Civil War researcher includes audience in presentation of war in Washington

Lorraine McConaghy, a member of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, will hold a Reader’s Theater about the Civil War in Washington, allowing participants to take on characters from the time. - Photo courtesy of Lorraine McConaghy
Lorraine McConaghy, a member of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, will hold a Reader’s Theater about the Civil War in Washington, allowing participants to take on characters from the time.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Lorraine McConaghy

The Civil War is typically portrayed as a clash between northern and southern states on the East Coast. But a member of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau will present research that shows slavery and the Civil War were also thriving in Washington state.

Lorraine McConaghy will speak at the Coupeville and Freeland libraries on Monday, Oct. 15. What makes this presentation unique is that McConaghy won’t be the only one speaking; at this Reader’s Theater event, the audience becomes the characters.

“It’s very informal, but on the other hand, the chance of being able to speak the view of a slaveholder in Olympia or the governor of Washington, it’s just very powerful to speak in another person’s shoes like that,” McConaghy said.

Civil War battles may not have touched Washington, but wars of opinion certainly did. Impressed by the strong views McConaghy read in newspapers, she decided Reader’s Theater was a beneficial path for her presentation.

“It’s very dramatic and very interesting and I felt like I wanted to share it, I wanted other people to know how interesting this was,” McConaghy said of the time period.

Surprises are in store

McConaghy has dedicated the past five years to researching the Civil War’s influence in Washington. As a public historian, she devoted her professional life to researching and teaching Pacific Northwest history and has curated a series of projects at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry. She will release a book in January called “Free Boy,” exploring the story of a slave escaping from Olympia in the 1860s.

“Even thinking about the Civil War here is counterintuitive,” McConaghy said, adding that her presentation is sure to open attendees’ eyes to a new view of the history. “I think we think of the Civil War as a series of Eastern battlefields. I think here in the far northwest, we think the Civil War was far, far, far away.”

However, the Civil War was just as important on the West Coast as people took strong opinions and owned slaves, and on the 150th anniversary of the war this year, McConaghy wants to share an important piece of history that many people miss.

“I don’t know what isn’t surprising about this. I think our dependence on the East and our relationship with the East is surprising,” she said.

Slavery and the war were just as hot of topics for Washingtonians as those on the East Coast. McConaghy described people shooting shotguns through each others’ windows to express disagreement, and a woman who baked a cake with the Dixie flag on top then left it at a picnic, to the shock of passersby.

“They were surprised then and people will be surprised now,” McConaghy said.

She was surprised to learn five years ago that military officers in Washington and even the governor of Washington resigned to join the Confederate states’ army and navy during a war on the other side of the nation.

“I just find this stuff absolutely fascinating. Five years ago when I first read this, my jaw just dropped,” McConaghy said, adding that she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.

“Everyone has something that surprises them — the role of women, that there were slaves in Washington,” McConaghy said.

At the beginning of the presentation, McConaghy will give a brief talk about the era and show photos of some of the people whose voices attendees will be using.

“My hope is that at the end of the Reader’s Theater, we will have a lively discussion,” McConaghy said, adding that the goal of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau is to encourage informed conversation.

“I think it could be a lot of fun for young people and their teachers to come see what a Reader’s Theater is like,” McConaghy said. The program is meant for all ages, with an emphasis on life-long learners.

Library programs

Sno-Isle Libraries offer a number of programs for life-long learners. Also included in the Why History series is a history of forts at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, and 1960s folk music at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22.

The Coupeville Library offers other programs, including the Librarians as Information Guides series, which teaches participants how to use Sno-Isle online databases to research and learn.

“It’s really designed for adult life-long learners to explore different resources,” said Leslie Franzen, branch manager for the Coupeville Library.

Classes are 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays. On Oct. 8, explore travel and language databases; Oct. 15, learn to download eBooks and Oct. 22 and 29, learn how to research family history.



Enter Civil War history

Lorraine McConaghy presents “Territorial Voices: A Civil War Reader’s Theater.”

1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 at the Freeland Library.

5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 at the Coupeville Library.

Visit for details.


Also included in the Why History series:

Those Mysterious Forts: Doing Homeland Defense the Old-Fashioned Way at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8 at the Coupeville Library.

1960s Folk and Folk Rock at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22 at the Coupeville Library.


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