Part 1 out of 9




IN THE COURSE of occasional visits to Canada many years since, I
became intimately acquainted with some of the principal partners
of the great Northwest Fur Company, who at that time lived in
genial style at Montreal, and kept almost open house for the
stranger. At their hospitable boards I occasionally met with
partners, and clerks, and hardy fur traders from the interior
posts; men who had passed years remote from civilized society,
among distant and savage tribes, and who had wonders to recount
of their wide and wild peregrinations, their hunting exploits,
and their perilous adventures and hair-breadth escapes among the
Indians. I was at an age when imagination lends its coloring to
everything, and the stories of these Sinbads of the wilderness
made the life of a trapper and fur trader perfect romance to me.
I even meditated at one time a visit to the remote posts of the
company in the boats which annually ascended the lakes and
rivers, being thereto invited by one of the partners; and I have
ever since regretted that I was prevented by circumstances from
carrying my intention into effect. From those early impressions,
the grand enterprise of the great fur companies, and the
hazardous errantry of their associates in the wild parts of our
vast continent, have always been themes of charmed interest to
me; and I have felt anxious to get at the details of their
adventurous expeditions among the savage tribes that peopled the
depths of the wilderness.

About two years ago, not long after my return from a tour upon
the prairies of the far West, I had a conversation with my
friend, Mr. John Jacob Astor, relative to that portion of our
country, and to the adventurous traders to Santa Fe and the
Columbia. This led him to advert to a great enterprise set on
foot and conducted by him, between twenty and thirty years since,
having for its object to carry the fur trade across the Rocky
Mountains, and to sweep the shores of the Pacific.

Finding that I took an interest in the subject, he expressed a
regret that the true nature and extent of his enterprise and its
national character and importance had never been understood, and
a wish that I would undertake to give an account of it. The
suggestion struck upon the chord of early associations already
vibrating in my mind. It occurred to me that a work of this kind
might comprise a variety of those curious details, so interesting
to me, illustrative of the fur trade; of its remote and
adventurous enterprises, and of the various people, and tribes,
and castes, and characters, civilized and savage, affected by its
operations. The journals, and letters, also, of the adventurers
by sea and land employed by Mr. Astor in his comprehensive
project, might throw light upon portions of our country quite out
of the track of ordinary travel, and as yet but little known. I
therefore felt disposed to undertake the task, provided documents
of sufficient extent and minuteness could be furnished to me. All
the papers relative to the enterprise were accordingly submitted
to my inspection. Among them were journals and letters narrating
expeditions by sea, and journeys to and fro across the Rocky
Mountains by routes before untravelled, together with documents
illustrative of savage and colonial life on the borders of the
Pacific. With such material in hand, I undertook the work. The
trouble of rummaging among business papers, and of collecting and
collating facts from amidst tedious and commonplace details, was
spared me by my nephew, Pierre M. Irving, who acted as my
pioneer, and to whom I am greatly indebted for smoothing my path
and lightening my labors.

As the journals, on which I chiefly depended, had been kept by
men of business, intent upon the main object of the enterprise,
and but little versed in science, or curious about matters not
immediately bearing upon their interest, and as they were written
often in moments of fatigue or hurry, amid the inconveniences of
wild encampments, they were often meagre in their details,
furnishing hints to provoke rather than narratives to satisfy
inquiry. I have, therefore, availed myself occasionally of
collateral lights supplied by the published journals of other
travellers who have visited the scenes described: such as Messrs.
Lewis and Clarke, Bradbury, Breckenridge, Long, Franchere, and
Ross Cox, and make a general acknowledgment of aid received from
these quarters.

The work I here present to the public is necessarily of a
rambling and somewhat disjointed nature, comprising various
expeditions and adventures by land and sea. The facts, however,
will prove to be linked and banded together by one grand scheme,
devised and conducted by a master spirit; one set of characters,
also, continues throughout, appearing occasionally, though
sometimes at long intervals, and the whole enterprise winds up by
a regular catastrophe; so that the work, without any labored
attempt at artificial construction, actually possesses much of
that unity so much sought after in works of fiction, and
considered so important to the interest of every history.



Objects of American Enterprise. Gold Hunting and Fur Trading.
Their Effect on Colonization. Early French Canadian Settlers.
Ottawa and Huron Hunters. An Indian Trading Camp. Coureurs Des
Bois, or Rangers of the Woods. Their Roaming Life. Their Revels
and Excesses. Licensed Traders. Missionaries. Trading
Posts. Primitive French Canadian Merchant. His Establishment and
Dependents. British Canadian Fur Merchant. Origin of the
Northwest Company. Its Constitution. Its Internal Trade. A
Candidate for the Company. Privations in the
Wilderness. Northwest Clerks. Northwest Partners. Northwest
Nabobs. Feudal Notions in the Forests. The Lords of the
Lakes. Fort William. Its Parliamentary Hall and Banqueting
Room. Wassailing in the Wilderness.

