The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 9

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

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

 

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CHAPTER IX.

CONCLUDES THE EXPLORATION BY SEA OF THE NORTHWEST COAST.

"Where are the shadowy ships that bore
Those brave and gallant souls,
Whose valor sought the tropic shore,
And pierced the icy poles;
The men whose ports were coasts unknown,
The mysteries of the sea;
By winds of chance to conquest blown,
If any chance there be?"

Having thus led he reader, as we trust not uninterestingly, and yet as briefly as the great mass of matter to be condensed would permit, from that moonlit glimpse of San Salvador whose trembling light upon the strand the quick eye of Columbus had already discovered, through the record of many successive explorations to those which marked the close of the last century, we will, in the present chapter, endeavor to "round-up" this portion of our theme by touching lightly upon those which in the present century dispelled the final cloud, having the terra incognita of the Northwest coast no longer a mystery, but a well-travelled ocean, whose landmarks were established and bypaths thoroughly known. WE pass without comment the imbroglio of the Nootka Sound affair, where the rascality of certain English merchants who desired to avoid Chinese port charges by sailing their vessels under the Portuguese flag, coupled with the attempted hoisting of the British flag and the building of a block-house on territory claimed by the Spaniards in that region, brought about conflicts and seizures which ended in a multiplicity of negotiations and almost ina war between the two interested parties. Lieutenant Pierce, of the marines, a British officer, writing officially in 1795, says of this affair:

"But though England, at the expense of three millions, extorted from the Spaniards a promise of restoration and repara-

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tion, it is well ascertained, first, that the settlement in question never was restored to Spain, nor the Spanish flag at Nootka ever struck; and, secondly, that no settlement had been subsequently attempted by England on the California coast. The claim of right set up by the court of London, it is, therefore, plain has been virtually abandoned, notwithstanding the menacing tone in which the negotiation was conducted by the British administration, who cannot escape some censure for encouraging these vexatious encroachments on the territorial rights of Spain."

This seems good, plain, sensible talk, wonderfully honest for an officer of those days still in the British marines.

The vessels referred to were Portuguese, by a fraudulent arrangement, when these traders desired to cheat the Chinese, but exceeding British when, having got into trouble by their own arrogant and unjust acts with Spain, they desire English protection and damages for injuries received. It was the last attempt of Spain to occupy Nootka Sound.

In 1786 we find the Frenchman La Perouse upon our coast. He comes with two frigates of his nation, and makes a careful survey of the shores from Mount Elias to Monterey. The following year brings Captain Berkley in the Imperial Eagle, an Austrian East Indiaman. He examines the coast as far south as 47, and discovers the entrance of the strait south of Vancouver's Island. He ascertains the existence of the strait now known as Juan de Fuca; then by a strange coincidence wherein, as we have elsewhere noted, a sad history repeats itself, he reaches the Isle de Dolores of the Spanish explorer, and, like him, sends a boat ashore for water, whose crew is killed by the natives. Captain Meares, of Macoa, learning of the outlet of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but that it was still unexplored, makes a limited examination of it in June of 1788. He makes the entrance as being twelve or fourteen leagues wide, and thus describes it: "From the masthead it was observed to stretch to the east by north, and a clear, unbounded horizon was seen in that direction as far as the eye could reach; frequent soundings were attempted, but we could procure no bottom with one hundred fathoms of line. The strangest curiosity impelled us to enter this strait, which we will call by the name of its original discover, Juan de Fuca."

His first officer, Mr. Duffin, makes an exploration of fifty

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miles, and on July 5th discovers the entrance of our Shoalwater Bay. To Toke's Point he gave the name of Cape Shoalwater. He attests his belief in the errors of the Spanish charts by naming Cape Disappointment and Deception Bay. "Disappointed and deceived," says Evans, "he end his cruise in 45 north."

