About Elisha P. Ferry, 10th Governor of Washington Territory and 1st Governor of Washington
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 through failing health.
Education, early career
Elisha Peyre Ferry was born in Monroe County, Michigan, near Detroit, to Peter Ferry and Clarissa Peyre-Ferry, who soon moved to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois, where Peter served as a judge. Elisha graduated early from high school, and then from Fort Wayne Law School, Indiana, passing the bar examination at just twenty. He then practised successfully as a lawyer in Waukegan for the next twenty-three years, marrying Sarah Brown Kellog (1827–1912), with whom he had five children:
All the children carried the middle name Peyre, his mother’s maiden name, of French origin. The Ferry family lived according to strict religious rules, as prominent members of the Episcopal Church, and Elisha was noted for his high ethical standards, both in his profession and in the community.
Ferry became the Presidential Elector of Illinois in 1852, and then the first mayor of Waukegan in 1859, winning by a big majority. 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, and making friends with Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln – important connections for the rising politician.
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. In 1872 Grant appointed him as Territorial Governor, and then, after the end of his four-year term, reappointed him to the same position. Both as Surveyor and Governor, he 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 Washington Territory on a sound financial footing, by pressuring various counties to pay their taxes, and was able to leave his successor a Territory almost debt-free. He also regulated the rail fares, and centralized the penal system on to a state rather than a county basis.
First State Governor of Washington
After a break from politics, working in Seattle in law and banking, Ferry was nominated as Republican candidate for State Governor, when Washington was granted statehood on November 11, 1889. He beat the Democrat Eugene Semple with 58 percent of the vote.
In his first summer, he had to supervise the rebuilding 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 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 East), but the commission he appointed failed to reach a conclusion in the allotted time, and this made the administration look as though it was in the pocket of the corporations.
The same inference was drawn when a miners' strike was put down by the National Guard. Following a costly fire, a local mining company 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 allies of the corporations.
But Ferry's health was starting to fail, and he was having to miss important votes, as well as losing his commanding presence in the chamber. Two years after stepping down as State Governor, he died of a cold, on-board a steamer in Puget Sound. His name is commemorated in Ferry County, named for him in 1899.