The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 15, Part II

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

On May 5th the Beaver, a ship of 400 tons, which had been loaded and dispatched by Mr. Astor, reached Astoria. She brought as passengers, John Clarke, the Canadian partner, six clerks, and twenty-six Kanaka laborers. Among the clerks was Ross Cox, afterward the author of "Adventures on the Columbia River," from whose pages we quote this word-picture of Astoria:

"the spot selected for the fort was a handsome eminence called Point George, which commanded an extensive view of the majestic Columbia, in front, bounded by the bold and thickly wooded northern shore; on the right, about three miles distant, a long, high, and rocky peninsula covered with timber, called Tongue Point, extended a considerable distance into the river from the southern side, with which it was connected by a narrow neck of land, while on the extreme left Cape Disappointment, with the bar and its terrific chain of breakers, was distinctly visible. The buildings consisted of apartments for the proprietors and clerks, with a capacious dining hall for both; extensive warehouses for the barter of goods and furs, a provision store, a trading shop, a smith's forge, a carpenter's shop, etc., the whole surrounded by stockades forming a square, and reaching about fifteen feet above the ground. A gallery ran around the stockades, in which loopholes were pierced sufficiently large for musketry, each bastion had two stories, in which a number of chosen men slept every night; a six-pounder was placed in the lower story of each, and they were both well provided with small arms. Immediately in front of the fort was a gentle declivity, sloping down to the river's side, which has been turned into an excellent kitchen garden; and a few hundred rods to the left a tolerable wharf had been run out, by which bateaux and boats were enabled at low water to land their cargoes without sustaining any damage. An impenetrable forest of gigantic

Page pines rose in the rear, and the ground was covered with a thick underwood of brier and whortleberry, intermingled with ferns and honeysuckle."

It is Robert Stuart, while en route to carry dispatches to Mr. Astor, who discovered the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains, which, afterward became the great getaway to the overland emigration. Various posts were also established in the upper Columbia country, one at the junction of the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane rivers and another a on what is now known as the Snake. While at Sitka Mr. Hunt negotiated with Baranoff, the governor of Russian America, a highly advantageous arrangement for the Pacific Fur Company. The two companies were not to interfere with each other's hunting or trading grounds, and they were to operate jointly against trespassers on the rights of either. The Pacific Fur Company was to enjoy the exclusive privilege of supplying the Russian posts, the pay for which was to be in peltries. The Pacific Fur Company was to receive all the Russian furs and convey them to Canton, and to receive a commission for their sale.

"Having collected large quantities of furs, the Beaver proceeded to Canton instead of returning to Astoria. Mr. Hunt, the route being by the Sandwich Islands, went with her to Oahu, there to await the vessel then expected from New York, by which he was to return to Astoria. Before this agreement could go into effect war had been declared between Great Britain and the United States. Mr. Astor learned that the Northwest Company was fitting out the Isaac Todd, a ship mounting twenty guns, to seize Astoria. AS a large majority of the employees of the company were British subjects, Mr. Astor anticipated difficulty as soon as the existence of the war should become known. He appealed to the United States Government for a force to defend Astoria, to maintain possession of the mouth of the river. His efforts being in vain, he fitted out the Lark, which sailed March 6th, 1813."

The early part of 1812 found matters at Astoria ina very unsatisfactory condition. The Beaver, with Hunt onboard, had not been heard from. Mackenzie, at his post on the Shahaptan, has been unsuccessful and was discouraged. In this mood he went to Clarke. While Mackenzie was there they were visited by

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one MacTavish, a partner of the Northwest company, who communicated the news of the declaration of war, and boastfully stated that the Northwest Company's armed ship, the Isaac Todd, had sailed and was to be at the mouth of the Columbia in March, and that he had received order to join her at that time, Mackenzie, alarmed, went back to Shahaptan, broke up his post, cached his provisions, and returned to Astoria. Here he informed MacDougal of the war, and after a conference MacDougal, being in charge during Hunt's prolonged absence, determined to abandon Astoria in the coming spring and re-cross the Rocky Mountains. Upon returning to recover his cached provisions, which he had intended to use to purchase horses from the Indians, he found they had already been discovered and stolen them. On his way he carried letters to Clarke and D. Stuart, informing them from MacDougal of his determination to abandon Astoria, and advising them to prepare for their return to the States. While going Mackenzie met a party of the Northwest Company, under the command of MacTavish and Laroque en route to the mouth of the Colombia to await the arrival of the Isaac Todd. The parties appear to have encamped together in the most friendly and agreeable manner--suspiciously so, we fancy, for Mr. Astor's interest.

