Arrival of M'Tavish at Astoria.- Conduct of His Followers.- Negotiations of M'Dougal and M'Tavish. - Bargain for the Transfer of Astoria- Doubts Entertained of the Loyalty of M'Dougal.
On the 2d of October, about five weeks after Mr. Hunt had sailed in the Albatross from Astoria, Mr. M'Kenzie set off with two canoes, and twelve men, for the posts of Messrs. Stuart and Clarke, to appraise them of the new arrangements determined upon in the recent conference of the partners at the factory.
He had not ascended the river a hundred miles, when he met a squadron of ten canoes, sweeping merrily down under British colors, the Canadian oarsmen, as usual, in full song.
It was an armament fitted out by M'Tavish, who had with him Mr. J. Stuart, another partner of the Northwest Company, together with some clerks, and sixty-eight men - seventy-five souls in all. They had heard of the frigate Phoebe and the Isaac Todd being on the high seas, and were on their way down to await their arrival. In one of the canoes Mr. Clarke came as a passenger, the alarming intelligence having brought him down from his post on the Spokan. Mr. M'Kenzie immediately determined to return with him to Astoria, and, veering about, the two parties encamped together for the night. The leaders, of course, observed a due decorum, but some of the subalterns could not restrain their chuckling exultation, boasting that they would soon plant the British standard on the walls of Astoria, and drive the Americans out of the country.
In the course of the evening, Mr. M'Kenzie had a secret conference with Mr. Clarke, in which they agreed to set off privately before daylight, and get down in time to appraise M'Dougal of the approach of these Northwesters. The latter, however, were completely on the alert; just as M'Kenzie's canoes were about to push off, they were joined by a couple from the Northwest squadron, in which was M'Tavish, with two clerks, and eleven men. With these, he intended to push forward and make arrangements, leaving the rest of the convoy, in which was a large quantity of furs, to await his orders.
The two parties arrived at Astoria on the 7th of October. The Northwesters encamped under the guns of the fort, and displayed the British colors. The young men in the fort, natives of the United States, were on the point of hoisting the American flag, but were forbidden by Mr. M'Dougal. They were astonished at such a prohibition, and were exceedingly galled by the tone and manner assumed by the clerks and retainers of the Northwest Company, who ruffled about in that swelling and braggart style which grows up among these heroes of the wilderness; they, in fact, considered themselves lords of the ascendant and regarded the hampered and harassed Astorians as a conquered people.
On the following day M'Dougal convened the clerks, and read to them an extract from a letter from his uncle, Mr. Angus Shaw, one of the principal partners of the Northwest Company, announcing the coming of the Phoebe and Isaac Todd, "to take and destroy everything American on the northwest coast."
This intelligence was received without dismay by such of the clerks as were natives of the United States. They had felt indignant at seeing their national flag struck by a Canadian commander, and the British flag flowed, as it were, in their faces. They had been stung to the quick, also, by the vaunting airs assumed by the Northwesters. In this mood of mind, they would willingly have nailed their colors to the staff , and defied the frigate. She could not come within many miles of the fort, they observed, and any boats she might send could be destroyed by their cannon.
There were cooler and more calculating spirits, however, who had the control of affairs, and felt nothing of the patriotic pride and indignation of these youths. The extract of the letter had, apparently, been read by M'Dougal, merely to prepare the way for a preconcerted stroke of management. On the same day Mr. M'Tavish proposed to purchase the whole stock of goods and furs belonging to the company, both at Astoria and in the interior, at cost and charges. Mr. M'Dougal undertook to comply; assuming the whole management of the negotiation in virtue of the power vested in him, in case of the non-arrival of Mr. Hunt. That power, however, was limited and specific, and did not extend to an operation of this nature and extent; no objection, however, was made to his assumption, and he and M'Tavish soon made a preliminary arrangement, perfectly satisfactory to the latter.