TWO leading objects of commercial gain have given birth to wide
and daring enterprise in the early history of the Americas; the
precious metals of the South, and the rich peltries of the North.
While the fiery and magnificent Spaniard, inflamed with the mania
for gold, has extended his discoveries and conquests over those
brilliant countries scorched by the ardent sun of the tropics,
the adroit and buoyant Frenchman, and the cool and calculating
Briton, have pursued the less splendid, but no less lucrative,
traffic in furs amidst the hyperborean regions of the Canadas,
until they have advanced even within the Arctic Circle.

These two pursuits have thus in a manner been the pioneers and
precursors of civilization. Without pausing on the borders, they
have penetrated at once, in defiance of difficulties and dangers,
to the heart of savage countries: laying open the hidden secrets
of the wilderness; leading the way to remote regions of beauty
and fertility that might have remained unexplored for ages, and
beckoning after them the slow and pausing steps of agriculture
and civilization.

It was the fur trade, in fact, which gave early sustenance and
vitality to the great Canadian provinces. Being destitute of the
precious metals, at that time the leading objects of American
enterprise, they were long neglected by the parent country. The
French adventurers, however, who had settled on the banks of the
St. Lawrence, soon found that in the rich peltries of the
interior, they had sources of wealth that might almost rival the
mines of Mexico and Peru. The Indians, as yet unacquainted with
the artificial value given to some descriptions of furs, in
civilized life, brought quantities of the most precious kinds and
bartered them away for European trinkets and cheap commodities.
Immense profits were thus made by the early traders, and the
traffic was pursued with avidity.

As the valuable furs soon became scarce in the neighborhood of
the settlements, the Indians of the vicinity were stimulated to
take a wider range in their hunting expeditions; they were
generally accompanied on these expeditions by some of the traders
or their dependents, who shared in the toils and perils of the
chase, and at the same time made themselves acquainted with the
best hunting and trapping grounds, and with the remote tribes,
whom they encouraged to bring their peltries to the settlements.
In this way the trade augmented, and was drawn from remote
quarters to Montreal. Every now and then a large body of Ottawas,
Hurons, and other tribes who hunted the countries bordering on
the great lakes, would come down in a squadron of light canoes,
laden with beaver skins, and other spoils of their year's
hunting. The canoes would be unladen, taken on shore, and their
contents disposed in order. A camp of birch bark would be pitched
outside of the town, and a kind of primitive fair opened with
that grave ceremonial so dear to the Indians. An audience would
be demanded of the governor-general, who would hold the
conference with becoming state, seated in an elbow-chair, with
the Indians ranged in semicircles before him, seated on the
ground, and silently smoking their pipes. Speeches would be made,
presents exchanged, and the audience would break up in universal
good humor.

Now would ensue a brisk traffic with the merchants, and all
Montreal would be alive with naked Indians running from shop to
shop, bargaining for arms, kettles, knives, axes, blankets,
bright-colored cloths, and other articles of use or fancy; upon
all which, says an old French writer, the merchants were sure to
clear at least two hundred per cent. There was no money used in
this traffic, and, after a time, all payment in spirituous
liquors was prohibited, in consequence of the frantic and
frightful excesses and bloody brawls which they were apt to

Their wants and caprices being supplied, they would take leave of
the governor, strike their tents, launch their canoes, and ply
their way up the Ottawa to the lakes.

A new and anomalous class of men gradually grew out of this
trade. These were called coureurs des bois, rangers of the woods;
originally men who had accompanied the Indians in their hunting
expeditions, and made themselves acquainted with remote tracts
and tribes; and who now became, as it were, peddlers of the
wilderness. These men would set out from Montreal with canoes
well stocked with goods, with arms and ammunition, and would make
their way up the mazy and wandering rivers that interlace the
vast forests of the Canadas, coasting the most remote lakes, and
creating new wants and habitudes among the natives. Sometimes
they sojourned for months among them, assimilating to their
tastes and habits with the happy facility of Frenchmen, adopting
in some degree the Indian dress, and not unfrequently taking to
themselves Indian wives.

Twelve, fifteen, eighteen months would often elapse without any
tidings of them, when they would come sweeping their way down the
Ottawa in full glee, their canoes laden down with packs of beaver
skins. Now came their turn for revelry and extravagance. "You
would be amazed," says an old writer already quoted, "if you saw
how lewd these peddlers are when they return; how they feast and
game, and how prodigal they are, not only in their clothes, but
upon their sweethearts. Such of them as are married have the
wisdom to retire to their own houses; but the bachelors act just
as an East Indiaman and pirates are wont to do; for they lavish,
eat, drink, and play all away as long as the goods hold out; and
when these are gone, they even sell their embroidery, their lace,
and their clothes. This done, they are forced upon a new voyage
for subsistence."

Many of these coureurs des bois became so accustomed to the
Indian mode of living, and the perfect freedom of the wilderness,
that they lost relish for civilization, and identified themselves
with the savages among whom they dwelt, or could only be
distinguished from them by superior licentiousness. Their conduct
and example gradually corrupted the natives, and impeded the
works of the Catholic missionaries, who were at this time
prosecuting their pious labors in the wilds of Canada.

