Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Borderlines and the Oregon Country

I've been enjoying Frank Jacob's borderlines. As someone that pours over maps of all kinds I very much enjoy reading about how various obscure borders.
Jacobs wrote a recent post on neutral zones To a degree, Washington State was once part of a hybrid neutral zone. At one point in the early 1800s Spain, Russia, England and the United States all had claims on the territory of what is now Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. The Spanish and Russians gave up their claims as neither established any sort of presence in the area, but both England and the United States continued to claim the Oregon County as the Pacific Northwest was called with England very firmly established via the Hudson Bay Company and America via Lewis and Clark and some very tenuous American fur trading efforts.

With an uncertain and competing claims, a joint occupancy agreement was made between the two countries in 1818 and again in 1827. Not a bad alternative after the War of 1812 between the two nations. Citizens from both countries lived and worked in the contested territory. For English subjects, governance was carried out by the Hudson Bay Company. In cases of criminal misconduct the accused was taken to the nearest permanent English settlement for trial. But for Americans, the Oregon Country was lawless with law taken into their own hands and essentially no government at all.

And never mind that an entire other group of people had already been living in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years with their own way of governing and enforcing laws and codes of conduct. The First Peoples had their own territorial disputes and fluid borders as well. Initially there were very few Americans; it is remarkable that America was able to hold on to the claim of the area at all. But in the late 1830s a trickle of settlers began to arrive and by the early 1840s the Willamette Valley was becoming American with little regard for the initial inhabitants.

In 1846 the question of the which nation controlled the Oregon Territory was settled with the Oregon Treaty. A very simple solution that continued the border along the 49th parallel with an allowance for the very English presence firmly established on the south end of Vancouver Island deviating from the 49th Parallel.

Original American Oregon Territory after the Oregon Treaty

The southern border of the territory followed the former northern Spanish claim that had been ceded to the US from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. The eastern boundary was the crest of the continental divide.

While there was significant presence of Americans in what is today Oregon, there were very few in what is now Washington. England pushed for the boundary to be at the Columbia River, but the 49th parallel prevailed. For England the area between the 49th and the Columbia was not worth going to war over and at the time the territory was not a big money maker. Charles Wilkes' report greatly influenced the American view to included the Puget Sound Country. Wilkes was to sail up the Columbia River, but decided the Columbia was a terrible west coast port due to the horrific waves at the river's entrance. His report strongly argued for acquisition of the Puget Sound for shipping purposes.  


Lyle said...

The 42 parallel was set as the border between the US and Spain in 1819 in the Transcontinental treaty (or the Adams Onis treaty). It defined the western border of the La Purchase. The Mexican War officially ended in 1848 and made 42 just historical relic, except for state boundary matters.

Dan McShane said...

Thanks Lyle. The state borders are often strange relics, but I thought I should just mention the basis of the south boundary. More later on the state borders.

Carl said...

Two excellent books I recommend by Vancouver, BC author Derek Hayes are "Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest" and "Historical Atlas of Washington & Oregon."

They contain 500 historical maps showing the ebb and flow of the borderlines as well as the story behind each map.