Washington State

Named after George Washington, the first President of the United States, the state was made out of the western part of the Washington Territory, which had been ceded by Britain in 1846 in accordance with the Oregon Treaty in the settlement of the Oregon Boundary Dispute. It was admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889.

Mapped Location

The mapped location is an approximation and should not be used for navigation or wayfinding.


  • Feature Type: Civil
  • Capital City: City of Olympia
  • Established as a Territory: Wednesday, March 2, 1853
  • Admitted to the Union: Tuesday, November 11, 1890

Official, historical, colloquial and alternative spellings for Washington

State of WashingtonOfficial
Territory of ColumbiaHistorical. Proposed name in 1852 upon requesting to the US Congress to split from the Territory of Oregon.
Nova AlbionHistorical

Quoted remarks, origin notes and general history for Washington

“WASHINGTON, State of. In 1535 and 1539, the Spaniards applied to the west coast of North America the beautiful name of California. Captain George Davidson, of the United States Coast Survey, has traced the origin of that name. (Pacific Coast Pilot, page 15, and The Origin and Meaning of the Name California reprinted from the publications of the Geographical Society of the Pacific in 1910.) In those beginning years the name extended along the coast indefinitely to the northward. The next name for the coast was Nova Albion applied by the English captain, in June, 1578, who, after completing his remarkable voyage around the world was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and became a world figure under the name of Sir Francis Drake. The record says: "Our Generall called this countrey Nova Albion, and that for two causes: the one in respect of the white bankes and cliffs, which ly towardes the sea, and the other, because it might have some affinitie with our Countrey in name, which sometime was so called." (Hakluyt's Voyages, Glasgow, 1906, Volume IX., page 325.) The name of Oregon, like that of California, has been much discussed as to origin and meaning. It is usually claimed that the name was first applied to the "River of the West" by Jonathan Carver in his Three Years Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America, who began those travels in 1766. The latest and most definitive discussion of this subject appeared in years 1920-1922, when Mr. T. C. Elliott published three studies: "The Strange Case of Jonathan Carver and the Name Oregon," "The Origin of the Name Oregon," "Jonathan Carver's Source of the Name Oregon (Quarterly of the Oreqon Historical Society, Volumes XXI., No. 4; XXII., No. 2; XXIII., No 1 ) On June 4, 1792, Captain George Vancouver celebrated the anniversary of the birth of George III., by taking possession of the regions he had been exploring and by conferring some geographic names. The ceremony took place where the present City of Everett stands and the harbor there he called Possession Sound. The great interior waterway, now known as Puget Sound, he called "Gulf of Georgia" and the mainland "binding the said gulf, and extending southward to the 45th degree of north latitude", he call "New Georgia, in honor of His present Majesty." He recognized Drake's name, changed slightly, by referring to the coast under the general name of "New Albion." (Voyage Round the World, second edition, Volume II., pages 169-170.) The purchase of Louisiana, 1803, was by many thought to include the lands in the Pacific Northwest. As evidence of that error's long life, see the United States General Land Office Map of the United States and Territories, 1896. On June 20, 1803, President Jefferson signed his famous instructions for the Lewis and Clark expedition in which he twice refers to the "Oregan or Columbia." The explorers contented themselves with charting but one general name for the country, and that in the interior, "Columbia Valley." (Elliott Coues, History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Volume I., pages xxvi, xxxi, and map.) Oregon, as a name for the great river before it was actually discovered by Captain Robert Gray in 1792 and by him named Columbia, was made to apply in an indefinite way to the country west of the "Shining" or Rocky Mountains. The area thus named was first restricted by the Florida Purchase Treaty, 1819, in which the 42d parallel of north latitude was made to mark the northern extent of Spanish claims. Treaties by Russia, with the United States and Great Britain, 1824-1825, marked the southern extent of Russian claims at 54°40'. By the Treaty of Washington, 1846, joint occupancy of the country with Great Britain was ended by dividing