The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 8

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

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

 

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CHAPTER VIII.

BRITISH EXPLORATIONS ON THE NORTHWEST COAST.

Up to the early summer of the year 1776, made memorable in the annals of time by the assertion of American independence, Great Britain had taken little interest in Northwestern discoveries. The piratical visits of Drake and Cavendish toward the close of the sixteenth century added nothing of consequence to the world's knowledge of Puget Sound or the Northwest coasts. The object of their adventure was plunder on the high seas or robbery onshore. Exploration, save so far as they had a convenient retreat (a safe way home to discover), was an incident, or, one should rather call it, accident of their voyages. Now, however, England, grown envious or possibly alarmed by the progress made in this direction by rival nations, determines to enter the field in earnest. She equips two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery--twin names which well foreshadow the work they were to do--and places them under the command of that since world-renowned and most expert geographer, Captain James Cook. His orders take him via the Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand, and Otaheite directly for the Pacific coast of North America. They run as follows, and, as it will be perceived by those who read between the lines, contain a hidden meaning. Mark the manes of "New Albion," given by Drake, their own representative, and the tacit ignoring of Spanish claims where they can safely do to:

"You are to fall in with the coast of New Albion in latitude 45 north. You are to put into the first convenient port to recruit your wood and water, and then to proceed northward along the coast as far as 65 north, or farther if not obstructed by land or ice, taking care not to lose any time in exploring rivers or inlets, or upon any other account till you get into 65 north, where we could wish you to arrive in the month of June. On the way thither (to New Albion) not to touch on any part of the Spanish dominion on the western continent of America unless driven to it by some unavoidable accident." Here follow

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particular instructions to give no offense to Spain, or if in his progress northward he find any subjects of any European prince or State he is not to molest them, but, on the contrary, to treat them with civility and friendship.

Armed with these general yet, at the same time, very clear directions, Cook sets sail July 12th, 1776, to accomplish his mission, and Lieutenant Young, in the brig Lyon, is afterward sent to explore Baffin's Bay and co-operate with him should he discover that sill-sought-for myth, the Northwest passage; in which, says Evans, if they had succeeded, it was conjectured they would probably had met in a sea to the north of the American continent. Evans very happily dissects and extracts the hidden meaning from Cook's order. Condensed, the English admiralty means just this: "WE hold New Albion under Drake's discovery; we concede certain territories to Russia on the north and Spain on the south, but fix precise boundaries to neither. Be assured, when it comes to dividing the spoil, the Lion of England will demand and enforce his pretensions to a full share."

It is a little singular, by the way, that the Declaration of American Independence should have been proclaimed here almost at the very moment when Cook was departing to increase England's domain upon the continent where her most valuable colonies were, through her own stubborn rapacity and fully, about t be wrested from her grasp.

To resume: Cook and his consort, Captain Clarke, in the Discovery, sailed from Plymouth on the date above given. We make no mote of their voyage till on March 8th, 1778, he sights the Pacific Coast of North America in 44 1' 2" north latitude. Gales forced him southward to 43, when he again turns northward; but the fog shuts down and hangs heavy about him. The coast, as if coy of observation, hides itself in mist, and cannot be traced continuously; so that between Cape Foulweather (it will be seen that we have no more saintly christening of cape and headland--they are good Anglo-Saxon names, fill of pith and meaning), 44 66' north, and Cape Flattery, 48 15' (both named by Cook), the expedition added little to our knowledge of the coast.

Among cook's officers, it should be mentioned, was a midshipman destined in after years to be even more thoroughly

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identified with the mapping out of Washington's sea-coast geography than his eminent commander--George Vancouver. Another officer, the distinguished geographer and afterward Admiral; Barney, tells us of Cape Flattery (so called by Cook because the prospect of land near it had given the doubtful promise of a harbor). "We were near Cape Flattery on the evening of the 22nd of March, and a little before seven o'clock, it growing dark Captain Cook tacked, to wait for daylight, intending to make close examination; but before morning a hard gale of wind came on with rainy weather, and we were obliged to keep off the land"--so near and yet so far. To set up his rigging and fill his empty water-tanks, Cook is compelled to seek a port. He stands away in the night, and consequently fails to discover the Strait of Fuca. So, not finding it south of 48, he counts it a myth and denies its existence. We next find him (March 29th) at Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound, one of the saintly ports of Perez. Cook calls it King George's Sound, but the Indian nomenclature outlives Cook's compliment to his king, and Nootka it remains. It is a vast pity, by the way, that the meaning of these Indian names do not accompany them, as they are often most beautiful and significant; take that of Mount Tacoma, for instances, the Mount Rainier of modern geographers, which means "nourishing mother of valleys below," a most concise and poetical rendition of the fact that this great white-crested mountain (which, had Cook entered the sound, would, perhaps, have received some other baptism) feels from its bosom of eternal snows through their melting stream life and fertility to the valleys that cluster round its foothills.

