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Profiles of Washington Territorial Librarians – James Clark Head, 1860 – 1861, 1863, 1865

(Head served three nonconsecutive terms as Territorial Librarian.)

J.C. Head was born in Washington County, Ky. in 1810. His family apparently lived in Illinois before their arrival in Olympia, Aug. 18, 1853. A carpenter by trade, Head also was made a Justice of the Peace and in 1856 presided over the case of the accused murderer of Leschi’s brother, Quiemuth. Bion Kendall was the attorney for the defense, Elwood Evans the prosecutor. His first term as Librarian was the last time the office was combined with the duties of Auditor. Both of his roles were eventful in 1860-1861. Briahna Taylor wrote on his Auditor half:

J.C. Head’s tenure was highlighted by the Civil War and a tight financial condition. While earlier debts faced during Hicks’ tenure had been paid, financial troubles for the territory lingered. Congress faced the mounting costs of the Civil War and reduced the territory’s appropriations. This affected the entire territory, including legislators who were not given funds to travel between Olympia and their hometowns for the session. Some had to procure loans to finance their travel and stay in the territorial capitol.

If that wasn’t enough, legislators sued J.C. Head the Librarian for refusing to move the collection to Vancouver, proving the importance of a library as a foundation for government. Maryan Reynolds explains the 1861 coup attempt:

A sizable number of legislators sought to move the territorial capital from Olympia to Vancouver. Their first step was to pass a law requiring Territorial Librarian J.C. Head to move his office and the library to Vancouver between June 2 and August 1. Another law mandated a popular vote on the issue during July, which the legislators were certain would favor their cause. But Acting Governor McGill refused to permit the move, and the district court refused to require J.C. Head to show cause as to why he should not move the library.

Head’s refusal to budge quite probably saved Olympia’s status as the capitol.

[The Territorial Librarian profiles were compiled by Sean Lanksbury, Mary Schaff, Kim Smeenk, and Steve Willis]


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