To check these abuses, and to protect the fur trade from various
irregularities practiced by these loose adventurers, an order was
issued by the French government prohibiting all persons, on pain
of death, from trading into the interior of the country without a

These licenses were granted in writing by the governor-general,
and at first were given only to persons of respectability; to
gentlemen of broken fortunes; to old officers of the army who had
families to provide for; or to their widows. Each license
permitted the fitting out of two large canoes with merchandise
for the lakes, and no more than twenty-five licenses were to be
issued in one year. By degrees, however, private licenses were
also granted, and the number rapidly increased. Those who did not
choose to fit out the expeditions themselves, were permitted to
sell them to the merchants; these employed the coureurs des bois,
or rangers of the woods, to undertake the long voyages on shares,
and thus the abuses of the old system were revived and

The pious missionaries employed by the Roman Catholic Church to
convert the Indians, did everything in their power to counteract
the profligacy caused and propagated by these men in the heart of
the wilderness. The Catholic chapel might often be seen planted
beside the trading house, and its spire surmounted by a cross,
towering from the midst of an Indian village, on the banks of a
river or a lake. The missions had often a beneficial effect on
the simple sons of the forest, but had little power over the
renegades from civilization.

At length it was found necessary to establish fortified posts at
the confluence of the rivers and the lakes for the protection of
the trade, and the restraint of these profligates of the
wilderness. The most important of these was at Michilimackinac,
situated at the strait of the same name, which connects Lakes
Huron and Michigan. It became the great interior mart and place
of deposit, and some of the regular merchants who prosecuted the
trade in person, under their licenses, formed establishments
here. This, too, was a rendezvous for the rangers of the woods,
as well those who came up with goods from Montreal as those who
returned with peltries from the interior. Here new expeditions
were fitted out and took their departure for Lake Michigan and
the Mississippi; Lake Superior and the Northwest; and here the
peltries brought in return were embarked for Montreal.

The French merchant at his trading post, in these primitive days
of Canada, was a kind of commercial patriarch. With the lax
habits and easy familiarity of his race, he had a little world of
self-indulgence and misrule around him. He had his clerks, canoe
men, and retainers of all kinds, who lived with him on terms of
perfect sociability, always calling him by his Christian name; he
had his harem of Indian beauties, and his troop of halfbreed
children; nor was there ever wanting a louting train of Indians,
hanging about the establishment, eating and drinking at his
expense in the intervals of their hunting expeditions.

The Canadian traders, for a long time, had troublesome
competitors in the British merchants of New York, who inveigled
the Indian hunters and the coureurs des bois to their posts, and
traded with them on more favorable terms. A still more formidable
opposition was organized in the Hudson's Bay Company, chartered
by Charles II., in 1670, with the exclusive privilege of
establishing trading houses on the shores of that bay and its
tributary rivers; a privilege which they have maintained to the
present day. Between this British company and the French
merchants of Canada, feuds and contests arose about alleged
infringements of territorial limits, and acts of violence and
bloodshed occurred between their agents.

In 1762, the French lost possession of Canada, and the trade fell
principally into the hands of British subjects. For a time,
however, it shrunk within narrow limits. The old coureurs des
bois were broken up and dispersed, or, where they could be met
with, were slow to accustom themselves to the habits and manners
of their British employers. They missed the freedom, indulgence,
and familiarity of the old French trading houses, and did not
relish the sober exactness, reserve, and method of the new-
comers. The British traders, too, were ignorant of the country,
and distrustful of the natives. They had reason to be so. The
treacherous and bloody affairs of Detroit and Michilimackinac
showed them the lurking hostility cherished by the savages, who
had too long been taught by the French to regard them as enemies.

It was not until the year 1766, that the trade regained its old
channels; but it was then pursued with much avidity and emulation
by individual merchants, and soon transcended its former bounds.
Expeditions were fitted out by various persons from Montreal and
Michilimackinac, and rivalships and jealousies of course ensued.
The trade was injured by their artifices to outbid and undermine
each other; the Indians were debauched by the sale of spirituous
liquors, which had been prohibited under the French rule. Scenes
of drunkeness, brutality, and brawl were the consequence, in the
Indian villages and around the trading houses; while bloody feuds
took place between rival trading parties when they happened to
encounter each other in the lawless depths of the wilderness.

To put an end to these sordid and ruinous contentions, several of
the principal merchants of Montreal entered into a partnership in
the winter of 1783, which was augmented by amalgamation with a
rival company in 1787. Thus was created the famous "Northwest
Company," which for a time held a lordly sway over the wintry
lakes and boundless forests of the Canadas, almost equal to that
of the East India Company over the voluptuous climes and
magnificent realms of the Orient.

The company consisted of twenty-three shareholders, or partners,
but held in its employ about two thousand persons as clerks,
guides, interpreters, and "voyageurs," or boatmen. These were
distributed at various trading posts, established far and wide on
the interior lakes and rivers, at immense distances from each
other, and in the heart of trackless countries and savage tribes.

Several of the partners resided in Montreal and Quebec, to manage
the main concerns of the company. These were called agents, and
were personages of great weight and importance; the other
partners took their stations at the interior posts, where they
remained throughout the winter, to superintend the intercourse
with the various tribes of Indians. They were thence called
wintering partners.

