The Royal Navy had wanted to use the same land for their camp during the joint occupation, but reported in early 1860 an inability to use the land given the establishment of the new Hubbs farm.
Flora was raised on farms. Hubbs had no farming experience. So perhaps it is no surprise that a pioneer’s reminiscences recall Flora as having run the farm, while Hubbs pursued a variety of brief career options. In the years of their marriage, Hubbs is recorded working variously as the Deputy Collector of Customs, a Justice of the Peace, a stockbroker, and engaged in businesses as varied as a ferry on the mainland and a lime quarry. He also served as the representative for Whatcom County in the Washington Territorial Assembly during the 1862/63 session, one of several sessions in which his father, Paul K. Hubbs, Sr. (“Hubbs Senior”), served on Washington Territory’s Legislative Council, a territorial precursor to a state senate.
Hubbs Senior arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 1858, likely to escape a political climate in northern California that had become uncomfortable if not dangerous for Democratic politicians, following a Vigilance Committee’s violent takeover of San Francisco government in 1856. Hubbs Senior arrived with his second wife, Maggie Gilchrist, and two sons, and quickly established himself as the senior attorney in Port Townsend. In a moment that would have future ironic significance, the 1863 legislative session was the session in which the territory passed its first divorce bill, the law that would shortly end the Hubbs/Ross marriage. There are a variety of references to Flora on various internet sites that claim that she married a man forty years her senior. This is a mistaken reference to her father-in-law, caused by the two men’s infrequent use of their Sr./Jr. designations. An article is posted on this website that explains the likely source of the confusion (a footnote in the Reminiscences of J.S. Helmcken). Every primary document pertaining to the marriage of Flora Ross confirms that she married the son, who was ten years her senior, and did not commit bigamy with her father-in-law. Hubbs Senior remained married to Maggie Gilchrist until after their return to California in late 1866.
Flora’s only child, initially named Paul K. Hubbs, III, was born on May 24, 1862, though Flora renamed him Charles Ross four years later, following her divorce from Hubbs.
Flora separated from Hubbs on January 25, 1866, according to their divorce petition. Flora’s petition described the marriage as “miserable in the extreme.” J.S. Helmcken recorded the end of the marriage as having taken place because Hubbs “treated her badly.” A San Juan Pioneer’s reminiscence recalls that Hubbs kept a young indigenous woman in a cabin on a nearby island.
While the separation appears to have been driven by Flora in response to Hubbs’ treatment, she remained in possession of the farm. The diary of Robert Firth, who had acquired the remains of Bellevue Farm from the Hudson’s Bay Company, shows that he made occasional trips out to the point to help “Mrs. Hobs” or “Hobbs” or “Hubbs” with certain tasks that were beyond her abilities, such as slaughtering a steer.
But while Flora appears to have been successful at driving Hubbs away, an actual divorce was another matter. At the time of their separation, there were no civil divorce laws in the colony of Vancouver Island, where they had been married, as the colony had not yet adopted the English Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 (an act that was part of the automatic canon of English law in the colony of British Columbia upon its founding in 1858). And even though the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were unionized in September 1866, civil divorce laws do not appear to have been enforced in colonial/provincial courts for another decade.
That left Washington Territory. But there were a few problems with this option. The first was the laws of coverture, which were still in effect and provided that Flora and all of her physical property were the property of her husband. While this was not a concern for the San Juan Island farm, which Hubbs had homesteaded in his name, Flora had become the owner of the eastern half of the Ross family farm south of Victoria in 1864. Her mother, Isabella, had entered into a second marriage with Lucius O’Brien, a man who appeared more intent on securing her property than obtaining a wife. Flora, her sister Mary, and their respective husbands, filed a bigamy lawsuit against O’Brien and Isabella, the sole legal option to bring about an end to their marriage in a way that would negate O’Brien’s property rights. Although the legal files are sparse, it appears that the action was resolved in a settlement that saw O’Brien and Isabella deed the eastern portion of the Ross Farm to Flora. O’Brien then left the area, and died in early 1866 at Shawnigan Lake, apparently caused by the “sudden visitation of God” according to the autopsy.
Because Washington Territory claimed San Juan Island as its own territory (though the dispute was not resolved by arbitration until 1871), Flora could obtain jurisdiction in the courts of Washington Territory, in Port Townsend, to seek a divorce. The new divorce law in Washington Territory that had been passed in Hubbs’ 1862/63 session was remarkably liberal for its time, permitting a divorce for irreconcilable differences. But such a divorce required consent. If Flora could not obtain an amicable divorce from Hubbs, there was a risk that he would be granted all property in a contested proceeding. And given that her father-in-law was the leading attorney in the county in which the District Court was located, the courts of Washington Territory were unlikely to present her with a favorable forum.
Yet, Flora prevailed, and appears to have done so by her own willpower. In April 1866, Flora journeyed to Port Townsend, alone. On the trip back, a fellow passenger was B.F. Dennison, who was her divorce attorney when the Petition was filed five months later. Dennison was one of six attorneys in Port Townsend. But he also appears to have been Hubbs Seniors’ next-door neighbor, according to census records. This raises the intriguing question of what role Hubbs Senior may have actually played in the divorce. In the spring and summer of 1866, Hubbs Senior was rumored to be considering a run for Governor of the Territory. A messy, contested divorce within his family, complete with allegations of adultery and abuse, would not have been helpful to a political campaign. In the end, Hubbs Senior did not run for Governor, but Flora was able to obtain an amicable divorce. Flora’s journey to Port Townsend in April 1866 may have been an effort to obtain his assistance.
Paul Hubbs Jr. did not contest Flora’s divorce Petition, and the Petition’s reference to the attachment of a signed stipulation of divorce demonstrates that the divorce was agreed to before the Petition was filed. Although the stipulation has not survived, and is likely a document that had more information about the separation of property, it appears that Hubbs kept his property on San Juan Island, while Flora retained her interest in the Ross Farm. The Order dissolving the marriage confirms that Flora was given sole custody of their son, she did not ask for alimony, and both sides paid their own fees. It was a remarkably “modern” divorce for a couple who had been married in a colony that did not yet have a legal option for civil divorce.