And now, if only by way of relief to the efforts of other nationalities, comes a genuine Yankee flavor into our bead-roll of commanders and ships. Evans tells us that " in 1787 Joseph Barrell, a prominent merchant of Boston, projected a voyage of discovery and commerce to the Northwest coast of America. In this enterprise five other citizens of the United States became associated. Two vessels--the ship Columbia, Captain John Kendrick, and the sloop Washington, Captain Robert Gray--were equipped and provided with assorted cargoes for trade with the natives. They sailed from Boston in October, 1787."

Let us pause for a moment and note the significance of these names. There is something almost prophetic in their appropriateness--Columbia, one day to be the name of that mighty river, the Mississippi of the West, which gathers its energies among the snow-capped peaks of inland mountains, to bestow their income upon that graceless sea which returns its favors by heaving up barriers of sand at its mouth; the Washington, one day to be the proud designation of the State whose history we are writing. Good, honest, patriotic traders must have been Joseph Barrell and his associates, selecting national names for their vessels, and loading them with that "assorted cargo" which should in the fullness of time bring a bountiful return from the native in furs and peltries. May this happy union of patriotism and commerce never be divorced, or their thrifty children, civilization and progress, cease to thrive whre'er they may find a home!

In 1789 the Washington, Captain Gray, enters Juan de Fuca and "sails fifty miles through the strait in an east-southeast direction, and found the passage five leagues wide." Returning, he meets his consort, the Columbia, in the strait ready for sea, bound for China. Here the captains transfer, and Captain Kendrick, in the sloop, winters on the coast. "the Columbia under Gray, goes onto Canton, exchanges her furs for teas, and reaches Boston August 10th, 1790, via the Cape of Good Hope. To Captain Gray, then, belongs the honor of command-

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ing the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe under the national standard of the United States of America. In the fall of 1789 the Washington sails through the strait, and steering northward, passing through some eight degrees of latitude, and comes out into the Pacific north of latitude 55.

A Spanish ship, commanded by Manuel Quimper, one of a fleet that sailed from San Blas, in 1890, explored the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the summer of that year. His survey included the strait and main channel of what is know known as the Gulf of Georgia, the main channel between Vancouver's Island, and the continent, to which he gave the name of Canal de Haro, in honor of his pilot. Such is the channel, so notable in history, separating the Island of Vancouver, and San Juan, now the water boundary between Great Britain and the United States as settled by William H., emperor of Germany, and consequently the boundary of the State of Washington.

About this time Mulaspina, a Spanish officer, discovers the mouth of the Fraser River, naming it Rio Blanco.

"Twenty-eight vessels," says Evans, "visited Nootka Sound this year, under the flags of Portugal, France, England, Spain and the United States. Of these, five were national expeditions, the rest were traders."

The famous Captain Vancouver, the midshipman of Cook's voyage, now comes as a leading actor upon the stage of northwestern exploration. His expedition enters the Strait of Juan de Fuca on April 30th, 1792, and reached a point on the south shore which he names Port Discovery, and the island opposite its mouth, Protection Island. The channel to the southward of Point Wilson he calls Admiralty Inlet; its two great southern arms are christened Hood's Canal and Puget Sound--another whiff of sea breeze blowing directly from home. We re meeting familiar names, which, as the Westerner expresses it, have "come to stay." He explores all the island, inlets, bays, and harbors. He does his work w ell among the channels of this might inland sea --the Mediterranean of the West. He dispels the idea that its tortuous passages lead through the continent.

And now occurs a little conflict of opinion in which the American merchant captain privies to have been right and the scientific naval commander, usually so correct in his calcula-

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tions, decidedly in error. The American sloop Washington, already referred to, made the Northwest coast near 46 north. "In an attempt to enter an apparent opening the sloop grounded, was attacked by savages, had one of the crew killed, and the mate severally wounded. Captain Gray believed this to be the mouth of the river he afterward named Columbia."

Speaking of Captain Vancouver in April, 1792, he informed him " that he had been off the mouth of the river in latitude 46 10' north, where the outset or reflux was so strong as to prevent his entering it for nine days."

