Commentary: Local descendant finds big surprise at American Revolution exhibit in Thurston County 


How would you feel if you walked into a national exhibition and saw your own direct relative’s image and life narrative as part of the story? 

That is exactly what happened to Stuart Halsan and Stephen Pahre on April 11 when they viewed a traveling exhibit making its way around the country. They saw it in Tumwater at the historic Schmidt House.  

The exhibit, The American Revolution Experience, explores the lives of ordinary people who were affected by the events of the American Revolutionary War. It is an exhibit of ordinary people, but there were 231,000 soldiers in the Continental Army, which does not include all the civilians who provided food, supplies, medical care and other civilian support. Only 23 people are highlighted in the exhibit. 

What are the odds a descendant would visit?  

Stephen Tainter was barely 16 years old when he joined his first patriot militia unit. Instead of a gun, Tainter carried a drum. During the American Revolution, some young patriots who were not yet old enough to enlist as regular soldiers instead served as musicians.

Tainter and his fellow drummers performed vital services in camps and on the battlefield. The beat of Tainter's drum kept soldiers in sync as they marched. Tainter beat out a cadence to raise soldiers for the day, gather for meals and end the day's work.

Importantly, Tainter helped translate commanding officers' orders on the battlefield. His loud drum beats carried over long distances and above the noise of battle. He joined his first unit, Sparhawk's regiment, just in time to spend the winter of 1776-1777 with the Continental Army in New Jersey.

Tainter served in the war for eight years by the time he was 24 years old. After the war, he worked 30 years as a physician and had a family that has, obviously, survived to this date. To read about his adventures, visit

About a couple of his descendants 

Steve Pahre is a pharmacist and got his degree at Washington State University. Stuart Halsan, his uncle, received a bachelor’s degree from the Foster School at the University of Washington and a law degree from Gonzaga. Halsan is retired now, but practiced in Centralia and served in both the state House of Representatives and state Senate.

He also served 10 years on the Centralia College Board of Trustees and is currently a trustee and the treasurer of the ALL Foundation of Washington State, which manages the endowments for the state archives, library and Legacy programs through the Secretary of State's office. Halsan’s wife, Kathy, is a retired special education teacher with almost 40 years in the Centralia School District focused on preschool special education and autism. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Washington University. 

Here’s how they are related, according to Halsan: “Stephen was my fifth great-grandfather ... His son, Stephen Gorham Tainter, was my fourth ... Gor, as he was called, had a daughter, Julia Catherine (Tainter) Nickerson, my third great-grandmother, and Julia's daughter, Lois (Nickerson) Kellogg, my great-great-grandmother. Her daughter, Jessie (Kellogg) McPherson, my great-grandmother. Her son, Herbert McPherson, was my Grandfather, whom I knew ... And his daughter, Estella, was my mother. That's just the relevant line. Gor married Anna Hurd, whose father, Lewis Hurd, was the sergeant serving in Lafayette's light infantry at Yorktown and who was part of the 200 Americans who took Redoubt No. 10 under Hamilton. Herbert's wife, Blanche Woolley, (was) my grandmother ... Her line goes back to Nathaniel Wooley of Concord."

The other people featured in the exhibit are young and old, patriots and loyalists, black, white, and native American, born in North America or Europe, free and enslaved.

The pop-up exhibition includes display panels and interactive digital kiosks that use storytelling, illustration, technology and unique artifacts and primary accounts to connect modern audiences with the people and places that shaped the birth of our nation.

The exhibit, which opened April 5, will be open for a final day on Wednesday, April 17, at the Schmidt House, 330 Schmidt Place SW, in Tumwater. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Admission is free. 

The Schmidt House is owned and operated by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation. The Schmidt House is among only three venues in Western Washington that will host the American Revolution Experience in 2024, introducing visitors to a cast of historical characters with diverse experiences throughout the conflict and the places they visited on their journey. 

The three venues include historic houses in Tumwater, Puyallup and Seattle.

There is a great diversity of experience and a high quality of story-telling with attention to detail and concern for accuracy. I encourage you to see the exhibit while it is still there. For more information, call the Schmidt House office at 360-890-2299.