But we digress. After refitting, on April 26th, Cook sails again to the northward, and devotes the remainder of the season to a thorough examination of the Northwest Coast of America, involving also the adjoining shore of Asia; determines the breadth of Behring Strait, going as far north as 70 44'. He makes also, says Evans, "an extended examination of the Arctic seam sailing in both directions till hindered by the ice, which barred his further progress; then, turning southward, he surveyed the Aleutian group of islands." Cook seems to have been particularly fortunate in his officers, for besides the distinguished men we have mentioned destined to play an eminent part in the exploration of years to come we find a "Con

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Connecticut Yankee," only a corporal of marines, then serving on the Resolution, who proved the stuff he was made of on October 7th, while anchored in the harbor of Sangnoodha, as the following incident amply indicates. It is thus described by the pen of Captain James Burney, no mean authority:

"A present of salmon baked in rye flour, accompanied with a note in the Russian language, was delivered to each of the captains, brought by two natives of Oonalaska from a distant part of the island. Ledyard volunteered to return with the messengers to gain information. Caption Cook accepted his offer, and sent by him a present of some bottles of rum, wine and porter, and wheaten loaf, with an invitation to 'his unknown friends.' Ledyard embarked ina small baidar, which was a light skeleton wooden frame covered with whaleskin. It was paddled by two men, for each of whom there was a circular opening in the upper part of the baidar to admit of their being seated, and the lower end of their skin jacket or frock coat was then closely fastened to the rim of the opening to prevent the entrance of water, and they appeared, as it were, hooped in. There was no opening for their passenger, Ledyard and previous to their both being seated he was obliged to dispose himself at his length, or as seamen might express it, to stow himself fore and aft in the bottom of the baidar, between the two. The space allotted to him neither in height nor breadth exceeded twenty inches. The length of the voyage performed by Ledyard, pent up in this slight bark, I understood to be twelve or fourteen miles. At the end of two days he returned to the ship, being better accommodated in his voyage home than out, and in company with three Russian traders. Those and other Russians, who came to us afterward, communicated their charts, which gave information concerning many islands in this sea. They also mentioned that an expedition had been made in the icy sea with sledges in the year 1773 to some large islands opposite the river Kolyma."

It will bring a flow of pride to the cheek of the American reader to now that this humble corporal of marines, this New England Yankee boy, afterward became the distinguished and intrepid traveler, the well-known wandered and explorer, John Ledyard.

That is all that interest our history in connection with Caption Cook. This able but most unfortunate commander sailed

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soon afterward for the Sandwich island, where he was killed, with four of his men, by the natives. It was justly said of him "that "no other navigator extended the bounds of geographical knowledge so widely as he did." The increased advantages of modern science and our more perfect instruments have only verified his calculations, proving his latitudes and longitudes to be correct.

Before taking leave of the incidents and results growing out of Cook's memorable voyage, it seems proper to add that Captain Clarke, of the Resolution (Cook's consort), also dying while en route, the command devolved on Lieutenant Gore, a Virginian, sailing under his command for Canton with a small collection of furs from the Northwest. They found the Chinese so eager to purchase them that they would give almost any quantity of their goods in exchange for them. Out of this visit of Gore's grew a new trade--the collecting of furs in Northwest American, shipping them for Canton in exchange for Chinese good, which were resold in Europe, making three profits for the dealers first on the furs, purchased from the Indians for goods costing a mere nothing in Europe; then on the exchange and traffic, largely in favor of their peltries, at Canton, and thirdly, that upon the teas, silks, etc., sold in Europe--all of which tended to further settlement and development of the Northwest, the rich returns of whose hunting-grounds were thus, with the regions where they lay, largely advertised throughout the civilized world.

A careful analysis of Cook's so-called discoveries on our coast show that he was not, in the strict sense of the term, a discoverer. He was the navigator of his age, verifying or correcting the discoveries and calculations of those who had gone before him, putting in shape and reducing to tangible form their crude reports, and thus bringing geographical order out of chaos.

After all, our knowledge of the coast on which we dwell is the result of the labors of no one explorer. Successive keels have ploughed its seas and sounds. It was a rod like all others, better known as it became a travelled one. Hence it is that in our geography we have has many instructors, each adding his mite, large or small, to the general fund of information. Spain, Russia, Holland, England, and America have all contributed to

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enlarge our knowledge and acquaint us with the peculiarities of our coasts.

We shall have little occasion from this time on to find England either careless or indifferent as to the value and advantage of securing territory on the Northwest coast of America. trade and commerce seek profitable fields of labor; they found it here, and occupation and settlement was the natural result.

 

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