Maritime Fur Trade: International Rivalries


The official report of Cook's third voyage was published in 1784 and attracted as much attention if not more than the narratives of his earlier ones. "The extraordinary discoveries of . . . Cook," wrote a contemporary, "inspired all Europe with an enthusiastic desire of being acquainted with the parts of the globe still remaining unknown." It would appear that enthusiasm waxed great when the unexplored parts of the Pacific Northwest were reported rich in the sea otter fur so prized by the Chinese. By 1789, ships of France, Russia, Spain, Britain, and the new United States were in Northwest water.

Voyage Of Laperouse

In 1785 Louis XVI of France personally helped plan an expedition of discovery into Pacific and Asiatic waters. Two ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, under Jean de Galaup, Count Laperouse, wee staffed with scientists and observers to search for "some river, some narrow gulf" which might communicate with Hudson Bay. But science was not the whole purpose of the voyage. Laperouse was also instructed to examine the "possibility of establishing a colony or at least a factory [trading post] in a region not yet occupied."1

Laperouse sighted the coast on June 23, 1786, near Mt. Elias at 60 degrees north latitude. He spent a month examining the vicinity and took possession of Port des Francais (Lituya Bay), which he considered suitable and defensible. He then visited California to observe the strength and character of Spanish settlements and afterward crossed the Pacific to Macao where he tested the market with the sale of 1000 furs. At the end of September, 1787, Laperouse put his Russian interpreter, Ferdinand de Lesseps, ashore at Kamchatka to make his way to Paris with reports and maps, while the commander explored the Yellow Sea and Malaysian shores.

Tragedy shattered the expedition. Twenty-one marines and officers had perished in a heavy storm while surveying Port des Francais. Then sometime in 1788 the gallant Frenchman, along with his faculty of scholars and his crews, was lost with their vessels on an island in the Hebrides.

Reports carried home by de Lesseps, sole survivor of the voyage, did not encourage French colonial enterprise in the Northwest. Its trade did not seem a profitable substitute for that surrendered with Canada to the British in 1763. Nor could France, moving toward revolution at home, afford colonial expansion.

The French expedition brought reactions from other European powers, however. Official Russia had shown little interest in her traders' activities in North Pacific waters after the mid-1760s. In 1784, with no encouragement from the state, the Siberian merchant Shelikov established the first colony of a permanent nature on Kodiak Island. But reports of Cook's voyage had put this colonial outpost in new perspective and Catherine II had authorized a Russian voyage of discovery into the Pacific. In July 1785, informed that Laperouse's expedition was outfitting at Brest, she gave orders for Russians to proceed. The next month, Captain Joseph Billings, who had sailed with Cook as a common seaman, was in command of a Siberian Pacific expedition which would last nine years and accomplish little.

Spain, too, was roused to action, both with regard to the fur trade and the security of her claims in the Northwest. In 1784 a plan was submitted to the viceroy of New Spain to export California sea otter pelts to Manila for trade with China. The California trade was made a state monopoly under the Royal Philippine Company and the first cargo was exported in 1786.

Since the Perez-Heceta-Bodega expeditions of 1774-1775, Spain had considered the Northwest Coast a legitimate possession on the basis of discovery and exploration. further exploration north of 55 degrees in 1779 by Ignacio Arteaga and Bodega completed what was considered the necessary grounds for her claims to the whole region, and the next year the king ordered an end to voyages for exploration. But after Laperouse's visit to California, the order was rescinded and the viceroy was informed "that the western coast of Spanish American islands and seas adjacent should be more frequently navigated and explored."

In 1788 Don Esteban Jose Martinez and Lopez de Haro were sent to find out what the Russians were doing in the north. Martinez was less excited by what he saw of the Russians than by what he learned of British activities at Nootka Sound, a port he claimed to have discovered and named San Lorenzo nearly four years before Cook's visit there.

British Traders.

