Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Boston Traders, 1789-1791

There now began a period of trade in and around Haida Gwaii that might well be termed "The Boston Era." It was marked by an American ascendancy in the maritime fur trade which was to continue for nearly forty years. Several factors contributed to this predominance of American vessels in the Pacific trade. The Nootka Convention in 1790, it is true, had settled the quarrel between the Spanish and the British over the rights of trade and settlement on the northern coasts, but the British still found the restrictions of the eastern monopolies a severe handicap, as by these rules British ships carrying furs to China were unable to take on cargoes of Oriental goods for the English markets. The outbreak of war with France and the long struggle with Napoleon hampered British enterprise and commerce. In the war the Americans as members of a neutral nation were free to trade with all belligerents and on any seas, which opportunity they seized with their usual astuteness. The City of Boston was the starting point for most of the American ships and for long the Natives were wont to speak of the American's as "Boston" men. The British traders, on the other hand, were known as "King George" men.

Two of the first vessels to arrive from Boston were the "Columbia Rediviva," commonly called the "Columbia," commanded by John Kendrick, and the sloop "Lady Washington," or "Washington," under Captain Robert Gray. The voyages of both these vessels are of material importance to the history of Haida Gwaii. They sailed from Boston in September, 1787, and after a long and strangely dilatory voyage they arrived at Nookta, where they made their rendezvous for over a year. They were present during the controversy between Spain and Britain and it would appear took a not disinterested part in its proceedings.

In 1789 Gray, in the "Washington," proceeded northward on a trading venture which took  him as far as Bucarelli Bay. While on this voyage he confirmed Dixon's impression of the insularity of Haida Gwaii. Apparently, being ignorant that Dixon had already bestowed a name on the archipelago, or even that there was more than one island, Gray named it Washington's Island and by this name the islands were known and referred to by all the Boston traders for a long time.

Robert Haswell, second mate of the Washington, kept a log of this, her first voyage. He also was to keep a similar log for the "Columbia" on its second venture to the North-west. These logs, in spite of erratic spelling they are both valuable sources for the historian of the Pacific North-west, for here we have described the first encounters between American and Haida.

Later, passing through the channel which separates the present Kunghit and Moresby Islands, Gray named it Barrell's Sound, after Joseph Barrell, the principal owner of the "Columbia" and the "Washington." It was on that trip that Gray, while near Cloak Bay, made one of the most notable trade barters yet recorded in the North-west. He reported that he obtained 200 sea-otter skins for the price of one chisel each! The occupants of the twenty or thirty canoes which came out to trade called their village Custa, probably Kioosta, the village where Edenshaw lived. On their return to Nootka from this trip, Gray and Kendrick for some unknown reason exchanged ships. The former left for Boston in the "Columbia" by way of the Sandwich Islands and China. Because of this voyage Gray was awarded the honor of having been the first ship's commander to cary the Stars and Stripes around the world. Kendrick followed him to China, where their cargo was sold for $18,000, not very large a return for such an extensive undertaking. Here the "Washington," though reportedly sold under rather suspicious circumstances, was actually refitted by Kendrick to re-enter the trade as an independent adventurer. Under his command she returned to Haida Gwaii in 1791.

In Barrell Sound during June of that year Kendrick's high-handed methods of bartering brought about one of the first bloody encounters between non-Haida's and Haida. An account of that unfortunate incident is contained in the so-called "Hoskins' Narrative." John Hoskins, who accompanied Gray on the "Columbia's" second expedition 1791 as ship's clerk or supercargo, tells in his record of the voyage of meeting his old friend Kendrick in Clayoquot Sound. According to Hoskins, Kendrick gave them a full description of the clash in Barrell Sound. It had had its beginning in the same spot during his first visit there in 1789. Kendrick said that the people found means to steal his linen etc.. so he took two chiefs as hostage and dismounted one of his cannon's threatening to kill them, if they didn't return the stolen goods. After returning the stolen goods, and trading for the remaining sea-otter skins, Kendrick released the two chiefs.

