Elisha P. Ferry

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Elisha Peyre Ferry
Elisha Peyre Ferry.jpg
10th Governor of Washington Territory
In office
April 26, 1872 – November 1, 1880
Preceded byEdward S. Salomon
Succeeded byWilliam A. Newell
1st Governor of Washington
In office
November 11, 1889 – January 9, 1893
LieutenantCharles E. Laughton
Preceded byMiles Conway Moore
as Territorial Governor
Succeeded byJohn McGraw
Personal details
Born(1825-08-09)August 9, 1825
Monroe County, Michigan Territory
DiedOctober 14, 1895(1895-10-14) (aged 70)
Seattle, Washington
Political partyRepublican

Elisha Peyre Ferry (August 9, 1825 – October 14, 1895) was the first Governor of the U.S. State of Washington. Ferry was a Republican lawyer who had twice been Governor of Washington Territory, the only one to serve two terms. On Washington's admission as a state on November 11, 1889, he became its inaugural governor, serving one term, stepping down in 1893 because of failing health.

Education, early life[edit]

Elisha Peyre Ferry was born in 1825 in Monroe County in the Michigan Territory, south of Detroit. His parents were attorney Peter Ferry and Clarissa (Peyre) Ferry. They soon moved west to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois, where his father served as a judge.

Elisha graduated early from high school. He studied at Fort Wayne Law School, Indiana, passing the bar examination at age twenty. Ferry had a successful practice as a lawyer in Waukegan for the next twenty-three years. After getting established, by 1850 he married Sarah Brown Kellog (1827–1912). They had five children together:

  • Eliza (1851–1935)
  • James (1853–1914)
  • Lincoln (1860–1911)
  • Julia (1864–1894)
  • Pierre (1868–1932)

All their children were given the middle name Peyre, which was his mother's maiden name, and is of French origin. French Canadian colonists were the first Europeans to settle in the Detroit area, on both sides of the Detroit River.

The Ferry family lived according to strict religious rules, and belonged to the Episcopal Church. In the state's capital Olympia, Ferry and his family were prominent members of St. John's Episcopal Church, where they were active both in church leadership and organization. Ferry was noted for his high ethical standards, both in his professional life and in the community.

Ferry also was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, which flourished in the nineteenth century in the United States. He served as Grand Master in 1878. He was a founding member of the Seattle Scottish Rite and held the rank of a Thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason.[1]

Political career[edit]

Ferry became the Presidential Elector of Illinois in 1852. He was elected as the first mayor of Waukegan in 1859, winning by a big majority.[2] In 1862 he was a delegate at the Illinois State Constitutional Convention. During the American Civil War, Ferry joined the Union Army, helping to organize the Illinois regiment. He became friends with Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln – important connections for a rising politician.

After the war, in 1869 President Grant appointed Ferry to the position of Surveyor General of the rapidly developing Washington Territory, and Ferry and his family moved to Olympia, Washington, the newly designated state capital. In 1872 Grant appointed him as Territorial Governor and, after the end of his four-year term, reappointed him to the same position. Both as Surveyor and Governor, Ferry was closely involved with the building of the Northern Pacific Railway, and took a personal hand in planning the extension from Tacoma to Olympia.

As governor, Ferry was successful in putting the Wasnky State on a sound financial footing, by pressuring various counties to pay their taxes. His successor took office in a state that was almost debt-free. He also regulated the rail fares, and centralized the penal system to a state rather than a county basis.

First State Governor of Washington[edit]

After a break from politics, working in Seattle in law and banking, Ferry was nominated as Republican candidate for the State Governor, when Washington was granted statehood on November 11, 1889. He defeated the Democrat Eugene Semple, gaining 58 percent of the vote.

In his first summer, Ferry had to oversee reconstruction of three major cities that had been largely destroyed by fire: Seattle, Ellensburg, and Spokane Falls. The prompt replacing of timber buildings with brick and stone gave reassurance to the increasing numbers of residents moving into the state, some of them interested in acquiring public land. Ferry tried to manage the debate between supporters of business, wanting to privatize land (mainly people in the West of the state), and those who favored full public ownership (mainly in the East). The commission he appointed failed to reach a conclusion in the allotted time. Some critics believed that the administration was in the pocket of the corporations.

The same inference was drawn when Ferry called on the National Guard to put down a miners' strike. Following a costly fire, a local mining company had decided to cut expenses by replacing white mineworkers with blacks at lower wages. The longer the strike lasted, the more the employers saw the advantage of using black labor, and this became their standard policy. Once again, the Washington Republicans were looking like powerful and suspitious allies of the corporations.[citation needed]

But Ferry's health was starting to fail, and he was having to miss important votes. He was unable to maintain his commanding presence in the legislative chamber. He resigned as State Governor. Two years later he died of what was diagnosed as a cold, on board a steamer in Puget Sound. His illness was likely a more serious respiratory disease.

His name is commemorated in Ferry County, named for him in 1899.[3] He is also the namesake of Mount Ferry in the Olympic Mountains.


  1. ^ [1], Seattle Scottish Rite
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 125.


  • Kestenbaum, Lawrence. "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Ferriss to Fiel." The Political Graveyard. 1996. Web. November 17, 2010. .
  • Solsvik, Nils M. "Elisha Peyre Ferry (1825–1895) – Find A Grave Memorial." Find A Grave – Millions of Cemetery Records. January 14, 1999. Web. November 18, 2010. .
  • Vander Hill, C. Warren. Settling the Great Lakes Frontier: Immigration to Michigan, 1837–1924. Lansing: Michigan Historical Commission, 1970. Print. Pages 5–13
  • Ficken, Robert E. Washington Territory. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 2002.
  • Snowden, Clinton A. History of Washington. New York: The Century History Company, 1909. Volume 4.
  • Blankenship, Georgiana M. Early History of Thurston County, Washington. Harvard College Library, 1914.
  • Washington History, “Territorial Timeline.”Web; http://www.sos.wa.gov/History/Timeline/detail.aspx?id=89, accessed November 18, 2010.
  • Bush, Julia H. “Early History of Pullman” City of Pullman Washington. Web; https://web.archive.org/web/20110721061649/http://www.pullman-wa.gov/DrawOnePage.aspx?PageID=585, accessed November 18, 2010.
  • Pierce, J. Kingston, Washington Law and Politics Magazine, “Gubernatorial Gaffe and Glory.” Web; http://www.lawandpolitics.com/washington/Gubernatorial-Gaffes-and-Glory/95bcff16-6a6c-102a-ab50-000e0c6dcf76.html, accessed November 17, 2010.
  • Ficken, Robert E. Washington State: The Inaugural Decade 1889–1899. Washington State University Press. Pullman WA. 2007
  • Johnston, Norman J. Washington's Audacious State Capitol and Its Builders: Washington Standard, November 22, 1889. University of Washington Press, 1988.
  • Seattle Times, June 10; August 5, 6, 1889; West Shore, 15 (September 21, 1889), 37; 16 (March 1, 1890, 261; Spokane Spokesman-Review, June 6, 1899.
  • Robbins, William G. Colony and Empire: The Capitalist Transformation of the American West (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1994).
  • Tacoma daily ledger, November 24, 1889; Oct. 25; December 26, 1890; The Dalles Times-mountaineer, November 1, 1890; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 14, 1890.
Party political offices
First Republican nominee for Governor of Washington
Succeeded by
John McGraw
Political offices
Preceded by
office established
Governor of Washington
Succeeded by
John McGraw