John H. Nibbe of Nibbeville, Kitsap County, Washington
John H. (Jack) Nibbe was an early Kitsap County pioneer and one of the first Euro-American’s to homestead on Bainbridge Island. In June of 1884, Nibbe was granted a government land office deed for 165.5 acres consisting of one of the most spectacular stretches of waterfront land imaginable, running from Point White northward along the shoreline for more than a mile. He christened it Nibbeville and built a small lean-to store and post office near the present day Point White community dock. According to Picture Bainbridge, A Pictorial History of Bainbridge Island:
Jack Nibbe was a jovial, friendly man, and he became one of the Island’s first real estate salesmen. He divided his property and began to bring new settlers from Seattle in his little sloop to buy ‘west-side waterfront with plenty of sun to grow a garden.’ He also carried the mail between Seattle and the point, helped supply fledgling farms and was everybody’s friend…
Nibbe sold his land in ‘pencil lots’ (long and narrow, each with beach frontage) to early Island residents, including Charles and Charlotta Lindquist, Peter and Louise Glud, Charles and Louisa Syversen, and Theodore and Annie Pedersen.
When Alexander and Janet Munro bought their farm in 1890, the neighborhood was still known as Nibbeville. The Munros visited the Island on Christmas day, 1890, shopping for land. First they looked at a property right on the Point, but the tide was running hard and Janet wasn’t impressed with the beach. “It did not suit me. I loved boating and swimming and the current was very strong that day.” Then they walked north along the old trail that skirted the beach, past the Lindquist home and on to the Pedersen place; seven and a half acres near the northern end of Nibbeville with a beautiful sloping beach and an upland paradise. They quickly put down their deposit and purchased the property from Theodore Pedersen. The next spring the young couple packed up their possessions and moved to Nibbeville. Janet and all of their belongings were brought to the Island by Jack Nibbe. She was terribly afraid of the ‘wild Indians’ that she had read about in the European papers. Fifty years later she wrote about that day:
In April 1891 we left Seattle for the Island, bag and baggage on the San Juan with Captain John Nibbie. When we reached our piece of the woods the tide was out low. Captain Nibbie, to accommodate us, ran his ship right up on the beach. … When I was stepping off, I said to the Captain “Where do I go now?” He answered “Cross the trail, get into the brush and stay in the brush” and I have been in the brush ever since.
Nibbe might have been laughing as he sailed away.
By the time the Munros arrived, Captain John Nibbe had been a prominent and very public resident for about ten years. The region that would become Kitsap County was densely forested and had over 400 miles of tidewater frontage – more than any other county of like size in the United States. Travel was almost exclusively by boat, and Nibbe was a steamer captain in Puget Sounds’ Mosquito Fleet – the numerous, independent boats that became a transportation and supply network. In the early days at Nibbeville there were no wharfs or docks. Instead, anchored rafts or ‘floats’ were located along the beach, one at Point White, one in front of Nibbe’s store (near the historic Lindquist home and the Point White community dock) and another farther north, near the Niningers’ property at Crystal Springs. If a man needed to go to Seattle, he would row out to the float where a boat would pick him up. If he lived between floats, a family member would be obliged to row him out to meet the boat. Nibbe, in his sloop Sea Bird or steamer San Juan, was never too hurried to stop and pluck a passenger or their shopping list out of a rowboat. He was a neighborly, commanding presence; and part of the fabric of the Sound. But who was he and how did he become a minor land baron on Bainbridge Island in the 1880’s?
He is buried at Ivy Green Cemetery in Bremerton and memorialized as a U.S. Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
CITATION FOR MEDAL OF HONOR FOR JOHN H. NIBBE Rank and organization: Quartermaster, U.S. Navy. Born 1842, Germany. Accredited to: New York. G.O. No.: 59, 22 June 1865.
Citation: Served as quartermaster on board the U.S.S. PETEREL during its capture in Yazoo River, 22 April 1864. Standing his ground when a shot came through the stern, raking the gundeck and entering and exploding the boilers, when all the others had deserted the flag, Nibbe assisted in getting the wounded off and the guard off. He then proceeded to fire the ship despite the escaping steam from the boilers, at which time he was surrounded on all sides by the rebels and forced to surrender.
