Few ships, if any, in our merchant marine, since the organization of the Republic, have acquired such distinction as the Columbia. By two noteworthy achievements a hundred years ago, she attracted the attention of the commercial world, and rendered a service to the United States unparalleled in our history. She was the first American vessel to carry the stars and stripes around the globe; and, by her discovery of "the great river of the West," to which her name was given, she furnished us with the title to our possession of that magnificent domain, which to-day is represented by the flourishing young States of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. . . .
The Columbia left Boston on the 28th of September, 1790, calling only at the Falkland Islands, and arrived at Clayoquot June 4, 1791 quicker passage by nearly four months than the previous one. Obedient to his instructions, Captain Gray soon went on a cruise up the coast, passing along the east side of Washington's Islands (Queen Charlotte's) and exploring the numerous channels and harbors of that picturesque but lonely region.
Gray soon after took his ship on a cruise which was destined to be the most important of allone that will be remembered as long as the United States exist. On the 29th of April, 1792, he fell in with Vancouver, who had been sent out from England with three vessels of the Royal Navy as commissioner to execute the provisions of the Nootka Treaty, and to explore the coast. Vancouver said he had made no discoveries as yet, and inquired if Gray had made any. The Yankee captain replied that he had; that in latitude 46° 10' he had recently been off the mouth of a river which for nine days he tried to enter, but the outset was so strong as to prevent. He was going to try it again, however. Vancouver said this must have been the opening passed by him two days before, which be thought might be "a small river," inaccessible on account of the breakers extending across it, the land behind not indicating it to be of any great extent. "Not considering this opening worthy of more attention," wrote Vancouver in his journal, "I continued our pursuit to the northwest." What a turn in the tide of events was that! Had the British navigator really seen the river, it would certainly have had another name and another history.
Gray continued his "pursuit" to the southeast, whither the star of his destiny was directing him. On the 7th of May he saw an entrance in latitude 46° 58' "which had a very good appearance of a harbor"; and observing from the masthead a passage between the sand bars, he bore away and ran in. This he called Bulfinch Harbor, though it was very soon after called, as a deserved compliment to him, Gray's Harborthe name which it still bears. Here he was attacked by the natives, and obliged in self-defense to fire upon them with serious results. Davidson's drawing gives a weird view of the scene.
On the evening of May 10 Gray resumed his course to the south; and at daybreak, on the 11th, he saw "the entrance of his desired port" a long way off. As he drew near about eight o'clock, he bore away with all sails set, and ran in between the breakers. To his great delight he found himself in a large river of fresh water, up which he steered ten miles. There were Indian villages at intervals along the banks, and many canoes came out to inspect the strange visitor.
The ship came to anchor at one o'clock in ten fathoms of water, half a mile from the northern shore and two miles and a half from the southern, the river being three or four miles wide all the way along. Here they remained three days busily trading and taking in water.
On the 14th he stood up the river some fifteen miles farther, "and doubted not it was navigable upward of a hundred." He found the channel on that side, however, so very narrow and crooked that the ship grounded on the sandy bottom; but they backed off without difficulty. The jolly-boat was sent out to sound the channel, but, finding it still shallow, Gray decided to return; and on the 15th he dropt down with the tide, going ashore with his clerk "to take a short view of the country."
On the 16th he anchored off the village of Chenook, whose population turned out in great numbers. The next day the ship was painted, and all hands were busily at work. On the 19th they landed near the mouth of the river, and formally named it after the ship, the Columbia, raising the American flag and planting coins under a large pine tree, thus taking possession in the name of the United States. The conspicuous headland was named Cape Hancock, and the low sandspit opposite, Point Adams.
The writer is well aware that the word "discovery" may be taken in different senses. When it is claimed that Captain Gray discovered this river, the meaning is that he was the first white man to cross its bar and sail up its broad expanse, and give it a name. Undoubtedly, Carverto whom the word "Oregon" is tracedmay have heard of the river in 1767 from the Indians in the Rocky Mountains; and Heceta, in 1775, was near enough to its mouth to believe in its existence; and Meares, in 1788, named Cape Disappointment and Deception Bay. But none of these can be properly said to have discovered the river. Certainly, Meares, whose claim England maintained so long, showed by the very names he gave to the cape and the "bay" that he was, after all, deceived about it; and he gives no suggestion of the river on his map. D'Aguilar was credited with finding a great river as far back as 1603; but, according to his latitude, it was not this river; and, even if it was, there is no evidence that he entered it.
The honor of discovery must practically rest with Gray. His was the first ship to cleave its waters; his, the first chart ever made of its shores; his, the first landing ever effected there by a civilized man; and the name he gave it has been universally accepted. The flag which he there threw to the breeze was the first ensign of any nation that ever waved over those unexplored banks. And the ceremony of occupation, under such circumstances, was something more than a holiday pastime. It was a serious act, performed in sober earnest, and reported to the world as soon as possible.
And when we remember that as a result of this came the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-5, and the settlement at Astoria in 1811to say nothing of our diplomatic acquisition of the old Spanish rightsthen we may safely say that the title of the United States to the Columbia River and its tributaries becomes incontestable. Such was the outcome of the &Quot;Oregon Question" in 1846. . . .
At last, after all her wanderings, the good ship reached Boston, July 9, 1793, and received another hearty welcome. Altho the expectation of the owners were not realized, one of them wrote "she has made a saving voyage and some profit." But in the popular mind the discovery of the great river was sufficient "profit" for any vessel; and this alone will immortalize the owners as well as the ship and her captain.
It remains only to add that in a few years the ship was worn out and taken to pieces, and soon her chief officers all passed away. Kendrick never returned to America. After opening a trade in sandal-wood, he was accidentally killed at the Hawaiian Islands, and the Lady Washington was soon after lost in the Straits of Malacca. His Nootka lands never brought anything to the captain or his descendants or to the owners of the ship. In fact, the title was never confirmed. Gray commanded several vessels after this, but died in 1806 at Charleston, S. C.
1 Mr. Porter, after much careful research, wrote this paper for the Oregon centennial year (1892), and published it in the New England Magazine. He was a clergyman much interested in American historical research. The paper has been reprinted in "Old South Leaflets."
THE INVENTION OF THE COTTON GIN