The goods destined for this wide and wandering traffic were put
up at the warehouses of the company in Montreal, and conveyed in
batteaux, or boats and canoes, up the river Attawa, or Ottowa,
which falls into the St. Lawrence near Montreal, and by other
rivers and portages, to Lake Nipising, Lake Huron, Lake Superior,
and thence, by several chains of great and small lakes, to Lake
Winnipeg, Lake Athabasca, and the Great Slave Lake. This singular
and beautiful system of internal seas, which renders an immense
region of wilderness so accessible to the frail bark of the
Indian or the trader, was studded by the remote posts of the
company, where they carried on their traffic with the surrounding

The company, as we have shown, was at first a spontaneous
association of merchants; but, after it had been regularly
organized, admission into it became extremely difficult. A
candidate had to enter, as it were, "before the mast," to undergo
a long probation, and to rise slowly by his merits and services.
He began, at an early age, as a clerk, and served an
apprenticeship of seven years, for which he received one hundred
pounds sterling, was maintained at the expense of the company,
and furnished with suitable clothing and equipments. His
probation was generally passed at the interior trading posts;
removed for years from civilized society, leading a life almost
as wild and precarious as the savages around him; exposed to the
severities of a northern winter, often suffering from a scarcity
of food, and sometimes destitute for a long time of both bread
and salt. When his apprenticeship had expired, he received a
salary according to his deserts, varying from eighty to one
hundred and sixty pounds sterling, and was now eligible to the
great object of his ambition, a partnership in the company;
though years might yet elapse before he attained to that enviable

Most of the clerks were young men of good families, from the
Highlands of Scotland, characterized by the perseverance, thrift,
and fidelity of their country, and fitted by their native
hardihood to encounter the rigorous climate of the North, and to
endure the trials and privations of their lot; though it must not
be concealed that the constitutions of many of them became
impaired by the hardships of the wilderness, and their stomachs
injured by occasional famishing, and especially by the want of
bread and salt. Now and then, at an interval of years, they were
permitted to come down on a visit to the establishment at
Montreal, to recruit their health, and to have a taste of
civilized life; and these were brilliant spots in their

As to the principal partners, or agents, who resided in Montreal
and Quebec, they formed a kind of commercial aristocracy, living
in lordly and hospitable style. Their posts, and the pleasures,
dangers, adventures, and mishaps which they had shared together
in their wild wood life, had linked them heartily to each other,
so that they formed a convivial fraternity. Few travellers that
have visited Canada some thirty years since, in the days of the
M'Tavishes, the M'Gillivrays, the M'Kenzies, the Frobishers, and
the other magnates of the Northwest, when the company was in all
its glory, but must remember the round of feasting and revelry
kept up among these hyperborean nabobs.

Sometimes one or two partners, recently from the interior posts,
would make their appearance in New York, in the course of a tour
of pleasure and curiosity. On these occasions there was a degree
of magnificence of the purse about them, and a peculiar
propensity to expenditure at the goldsmith's and jeweler's for
rings, chains, brooches, necklaces, jeweled watches, and other
rich trinkets, partly for their own wear, partly for presents to
their female acquaintances; a gorgeous prodigality, such as was
often to be noticed in former times in Southern planters and West
India creoles, when flush with the profits of their plantations.

To behold the Northwest Company in all its state and grandeur,
however, it was necessary to witness an annual gathering at the
great interior place of conference established at Fort William,
near what is called the Grand Portage, on Lake Superior. Here two
or three of the leading partners from Montreal proceeded once a
year to meet the partners from the various trading posts of the
wilderness, to discuss the affairs of the company during the
preceding year, and to arrange plans for the future.

On these occasions might be seen the change since the
unceremonious times of the old French traders; now the
aristocratic character of the Briton shone forth magnificently,
or rather the feudal spirit of the Highlander. Every partner who
had charge of an interior post, and a score of retainers at his
Command, felt like the chieftain of a Highland clan, and was
almost as important in the eyes of his dependents as of himself.
To him a visit to the grand conference at Fort William was a most
important event, and he repaired there as to a meeting of

The partners from Montreal, however, were the lords of the
ascendant; coming from the midst of luxurious and ostentatious
life, they quite eclipsed their compeers from the woods, whose
forms and faces had been battered and hardened by hard living and
hard service, and whose garments and equipments were all the
worse for wear. Indeed, the partners from below considered the
whole dignity of the company as represented in their persons, and
conducted themselves in suitable style. They ascended the rivers
in great state, like sovereigns making a progress: or rather like
Highland chieftains navigating their subject lakes. They were
wrapped in rich furs, their huge canoes freighted with every
convenience and luxury, and manned by Canadian voyageurs, as
obedient as Highland clansmen. They carried up with them cooks
and bakers, together with delicacies of every kind, and abundance
of choice wines for the banquets which attended this great
convocation. Happy were they, too, if they could meet with some
distinguished stranger; above all, some titled member of the
British nobility, to accompany them on this stately occasion, and
grace their high solemnities.