This memory was not forgotten by the Haida nor by Kendrick's which is proven by a sequel story, told that day on board the "Columbia" as she lay at anchor in Clayoquot Sound.

"When he [Kendrick] went into the Sound this time the people appeared to be quite friendly and brought skins for sale as usual. The day of the attack there was an extraordinary number of visitors, several Chiefs being aboard. The arm chests were on the quarter deck with the keys in them, the gunners having been overhauling the arms. The Chiefs got on these chests and took the keys out when Coyah tauntingly said to Captain Kendrick, pointing to his legs at the same time, now put me into your gun carriage. The vessel was immediately thronged with natives, a woman standing in the main chains urging them on."

After a vigorous skirmish in which, luckily, no one was killed, some of the officers and men succeeded in arming themselves.

". . . the natives on seeing this made a precipitate retreat all but the woman before mentioned in the chains . . . [a proper Amazon] . . . who there continued urging them to action with the greatest ardour until the last moment though her arm had been previously cut off by one of the people with a hanger and she was otherways much wounded when she quitted all the natives had left the vessel and she jumpt over board and attempted to swim off but was afterwards shot . . . a constant fire was kept up as long as they could reach the natives with cannon or small arms after which they chased them in their armed boats making the most dreadful havock by killing all they came across."

This incident, an example of the unfortunate resort to intimidation and force in the interests of trade, illustrates the results of unprincipled methods of bartering. In such action lay the root of many of the later so-called unprovoked attacks by north west coast people on trading vessels. As one noted historian of this period has said, some of the early traders sowed the dragon's teeth, and others often had to reap the harvest.

"Hoskin's Narrative" gives a good deal of information concerning this second expedition of the "Columbia" to Washington's Island. For the first time Cumshewa Inlet is mentioned, of which Hoskin's says that is was one of the best sea-otter grounds on the islands. From here the ship sailed north along the eastern coast passing Rose Point and reached Clarence Strait. John Boit, a lad of sixteen, who shipped as fifth mate on this voyage, also kept a diary or log of their experiences. He, as did his companion writers Haswell and Hoskins, gave many descriptions of the Haida people. All were struck by the fact that in matters of trade the women played a prominent part; in fact, many times in closing a bargain the men would not make a decision until their wives had been consulted. Remarking on the passage of the "Columbia" northward from Barrell's Sound, Boit says:--

"Weight and left Barrells sound bound to the Straits of Admiral De Font, which is formed by the Charlotte Isles and the Main."

This comment is the first time an American refers to the islands by Dixon's name; it is also significant because it seems to imply a belief in the existence of De Fonte's mythical straits.

Artist sketch of ship on the Columbia River, 1919
On this trip into more northerly waters Gray was to lose three of his men. They were killed by natives when they went ashore for wood. Only one body, that of Mr. Caswell, was recovered and it was buried next day, "Captain Gray . . . performing divine service." This second instance of violence was once again the result of an attack on the natives by the traders. The region had been visited earlier by the ship "Hancock," Captain Samuel Croswell. For some trifling offence on the part of the natives Croswell fired on a trading party, killing a number. Believing as they did in vicarious responsibility, the natives had taken revenge on the next ship that visited them, that being the "Columbia." Shortly after this tragic incident Gray met up with the "Hancock" at anchor in Massett Inlet, for a long time called Hancock's River by the Americans.

The next year, after wintering in Clayoquot Sound, Captain Gray, voyaging southward, entered the mouth of a river on May 12th which he named the Columbia after his ship. An entry in Boit's "Log" under the date May 18th, 1792, makes a specific mention of the value of this region as a center for the establishment of a fur settlement, and also suggests the value of a similar establishment on Haida Gwaii.

"Captain Grays named this river Columbia's . . . This river, in my opinion, wou'd be a fine place for the sett up a Factory. The Indians are very numerous, and appear'd very civil (not even offering to steal). During our short stay we collected 150 Otters, 300 Beavers, and twice the Number of land furs. The river abounds with excellent Salmon, and most other River fish, and the Woods with plenty of Moose and Deer . . . and in short a factory set up here and another at Hancock's River in the Charlotte Isles wou'd engross the whole trade of the NW Coast with the help [of] a few small coasting vessells."

