Emanuel Lopes (1812-1895)

Seattle in 1866 (University of Washington Archives)
Seattle, 1866
Photo by Frederic Dally, Public domain image

Emanuel, or Manuel, Lopes was Seattle, Washington’s first black resident. He came to Washington Territory and this small frontier town of fewer than 180 non-indigenous residents in 1858, seven years after its founding. He opened a restaurant and barbershop, soon establishing himself as an independent businessman.

Lopes was born about 1812 in the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese colony off the coast of Africa. In the 1830s and 1840s, New England whaling ships regularly stopped in the islands. Lopes likely joined a crew; he then worked as a sailor out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He married and had a son, but his wife, Susannah Jones, died soon after he left for the West Coast; their son died soon after reaching adulthood.

Shifting careers when he arrived in Seattle, Lopes installed the first barber chair brought around Cape Horn in a building that also housed his restaurant on the east side of Commercial Street (now 1st Ave. South). Early settlers like Dexter Horton and Judge Thomas Mercer and their families lived nearby, and Lopes probably shaved the men and cut their hair.

His restaurant served loggers, mill hands, sailors, and miners, and he was known for his generosity, providing meals for his customers whether they could pay or not. He announced mealtime three times a day marching up and down the four blocks of Commercial Street with his snare drum. “At noontime especially did he make his message known,” his obituary read, “and it then became so common that none but strangers in the city thought it remarkable that a drum should signal the dinner-hour.”

His drum proved handy for the annual 4th of July parade. With a fife-player named Kelly, they aroused the patriotism of the settlers to a fever heat. “Every old-timer on Puget Sound remembers Emanuel and his snare drum.”

Soon Lopes had competition. In 1861, William Grose arrived, opened a restaurant and hotel and later a barber shop. Robert L. Dixon arrived in 1865, worked for Lopes, then opened his own barber shop. By 1870, six of the city’s thirteen black residents were barbers, a trade that produced the most successful African American businessmen in the 19th century.

During an economic downturn in the 1870s, Lopes moved to the new logging town of Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula, where he established a friendship with Cyrus Walker, superintendent of the Puget Mill Company.

Suffering from symptoms of dropsy or edema, which has multiple causes, Lopes was admitted to Providence Hospital in Seattle in 1885 where he lived for another 10 years. In 1893, he was one of the 200 members attending the Washington Pioneer Association annual meeting. Lopes died in Seattle in December 1895 around the age of 83. He was buried in Port Gamble as Walker had promised he would be.