Mr. Stuart, and the reserve party of Northwesters, arrived shortly afterwards, and encamped with M'Tavish. The former exclaimed loudly against the terms of the arrangement, and insisted upon a reduction of the prices. New negotiations had now to be entered into. The demands of the Northwesters were made in a peremptory tone, and they seemed disposed to dictate like conquerors. The Americans looked on with indignation and impatience. They considered M'Dougal as acting, if not a perfidious, certainly a craven part. He was continually repairing to the camp to negotiate, instead of keeping within his walls and receiving overtures in his fortress. His case, they observed, was not so desperate as to excuse such crouching. He might, in fact, hold out for his own terms. The Northwest party had lost their ammunition; they had no goods to trade with the natives for provisions; and they were so destitute that M'Dougal had absolutely to feed them, while he negotiated with them. He, on the contrary, was well lodged and victualled; had sixty men, with arms, ammunition, boats, and everything requisite either for defense or retreat. The party, beneath the guns of his fort, were at his mercy; should an enemy appear in the offing, he could pack up the most valuable part of the property and retire to some place of concealment, or make off for the interior.
These considerations, however, had no weight with Mr. M'Dougal, or were overruled by other motives. The terms of sale were lowered by him to the standard fixed by Mr. Stuart, and an agreement executed on the 16th of October, by which the furs and merchandise of all kinds in the country, belonging to Mr. Astor, passed into the possession of the Northwest Company at about a third of their value. * A safe passage through the Northwest posts was guaranteed to such as did not choose to enter into the service of that Company, and the amount of wages due to them was to be deducted from the price paid for Astoria.
The conduct and motives of Mr. M'Dougal, throughout the whole of this proceeding, have been strongly questioned by the other partners. He has been accused of availing himself of a wrong construction of powers vested in him at his own request, and of sacrificing the interests of Mr. Astor to the Northwest Company, under the promise or hope of advantage to himself.
He always insisted, however, that he made the best bargain for Mr. Astor that circumstances would permit; the frigate being hourly expected, in which case the whole property of that gentleman would be liable to capture. That the return of Mr. Hunt was problematical; the frigate intending to cruise along the coast for two years, and clear it of all American vessels. He moreover averred, and M'Tavish corroborated his averment by certificate, that he proposed an arrangement to that gentleman, by which the furs were to be sent to Canton, and sold there at Mr. Astor's risk, and for his account; but the proposition was not acceded to.
Notwithstanding all his representations, several of the persons present at the transaction, and acquainted with the whole course of the affair, and among the number Mr. M'Kenzie himself, his occasional coadjutor, remained firm in the belief that he had acted a hollow part. Neither did he succeed in exculpating himself to Mr. Astor; that gentleman declaring, in a letter written some time afterwards, to Mr. Hunt, that he considered the property virtually given away. "Had our place and our property," he adds, "been fairly captured, I should have preferred it; I should not feel as if I were disgraced."
All these may be unmerited suspicions; but it certainly is a circumstance strongly corroborative of them, that Mr. M'Dougal, shortly after concluding this agreement, became a member of the Northwest Company, and received a share productive of a handsome income.
* Not quite $40,000 were allowed for furs worth upwards of $100,000. Beaver was valued at two dollars per skin, though worth five dollars. Land otter at fifty cents, though worth five dollars. Sea-otter at twelve dollars, worth from forty-five to sixty dollars; and for several kinds of furs nothing was allowed. Moreover, the goods and merchandise for the Indian trade ought to have brought three times the amount for which they were sold.
The following estimate has been made of the articles on hand, and the prices:
17,705 lbs. beaver parchment, valued at $2.00 worth $5.00
465 old coat beaver, valued at 1.66 worth 3.50
907 land otter, valued at .50 worth 5.00
68 sea-otter, valued at 12.00 worth 45 to 60.00
30 sea-otter, valued at 5.00 worth 25.00
Nothing was allowed for
179 mink skins, worth each .40
22 raccoon, worth each .40
28 lynx, worth each 2.00
18 fox, worth each 1.00
106 fox, worth each 1.50
71 black bear, worth each 4.00
16 grizzly bear, worth each 10.00