Although their merchants congregated at Canton where Cook's men had sold furs so profitably in the winter of 1779, the British were relatively slow in getting into the Northwest fur trade. They were held up by two monopolies: the South Sea Company, which had sole rights to British trade in the Pacific, and the East India Company, with exclusive privileges over British trade in India and China. Only merchants licensed by the South Sea Company could trade on the Pacific Coast and only merchants licensed under heavy bond by the East India Company could dispose of their cargoes in China.2 To trade without license laid ship and cargo open to seizure by "legal" traders, so that British merchants who ran this risk adopted the subterfuge of sailing under fictitious ownership and foreign flags.

The pioneer trader Captain James Hanna, probably a risk-taking independent, made two voyages in 1785 and 1786. By 1789, at least fifteen other British ships had been on the coast. It is possible that most of them belonged to Bombay and London merchants associated with Richard Cadman Etches and Company of London. Proposing to open a trade on the Northwest Coast and with Japan (whose ports were closed to westerners), Etches, under the name of the King George's Sound Company, obtained a five-year monopoly and licenses from both South Sea and East India companies in 1785. But, as will appear, this arrangement was not wholly satisfactory.

James Strange, the second trader to arrive in the Northwest, probably represented Etches' company; there is evidence that he was also acting as an informal observer for the British government. With two vessels, the Captain Cook and the Experiment, under captains Laurie and Guise, Strange arrived at Nootka in June, 1786. He remained a month while the crews recuperated from scurvy and he traded with the natives. Before leaving the coast, Strange explored parts not seen by Captain Cook, and discovered an extensive body of water which he named Queen Charlotte's Sound.3

In the meantime, Etches dispatched from London the King George and the Queen Charlotte, under Captain Nathaniel Portlock and Lieutenant George George Dixon, both of whom had been with Cook's third voyage. They were elaborately outfitted with trade goods and "implements of husbandry" to establish several trading posts. In July, 1786, they were on the coast in the vicinity of Cook's River and until November, according to their testimony, carefully explored any northern inlet that might lead to the interior. After wintering in the Hawaiian Islands, they returned to the coast in March, 1787. Here, in the course of the season, they met Captains James Colnett and Charles Duncan in the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal, Captain Charles W. Barkley of the Imperial Eagle, all probably employed by Etches, and Captain John Meares of the Nootka, at the time an independent.

Portlock and Dixon learned that somewhere south of King George's Sound the Spanish were making settlements, but they made none of their own. Having disposed of 2500 sea otter pelts an Macao, they returned to England in the summer of 1788, and explained that they had used their discretionary powers to decide against a settlement. This was indeed discreet, since none of their men volunteered to stay and man the posts.

Etches was indignant with Portlock for having failed his mission. Recognizing however that it would not be easy to persuade men to winter at such isolated places, he proposed that the government colonize the Northwest with convicts. The government did not respond. Neither did Etches abandon the trade. He and his partners were not satisfied with conditions of trade under their East India Company license While he solicited influence to break the Company's monopoly, his next ships were outfitted in foreign ports, sailed under other flags than the British, and disposed of their furs at Macao, a free Portuguese port on the China coast. Such was the Arrangement for Captain Charles Barkley.

The Discovery Of The Strait Of Juan de Fuca

Barkley, accompanied by his wife and young son, left Ostende in November, 1786, in the British merchant ship the Loudoun, renamed the Imperial Eagle, and under the flag of a fictitious Austrian East India Company. Early in June he was at Nootka Sound, where he enjoyed excellent trade with the Indians. It was early in July in 1787 that Barkley made the discovery which gives him a special place in Pacific Northwest history. According to his wife's diary:

. . . to our great astonishment, we arrived off a large opening extending to the eastward, the entrance to which appeared to be about four leagues wide, and remained about that width as far as the eye could see, with a clear westerly horizon, which my husband immediately recognized as the long lost strait of Juan de Fuca, and to which he gave the name of the original discoverer, my husband placing it on his chart.4

Barkley did not venture far into the strait. He found the natives on the north coast friendly and well disposed, but those on the south where the shore was "like the Main," were "more of the Bandity kind." Among these people Barkley lost four men who went ashore with "too much confidence, and unarm'd." A search party burned the village in retaliation. a brief report on the voyage published in 1788 says that these murders occurred at 47 degrees 46 minutes north latitude. Thus Bodega's Isla de Dolores, renamed Destruction Island by Barkley, became a monument to two instances of Indian hostility.