Jack Nibbe was born in Hamburg, Germany on November 25, 1842. At age fourteen he was a merchant seaman on vessels traveling between New York and Hamburg. In 1860 he jumped ship in New York and he joined the U.S. Navy in the early days of the Civil War. At the time he was capture, he was serving as Quartermaster on the U.S.S. Petrel.
In addition to prosecuting the coastal blockade and pursuing Confederate commerce raiders, the U.S. Navy’s other main role in the Civil War, and arguably its most important one, was seizing and controlling the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In this effort, the main obstacle was not the tiny Confederate navy, but rather the formidable shore fortifications erected by the Confederates along the banks of the Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers. This war, therefore, was less often a matter of ship vs. ship than it was Union ships vs. Confederate forts.
The USS Petrel was a tinclad wooden steamer in the United States Navy. Assigned to the Mississippi Squadron, she participated in the Yazoo River expedition against Haynes Bluff, 30 April–1 May 1863, then went after Confederate shipping on the Yazoo and Sunflower rivers. In July she cruised the Red, Black, Tensas and Ouachita rivers, capturing four rebel vessels and military stores.
On 3 February 1864 she helped silence Confederate batteries at Liverpool, Mississippi, on the Yazoo, to initiate naval operations to prevent Southern harassment of Sherman’s expedition to Meridian, Mississippi. For the next two weeks the ships pushed up the Yazoo, engaging Confederate troops as far up the river as Greenwood. A month and a half later, Petrel commenced attacks on Yazzo City. On 22 April 1864, however, she was disabled, captured, and after the removal of her guns and most valuable stores, was burned.
The U.S. Navy had many river boats like the Petrel that made a gigantic difference in the outcome of the war. Small and numerous, they were dubbed the ‘Mosquito Fleet.’ After the war veterans like Nibbe traveled west and the moniker found a new home on the waters of Puget Sound.
After Nibbe was captured by Confederate forces on the Yazoo River, he was transported to a southern prison where he was held until about October of that year. He was honorably discharged from the Navy on January 12th, 1865. Thereafter, he returned to deep water sailing.
In ‘67 he rounded the Horn, and in ‘68 he ventured into Puget Sound and found our paradise. Over the coming years he bounced between Puget Sound and California. In Washington, he worked as a logger and on steamboats Favorite, Flying Dutchman and others. Then, in the early ‘80s he filed a homestead claim for the Nibbeville land. His claim was for 160 acres and he purchased an additional 5.5 acres for $1.25 an acres.
The Homestead Act, enacted during the Civil War in 1862, provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. Claimants were required to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. After 5 years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear, except for a small registration fee. Title could also be acquired after only a 6-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.
When the census taker came around in 1880 John Nibbe was living at Nibbeville with his Native American wife, Jenny, and their three year old son, Jefferson. Three years later, the territorial census documented young Archie Nibbe, age two. Sadly, Archie drowned in the bay in front of the Nibbe home (near the present day Point White Community dock) and he was buried on the hillside behind the historic Lindquist home. Janet Munro’s son James recalled that:
Charles August Lindquist was buried on the hillside behind the Lindquist home. The picket fence around his grave stood for many years. Just south of this grave was the grave of Archie Nibbe … son of John H. Nibbe. We visited these graves when we were children and were admonished by our mother to pay due and reverent respect…
The fate of Jenny and Jefferson Nibbe is not recorded. They vanish from the records after the 1883 territorial census. According to Munro family legend, John and Jenny parted ways.
When the census taker again met John Nibbe in early 1885 he was a single man. A post office was established at Nibbeville in February of 1885 and Nibbe was appointed Postmaster. Later that year he married widow Georgianna (Gray) Porter. She brought three children to the marriage, Charles, Elizabeth and newborn Robert.
In late 1886 Nibbe’s craft Watchmaker sank. Shortly after he acquired the sloop Sea Bird, which he used as a ferry between Seattle and Sidney (later Port Orchard).