Coming as it did from a mere Yankee trader, Vancouver, with less good sense then he usually exhibits, attaches no importance to the statement. It is the old story of the namesake of Gray's vessel--Washington's unheeded advice to Braddock, which might have avoided that perfect savage triumph over Britain's arms and valor--repeated ina different element, but happily with less serious result. After an argument too long to be quoted here, Vancouver dismisses the idea of Gray's discovery as an impossibility, and sagely adds, by way of rebuke to similar pretenders, the following:

"These ideas, not derived from any source of substantial information, have, it is much to be feared, been adopted for the sole purpose of giving unlimited credit to the traditionary exploits of ancient foreigners, and to undervalue the laborious and enterprising exertions of our own countrymen in the noble science of discovery."

A prettily turned and high-sounding period, which, however, must be taken cum grano salis, for the mouth of the Columbia, with its far-away sources and mighty tide of outflow, was there nevertheless. But it is not the first time that a British commander might have learned, yet failed to do so, from Yankee eyes and American common sense; possibly the fact, as Evans suggests, " that the American sailor made no claim to the possession of Vancouver's noble sciences of discovery," may have turned the cale against the presence of a river which two British navigators, Meares and Cook, had been unable to discover, and which, therefore, by no possibility could exist.

Our Yankee captain, leaving this scientific and unbelieving gentleman to prosecute his discoveries northward, returns to re-examine his as yet unexplored river mouth, " who reflux was

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so strong as to prevent him for nine days from entering it." We will tell the story of its results in his own words:

"On the 7th of May, being within six miles of land, saw an entrance to the same, which had a very good appearance of harbor; lowered away the jolly-boat and went in search of an anchoring-place, the ship standing to and fro, with a strong weather current. At one o'clock P.M. the boat returned, having found no place where the ship could anchor with safety; made sail on the ship; stood in for shore. WE soon saw from our masthead a passage between the sand bars. At half-past three bore away and ran in northeast by east, having four to eight fathoms, sandy bottom; and as we drew in nearer between the bars had from ten to thirteen fathoms, having a very strong tide of ebb to stem. Many canoes came alongside. At five P.M. came to five fathoms of water, sandy bottom, in a safe harbor, well sheltered from the sea by a long sand bar and spit. Our latitude observed this day was 46 58' north." Captain Gray called this bay Bluefinch Harbor, in honor of one of the part owners of the ship Columbia. It is now known (as it ought to be) as Gray's harbor. Captain Gray remained there till the afternoon of the 10th.

On the 11th Captain Gray's narrative continues: "At four P.M. saw the entrance of our port, bearing east-southeast, distance six leagues; in-steering sails, and hauled our wind in shore. At eight A>M>, being a little to windward of the entrance top the harbor, bore away and ran east-northeast between the breakers, having from five to seven fathoms of water. When we came over the bar we found this to be a very large river of fresh water, up which we stood." To this river, up which he sailed to Tongue Point, Captain Gray gave the name of his ship, the Columbia.

Upon his return to Nootka South our unscientific, but very practical Yankee skipper furnished Senor Quadra, a Spanish navigator, and associate with Vancouver in exploration, with a sketch of his discovery. Through him Vancouver himself receives it. Shortly after we find him sailing with his fleet "to re-examine the coast of New Albion, and particularly a river and a harbor discovered by Mr. Gray in the Columbia between 46 and 47 north, of which Senor Quadra favored me with a sketch."

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"The Daedalus was left to explore Gray's harbor. At four o'clock in the afternoon of the 19th, when, having nearly reached Cape Disappointment, which forms the north point of entrance into Columbia River, so named by Mr. Gray, I directed the Chatham to lead into it, and on her arrival at the bar, should no more than four fathoms of water be found, the signal for danger was to be made; but if the channel appeared to be navigable, to proceed."

