William Grose: One of the Wealthiest Black Businessmen In Seattle During 19th Century



At the age of 18, William Grose moved out of his Washington, DC, home. In 1853, he joined the US Navy and reported to the USS Vincennes for his first mission. In addition to many other locations, his travels led him to South Africa, Hong Kong, Russia, and China.

He was dismissed with distinction at the end of his enlistment and went to work in the California gold fields. He also fought to aid black people who were forcibly held as slaves in California in their efforts to free themselves. He accompanied his family and a number of African American families to British Columbia in 1858, where they founded a black community on the Frazer River.

Grose got employment as a cook after arriving in Seattle in 1860. At the time, Seattle was a small community of 300 people, and Henry Yesler’s sawmill served as the main employer. The second black pioneer in Seattle, Grose, flourished and in 1876 opened his own restaurant, “Our House.” He also owned and ran a 12-acre ranch in Madison Valley, a 3-story hotel, and restaurant. Grose frequently gave friends and people in need credit.

Grose was Seattle’s richest black inhabitant by the 1890s. Seattle’s first black Masonic chapter, the Cornerstone Grand Lodge of the York Masons, was established in 1891 by Grose, Dr. Samuel Burdett, and Conrad Rideout. The Queen of Sheba Court was composed of female relatives of black Masons. Up until the 1940s, this lodge led yearly parades down Madison Street. Grose was a well-liked and well-respected neighbor in early Seattle until his passing on July 27, 1898. He was noted for his generous support of several African American initiatives.

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