Nibbe was often ahead of the curve, and he foresaw that the next area of growth and opportunity would be on Sinclair Inlet. He and his family moved to the new community of Sidney in 1887. The following year he purchased the steamer Lief Erickson and Lewis & Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest recounts one of Nibbe’s darkest days:
The Lief Erickson met with a terrible fate in December while off Al Ki Point en route from Seattle to Sydney. The steamer was in command of John H. Nibbe, with W.W. Gates, chief engineer, and Charles Poulsen, mate. At 5:00 p.m., when about five miles out from Seattle, a lamp exploded, setting fire to the boat. The flames ran through the cabin, creating a panic among the thirty people on board, and several jumped into the water and were lost. Captain Nibbe at once launched the raft, and many of the passengers put on life preservers. A niece of Captain Nibbe, Annie Tollner of Sydney, drowned almost within reach of her uncle, who made frantic efforts to save her.
Much of Seattle was burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1889. In the aftermath there was a construction boom, and laws were quickly passed mandating that the exteriors of buildings be constructed from nonflammable materials like stone or brick. Stone masons rushed to Seattle, including Alexander Munro. Brickyards and stone quarries popped up throughout the region, and the waters of Puget Sound were the highways that moved the materials. John Nibbe was at the center of it. He purchased the steamer Nellie in 1890 and ran her for a few months before buying a half interest in the steamer San Juan.
In early 1891 Nibbe met Alexander and Janet and helped them move to Nibbeville. That same year Congress appropriate $10,000 to purchase land for a naval station and drydock on Sinclair Inlet, near the small communities of Bremerton, Charleston (now part of Bremerton) and Sidney, bringing jobs and land speculation in the region to new heights.
Jack Nibbe was always a man with multiple irons in the fire. He continued to live in Sidney for several years, running steamers, a general store and the Nibbe-Parker Canning Company. He was also served as postmaster at Mitchell Point, a mile or two east of Sidney. His daughter Helen was born in 1894.
In 1896 the family moved to Bremerton where John operated the ‘Bremerton Store’. Two years later his son Henry was born, and about the same time John was appointed Bremerton Postmaster.
In the 1890s Nibbe was recognized as a statesman and distinguished veteran:
He was given the signal honor of greeting the station ship for the new naval base in Bremerton. With no assistance, Nibbe loaded and fired all twenty-one rounds from an old cannon mounted on Fort Hill at the foot of the Sidney Hotel. No better selection could have been made than Civil War veteran Nibbe to blast off the cannon welcoming the USS Nipsic, another Civil War relic.
Jack Nibbe relinquished his position as Bremerton Postmaster in May of 1901 and soon after he retired from the Bremerton Store. He died on June 15, 1902.
In 1986, Nibbe Hall at U.S. Naval Base Kitsap was dedicated in honor of John H. Nibbe. The ten story building houses enlisted naval personnel.
Written by Elizabeth Munro Berry, ClanMunroBainbridge.com, 2019.
- U.S. Federal Census Records, Ancestry.com.
- Washington State Territorial Census Records, Ancestry.com .
- Washington Sate Death Records, Ancestry.com.
- Weekly return of enlistments at Naval Rendezvous (“Enlistment Rendezvous”), Jan. 6, 1855-Aug. 8, 1891. NARA Publication Number M1953, NARA Roll 18, FHL Film Number 2381635, Ancestry.com.
- Washington State Men of Valor, by Donald K and Helen L Ross, 1980, Coffee Break Press.
- Lewis and Dryden’s Marine History of the Pacific Northwest: An Illustrated Review of the Growth and Development of the Maritime Industry, from the Advent of the Earliest Navigators to the Present Time, with Sketches and Portraits of a Number of Well Known Marine Men, Edited by E.W. Wright, The Lewis & Dryden Printing Company, 1895.
- Kitsap County History, A Story of Kitsap County, by Evelyn T. Rangvald Kvelstad, Elnora Parfitt, Fredi Perry & Virginia Stott (compiled by – as the Kitsap County Historical Society Book Committee), 1977.
- Picture Bainbridge, A Pictorial History of Bainbridge Island, by Jack Swanson, Published by the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, 2002.
- James Munro’s Notes from Munro Family 100 year reunion, ClanMunroBainbridge.com.
- Fifty Years on Bainbridge Island, by Janet Montgomery Munro, ClanMunroBainbridge.com.
- U.S. Appointments for U.S. Postmasters, Ancestry.com.
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Petrel_(1862)
- www.ourdocument.gov. https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=31
- Civil War History Gun Boats on the Mississippi. www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/gunboats-mississippi