The cover of the Hand-Book Almanac of the Pacific States, which John McNutt found in his book collection.

The cover of the Hand-Book Almanac of the Pacific States, which John McNutt found in his book collection.

BACK WHEN: A guidebook to a Peninsula of days gone past

LET’S BEGIN WITH a Jeopardy question. “This book is filled with trivial information.” Answer, “What is the Hand-Book Almanac of the Pacific States”?

I found this old book among my other old books. If my copy had a complete binding and was in good condition, it might be worth $150, but my copy is too damaged to have any monetary value.

At first glance, it seems to contain a lot of information suited to impressing guests at a local dinner party. Yes, in part, it is. But it is also fun to look at this old book in its historical context. Even within dates and statistics there is history to be learned.

In the early 1800s books like this were published annually as an official register and yearbook of facts for that year. My copy is for 1863, which was a significant time in US history.

The subtitle also states that this book is a business directory. This book was useful to businesspeople.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln was in the middle of his first term as President. Hannibal Hamlin was Vice President. Lincoln earned $25,000 per year ($620,000 in 2024 dollars). The Vice President was paid $8,000 per year.

On Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The almanac declares Port Townsend as our region’s Port of Entry. It identifies Victor Smith as the Custom Collector, which made him an agent for the Treasury Department.

This information was a little bit outdated.

In Sept. 1862, Victor Smith forcibly moved the Customs House to Port Angeles.

As the Customs Collector, Victor Smith earned $2,500 per year ($62,000 in 2024 dollars).

Since much of our freight traveled by ship, we needed to know about the Light House Department.

On the Peninsula, there were light houses at Tatoosh Island and New Dungeness (Port Angelos [sic]). Victor Smith was Ex officio Superintendent of Lights.

Victor Smith controlled a lot of things.

Post offices were also very important for commerce.

In Clallam County, there was one Post Office at New Dungeness. In Jefferson County, there were Post Offices in Port Townsend and Port Ludlow. This indicates that Port Ludlow was far more significant than Port Angeles in 1863.

In 1863, postage for letters was 3 cents for each half-ounce.

Roger P. Taney was Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He earned $6,500 per year ($161,000 in 2024 dollars).

In 1863, Washington Territory was still a small business market. Its business potential was still a draw for men like Victor Smith.

In 1860, Washington’s population was 11,548. In 1862, it was estimated to be 30,000. We should bear in mind that these statistics did not reflect the indigenous population.

Looking at California, it is noted that it was governed by the Spanish from 1767 to 1822. Mexico governed California between 1822 and 1846.

In 1846, the United States occupied California. On July 7, 1846, Commodore John D. Sloat hoisted the American flag at Monterey and, by proclamation, took formal possession of California in the name of the U.S. Government. A treaty ceding California and New Mexico to the U.S. was signed on Feb. 2, 1848.

In 1863, H. A. Webster was the Indian Agent for the Makah reservation. He earned $1,500 per year ($37,000 in 2024 dollars).

In 1863, Washington Territory was governed by a Governor, representing the executive branch. Plus, the territory was governed by a Council and the House of Representatives, representing the legislative branch. The Council was composed of nine members. Paul K. Hubbs represented Clallam and Jefferson Counties on the Council. Hubbs was also on the Board of Regents for the Territorial University (University of Washington today).

The House of Representative consisted of only 30 members. John D. Bagley represented Clallam and Jefferson Counties. Since the population was higher in Jefferson County, Albert Briggs also represented Jefferson County.

In 1863, Clallam County was listed as having a population of 189. Jefferson County was listed at 540. Again, we should bear in mind that these statistics did not reflect the indigenous population.

Here is how this book describes Clallam County: “The Custom House of the Puget Sound Collection District was removed from Port Townsend to Port Angelos September 30, 1862. Port Angelos, formally know as Dungeness and Cherbourg, is well located on the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, midway between the ocean and Admiralty Inlet, near the track of all inward bound vessels. It possesses a safe and capacious harbor, and is surrounded by good, but limited farming country.”

Port Angelos was the only town listed in Clallam County.

In contrast, Jefferson County is described: “The Custom House was removed from Port Townsend to Port Angelos, September 30, 1862. As the place derived most of its importance from the Custom House, the citizens were strongly opposed to the removal.”

At the time, the Custom House was economically important and a point of prestige.

I was quite taken aback by this description. An almanac for the entire U.S. West Coast chooses to describe Jefferson County only by what they lost. It seems to be written in poor taste.

This also points out an important aspect of reading historical documents.

Ask yourself questions. Why was this one event so important that it would be central to the descriptions of the two counties? At the very least it highlights the importance of the Customs House in the 19th century.

A Customs House was traditionally a building housing the offices for officials who oversaw the functions associated with importing and exporting goods. This included collecting custom duties (revenue) on foreign goods. It was also to be on guard for smugglers. A Customs House was typically located in a seaport with access to the ocean.

After Victor Smith examined the harbor at Port Angeles, he believed that Port Angeles was the best location for the Customs House. Port Angeles was also directly across from the free port of Victoria.

Victoria was a much larger city, a commercial center for British Columbia, and its port of entry. But this is all part of a much larger story.

It’s important to read historical books like this expecting to ask questions.

Every question and observation can lead you down another historical path and help you understand how past events shaped our community today.

________

John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at woodrowsilly@gmail.com.

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Saturday of every month.

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