the area at the 49th parallel of north latitude. The Provisional Government in 1841 acted for "the inhabitants of the Willamette Valley", but on July 5, 1843, it was enacted that Oregon Territory should be the name. On the last named date it was also enacted that within the vast area four Districts should be created. Two of these applied to lands now in Washington. Twality District took in all the land west of the Willamette River and the meridian prolonging that line to the northward. The southern boundary was the Yamhill River and the northern boundary was at 54°40'. The lands eastward to the Rocky Mountains and north of the Anchiyoke River were placed in Clackamas District. These two Districts embraced all of the present State of Washington and much more to the north, south and east. (La Fayette Grover, The Oregon Archives pages 5, 25.) As further subdivisions were made the word "district" was supplanted by "county." On August 14, 1848, an act of Congress was approved by which a Federal organization of Oregon Territory would take the place of Provisional Government. The Oregon settlers north of the Columbia River became ambitious for a separate government. These ambitions were voiced at the Fourth of July celebrations in Olympia in 1851 and 1852, resulting in the Cowlitz and Monticello Conventions where memorials to Congress were adopted. (Edmond S. Meany, "The Cowlitz Convention: Inception of Washington Territory", in the Washington Historical Quarterly, Volume XIII., pages 3-19.) General Joseph Lane, Delegate to Congress from Oregon Territory, acting on the memorial from the Cowlitz Convention, secured the passage of a resolution on December 6, 1852, asking that the Committee on Territories bring in a bill to divide Oregon by forming a new Territory of the lands north of the Columbia by the name oi Columbia Territory. On February 8, 1853, during a debate on the bill, Representative Richard H. Stanton, of Kentucky, moved to amend by striking out the word "Columbia" and inserting in its place "Washington," as an honor for the "Father of His Country." The amendment was adopted, the bill was pass& and was signed by President Millard Fillmore on March 2, 1853. It is interesting to recall that Vancouver's honor for George III., was thus changed to an honor for the opposing leader in the American Revolution who also bore the name of George. The new Territory extended from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, the northern boundary being the 49th parallel, and the southern boundary the Columbia River and the 46th parallel of north latitude. Oregon was admitted to statehood on February 14, 1859, with boundaries as at present. The eastern lands between the 42d and 46th parallels of north latitude were at that time attached to Washington Territory. Idaho Territory was created by act of Congress dated March 3, 1863, cutting Washington Territory down to the present boundaries. The Territories of Montana and Wyoming were created on May 26, 1864, and July 25, 1868, respectively. Each of these took a part of Idaho land, which had formerly been within Washington Territory. The Enabling Act for the admission of Washington to statehood was approved by President Cleveland on February 22, 1889. A constitution was framed and approved by the people and on November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison issued his proclamation that Washington was admitted as the forty-second State of the Union.”

Edmond S. Meany, Origin of Washington Geographic Names

“On October 25, 1852 the people north of the Columbia River petitioned Congress to partition the Territory of Oregon and form the Territory of Columbia. When the petition reached the Congress, the proposed name met opposition in that there were was already a District of Columbia and that there would be confusion between it and a like-named territory. The proposal to change the name to Territory of Washington drew the same response, but on vote, the name change stood.”

H.D. Smiley, Abraham Lincoln and the Washington Territory
  • U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Geographic Names Post Phase I Board/Staff Revisions. 01-Jan-2000. Board decisions referenced after Phase I data compilation or staff researched non-controversial names.
  • Meany, Edmond S, Origin of Washington Geographic Names, 1923 UW Press, p 336-338
  • Benson, Morton. An English-Serbocroatian Dictionary. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979. p646
  • U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Geographic Names Post Phase I Board/Staff Revisions. 31-DEC-1930.
  • Smiley, H.D., Abraham Lincoln and the Washington Territory, Ye Galleon Press, 1987, p16
Last edited on 12/12/2016