Barkley traded some 4000 pelts, one of the richest cargoes of the time, which he carried to Macao in the winter of 1787-1788. In 1792 he returned to the Alaskan coast but not, so far as is known, to the scene of his major discovery.

Captain John Meares

Meares, under the British flag but unlicensed, first arrived on the coast in 1786, so late in the fall that he was forced to winter at Prince William Sound. In the spring twenty-three of the crew of the Nootka were suffering from scurvy--or, it was charged, from overuse of rum--when Portlock and Dixon gave Meares much needed assistance. However, as licensed traders, they forced him to leave under bond not to return.

But return he did, the next year (1788) with the Felice and the Iphigenia under William Douglas, both outfitted at Macao, flying Portuguese flags and nominally registered to a Portuguese merchant. At Nootka, on lands Meares later declared he had purchased from the local chieftain, his carpenters built a rough fort and put together the framework of a small schooner brought over in the Iphigenia's hold. In the meantime, Meares explored the coast.

Meares was neither modest nor reliable. He claimed discovery of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but it is likely that he was using Barkley's charts in his report. He probably was first to enter Willapa Bay, which he named Shoalwater. At the approximate place where Heceta had found evidence of a large river, Meares reported, he had sailed into a large bay "with every encouraging expectation" but, finding no sign of a river, he named the bay Deception and the northern cape, Disappointment. He concluded, "We can now with safety assert, that . . . no such river as that of Saint Roc exists, as laid down in the Spanish charts." He accurately described the cape he named Lookout, now Cape Meares. Three Arch Rocks are probably his Three Brothers, and his Quicksand Bay may have been the entrance to Tillamook Bay.

In September Meares was again at Nootka where his schooner, the North West America, was launched and outfitted for trading. He then sailed for China in the Felice with furs and mast timbers.

It is possible that Meares had some affiliation with Etches on this second voyage. Whatever the earlier arrangement, a formal partnership was now undertaken by Meares, Etches, and others, as The Associated Merchants for Trading to the Northwest Coast of America, Princess Royal under Captain Thomas Hudson, and the Argonaut, with Captain James Colnett. They carried the frame of another schooner, trade goods, and Chinese and Hawaiian laborers to occupy his so-called fort.

But when Colnett and Hudson arrived at Nootka they were surprised to find Don Esteban Jose Martinez, Spanish ships, and a primitive Spanish settlement.

Trouble At Nootka Sound

It will be recalled that in 1788 Martinez, sent north to investigate Russian activities, had come upon British traders. He was now ordered to return immediately to protect Spanish claims. Whether he subsequently exceeded his instructions is not clear, but it would appear from his own testimony that he understood he was to seize intruders.

On arrival at Nootka in May (1789) Martinez found Meares' Iphigenia and the schooner North West America. He seized Colnett and Hudson when they arrived in July, having sufficient proof in Colnett's papers and cargo that a fortified establishment was planned. On July 14th. the Argonaut and the Princess Royal, along with their officers and crews, were taken to Mexico. A surprised viceroy eventually found reasons to release them in hope of avoiding an international incident. Colnett returned to Nootka and from there sailed for Macao.

The Nootka incident might have ended here, but as soon as Meares learned of the seizure of the vessels, he called loudly for government intervention, demanding over $500,000 indemnity for his company's losses.5

Although restitution was already being made in Mexico, Britain made an issue of the affair. The government was not anxious to unravel the thread of events at Nootka or to weigh the pros and cons. It wanted to provoke more general issues. Was the Pacific a closed sea for Spanish navigation, or was it an open sea with reciprocal freedom for subjects of both powers to fish and trade in its unsettled parts? Could claims to sovereignty be established simply on the grounds of discovery and the act of taking possession, or was occupation a requirement?