Fort William, the scene of this important annual meeting, was a
considerable village on the banks of Lake Superior. Here, in an
immense wooden building, was the great council hall, as also the
banqueting chamber, decorated with Indian arms and accoutrements,
and the trophies of the fur trade. The house swarmed at this time
with traders and voyageurs, some from Montreal, bound to the
interior posts; some from the interior posts, bound to Montreal.
The councils were held in great state, for every member felt as
if sitting in parliament, and every retainer and dependent looked
up to the assemblage with awe, as to the House of Lords. There
was a vast deal of solemn deliberation, and hard Scottish
reasoning, with an occasional swell of pompous declamation.

These grave and weighty councils were alternated by huge feasts
and revels, like some of the old feasts described in Highland
castles. The tables in the great banqueting room groaned under
the weight of game of all kinds; of venison from the woods, and
fish from the lakes, with hunters' delicacies, such as buffalos'
tongues, and beavers' tails, and various luxuries from Montreal,
all served up by experienced cooks brought for the purpose. There
was no stint of generous wine, for it was a hard-drinking period,
a time of loyal toasts, and bacchanalian songs, and brimming

While the chiefs thus revelled in hall, and made the rafters
resound with bursts of loyalty and old Scottish songs, chanted in
voices cracked and sharpened by the northern blast, their
merriment was echoed and prolonged by a mongrel legion of
retainers, Canadian voyageurs, half-breeds, Indian hunters, and
vagabond hangers-on who feasted sumptuously without on the crumbs
that fell from their table, and made the welkin ring with old
French ditties, mingled with Indian yelps and yellings.

Such was the Northwest Company in its powerful and prosperous
days, when it held a kind of feudal sway over a vast domain of
lake and forest. We are dwelling too long, perhaps, upon these
individual pictures, endeared to us by the associations of early
life, when, as yet a stripling youth, we have sat at the
hospitable boards of the "mighty Northwesters," the lords of the
ascendant at Montreal, and gazed with wondering and inexperienced
eye at the baronial wassailing, and listened with astonished ear
to their tales of hardship and adventures. It is one object of
our task, however, to present scenes of the rough life of the
wilderness, and we are tempted to fix these few memorials of a
transient state of things fast passing into oblivion; for the
feudal state of Fort William is at an end, its council chamber is
silent and deserted; its banquet hall no longer echoes to the
burst of loyalty, or the "auld world" ditty; the lords of the
lakes and forests have passed away; and the hospitable magnates
of Montreal where are they?


Rise of the Mackinaw Company. Attempt of the American Government
to Counteract Foreign Influence Over the Indian Tribes. John
Jacob Astor. His Birth-Place. His Arrival in the United
States. What First Turned His Attention to the Fur Trade. His
Character, Enterprises, and Success. His Communications With the
American Government. Origin of the American Fur Company

THE success of the Northwest Company stimulated further
enterprise in this opening and apparently boundless field of
profit. The traffic of that company lay principally in the high
northern latitudes, while there were immense regions to the south
and west, known to abound with valuable peltries; but which, as
yet, had been but little explored by the fur trader. A new
association of British merchants was therefore formed, to
prosecute the trade in this direction. The chief factory was
established at the old emporium of Michilimackinac, from which
place the association took its name, and was commonly called the
Mackinaw Company.

While the Northwesters continued to push their enterprises into
the hyperborean regions from their stronghold at Fort William,
and to hold almost sovereign sway over the tribes of the upper
lakes and rivers, the Mackinaw Company sent forth their light
perogues and barks, by Green Bay, Fox River, and the Wisconsin,
to that areas artery of the West, the Mississippi; and down that
stream to all its tributary rivers. In this way they hoped soon
to monopolize the trade with all the tribes on the southern and
western waters, and of those vast tracts comprised in ancient

The government of the United States began to view with a wary eye
the growing influence thus acquired by combinations of
foreigners, over the aboriginal tribes inhabiting its
territories, and endeavored to counteract it. For this purpose,
as early as 1796, the government sent out agents to establish
rival trading houses on the frontier, so as to supply the wants
of the Indians, to link their interests and feelings with those
of the people of the United States, and to divert this important
branch of trade into national channels.

The expedition, however, was unsuccessful, as most commercial
expedients are prone to be, where the dull patronage of
government is counted upon to outvie the keen activity of private
enterprise. What government failed to effect, however, with all
its patronage and all its agents, was at length brought about by
the enterprise and perseverance of a single merchant, one of its
adopted citizens; and this brings us to speak of the individual
whose enterprise is the especial subject of the following pages;
a man whose name and character are worthy of being enrolled in
the history of commerce, as illustrating its noblest aims and
soundest maxims. A few brief anecdotes of his early life, and of
the circumstances which first determined him to the branch of
commerce of which we are treating, cannot be but interesting.

John Jacob Astor, the individual in question, was born in the
honest little German village of Waldorf, near Heidelberg, on the
banks of the Rhine. He was brought up in the simplicity of rural
life, but, while yet a mere stripling, left his home, and
launched himself amid the busy scenes of London, having had, from
his very boyhood, a singular presentiment that he would
ultimately arrive at great fortune.

