Washington Territory and Washington State, Founding of

  • By Junius Rochester
  • Posted 2/26/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5661

Soon after the creation of Oregon Territory in 1848, settlers north of the Columbia River began demanding a territory of their own. Congress acquiesced on February 8, 1853, with the creation of Washington Territory. Statehood followed in 1889.

With the creation of Oregon Territory in 1848, the Oregon Trail began to fill with farmers and dreamers headed for the new Territory. Among them was a small band of Midwesterners led by John Denny (1793-1875) and his son Arthur Denny (1822-1899). Like many before them, and many more after, they found Oregon City and the Willamette Valley too crowded, and in late 1851 most of the "Denny Party" relocated to Puget Sound.

People living north of the Columbia River continued to resent the distance between them and the Oregon Territorial capital at Salem. After a series of civic, Indian, and military incidents, a convention assembled at the town of Monticello, near the mouth of the Cowlitz River on October 25, 1852, and adopted a memorial to Congress. It read in part:

"Delegates of the citizens of Northern Oregon ... respectfully represent to your honorable bodies that it is the earnest desire of your petitioners, and of said citizens that all that portion of Oregon Territory lying north of the Columbia River and west of the great northern branch thereof, should be organized as a separate territory under the name and style of the Territory of Columbia."

On February 8, 1853, a federal bill was introduced to separate "Columbia Territory" from Oregon. Representative Richard H. Stanton of Kentucky, believing that the first president should be honored with the name of a state or territory, and noting that the federal capital already recognized the name "Columbia," amended the bill to read "Washington Territory." On March 2, 1853, President Millard Fillmore (1800-1874) signed the act. He dispatched Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) to govern the new territory, which until 1863 included Idaho.

President Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) selected the anniversary of George Washington's birthday, February 22, 1889, to sign the act creating the state of Washington, but his proclamation of admission was not issued until November 11, 1889. The Great Event was celebrated with cannon fire, public and private meetings, parades, and endless oratory.


Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County, Washington (Chicago-Seattle: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929). Also see: Dictionary of Oregon History ed. by Howard McKinley Corning (Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, Publishers, 1956); Edmond S. Meany, History of the State of Washington (New York: The Macmillan Company, Publishers, 1950).

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