"Walla Walla was now agreed upon as a rendezvous for the three parties to meet and proceed to Astoria for conference. But Clarke and Stuart, who had been very successful, utterly ignored the advice to prepare to leave the country. Mackenzie's provisions having been stolen, he could accomplish nothing, and of necessity the departure was deferred. Clarke and Stuart finally yielded a conditional assent that if aid did not come from the Untied States and prospects improve at Astoria, the country should be abandoned in the spring."

And now we find a condition of things which, considering the long-continued hostility of the Northwest Company and its agents, to say nothing of the actual state of war between the two nations, seems simply unaccountable, and can only be interpreted through the existence of an excellent understanding between MacTavish and MacDougal.

MacTavish, who was camped at the fort, where, as an avowed enemy in time of war, he should never have been permitted to stay, made application to purchase trading goods. MacDougal

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proposed to sell him the post on the Spokane for horses (with which to quit the country), to be delivered next spring. After much urging by MacDougal and Mackenzie this proposition was accepted. Mackenzie was transferred to the post on the Willamette for the winter. Three clerks (among whom was Ross Cox) were transferred to the services of the Northwest Company. There seems to have been no reluctance to take service with the enemy. And now comes the beginning of the end. An arrangement for the dissolution of the company, to take effect June 1st of the next year in accordance with the terms of agreement, which provided for the abandonment of the enterprise if found unprofitable, was signed by the four partners. Clarke and Stuart (evidently true men) were extremely reluctant, yielding because of the determination of MacDougal and Mackenzie to abandon the country. On August 20th Hunt arrived at Astoria. He was powerless to change the result. The causes of discouragement were presented by MacDougal, who pretended that he desired to save Mr. Aster's interests before the place fell into the hands of the British vessels on their way out. Mr. Hunt at length acquiesced, and consented that the management of the business should be entrusted solely to MacDougal if he (Hunt) did not return by January 1st. Mr. Hunt then sailed to secure a vessel to convey the property to the Russian settlements till peace should be declared, and also to give a return passage to the Sandwich Islands of the Kanaka laborers. Hunt agreed that if the men became dissatisfied they might be transferred to the Northwest Company, MacTavish becoming responsible for their wages, accepting goods to discharge indebtedness to them.

Let us stop the flow of our narrative for a moment, leaving the incidents which led to the situation and are soon to precipitate its catastrophe, and analyze the characters of these men, nearly all foreigners and subjects of a rival and then openly hostile nation, to whom Mr. Astor had most unfortunately committed the conduct of this enterprise. Here we have five of the partners present on the ground, and actively engaged--Hunt, MacDougal, Mackenzie, Clarke and Stuart. Hunt, temporarily absent, and, we thing, a perfectly honest but no overstrong man--certainly not of the Andrew Jackson type--finds his absence taken advantage of to dissolve the company, and yields, as we think too readily, to MacDougal's presentation of the

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"causes of discouragement." A man of more resources would have cut his way out rather then played into the hands of his enemies, the Northwest Company. MacDougal, who seems to have been the moving spirit, was a traitor pure and simple, always on excellent terms--doubtless looking to the end--with his old employers, the rival company. Mackenzie seems to have been either his blinded or willing tool, to do his work and carry out his plans. Clarke and Stuart were honest, true men, yielding to pressure they felt themselves unable to resist. The fact, moreover, that the majority of their employees were not of American nationality, and, therefore, secretly inclined to favor the British, must have seriously tied their hands. In fine, the circumstances and surroundings of the hour were favorable to MacDougal and his schemes, and he is about to take advantage of them for his own selfish purposes.

Our story grows more sensational. "On the 2d of October," says Evans, "Mackenzie, with a party of twelve men in two canoes, started to advise Clarke and Stuart of the new arrangement. He met MacTavish and J. Stuart, partners of the Northwest company, with seventy-five men in ten canoes on their way down the river to meet the frigate Phoebe, and the ship Isaac Todd. Clarke has been advised of the alarming news, and had come with them as a passenger. Mackenzie encamped with the party that night, and resolved to return with them to Astoria. Mackenzie and Clarke, during the night, made an attempt to slip off, with a view of getting a start and reaching Astoria first with the news; but as they pushed out into the river, two of MacTavish's canoes followed. On the 7th of October MacTavish and Mackenzie both reach Astoria. The Northwest Company's party camped at the fort. MacDougal prohibited the hoisting of the American flag by the young American employee."

It is a comfort to see even a breath of pure native American patriotism coming to the surface above these troubled waters, so foul with basest duplicity and English enmity. The next day sees MacDougal assembling his employees and preparing their minds for surrender by reading to them a highly sensational letter from his uncle, Angus Shaw (he seems to have been bound both by blood and interest to Mr. Astor's opponents), one of the principal stockholders of the Northwest company, announcing the sailing of the frigate Phoebe and the ship Isaac Todd with orders

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"to take and destroy everything American on the Northwest coast."

