Not quite America : Alonzo Marion Poe in the Washington Territory

MPhil Thesis

Lyell, Leon J.. (2022). Not quite America : Alonzo Marion Poe in the Washington Territory [MPhil Thesis]. Australian Catholic University School of Arts
AuthorsLyell, Leon J.
TypeMPhil Thesis
Qualification nameMaster of Philosophy

Alonzo Marion Poe (1826-1866) was once remembered as a newspaperman in the Washington Territory. In time memory of his role faded. Poe was a respected civic player and, while certainly a newspaperman, was principally concerned with developing the Territory in accordance with his vision of the American polity: a Whig vision of America as an exemplar nation for free trade and democracy.

The thesis aims to place Poe and his newspaper the Overland Press into the narrative of the formation of Washington Territory and in so doing enhance understanding of this formulative period in America’s Pacific Northwest. Placing Poe in the context of his time not only fleshes out the snippets of his life which appear in some histories, it also offers opportunities for new reflections on nationalism as expressed in the region.

The thesis explores Poe’s family, early life, and the factors which encouraged him to become a settler in the Oregon Country at a time when its eventual national home was far from clear. It examines his role in establishing Tumwater as a settler-colonist. Poe’s unanticipated venture in the California Gold Rush charged his determination to develop Olympia and create a separate American Territory north of the Columbia River. His involvement in the 1851 Cowlitz Convention, and the establishment of The Columbian, were instrumental in creating the Washington Territory.

The creation of Washington Territory led to a clash of approaches to colonisation during this period. Governor Isaac Stevens wanted to impose his vision as quickly as possible, while older settlers advocated a more democratic approach. Both wanted Indians moved and the British gone, while Poe and some others who had benefitted from engagement with both were content with more ambiguous relations. Poe’s affinity for an urban lifestyle attracted him to Victoria, capital of the British Colony of Vancouver Island, where he found not only British subjects but lapsed American citizens who became an important part of his unique newspaper audience.

Poe entered into the theatrics of controversy which was good for circulation, but observers seemed unsure about his party affiliation. His criticism of Republicans led some to assume he was a Democrat, but his role in closing the Pioneer and Democrat convinced others he was a Republican. While changing political coats was not uncommon for some editors in the Territory, Poe was intentionally ‘all things’ to his readers while maintaining a consistent ‘Old Whig’ perspective after the Whig Party itself had disappeared.

The Civil War, provided Poe with the opportunity to create his own newspaper and also provoked him to editorialise on what it meant to be American, often by comparison with the English. While he was not a systematic political philosopher, his views on the nature of American democracy tapped into and encouraged sentiments present in his community. The thesis sets out to understand Poe’s life in the context of the development of the Washington Territory. Poe’s life in turn opens a new window to issues of governance, the press and political identity in the Washington Territory at its creation.

KeywordsAlonzo Marion Poe; Washington Territory; Overland Press; Cowlitz Convention; American Civil War; American Whig Party; Frontier Press; Pacific Northwest; Governor Isaac Stevens
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Page range1-162
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online30 Jun 2022
Publication process dates
Completed17 Mar 2022
Deposited30 Jun 2022
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