(Map courtesy of Washington State Library)
Unless you really excel at Washington history, you probably didn’t know that this Saturday marks the 160th anniversary of the creation of Washington Territory. (Believe it or not, there is a word – tetracentennial – for such a rare occasion.)
Before 1853, the land north of the Columbia River was part of Oregon Territory, established in 1848. But settlers north of the Columbia soon were demanding their own territory. On Feb. 8, 1853, Congress obliged, passing “An Act to establish the Territorial Government of Washington.” The new territory included the area covered by the state of Washington today, as well as northern Idaho and part of Montana west of the Continental Divide. On March 2, 1853, President Millard Fillmore signed the Organic Act, thus establishing Washington Territory. On Nov. 28, 1853, Governor Isaac Stevens issued a proclamation establishing the government of Washington Territory under the terms of the Organic Act.
This link will take you to an 1857 map found in the State Library showing Washington Territory and Oregon Territory. When Oregon became a state in 1859, the southern half of Idaho and a small part of what is now Wyoming, which were formerly part of Oregon Territory, were added to Washington Territory, as this State Library map shows. In 1863, Idaho Territory was carved out of Washington Territory.
In honor of the 160th anniversary (and Washington, you do look really good considering your territorial birth happened eight years before the Civil War started), we’re featuring a list that shows the 101corporations created during Washington’s territorial years that are still active today.
The oldest health care corporation is Sisters of Providence, created Jan. 28, 1859. The oldest association (and oldest existing corporation) is Odd Fellows of Olympia, established Dec. 19, 1855. And the oldest church? The Diocese of Nisqually (now the Seattle Archdiocese), created Jan. 30, 1861.
Here’s a historical factoid to ponder: The Legislature stopped incorporating organizations in 1865. Prior to that, incorporations were done by legislative action. Nowadays, organizations incorporate by filing with the Corporations Division of the Office of Secretary of State.
Another factoid: Until 1864, if you wanted to get divorced in Washington Territory, it required a bill passed by the Legislature and the governor’s signature to make it so. In 1863, the last year that the Legislature had this authority, it granted 16 divorces.