John and Elizabeth Rigney
John Rigney immigrated to New York from Ireland looking for a better life. Because jobs were scarce, he enlisted in the U. S. Army, joining Company “M,” 1st Regiment of the U. S. Artillery, and was sent on assignment to Vera Cruz and the Mexican War. Returning to New York, he married Elizabeth Lowry on September 30, 1848. Elizabeth was soon hired as one of the laundresses of Company “M.”
That summer Companies “M” and “L” were ordered to Puget Sound. The two companies, under the command of Captain Bennett Hill, sailed north on the sloop Harpooner, arriving at the mouth of the Chambers Creek in August of 1849. The men were temporarily quartered in buildings at the Thomas Heath farm, a Hudson’s Bay property.
To accommodate the new troops, John worked under the direction of Second Lieutenant Grier Tallmadge to construct two officers’ quarters, a hospital, a company storehouse, a guardhouse, a commissary store, and a bake house.
While John worked at the daily tasks of an enlisted man, Elizabeth was busy washing, ironing, and mending for the men of Company “M.” Doing the laundry for the military man was especially difficult because of the processes used for the heavily-soiled work clothes, the wool uniforms, and other special care fabrics.
An important Rigney family event that changed Elizabeth’s daily life at the fort was the birth of twins John, Jr. and Ann on January 25, 1850.
John Sr. continued fort duties until his enlistment was up. In 1852, the family moved to a log cabin on the 641.34 acre donation land claim near present day 64th and Orchard streets in Tacoma. The family increased as George was born in 1855; James 1856; Eliza Jane, 1861; the twins Lucia Rose and Marcella, 1862; and Edward, 1867
By 1873, John took up a 160 acre claim east of the original claim extending from present day “B & I” store next to 74th and South Tacoma Way in Tacoma, Washington.
In 1880, the Rigney family moved to the nearby town of Steilacoom where John purchased the Albert Balch home on Rainier Street and all the land in block 42. The Rigneys became prominent members of the community. They were staunch supporters of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, to which they gave donations when the sanctuary was first built in 1856 at Fort Steilacoom. The church continues to serve Catholics in the area. The original church at Fort Steilacoom was moved, in sections, to Steilacoom proper in 1864.
Descendants of John and Elizabeth Rigney have played an important part in the history of Steilacoom. A street bears their name and the fifth generation still maintains the family presence in Steilacoom.