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Divorcing Oregon

Published by Steve Campion. Category: History

A long time ago in a territory centered not very far, far away, Washington was part of Oregon.  An amicable split 160 years ago necessitated new maps with a boundary line you’d recognize today.   When Oregon was established in 1848, the territory included a great deal more land than the current state of Oregon. (See map, right). It was far too big to be governed from Oregon City, then the territorial capital.

There weren’t many settlers north of the Columbia River — barely one thousand in the 1850 census — but by 1851, several of them came together near what is now Toledo, WA for a “Cowlitz Convention.”  They wrote a petition hoping to persuade the US Congress toward dividing Oregon into two manageable territories.  It was ignored in Washington, DC.

Despite the setback, the separatist movement continued to grow in Northern Oregon — that’s what they called us in 1852. It even won support from Joseph Lane, Oregon’s delegate to Congress. The plan that was quickly earning consensus was to let Oregon Territory retain the land south of the Columbia River, and set Northern Oregon free to govern itself as Columbia, a territory named for the river. Once again, a petition was needed to issue the request to Congress. On Nov. 25, 1852, forty-four men from Northern Oregon gathered in a small settlement then known as Monticello (and now obscured within the city of Longview).

The Monticello Convention conducted all its business in a single day and immediately sent its memorial to Congress.  But this was 1852; mail traveled slowly. By the time it reached the nation’s capital, Lane had already introduced a bill in Congress asking for the establishment of Columbia Territory. The Monticello document may have swayed a few votes. The only sticking point involved the name. As crazy as this may sound, some people thought Columbia would be too easily confused with the District of Columbia. A representative from Kentucky1 stepped forward and suggested the name Washington. (Whew! At least THAT motion saved us from confusion. *smirk*) Inspired by a bill that would now honor the first president, congressmen raced to vote yes. They stripped the bill of all its Columbias and replaced them with Washingtons. It passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 8, 1853, passed the Senate on Mar. 2, and  was signed into law by President Fillmore the same day.

On today’s 160th anniversary of the Monticello Convention, we list the 44 names on the document that formally requested a split from Oregon.


E. J. Allen
Benjamin C. Armstrong
William N. Bell
Quincy A. Brooks
Seth Catlin
Fred A. Clarke
L. M. Collins
A. Cook
Alexander Crawford
Peter W. Crawford
L. L. Davis
Arthur A. Denny2
A. B. Dillenbaugh
G. Drew
E. L. Ferrick
Sidney S. Ford
J. Fowler
H.A. Goldsborough
C. H. Hale
Loren B. Hastings
Charles S. Hathaway
Harry D. Huntington3
John R. Jackson4
John N. Low
G. N. McConaha5
W. A. L. McCorkle
Dr. David S. Maynard2
H. Miles
S. P. Moses
Nathaniel Ostrander
Simon Plamondon
William W. Plumb
C. F. Porter
George B. Roberts
Stephen D. Ruddell
A. F. Scott
A. J. Simmons
Michael T. Simmons6
N. Stone
C. C. Terry
R. J. White7
H. C. Wilson
E. H. Winslow
A. Wylie

1 Richard H. Stanton
2 Among the founders of Seattle
3 Owner of the home where the Monticello Convention took place
4 Early Lewis County settler, sheriff, and judge
5 President of the convention
6 The founder of Tumwater
7 Secretary of the convention

NOTES: Oregon became a territory Aug. 14, 1848, and a state Feb 14, 1859 .  Washington became a territory Mar. 2, 1853, and a state Nov. 11, 1889.  Idaho, which was once part of Oregon and Washington, became its own territory on Mar. 4, 1863, locking in the eastern border of Washington that we see today. Idaho was admitted as a state July 3, 1890.

SOURCES: A good narrative history of the Washington Territory that includes passages about the organizing conventions is Robert E. Ficken’s Washington Territory (2002). Summaries of the episode may also be found in Charles P. LeWarne’s Washington State (1986) and Washington: Images of a State’s Heritage (1988) by Carlos Schwantes, et. al.  The signers’ names themselves are on the document and on a memorial you can visit in Longview, WA.


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