At the close of the American Revolution he was still in London,
and scarce on the threshold of active life. An elder brother had
been for some few years resident in the United States, and Mr.
Astor determined to follow him, and to seek his fortunes in the
rising country. Investing a small sum which he had amassed since
leaving his native village, in merchandise suited to the American
market, he embarked, in the month of November, 1783, in a ship
bound to Baltimore, and arrived in Hampton Roads in the month of
January. The winter was extremely severe, and the ship, with many
others, was detained by the ice in and about Chesapeake Bay for
nearly three months.

During this period, the passengers of the various ships used
occasionally to go on shore, and mingle sociably together. In
this way Mr. Astor became acquainted with a countryman of his, a
furrier by trade. Having had a previous impression that this
might be a lucrative trade in the New World, he made many
inquiries of his new acquaintance on the subject, who cheerfully
gave him all the information in his power as to the quality and
value of different furs, and the mode of carrying on the traffic.
He subsequently accompanied him to New York, and, by his advice,
Mr. Astor was induced to invest the proceeds of his merchandise
in furs. With these he sailed from New York to London in 1784,
disposed of them advantageously, made himself further acquainted
with the course of the trade, and returned the same year to New
York, with a view to settle in the United States.

He now devoted himself to the branch of commerce with which he
had thus casually been made acquainted. He began his career, of
course, on the narrowest scale; but he brought to the task a
persevering industry, rigid economy, and strict integrity. To
these were added an aspiring spirit that always looked upwards; a
genius bold, fertile, and expansive; a sagacity quick to grasp
and convert every circumstance to its advantage, and a singular
and never wavering confidence of signal success.

As yet, trade in peltries was not organized in the United States,
and could not be said to form a regular line of business. Furs
and skins were casually collected by the country traders in their
dealings with the Indians or the white hunters, but the main
supply was derived from Canada. As Mr. Astor's means increased,
he made annual visits to Montreal, where he purchased furs from
the houses at that place engaged in the trade. These he shipped
from Canada to London, no direct trade being allowed from that
colony to any but the mother country.

In 1794 or '95, a treaty with Great Britain removed the
restrictions imposed upon the trade with the colonies, and opened
a direct commercial intercourse between Canada and the United
States. Mr. Astor was in London at the time, and immediately made
a contract with the agents of the Northwest Company for furs. He
was now enabled to import them from Montreal into the United
States for the home supply, and to be shipped thence to different
parts of Europe, as well as to China, which has ever been the
best market for the richest and finest kinds of peltry.

The treaty in question provided, likewise, that the military
posts occupied by the British within the territorial limits of
the United States, should be surrendered. Accordingly, Oswego,
Niagara, Detroit, Michilimackinac, and other posts on the
American side of the lakes, were given up. An opening was thus
made for the American merchant to trade on the confines of
Canada, and within the territories of the United States. After an
interval of some years, about 1807, Mr. Astor embarked in this
trade on his own account. His capital and resources had by this
time greatly augmented, and he had risen from small beginnings to
take his place among the first merchants and financiers of the
country. His genius had ever been in advance of his
circumstances, prompting him to new and wide fields of enterprise
beyond the scope of ordinary merchants. With all his enterprise
and resources however, he soon found the power and influence of
the Michilimackinac (or Mackinaw) Company too great for him,
having engrossed most of the trade within the American borders.

A plan had to be devised to enable him to enter into successful
competition. He was aware of the wish of the American government,
already stated, that the fur trade within its boundaries should
be in the hands of American citizens, and of the ineffectual
measures it had taken to accomplish that object. He now offered,
if aided and protected by government, to turn the whole of that
trade into American channels. He was invited to unfold his plans
to government, and they were warmly approved, though the
executive could give no direct aid.

Thus countenanced, however, he obtained, in 1809, a charter from
the legislature of the State of New York, incorporating a company
under the name of "The American Fur Company," with a capital of
one million of dollars, with the privilege of increasing it to
two millions. The capital was furnished by himself he, in fact,
constituted the company; for, though he had a board of directors,
they were merely nominal; the whole business was conducted on his
plans and with his resources, but he preferred to do so under the
imposing and formidable aspect of a corporation, rather than in
his individual name, and his policy was sagacious and effective.

As the Mackinaw Company still continued its rivalry, and as the
fur trade would not advantageously admit of competition, he made
a new arrangement in 1811, by which, in conjunction with certain
partners of the Northwest Company, and other persons engaged in
the fur trade, he bought out the Mackinaw Company, and merged
that and the American Fur Company into a new association, to be
called the "Southwest Company." This he likewise did with the
privity and approbation of the American government.

By this arrangement Mr. Astor became proprietor of one half of
the Indian establishments and goods which the Mackinaw Company
had within the territory of the Indian country in the United
States, and it was understood that the whole was to be
surrendered into his hands at the expiration of five years, on
condition that the American Company would not trade within the
British dominions.

Unluckily, the war which broke out in 1812 between Great Britain
and the United States suspended the association; and, after the
war, it was entirely dissolved; Congress having passed a law
prohibiting the British fur traders from prosecuting their
enterprises within the territories of the United States.