Madrid's first reaction was a stubborn insistence on sticking to the case at issue. It was soon made clear that what was really involved was Spain's system of exclusive trade within her empire. His Catholic Majesty called for aid from his ally, France. The British cabinet prepared for war by alerting its allies, Holland and Prussia. The Canadian colonies were advised to cultivate friendly relations with the United States, and the latter was cautiously approached to see if it would collaborate with Britain in the event of war. When Parliament voted a war budget, the Spanish, having vacillated between hostile gestures and apologies and finding their French ally at first dubious of Spain's legal position and then immobilized by revolution, decided in favor of peaceful settlement.

A convention signed at the Escurial late in October, 1790, averted war and gave the British all practical advantages. The British agreed to curb their subjects' "illicit trade with the Spanish settlements" and to forbid navigating or "fishing" (e.g., hunting sea otters or whales) with ten maritime leagues of any part of the coast occupied by Spain. Spain agreed to "restore" Meares' Nootka settlement and conceded British rights to fish, trade, and make settlements "in the Pacific Ocean or in the South Sea . . . in places not already occupied."

To effect restoration of Meares' establishment, both governments appointed commissioners to meet on the site. Spain was represented by the explorer "Bodega, now commandant at San Blas, and Britain by Captain George Vancouver, a member of Cook's third expedition and currently prepared to sail for further exploration of the Northwest Coast.

Before the commissioners arrived at Nootka, the Spanish were busily remedying some errors of omission. Apparently Martinez had left a few settlers and priests at Nootka in 1789. These were reinforced and supplied in early 1790 by three vessels, under Lieutenants Salvador Fidalgo and Manuel Quimper, and Commandant Francisco Eliza. The ships carried provisions, including livestock, for settlements, and soldiers and artillery for fortified posts or presidios

Thus was founded at Friendly cove (Cala de los Amigos) on Nootka Sound a village reported to have fifty houses in 1792. The fort was "no great thing," but it had mounted canon to protect an estimated population of 200 Spaniards and Peruvian Indians, all males. In 1792, Nunez Gaona, a fortified village of ten houses dressed up with gardens, was founded at Neah Bay on the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.6

Nootka Sound was an international gathering place in the summer of 1792. Five Spanish, eleven English, two Portuguese, one French, and eight American vessels were anchored in its waters at one time or another. In August, Bodega and Vancouver met in Spanish quarters in Friendly Cove, compared maps and charts of their countrymen's explorations, argued their interpretations of the convention's terms, and glossed over irreconcilable differences with glittering social events. At one such momentous affair, the courtly Bodega entertained officers of all the vessels in port. "Fifty four persons sat down to Dinner," young John Boit noted with amazement, "and the plates, which was solid silver was shifted five times, which made 270 Plates."

There were no hard feelings between Bodega and Vancouver. Having finally, by joint efforts, defined and charted the island on which Nootka was located, they named it Quadra's and Vancouver's Island. (It is to be noted that Bodega assigned his matronymic in naming the island.) But in spite of amicable personal relations, the two could come to no agreement. Vancouver read his instructions to mean that the Spanish must surrender their settlement in order to "restore" that of Meares; Bodega understood that only the plot of ground where Meares' house had stood was to be delivered up. They agreed to notify their governments of the impasse.

After further negotiations in Europe, the Nootka Claims Convention was signed in 1793. Meares and his associates received an indemnity of $210,000, and Vancouver's and Bodega's dilemma was solved when Britain and Spain jointly agreed to abandon claims to exclusive rights:

. . . the subjects of both nations shall have the liberty of frequenting the . . . port whenever they wish and of constructing there temporary buildings to accommodate them during their residence. . . . But neither of the said parties shall form any permanent establishment in the said port or claim any right of sovereignty or territorial dominion there to the exclusion of the other.

In 1795 other commissioners arrived to go through the forms demanded by the convention and to end the long-drawn-out dispute. By then the Spaniards had abandoned their settlements at Neah Bay and Friendly Cove. Thereafter English and American traders stopped only occasionally at Nootka and it was never again "occupied."