So, the way being thus nicely prepared, we are told that "this dramatic scene was followed by a proposition of MacTavish to purchase the whole interests, stocks, and establishment of the Pacific Fur Company. MacDougal, now almost ready to throw off the mask which hitherto has so slightly shielded his dishonest intentions, assumes, in the absence of Hunt, supreme control and agency. He holds repeated conferences with MacTavish, from which his fellow-partners are carefully excluded and their presence ignored, and finally concludes the sale of all Mr. Astor's possessions on the coast at certain rates. A few days later Mr. j. Stuart arrived with the remainder of the Northwest party. He objected to the bargain made by MacTavish, and materially lowered the rated agreed upon. MacDougal, who seems to have been agreeable to any proposition coming from his old employers, consents, and the agreement to transfer is singed October 16th." By this piece of mercantile infamy, "Duncan MacDougal, for and on behalf of himself, Donald Mackenzie, David Stuart, and John Clarke, partners of the Pacific Fur Company, dissolved July 1st, "pretended to sell to his British confreres and co-conspirators of the Northwest Company, "the whole of the establishments, furs, and present stock on hand on the Columbia and Thompson rivers," payable in three drafts on Montreal. This transaction, so dishonorable and perfidious to Mr. Astor, sop disgraceful to the parties who consummated it, is thus detailed by John Jacob Astor ina letter to John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State:

"MacDougal transferred all my property to the Northwest Company, who were in possession of it by sale, as he called it, for the sum of fifty-eight thousand dollars, of which he retained fourteen thousand dollars for wages said to be due to some of the men. From the price obtained for the goods, etc., and he himself having become interested in the purchase and made a partner in the Northwest Company, some idea may be formed as to this man's correctness of dealings. He sold to the Northwest Company eighteen thousand one hundred and seventy and a quarter pounds of beaver at two dollars, which at that time was selling in Canton at five and six dollars per skin. I estimated the whole property to be worth nearer two hundred thousand

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than forty thousand dollars, about the sum I received in bills on Montreal. "

Mr. Astor took into consideration everything but the one leak which finally sunk the ship--the possibility of treachery growing out of the employment of men brought up in the service of the rival company, whose opposition to his enterprise had already been demonstrated, and the even more remote contingency of a war between the two nations, which would make his principal post assailable by sea from the enemy's cruisers, while those inland would be equally menaced by the British traders, whose employees were largely in the majority even among his own men. In all other respects his provision was liberal, his plans well founded, and his arrangements with his fellow partners unselfish in the extreme. "He was practical, generous, broad." He was a brave man withal in placing his capital on a venture where adverse influences largely preponderated, and every known "coign of vantage" was already held.

The termination of this mingled tissue of fraud, dissimulation, and misfortune is somewhat dramatic.

The British sloop of War Raccoon, Captain Black, arrived at the Columbia on December 1st, 1813, with orders to destroy the American settlements on the Columbia. There were probably many pleasant anticipations both in her wardroom and between decks of the rich booty to be obtained and prize money distributed from the looting of this Yankee trading house, with its precious gathering of furs. Judge, then, the surprise and disappointment of Captain Black and his officers when he was informed of the purchase by the Northwest Company, and the consequent change of ownership. The British flag now waved over British property--a fact, however, which did not deter the gallant commander of the Raccoon from taking possession of Astoria in the name of His British Majesty and re-baptizing it by the name of Fort George. Evans tells us that "he insisted upon an inventory of the purchased property being taken with a view to ulterior proceedings, but he subsequently relinquished the idea, and never prosecuted his imaginary claim."

The formal surrender took place on December 12th, 1813, when the American flag was lowered and the British raised, there to remain till peace was restored; and in accordance with the Treaty of Ghent, signed in December, 1814, which provided

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for the restoration of all places taken by either party, it was given up as captured property. The British Government sending orders to that effect, Captain Biddle entered the river in August of 1818, and on the 19th the Stars and Stripes once more floated over Astoria, which resumed its name, that of :Fort George, departing with the flag of its late captor. This was the fort of which the English Captain black remarked, when he first sat its wooden defenses, "Is this the fort about which I have heard so much? D--n me, but I'd better it down in two hours with a four pounder!"

The fort under British rule had been considerably enlarged, having a stockade 250 by 150 feet. It was armed with twelve guns of different calibres and a number of swivels, and defended by some seventy men of different nationalities. Mr. Astor had intended to resume operations, but never resuscitated the Pacific Fur Company, nor did he resume the fur trade within that territory. It must have been a sore subject with him. A rich man may lose money and forget it-- it is an accident of trade; but let him be basely swindled out of even a much smaller sum, and it leaves a lifelong impression of disgust. As for the Northwest company, it continued its trade under that most mistaken compact for America--the Joint Occupancy treaty--whose agreements were constantly violated in the spirit if not in the letter by he exercise of British influence, ever seeking to anglicize the Northwest.

 

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