Adsense for search

Custom Search

Friday, February 1, 2013


Family history has a funny way of coming full circle, even after 150 years. In April of 1861, a presidential proclamation called for 75,000 men to serve in "The War of the Rebellion" for three months. A certain nineteen-year-old in Wisconsin—who would later become my great-great-grandfather—volunteered, joining the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Now I have volunteered to help reveal a small part of the big story of a war that changed the life of my ancestor and for lasted years, not months. I've volunteered to help examine the Civil War experience in Washington Territory through the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In. 

Property of Candace J. Brown
“Washington Territory? The Civil War didn’t happen here, did it?” people ask.
That was my reaction too, when I first heard of the project. Among the pioneers, except for immigrants who had recently arrived in North America, many must have had relatives involved in the bloody conflict, so of course it mattered to them. But with communication slow and difficult, and since no battles took place here, it is easy to imagine that the war seemed remote from the lives of those in the distant Northwest. I could not have been more mistaken.
Even though residents of Washington Territory could not vote in the presidential election of 1860, when it came to strong convictions and politically-based actions they were as involved as anyone back in the States, United or Confederate. In recent years, the Washington State Historical Society has discovered in their records a wealth of material related to the territory’s experience of the Civil War. These records exist in the form of letters, newspaper clippings, books, and other items, more material than the usual researchers have time to read. That’s why they developed a research project called the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-In, running from January through August 2012. And the WSHS needs our help.
Courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society, and quoting from their information,
"Democratic appointee James Tilton arrived in Olympia, Washington Territory in 1855, accompanied by his family and a young black slave, named Charles Mitchell. Mitchell fled to the Crown Colony of Victoria in September 1860, a fugitive on a tiny Puget Sound underground railroad.  Here, the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, October 18, 1860, reprinted an article on the flight from a Washington Territory newspaper."
In anticipation of a major exhibition titled “Civil War Pathways,” scheduled for February 2014 at the Washington State History Museum—and in order to build a searchable online database—WSHS is looking for volunteers to read and review various materials that tell the story of the antebellum,wartime, and early Reconstruction periods as experienced in Washington Territory. The volunteers will help to create a database of citations and scanned documents by uploading their findings to an online form, thereby documenting what they’ve read. Training session held in various cities around the state will teach these researchers everything they need to know. Each assignment will require about a month to complete in a person's spare time and should prove fascinating for those of us who love history.
Lorraine McConaghy is a professional public historian who works at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, teaches at the University of Washington, and is the author of three books. Active in many history-related organizations, she lectures and shares her enthusiasm far and wide, and is also managing the Read-In, with help from Darby Langdon, the project coordinator.
McConaghy told me in an email, "This audacious project will harness the work of hundreds of readers in our state to create a unique database, and it is also a wonderful opportunity to really understand Washington Territory's Civil War, from scratch—from the very newspapers, correspondence and public records of the time!"
photo portrait James Tilton, ca. 1865      courtesty of the Washington State Historical Society
Take a look at this excerpt from the F.A.Q. document the project provides to volunteers, stating facts about the impact of the Civil War in the Territory of Washington that will surprise and amaze most people:
Convictions about race and slavery, treason and secession, military preparedness, international relations and wartime suppression of civil liberties divided settlers in Washington Territory as they divided Americans in the Confederate States of America from those in the United States.  Washington’s governor resigned to “go South,” and so did many officers of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy who had been stationed in Washington. 

Not every settler partial to the Confederacy or opposed to the Lincoln administration left the Territory.  Those who stayed behind ranged across a spectrum from Peace Democrats to the secret, paramilitary society known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, extremists who drilled for the assassination of Lincoln’s political appointees and advocated the secession of the Pacific Republic.  There was one celebrated fugitive slave case on Puget Sound, and at least one other African-American slave in the Territory.  Settler attitudes toward race were enormously complicated in Washington Territory, where the racial hierarchy included Asians from the “Sandwich Islands,” Native and mixed world people, blacks from Africa, and African-Americans, slave and free. 

While some Republicans were abolitionists, few at any point on the political spectrum were advocates of black social, economic or political equality.  In other words, one could oppose slavery but not favor free blacks.  As far as we know at present, no anti-war, anti-Lincoln newspaper in Washington Territory was shut down by military authority; the northernmost newspaper to be closed was the Portland Advertiser in the new state of Oregon.  Territorial residents had subscribed by mail to the Advertiser as well as a number of other Oregon antiwar newspapers; Republican appointees delivered the mail in Washington Territory and were partly responsible for the suppression of those newspapers, seen as treasonous.  And, as far as we know right now, there were no territorial instances of the suspension of habeas corpus.  The Crown Colony of Victoria was the destination for at least one fugitive slave from Washington Territory, fleeing to a substantial black community; however, Victoria was also the haven for pro-Confederate sympathizers and Confederate agents, seeking to purchase and equip a war steamer to harass coastwise shipping. 
Training dates, times, and locations for the Washington Territorial Civil War Read-in are shown below.

NOTE: I just received an update from Lorraine McConaghy about an additional training session in Seattle. She said, "The demand has been incredible, and the first two trainings are completely full. So we're working to find a site for a training in the Seattle area, 10-4, April 27. If folks will let us know that they're interested, we'll add them to the list and let them know when we do and where the training will be."

Even though Seattle seems to have plenty of volunteers, many more are needed in other parts of the state, so please share this blog post with anyone anywhere in Washington who might be interested.

Please note that the Walla Walla training is on a Sunday, whereas most others are on Saturdays.

Saturday, February 9, 10-4 Seattle  FULL
Wednesday, February 13, 10-4 Seattle  FULL
Saturday, February 16, 10-4 Vancouver
Saturday, February 23, 10-4 Olympia
Saturday, March 2, 10-4 Tacoma
Sunday, March 10, 12-6 Walla Walla
Saturday, March 23, Yakima
Saturday, April 13, 10-4 Cheney

         Saturday, April 20, 10-4 La Conner
NEW! Seattle April 27, 2013 Location TBD (See note above)
Would you like to be involved? It’s easy. Just contact Darby Langdon or Lorraine McConaghy for more information. They will welcome your inquiry and answer all your questions.
But don’t wait too long. If enough people hear about this you could miss the opportunity to help create this lasting legacy. And when it’s all finished the volunteers will be invited to a celebration where they can meet each other. Like the information document says, “The Read-In is a community, not just a project.” Please join us!


historywriter said...

I had a great day at the Tacoma training today. Can't wait to start reading.

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

Tille said...

Amazing ! This is cool!