Washington State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Washington State History

Photo, Washington General History Before the coming of the Europeans, the Native American Peoples inhabiting what is now the state of Washington included the Nez Perce,
Spokane, Yakima, Cayuse, Okanogan, Walla Walla, and Colville in the interior, and the Nooksak, Chinook, Nisqually, Clallam, Makah, Quinault, and Puyallup in the coastal area.

Exploration and settlement: In the 18th century, Europeans were attracted to the coast of present-day Washington by the valuable fur of the sea otter, an animal found there in great numbers. The Spanish explorer, Bruno Heceta, visited the area in 1775 and claimed it for his country. In 1790 Britain and Spain concluded the Nootka Sound Agreement, which opened the coast between California and Alaska to trade and settlement by both nations. In 1792 George Vancouver, a British naval office, explored Puget Sound. By 1800 British interest had shifted from sea-dwelling furbearers to land animals, particularly the beaver, and the Montreal-based North West Company played a major role in opening Washington to the fur trade.

The first American interested in the Pacific Northwest were merchants who came from Boston as early as the 1780's, among them Robert Gray, who explored the Columbia River in 1792. The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-06) stimulated public interest, and in 1811 John Jacob Astor established a fur-trading post - Astoria - near the mouth of the Columbia River and a fort at the mouth of the Okanogan River. In 1818, the U.S. and Britain agreed to a ten-year period of joint occupancy of the Oregon county.

Territorial status and statehood: In 1846 the present U.S. - Canadian boundary was established, and Washington became part of the United States territory of Oregon two years later. When it was separated from Oregon in 1853, the new territory contained fewer than 4000 with inhabitants and stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The first territorial governor, Isaac I. Stevens, moved quickly to extinguish Native American title to the land and to improve transportation, the two keys to rapid settlement and economic development. The treaties negotiated by Stevens in 1854-55 were an attempt to defuse tensions between natives and settlers, but for various reasons the treaty structure quickly deteriorated, and intermittent warfare took place between 1855 and 1858. Because of this strife, and numerous delays in constructing the northern transcontinental railroad, the territory languished until the 1800s.

Completion of the Northern Pacific (1868) and Great Northern (1893) rail lines boosted Washington's economy, and statehood in 1889 brought political stability, beginning a period of rapid growth that lasted through World War I. During that time the population increased from 75,000 to 1.2 million. Wheat growing and cattle raising in eastern Washington and lumbering and fishing in the western portions of the state were the main economic activities. The Boeing Airplane Company, founded during World War I, became the largest private employer in the state during and after World War II. Lack of diversification and the cyclical nature of the major elements of the economy led to a series of boom-and-bust periods. The availability of inexperienced hydroelectric power after 1940 attracted the energy-intensive aluminum industry.

By the mid-20th century, agriculture had made dramatic gains. Construction of huge dams provided irrigation and flood control, as well as cheap electric power, and led to the development of inland ports and increased river shipping. As the gateway to Alaska, Washington had been moving away from dependence on federal contracts and has encouraged new industries to develop and process Alaskan resources. During the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s the population increased rapidly-especially in the Seattle and Puget Sound areas. State authorities tried to encourage industrial growth while protecting the environment.

The character of the state: Washington's reputation as a maverick state with citizens who tend toward radicalism in politics and social attitudes springs from its agrarian populist tradition and onetime strong radical labor movement. Both influenced the adoption of the initiative, referendum and recall, the open primary, and workers' compensation and consumer protection laws. Perhaps the most pervasive elements determining the character of the state, however, have been the relative homogeneity of its population, a relaxed pace of life, and a philosophy of harmony with the natural environment. Many citizens have enjoyed Washington's status as an isolated corner of the nation. This isolation was reflected in national politics, in which the state had little impact until after World War II, when Warren G. Magnusen, who represented Washington in the U.S. Senate from 1945 to 1981, and Henry M. Jackson, who served in the Senate from 1953 until his death, acquired considerable influence in health, consumer affairs, foreign policy, and defense. Another prominent Democrat, Thomas S. Foley of Spokane, became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989.
Washington Historic Figures

George Washington
Black founder of Centralia. George Washington was the son of a slave and a woman of English decent. Soon after his birth, his father was sold to a new owner and his mother too him to the home of the Cochranes, a white couple who later adopted George. Anti-black laws, restrictions, and prejudice followed George and the Cochranes through six moves and six different states from Virginia to Washington. Prior to 1857, a law barring blacks from land ownership prevented George from owning the property he found in Washington. The Cochranes filed for the land chosen by George in order to protect it for him. In 1857 the law was repealed and the Cochranes deeded back to George, the 640 acres he had lived on and developed for the past five years. At last, receiving that title symbolized the attainment of basic rights and in 1875 George filed his intention of laying out a new town, originally named Centerville. In 1889 the town had a population of 1,000 and George had sold his 2,000th lot. In the Panic of 1893, Centralia was hard hit, and George saved the town by purchasing properties gone to the auction block and making wagon trips alone to Portland, Oregon for supplies, and by lending considerable sums of money with no interest or terms for repayment.


Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman
1802-47: The Whitmans were early Protestant missionaries to the Cayuse Indians near what is now Walla Walla. Narcissa was one of the first two women to cross the continent over land. Their mission became an important stop for emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail in the early 1840s. On November 29, 1847 a small group of the Cayuse Indians, angry, possibly, as a result of cultural differences and a smallpox outbreak, murdered Dr. Whitman, Narcissa and 12 other at the mission.


Chief Seattle
1786-1866: Among the Pacific Northwest Indians, Chief Seattle is one of the most known. Called Sealth by his native Suquamish tribe, his frame rests largely upon his leadership and a speech he gave in 1854 when Governor Stevens visited Seattle for meetings with Native Puget Sound Tribes, he spoke about life and the environment. This particular speech was well known during the 1970's environmental movement.


Captain George Vancouver
1757-98: In 1792, Captain George Vancouver, of the British Navy, sailed his ships into Puget Sound and named many of the mountains, bays and islands. His goal was to explore the inland waters and make one last attempt at finding the Northwest Passage.


Captain Robert Gray
1755-1806: Captain Robert Gray sailed out of Boston to explore and trade along the Northwest Coast in the late 1700s. Gray discovered Grays Harbor, then continuing south, he finally discovered the mouth of the Columbia River.