Domestic politics explain in part British belligerence in the Nootka controversy: the opposing viewpoints of "Big" and "Little" Englanders, jingoistic pressures in an election year, and merchants' clamor for free trade which meant freedom to trade with Spain's closed colonies. In winning its case Britain established a new principle of imperial sovereignty.

Spain interpreted sovereignty as a consequence of title; title was based upon prior discovery, exploration, and formal acts of possession. The power to exclude was inherent in the declaration of sovereignty. Britain, on the other hand, chose to interpret sovereignty as effective only when there was evidence of occupation. This meant, for all practical purposes, on-the-spot power to exclude. She did not assert that Meares' establishment at Nootka was evidence of English occupation. It was, rather, evidence that the Spanish were not there to prevent the occupation. Since the Spanish were not in a position to exclude, it followed that they had no exclusive sovereignty. By extension of this argument, the Northwest Coast was open to British commerce.

Having displayed belligerence to break down Spain's claims to exclusive sovereignty, the British government did not go on to establish its own. Despite pleas of Cadman Etches and his associates for state support in founding commercial outposts, the government gave them no direct encouragement and took no steps to build a case for British territorial dominion. Laissez-faire; laissez-aller. Great Britain, however, was alert to any circumstances which might jeopardize the principle it had threatened war to establish: that the region was open to the commerce of nations without prejudice.

During Spain's last two years as a contender for Northwest lands, her navigators diligently cooperated with the British in exploring and mapping the islands and coasts of southern Alaska and British Columbia. Between 1790 and 1793 Fidalgo made a detailed examination of the coast; Eliza charted the islands and channel from Caamano Bight into the Gulf of Georgia; Quimper explored Canal de Lopez de Haro and the entrance to Rosario Strait and mapped the northern shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the site of Victoria, and the southern shore from Sequim to Neah Bay. He failed however to note the entrance to Puget Sound.

In the spring of 1792 Lieutenant Jacinto Caamano in the Aranzazu and Galiano and Valdes in the Sutil and Mexicana joined in the task of surveying the mainland shores of British Columbia and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Vancouver and Bodega also contributed to this work when they arrived in the summer.

Vancouver And Broughton

Reports of the Spanish explorations were not published for almost 175 years. On the other hand, those of Captain George Vancouver were in print a short time after his return to England, adding to the prestige of the British as explorers of the North Pacific.7 They also provided grounds for Britain--when it served her purpose--to claim certain areas by virtue of prior discovery and acts of possession.

Vancouver's expedition, as originally planned in 1789, was intended to supplement the work of Captain Cook by examining the coast from the Spanish to the Russian settlements. His instructions were detailed and limiting. He was to search for a river or entrance to an inland sea which might yet provide a Northwest Passage. While he was to determine the direction and extent of all considerable inlets and mouths of rivers, he was "not to pursue any inlet or river further than it shall appear to be navigable by vessels of such burthen as might safely navigate the Pacific Ocean." He was to give special attention to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The obvious purpose of his voyage was exploration that would facilitate Great Britain's commerce in the Pacific; his careful descriptions of natives, their habits and habitats, and surveys of anchorages and ports reveal the nature of British interests in the region.

Vancouver belonged to the best tradition of British seamanship. He was a cautious and skillful navigator, devoted in all respects to the "noble science of discovery." His official narrative reveals a determination to be accurate in geographical description and astronomical observation, and the reader almost comes to share his worry over two chronometers which would not stay synchronized.

Vancouver's flagship, the sloop of war Discovery, accompanied by the Chatham, an armed tender commanded by Lieutenant William Broughton, arrived on he coast south of Cape Mendocino on April 17, 1792. (In the summer the supply ship Daedalus joined them.) Vancouver identified capes and headlands mapped by his predecessors, changed old names for new, and added features other had missed. At noon on the 27th. of April he came to an opening which he identified as Meares' Deception Bay. "The sea had now changed from its natural, to river coloured water, the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay . . . ." But, "not considering this opening worthy of more attention," he sailed on to take advantage of a good breeze. So Captain Vancouver dismissed the entrance to the Columbia River. He was to return to the location in a few months with a changed mind, but being honest, he refrained from changing the original journal entry.

