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Sept. 25, 2021

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Clark County History: Columbia Lancaster

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Columbia Lancaster’s mother changed the boy’s name from Thomas after Meriwether Lewis visited their home in New Milford, Conn., and told the family about the great river of the West.

Lancaster (1803-1893) lawyered in the Michigan Territory well enough that the governor appointed him prosecuting attorney. In 1838, he served as a Michigan legislator before setting out for the Oregon Territory.

Armed with political experience and sharp wit, the 44-year old’s 1847 arrival in Oregon City set him on a political path to help forge the Washington Territory. But first, Lancaster found himself serving as Supreme Judge of the Provisional Government of Oregon from 1847 to 1849.

After a side trip to California’s gold rush, he returned in 1850 and bought 1,100 acres along the Lewis River. On that spot, he spent five years building an elaborate colonial home in today’s Ridgefield. For his wife, he purchased a red patterned carpet shipped from London. The runner and all the lathed wood for the railings and newel (support) posts traveled around Cape Horn.

Although he was defeated for the Democratic seat to Congress for the Oregon Territory, Lancaster served on the territorial council from 1850 to 1852. When Washington Territory split off, he arose as its first delegate to Congress and served from 1854 to 1855. Delegates represented territories but couldn’t vote, so they often lobbied on the periphery of the House floor. While at the nation’s capital, Lancaster convinced the federal government to purchase the Hudson’s Bay Company property within U.S. borders. This cleared the way for the ownership of Fort Vancouver and the land surrounding it.

Indigenous peoples at Cathlapotle lived near Lancaster’s home and visited often. His daughter, Hannah, recalled Lancaster receiving Chief Umtuch and others on their front porch. Once Umtuch came dressed all in white, awing them both. Lancaster, who wished to look equally dapper, left and returned sporting a fez and smoking jacket.

Waite, Lancaster’s son, operated the first telegraph in Clark County from their colonial home. Lancaster and his wife’s poor health led to the selling of their home and moving to Vancouver. He died in 1893 and rests in the old City Cemetery on Mill Plain Boulevard.


Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.

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