Leaving Vancouver's account and taking it up as recorded by Evans, "The Discovery followed the Chatham till Vancouver found the water to shoal to three fathoms, with breakers all around, which induced him to haul off to the eastward and to anchor outside the bar in ten fathoms. The Chatham came to anchor in ten fathoms, with the surf breaking over her. Vancouver was still as unwilling to believe there was much of a river as he had been to credit Gray's statement that it really did exist." He exhibits his reluctance to indorse that which he can no longer positively deny by undervalue its importance as follows:

"My former opinion of this port being inaccessible to vessels of our burthen was now fully confirmed, with this exception, that in very fine weather, with moderate winds and a smooth sea, vessels not exceeding four hundred tons" (Yankee schooners, perhaps) "might, so far as we are able to judge, gain an admittance."

What would our fellow-citizens of Oregon say were Vancouver to return in the flesh and reiterate his disparaging statement?

Truly American names are coming into fashion. "Lieutenant Broughton, in the Chatham, having rounded Cape Disappointment, is surprised by the report of a gun from a small schooner at anchor in the bay. It proves to be the Jenny, from Bristol, R. I., commanded by Captain James Baker. This incident suggested Baker's Bay as the proper name for the little harbor inside Cape Disappointment. Broughton, with a cutter and launch, continues to ascend this "unimportant" river for a distance of a hundred miles from the anchorage. This point he names Point Vancouver; it is the present site of the city of Vancouver. Then, with characteristic English modesty, he, having been in the river, as he states, "takes possession of the river and

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the country in its vicinity in His Britannic Majesty's name, having every reason to believe that the subjects of no other civilized nation of State had ever entered it before." He then re-crosses the bar, the Rhode Island Jenny leading. And yet he found the Jenny there, and must have known of Gray's first discovery. Evans apologizes for him, or, perhaps, we should rather say explains his mistake as follows:

"The only palliation for this attempt of Broughton to claim the honor of the discovery of the river will be found in the sincerity of his belief in his theory that the widening of the Columbia below Tongue Point really constituted a bay, of which bay Gray was the discoverer; that the true river emptied into Gray's Bay, and that Gray was never above its mouth. Broughton's unjust, and ungenerous denial of Gray's claim has long been ignored, and Captain Robert Gray, the American sailor, is universally accepted as the discoverer of the great Columbia River."

It seems to us a little singular, however, if the English lieutenant believed this theory, that he did not give some new name to "his discovery" instead of that which must have been particularly distasteful to him--The Columbia.

But one error should not condemn a man; and a disposition to believe in and prefer the statements of those in our own nationality is the last sin which an American should find fault with. We are too much given to it ourselves. The civic sum Romanus of old time was not more proudly uttered than the independent "I am an American citizen" of to-day. Vancouver did good and honest work. His charts are standard today; his names hold, and his calculations turned out to be accurate. He left the coast late in 1794, and his memory will ever be associated with its long line of sea-beaten shores.

So ends upon the Northwest coast the maritime explorations and discoveries of a century rich in efforts and ripe in practical fruit. It left us, in some respects, better off then to-day, for from a combination of circumstances the carrying trade of the North Pacific was restricted to American ships.

We conclude this portion of our maritime "rounding up" chapter with a statement of the situation as to conflicting claims and claimants upon the Northwest coast at the close of the last century. Evans puts it very tersely thus:

"Russia's claim upon the extreme Northwest was undisputed,

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except that Spain had not abandoned the imaginary right arising from the grant of Pope Alexander VI. Russian discovery had been followed by settlements which extended southward to about 55 north. Spain had discovered coasts as high north as Prince William's Sound (61 north), but had not attempted settlement north of the mission of San Francisco, latitude 37 50'--properly speaking, north of the north line of the Spanish department of California. Great Britain had asserted claim because Drake, in 1579, had called a part of the coast New Albion, which coast so named, according to Vancouver, was included between 43 and 48. From 48 to 55 that navigator designated New Georgia. Great Britain also denied Spanish claim to the northern coast above 48 north, claiming that Spain had abandoned such territory by the first article of the Nookta Treaty. The claim of Great Britain of New Albion was a denial also of Spanish claim north of 43. The United States claim by right of discovery was the territory watered by the Columbia River. Thus the North pacific coast, between the north line of California and south boundary of Russian America, had become a matter of dispute between Spain, Great Britain, and the United States."

 

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