The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 6

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

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

 

Page 88

CHAPTER VI.

DUTCH AND RUSSIAN VOYAGES OF EXPLORATION TO THE NORTH-
WEST COAST.

We now come to the year 1613, in which the Dutch enter the field of Pacific exploration.

Under the name of the Southern company, Isaac Le Maire, a wealthy citizen of Amsterdam, associates himself with an experienced navigator, a certain Captain William Schouten--Jacob Le Maire, a son of the merchant just mentioned, accompanying him as supercargo--and obtains from the States-General of Holland the right to make voyages of discovery. With the usual secretiveness of that people and time, their object and destination were concealed from other merchants, and even from the seamen they employed Both vessels reached port Desire in safety, but in careening, the Hoorne--named after the birthplace of Schouten--was burned, leaving only her consort, the Eendracht, to pursue the voyage. Sailing southward on January 13, 1816, they pass, on the 30th, the extreme southern point of South American, to which Schouten, who seems devotedly attached to his native town, gives, as he did to his lost ship, the name of Cape Hoorne--since shorted to Horn--having already given to the easternmost point of Terra del Fuego the name of Staten Land. Pity that he had not called his cape the Cape of Storms, the abode of tempests and the birthplace of gales. Running south as far as 59 30' he stands again to the northwest, passing, on February 12th, the western outlet of the Strait of Magellan, and thus becoming the first known mariner to "double Cape Horn." A new route to the Pacific has been discovered, adding an additional menace to Spanish superiority on its western coasts, whose settlements are no longer exempt from the hostile visits of armed cruisers, and may well look for a renewal of such attacks as those of Cavendish and Drake.

Russia, too, is becoming interested in the geography of our northwestern shores, and is abut to dare the bitter breezes and

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icy gales of the Arctic seas as she feels her way by slow degrees, walking blindly yet surely to her goal, a lodgment for her settlements upon our coasts. The Empress Catherine, newly come to the throne, sends our Behring, from whose orders we extract the following directions:

"To examine the coasts to the north and toward the east, to see if they were not contiguous with America, since their end was not known."

He sails accordingly, on July 14th, 1728, and on August 89th following reached the latitude of 64 30' north, when eight men come rowing toward his ship in "a leather boat." They tell him of a mainland at no great distance extending toward the west. Having gained the latitude of 67 18' and "seeing no land to the east, neither to the north," he regards his instructions as fulfilled, and returns to the river Kamtchatka, fully satisfied that Asia and American are separate. Yet he notices that the waves are not heavy enough to indicate an open sea, and says that "great fir-trees," possibly borne by the outwash of our own Puget Sound, "are seen swimming in the sea," such trees as do not grow in Kamtchatka. So he turns backward taking little by his first enterprise save the naming of the channel of the sea, separating the two continents, through which he sailed, and still known as Behring's Strait.

A Javanese junk, storm-driven and stranded, went to pieces upon the inhospitable coast of Kamtchatka, July 8th, 1729, and her crew, with the exception of two, were killed by the Cossacks. The survivors made their way to St. Petersburg, and straightway the fact is established of a water route through the Pacific to Java. Other expeditions in the direct of Russian conquest and exploration in these seas were undertaken about this time--led, strangely enough, by a colonel of Cossacks and a captain of Russian dragoons--but, ended, in shipwreck, defeat, and failure.

On April 178th, 1732, the Russian Government again issues orders "to make voyages as well eastward to the continent of America as southward to Japan, and to discover, if possible, at the same time, through the frozen sea the north passage which had been so frequently attempted by the English and the Dutch."

Behring, now a commander, with two other captains associated with him, accordingly set sail, making his second attempt

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in 1744. Muller, the historian, to whom we are indebted as the conservator of the incidents of these voyages, volunteered to accompany this expedition, to describe the civil history of the regions to be visited and the manners, customs, etc., of their people. They took with them also a scientific corps. Delayed by the building and fitting out of their ships, they finally sailed from their winter quarters in Awatscha Bay, June 4th, 1741, but on the 20th of the same month we find them separated by a gale and unable to rejoin. They make their way, therefore, separately to the eastward, to gain the American coast. Behring after a variety of adventures, sights our continent in latitude 58 28' north, his consort having reached the same coast three days previous in 56, after an experience which, though a mystery at the time, seems afterward to have been partially explained. Desiring to obtain water, and also to examine the country, the captain sent a boat with his mate and ten well-armed men to explore the coast; they rowed on until they disappeared behind a small cape, from whence they did not return. After a lapse of several days, supposing them to be disabled, their commander dispatches the boatswain with six men, including carpenters and materials to make repairs should such be required. The next day two native canoes were seen paddling toward the ship. The crew, expecting the return of their missing companions, gathered on the deck to receive them; when the Indians, as they prove to be, seeing the Russians so numerous, come to a standstill, cease rowing, and standing up in their canoes, cry out, "Agai, agai!" and then resuming their paddles, make hurriedly for the shore. The captain, whose small boats were now expended, dared not approach the breakers with his ship, and, a storm arising, was compelled to bear away, leaving hi lost men to their fate, yet, withal, thankful to escape from the perils of this dangerous shore. While nothing as ever definitely known of the particulars of their separation, the Russian Minister at Washington in 1822, ina dispatch to the American Secretary of State, says that in 1789 the Spanish ship Don Carlos found in latitude 58 59' Russian establishments to the number of eight, consisting in the whole of twenty families and four hundred and sixty-two individuals. These were the descendants of the men supposed to have perished.

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It might be painfully interesting to dwell upon the suffering of this ill-starred expedition, but space forbids. We conclude our extracts with Muller's account of the sorrowful ending of Behring, their gallant commander, who was carried ashore on a litter, on their arrival at the bleak and desolate island where they were compelled to make their winter quarters. He says:

"He daily grew worse; the place yielded little of antiscorbutic quality, and the herbage that grew on the island was hidden under the snow. The commodore died on the 8th of December. It is a subject of regret that his life ended so miserably. It may be said he was almost buried while alive, for the sand rolled down continuously from the side of the cave or pit in which he lay and covered his feet. He at last would not suffer it to be removed, saying the he felt warmth in it when he felt none on other parts of his body; and the sand thus gradually increased upon him till he was more then half covered, so that when he was dead it was necessary to unearth him to inter him ina proper manner."

In honor of Behring, the island where his remains were entombed bears his name. It is at once his grave and his monument.

His ship, the St. Paul, as if sympathizing with the final shipwreck and loss of her brave and gallant commander, went to pieces; but the material being carefully preserved by the survivors, who were destined to bury no less then thirty more of their number before quitting this dreadful locality, was reconstructed into a smaller vessel, in which they finally made their escape, reaching home after an absence of fifteen months and the endurance of infinite hardships. But there is no cloud, we are told, which does not wear a silver lining, no lane without some turning. And it was even so in this case; for to this seemingly disastrous voyage is due the Russian fur trade with its large establishments on the Northwest coast. It came about in this wise; Evens tells us, "that, compelled while sojourning on Behring's Island to subsist on sea animals which there abounded, and to use the skins as a protection against the rigors of the climate, such skins as were preserved and brought by them to Kamtchatka were purchased by the Siberians with great avidity at handsome prices; thus the misfortunes and necessities of Behring's crew demonstrated that the North Pacific coast was

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prolific to most valuable furs." So out of this evil a higher power eliminates good. There is, indeed, hardly any crucible of human suffering, either in the unit or the aggregate, which does not discover some residuum of gain or process of purification in its results--a good most unlooked for, because entirely unsuspected.

 

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