Two days' sail up the Washington coast, the Discovery hailed a ship--a "great novelty," as Vancouver put it, since no vessel had been sighted for eight months. This was the Columbia, an American vessel commanded by Captain Robert Gray. Vancouver sent off several of his officers to talk with Gray. they learned, among other things, that the Americans had been "off the mouth of a river in the latitude of 46 degrees, 10 minutes where the outlet, or reflux, was so strong as to prevent his entering." "This," Vancouver concluded, "was, probably, the opening passed by us on the forenoon of the 27th." If such a river or inlet should be found, "it must be a very intricate one, and inaccessible to vessels of our burthen."

Vancouver's instructions made the Strait of Juan de Fuca his principal goal. In the evening of the day he met Gray, Vancouver's ship anchored within the entrance of the strait. The next day, from a height of land at New Dungeness, Vancouver looked with immense satisfaction upon a landscape "almost as enchantingly beautiful as the most elegantly finished pleasure grounds in Europe." The official narrative reveals the writer's excitement as wonder on wonder unfolded. "I could not . . . believe, " he wrote, "that an uncultivated country had ever been discovered exhibiting so rich a picture." From the snowy ridges on the eastern horizon, Mount Baker rose conspicuously, "remarkable for its height and the snowy mountains that stretch from its base to the north and south." Vancouver identified Meares' Olympus as a "very elegant double fork," and he named Mounts Baker and Rainier. Following the shoreline in longboats, his men came on continuous surprises: innumerable bays, harbors, inlets, and islands, large and small. An apparent headland was an island, and an island turned out to be a peninsula narrowly joined to the mainland. A long inlet resembled a monumental man-made canal so much that Vancouver named it Hood's Canal after the lieutenant who explored it.

In two months, Vancouver's ships made eighteen anchorages, while his men surveyed the extensive inland sea to which he gave the name Puget's Sound in honor of its chief explorer, Lieutenant Peter Puget. To the principal bays, inlets, and waterways, he gave names which in many instances still identify them--Cape Dungeness, Admiralty Inlet, Port Orchard, Port Discovery, Possession Sound, Restoration Point, Whidbey and Vashon islands, Deception Pass, Bellingham Bay, and Gulf of Georgia.

Exploration of the eastern shore of Puget Sound and the Gulf of Georgia and a long trip in a yawl to Jervis Inlet beyond the present Vancouver, British Columbia, revealed no entrance to the continental passage. But it was, indeed, a land well worth claiming for Great Britain.

. . . The serenity of the climate, the innumerable pleasing landscapes, and the abundant fertility that unassisted nature puts forth, require only to be enriched by the industry of man with villages, mansions, cottages, and other buildings, to render it the most lovely country that can be imagined; whilst the labour of the inhabitants would be amply rewarded, in the bounties which nature seems ready to bestow on cultivation.

On June 4, 1792, the birthday of George III, at the site of the present city of Everett, Vancouver took possession of the land and named it New Georgia. He then proceeded through the inland passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland, rounded the northern tip of the island, and came to Nootka and his meeting with Bodega.

While negotiations were under way there, his lieutenants, James Johnstone and William Broughton, explored the island and mainland shores. At the end of August, Vancouver sailed north to Bentinck's Arm, turned out into the Pacific, and headed his ships south to that place where, the previous spring, he had noted signs of a river mouth but had not thought it worth investigating.

By the time his vessels hove to on October 19 he was better informed for he had learned from Bodega that the American trader, Robert Gray, had entered the river and named it Columbia's River.

Bodega had given Vancouver Gray's sketch of the river entrance but the British captain remained convinced that the river was unnavigable for a vessel of any size. What he had seen of the coastline south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a reasonable argument against "any safe navigable opening, harbour, or place of security for shipping. . . ." Therefore, he did not risk the 340-ton Discovery. He sent in the 135-ton Chatham, under Lieutenant Broughton, while he continued on to California.

