All Over The Map: Mount St. Helens named for International Man of Mystery

May 15, 2020, 8:31 AM | Updated: 10:24 am
Mount St. Helens...
Baron St. Helens, volcanic namesake otherwise known as Alleyne Fitzherbert, was said to be a friend of Captain George Vancouver; he also helped negotiate the end to a crisis in 1790 that averted war between Spain and Great Britain over what's now the Pacific Northwest. (National Gallery of Scotland)
(National Gallery of Scotland)

In spite of the pandemic, the Pacific Northwest is this week marking the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, a peak which could just as easily have been known as Mount FitzHerbert.

Like so many mountains – and other places around here – Mount St. Helens was named in 1792 by … SURPRISE! … British explorer Captain George Vancouver.

Prior to Vancouver, indigenous names for the peak were, according to Place Names of Washington author Robert Hitchman, “‘Low-We-Not-Thlat’ or ‘Low-We-Lat-Klah,’ meaning ‘Throwing Up Smoke’ or ‘The Smoking Mountain.’”

The name “St. Helens” comes from a British diplomat and courtier – Alleyne FitzHerbert – whose title was “First Baron St. Helens” or “Lord St. Helens.” This royally-conferred title comes from an ancient village on the Isle of Wight in the English Channel. The village was named for Helena, or Saint Helena, empress of the Roman Empire, and mother of Constantine the Great.

Alleyne FitzHerbert was born into a wealthy family in 1753. He is said to have traveled extensively in Europe as a young man, and in 1783, he may have worked behind the scenes to help negotiate the Treaty of Paris between the British and the United States – to end the Revolutionary War – mainly because, some claim, he was good friends with Ben Franklin.

Unlike fellow Cascade namesake Peter Rainier, FitzHerbert does have something of a “local” connection, which might explain Vancouver’s choice.

In 1790, FitzHerbert was the British ambassador to Madrid, and helped negotiate an end to the Nootka Controversy, when Britain and Spain almost went to war over competition to claim rights to the Northwest coast of America.

It seems FitzHerbert was some kind of “International Man of Mystery,” because later in his career, he was named “Lord of the Bedchamber” to either King George III, or perhaps to King William IV (sources are mixed on that).

In this role, his job would have been, according to Wikipedia, “assisting the monarch with dressing, waiting on him when he ate, guarding access to his bedchamber and closet and providing companionship. Such functions became less important over time but provided proximity to the monarch and the holders were thus trusted confidants and often extremely powerful.”

Alleyne FitzHerbert died in 1839 at age 85 and is buried in London. He appears to have no living descendants.

The Mount St. Helens name was generally accepted by later explorers who wrote about their travels in the area. However, in 1834, Oregon Country promoter Hall J. Kelley wanted to call Mount St. Helens “Mount Washington,” and change the Cascades to the “President’s Range.”

Meanwhile, no source has been found that says exactly why Captain Vancouver named the mountain for Alleyne’s “St. Helens” title rather than for the man’s surname of FitzHerbert.

KIRO Radio will have more coverage of the Mount St. Helens eruption 40th anniversary on Monday. If you have memories to share or a story you’d like to tell, please contact Feliks Banel via the information below, and he might get in touch to feature your story on the air.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

Feliks Banel

Skaters roll past the "ALL SKATE" sign at Pattison's West on Thursday morning. (Feliks Banel/KIRO N...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Beloved Federal Way roller-skating rink saved by local non-profit

All Over The Rink? Friday morning on @KIRONewsradio & @Mynorthwest #AllOverTheMap pic.twitter.com/nIQifn3ivS — Feliks Banel (@FeliksBanel) September 29, 2022 The big building housing a beloved roller-skating rink in Federal Way has just been purchased by a new owner. But, unlike most of these sad-sack local history stories about old bowling alleys closing or derelict theatres […]
2 days ago
Feliks Banel

Seattle flight was second only to Wright Brothers in aviation history

A community group is making plans to celebrate the centennial of a 1924 Seattle event that some consider to be second only to the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kittyhawk
4 days ago
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: It’s STILL not pronounced ‘ORE-uh-GONE’

You would think by now that those distant East Coast media types in plush studios atop their ivory towers would know how to pronounce the name of the state south of the Columbia River.
9 days ago
empire builder...
Feliks Banel

New ‘Empire Builder’ documentary is about more than just railroad history

After more than two decades of work, a new documentary about James J. Hill, the founder of the Great Northern Railway, will premiere this month.
11 days ago
Follow @https://twitter.com/feliksbanel...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Volcano’s ‘landscape starting to give back what it covered up in the 80s’

When Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, 57 people died and dozens of square miles of the landscape were covered with ash and pumice. Now, more than 42 years later, the Forest Service says some long-lost artifacts from the blast are starting to turn up.
16 days ago
Feliks Banel

Evergreen Washelli Columbarium celebrates 100 year anniversary

A distinctive facility in North Seattle is observing its centennial this year and is inviting everyone to attend a festive party ... in a cemetery.
18 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
All Over The Map: Mount St. Helens named for International Man of Mystery