Fur Trade in the Pacific- American Coasting Voyages- Russian
Enterprises.- Discovery of the Columbia River.- Carver's Project
to Found a Settlement There.-Mackenzie's Expedition.- Lewis and
Clarke's Journey Across the Rocky Mountains- Mr. Astor's Grand
Commercial Scheme.-His Correspondence on the Subject With Mr.
Jefferson.His Negotiations With the Northwest Company.- His Steps
to Carry His Scheme Into Effect.

WHILE the various companies we have noticed were pushing their
enterprises far and wide in the wilds of Canada, and along the
course of the great western waters, other adventurers, intent on
the same objects, were traversing the watery wastes of the
Pacific and skirting the northwest coast of America. The last
voyage of that renowned but unfortunate discoverer, Captain Cook,
had made known the vast quantities of the sea-otter to be found
along that coast, and the immense prices to be obtained for its
fur in China. It was as if a new gold coast had been discovered.
Individuals from various countries dashed into this lucrative
traffic, so that in the year 1792, there were twenty-one vessels
under different flags, plying along the coast and trading with
the natives. The greater part of them were American, and owned by
Boston merchants. They generally remained on the coast and about
the adjacent seas, for two years, carrying on as wandering and
adventurous a commerce on the water as did the traders and
trappers on land. Their trade extended along the whole coast from
California to the high northern latitudes. They would run in near
shore, anchor, and wait for the natives to come off in their
canoes with peltries. The trade exhausted at one place, they
would up anchor and off to another. In this way they would
consume the summer, and when autumn came on, would run down to
the Sandwich Islands and winter in some friendly and plentiful
harbor. In the following year they would resume their summer
trade, commencing at California and proceeding north: and, having
in the course of the two seasons collected a sufficient cargo of
peltries, would make the best of their way to China. Here they
would sell their furs, take in teas, nankeens, and other
merchandise, and return to Boston, after an absence of two or
three years.

The people, however, who entered most extensively and effectively
in the fur trade of the Pacific, were the Russians. Instead of
making casual voyages, in transient ships, they established
regular trading houses in the high latitudes, along the northwest
coast of America, and upon the chain of the Aleutian Islands
between Kamtschatka and the promontory of Alaska.

To promote and protect these enterprises, a company was
incorporated by the Russian government with exclusive privileges,
and a capital of two hundred and sixty thousand pounds sterling;
and the sovereignty of that part of the American continent, along
the coast of which the posts had been established, was claimed by
the Russian crown, on the plea that the land had been discovered
and occupied by its subjects.

As China was the grand mart for the furs collected in these
quarters, the Russians had the advantage over their competitors
in the trade. The latter had to take their peltries to Canton,
which, however, was a mere receiving mart, from whence they had
to be distributed over the interior of the empire and sent to the
northern parts, where there was the chief consumption. The
Russians, on the contrary, carried their furs, by a shorter
voyage, directly to the northern parts of the Chinese empire;
thus being able to afford them in the market without the
additional cost of internal transportation.

We come now to the immediate field of operation of the great
enterprise we have undertaken to illustrate.

Among the American ships which traded along the northwest coast
in 1792, was the Columbia, Captain Gray, of Boston. In the course
of her voyage she discovered the mouth of a large river in lat.
46 19' north. Entering it with some difficulty, on account of
sand-bars and breakers, she came to anchor in a spacious bay. A
boat was well manned, and sent on shore to a village on the
beach, but all the inhabitants fled excepting the aged and
infirm. The kind manner in which these were treated, and the
presents given them, gradually lured back the others, and a
friendly intercourse took place. They had never seen a ship or a
white man. When they had first descried the Columbia, they had
supposed it a floating island; then some monster of the deep; but
when they saw the boat putting for shore with human beings on
board, they considered them cannibals sent by the Great Spirit to
ravage the country and devour the inhabitants. Captain Gray did
not ascend the river farther than the bay in question, which
continues to bear his name. After putting to sea, he fell in with
the celebrated discoverer, Vancouver, and informed him of his
discovery, furnished him with a chart which he had made of the
river. Vancouver visited the river, and his lieutenant,
Broughton, explored it by the aid of Captain Gray's chart;
ascending it upwards of one hundred miles, until within view of a
snowy mountain, to which he gave the name of Mt. Hood, which it
still retains.

The existence of this river, however, was known long before the
visits of Gray and Vancouver, but the information concerning it
was vague and indefinite, being gathered from the reports of
Indians. It was spoken of by travellers as the Oregon, and as the
Great River of the West. A Spanish ship is said to have been
wrecked at the mouth, several of the crew of which lived for some
time among, the natives. The Columbia, however, is believed to be
the first ship that made a regular discovery and anchored within
its waters, and it has since generally borne the name of that
As early as 1763, shortly after the acquisition of the Canadas by
Great Britain, Captain Jonathan Carver, who had been in the
British provincial army, projected a journey across the continent
between the forty-third and forty-sixth degrees of northern
latitude to the shores of -the Pacific Ocean. His objects were to
ascertain the breadth of the continent at its broadest part, and
to determine on some place on the shores of the Pacific, where
government might establish a post to facilitate the discovery of
a northwest passage, or a communication between Hudson's Bay and
the Pacific Ocean. This place he presumed would be somewhere
about the Straits of Annian, at which point he supposed the
Oregon disembogued itself. It was his opinion, also, that a
settlement on this extremity of America would disclose new
sources of trade, promote many useful discoveries, and open a
more direct communication with China and the English settlements
in the East Indies, than that by the Cape of Good Hope or the
Straits of Magellan. * This enterprising and intrepid traveller
was twice baffled in individual efforts to accomplish this great
journey. In 1774, he was joined in the scheme by Richard
Whitworth, a member of Parliament, and a man of wealth. Their
enterprise was projected on a broad and bold plan. They were to
take with them fifty or sixty men, artificers and mariners. With
these they were to make their way up one of the branches of the
Missouri, explore the mountains for the source of the Oregon, or
River of the West, and sail down that river to its supposed exit,
near the Straits of Annian. Here they were to erect a fort, and
build the vessels necessary to carry their discoveries by sea
into effect. Their plan had the sanction of the British
government, and grants and other requisites were nearly
completed, when the breaking out of the American Revolution once
more defeated the undertaking. **