This idea of establishing factories or central depots on the "inhospitable shores" of the North-west was not new.  Meares' establishment at Nootka had been a forerunner, but this appears to be the first time that the building of such a post on Haida Gwaii had been suggested. The whole plan, however, was the one which the Hudson's Bay Company was to put into execution when they came to the Columbia and erected their central depot on the banks.

One more "Boston" trader was to visit Haida Gwaii in 1791 was Joseph Ingraham, and the log of his voyage also has been preserved. This visit of his brigantine, the "Hope," has been perpetuated in several place-names on the coast-lines of the Islands--Ingraham Harbour and Frederick's Island, the latter named after his young son.

Ingraham's Journal is of a most informal character, but no other journal of the times is so full of detailed descriptions of the people of the islands, their dress, their "hippahs" or fortified retreats, their burial methods, their permanent homes, and their carved house-posts. Their homes Ingraham apparently entered, and he describes the peculiar door posts or entrances through the mouth of one of the carved figures. The inside was like a square pit with seats on different levels ranged round the walls, an accurate description of the communal homes of the early Haidas. Ingraham was evidently a man of ingenious ideas. Noticing that some of the Haida women wore what he calls "iron collars," he had the smith on his vessel set up a forge on shore and make similar collars from iron rods he had on board: "When finished they weighed from 5 to 7 pounds and would purchase three of their best skins in preference to anything we had on board likewise heavy Iron rings or braceletts for the wrist were prefer'd before our polish'd copper ones so much esteem'd by the Ladies of Nootka sound." Like so many traders, Ingraham was soon to discover the fickleness of the northwest coast people in matters of trade. When he returned on his second voyage in 1792 to the same village, having in the meantime made a great number of the "iron collars," he found they would have none of them! Instead they asked for tablespoons. Previously they demanded coats and jackets to such an extent that the officers and men were practically stripped of clothing; however, on his second visit amongst them, they refused to look at "cloathes" at all. Yet, Ingraham, in anticipation of a continued demand for these articles, had bought considerable material at Macao and had garments tailored for the trade, but they now wanted "leather for war garments . . . in short our prospects of a voyage seem'd very different."

The Haida people of the islands, it would seem, were fast learning to hold their own with the white traders. No doubt many did not forget how they had been duped in the matter of the chisels. Moreover, the few unfortunate clashes ending in bloodshed had hardened their feelings toward their white visitors. At the end of his first trading trip Ingraham had remarked on a growing war-like spirit among the people of the northwest coast, many of the young men carrying spears whenever they approached a vessel. He noticed this change particularly while trading in the vicinity of Cumshewa. "The people of these islands," he remarks, "in generale possess a truly mercantile spirit but none more so than the people of Cummashawaa [Cumshewa] for they will not part with a single skin till they have exerted their utmost to obtain the best price for it."

Two other incidents of Ingraham's sojourn in the inlets of Haida Gwaii are interesting if not of great historical importance. As he saw no "quadrupeds" whatever on the islands, he decided to tran an experiement at supplying this want. He put ashore two sows and a boar, hoping they might thrive and increase! He also left a bottle sealed and fastened to a tree containing information concerning his arrival on this coast, the name he had given to this sound [Magee], and asking any later-comers not to molest or kill the pigs. The fate of these "quadrupeds" has never come to light, although the likely conjecture seems to be that they perished from lack of sustenance. It was also on this second voyage in 1792 that Ingraham celebrated the American Fourth of July, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of Cloak Bay, in all likelihood the first celebration of its kind on the Islands:--

"Next morning being the anniversay of American Indepandence, in order to celebrate it in the best manner our situation would admit of I had . . . a hog of 60 pounds weight roasted whole on the beach and invited Cap'n Croel [Crowell] and his Officers to dine with me at 12 O'clock  we fir'd a gun and hoisted our colours and gave 3 cheers which the Hancock return'd . . . we din'd on shore under a tree near the beach  Old Cunneyah [Gannyaa] was one of our guests." []

next :-- The French on the North-west Coast