The Chatham had a rough entry and Broughton's excess of caution was nearly disastrous; he anchored for the night in four fathoms of water and almost on the bar. "I never felt more alarmed & frightened in my life," a clerk confided to his journal. "The Channel was narrow, the water very Shoal, and the Tide running against the Wind . . . raised a Surf that broke entirely around us, and I am confident that in going in, we were not twice the Ship's length from Breakers, that had we struck on, we must inevitably have gone to pieces . . ."8 The next day the Chatham cleared with only a shallow strike and entered the safe anchorage of a bay on the north bank. Here Broughton was surprised to find a fellow countryman, Captain James Baker in the small schooner Jenny of Bristol. Baker reported he had been in the river earlier in the year.

Broughton's orders were to explore the river and take possession of its tributary lands if it appeared that a claim to discovery and exploration could be supported. He spent three weeks on this mission. Having carefully examined the shores and principal streams of the wide tidal waters near the mouth, he proceeded upstream in the longboat. He placed on his map Baker's Bay, Young's River, Tongue Point, Oak Point, Puget's Island, and Mounts St. Helens and Hood. Near the mouth of the Sandy River on the Oregon shore, opposite a sandy point on the north shore to which he gave the name Point Vancouver, he performed the ceremony of taking possession. Later, on behalf of their own claims and against the United States' claim of prior discovery, the British briefly argued the fine point that while Gray had discovered the saline bay, Broughton had explored the river and placed upon it the symbol of British sovereignty.

Vancouver's was the last significant northwest exploration by a European power. His extensive surveys and those of the Spanish had mapped the coastline and settled the century-old question of a Northwest Passage. To cook's conclusions, Vancouver added "the complete certainty, that, within the limits of his researches . . . no internal sea, or other navigable communication whatever exists. . . ."

At the close of the eighteenth century, so far as national interests were concerned, the British appeared to have eliminated all other contenders for the region lying between the Russians in Alaska and the Spanish in California. The formal rite of taking possession had been performed at strategic locations; a hollow ritual if what the British had proved in the Nootka incident prevailed--that titles to unoccupied lands were hard to defend.

The search by sea for a Northwest Passage was concluded. But European interest in the Northwest had been stimulated by the discovery of new markets "for the productive labors of the civilized world" in trade with Indians. In ten years, from 1784-1795, British traders had harvested the greater part of the coast's produce. Vancouver's ships had scarcely left the northern waters when that trade fell into American hands.


1La Voyage de Laperouse sur les Cotes de l'Alaska et de la California (1786). Historical Documents, Institut Francaise de Washington, Cahier X (1937), xvii.

2Dorothy Burne Goebel, "British Trade to the Spanish Colonies," AHR, January 1938.

3James Strange's Journal and Narrative of the Commercial Expedition from Bombay to the Northwest Coast of America (1928); William Beresford, George Dixon, A Voyage Round the World . . . (1789); "Four Letters from Richard Cadman Etches to Sir Joseph Banks," BCHQ, April 1942.

4W. Kaye Lamb, "The Mystery of Mrs. Barkley's Diary," BCHQ, January 1942; F.A. Howay, Early Navigation of the Straits of Fuca," OHQ, March 1911.

5The Dixon-Meares Controversy, F.W. Howay, ed. (1929); William R. Manning, The Nootka Sound Controversy, American Historical Association Annual Report, 1904; John Norris, "The Policy of the British Cabinet in the Nootka Crisis," English Historical Review, October 1955; Lennox Mills, "The Real significance of the Nootka Sound Incident," Canadian Historical Review, June 1925.

6"John Boit's Log of the Second Voyage of the Columbia," in Voyages of the "Columbia" to the Northwest Coast, 1787-1790 and 1790-1793, F. W. Howay, ed. (1944), 411.

7A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean . . . under the Command of Captain George Vancouver, 6 vols. (1801).

8"Columbia River Exploration, 1792," J. Neilson Barry, ed., OHQ, March 1932.