The expedition of Sir Alexander Mackenzie in 1793, across the
continent to the Pacific Ocean, which he reached in lat. 52 20'
48", again suggested the possibility of linking together the
trade of both sides of the continent. In lat. 52 30' he had
descended a river for some distance which flowed towards the
south, and wag called by the natives Tacoutche Tesse, and which
he erroneously supposed to be the Columbia. It was afterwards
ascertained that it emptied itself in lat. 49 degrees, whereas
the mouth of the Columbia is about three degrees further south.

When Mackenzie some years subsequently published an account of
his expeditions, he suggested the policy of opening an
intercourse between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and forming
regular establishments through the interior and at both extremes,
as well as along the coasts and islands. By this means, he
observed, the entire command of the fur trade of North America
might be obtained from lat. 48 north to the pole, excepting that
portion held by the Russians, for as to the American adventurers
who had hitherto enjoyed the traffic along the northwest coast,
they would instantly disappear, he added, before a well regulated

A scheme of this kind, however, was too vast and hazardous for
individual enterprise; it could only be undertaken by a company
under the sanction and protection of a government; and as there
might be a clashing of claims between the Hudson's Bay and
Northwest Company, the one holding by right of charter, the other
by right of possession, he proposed that the two comparties
should coalesce in this great undertaking. The long-cherished
jealousies of these two companies, however, were too deep and
strong to allow them to listen to such counsel.

In the meantime the attention of the American government was
attracted to the subject, and the memorable expedition under
Messrs. Lewis and Clarke fitted out. These gentlemen, in 1804,
accomplished the enterprise which had been projected by Carver
and Whitworth in 1774. They ascended the Missouri, passed through
the stupendous gates of the Rocky Mountains, hitherto unknown to
white men; discovered and explored the upper waters of the
Columbia, and followed that river down to its mouth, where their
countryman, Gray, had anchored about twelve years previously.
Here they passed the winter, and returned across the mountains in
the following spring. The reports published by them of their
expedition demonstrated the practicability of establishing a line
of communication across the continent, from the Atlantic to the
Pacific Ocean.

it was then that the idea presented itself to the mind of Mr.
Astor, of grasping with his individual hand this great
enterprise, which for years had been dubiously yet desirously
contemplated by powerful associations and maternal governments.
For some time he revolved the idea in his mind, gradually
extending and maturing his plans as his means of executing them
augmented. The main feature of his scheme was to establish a line
of trading posts along the Missouri and the Columbia, to the
mouth of the latter, where was to be founded the chief trading
house or mart. Inferior posts would be established in the
interior, and on all the tributary streams of the Columbia, to
trade with the Indians; these posts would draw their supplies
from the main establishment, and bring to it the peltries they
collected. Coasting craft would be built and fitted out, also at
the mouth of the Columbia, to trade, at favorable seasons, all
along the northwest coast, and return, with the proceeds of their
voyages, to this place of deposit. Thus all the Indian trade,
both of the interior and the coast, would converge to this point,
and thence derive its sustenance.

A ship was to be sent annually from New York to this main
establishment with reinforcements and supplies, and with
merchandise suited to the trade. It would take on board the furs
collected during the preceding year, carry them to Canton, invest
the proceeds in the rich merchandise of China, and return thus
freighted to New York.
As, in extending the American trade along the coast to the
northward, it might be brought into the vicinity of the Russian
Fur Company, and produce a hostile rivalry, it was part of the
plan of Mr. Astor to conciliate the good-will of that company by
the most amicable and beneficial arrangements. The Russian
establishment was chiefly dependent for its supplies upon
transient trading vessels from the United States. These vessels,
however, were often of more harm than advantage. Being owned by
private adventurers, or casual voyagers, who cared only for
present profit, and had no interest in the permanent prosperity
of the trade, they were reckless in their dealings with the
natives, and made no scruple of supplying them with fire-arms. In
this way several fierce tribes in the vicinity of the Russian
posts, or within the range of their trading excursions, were
furnished with deadly means of warfare, and rendered troublesome
and dangerous neighbors.

The Russian government had made representations to that of the
United States of these malpractices on the part of its citizens,
and urged to have this traffic in arms prohibited; but, as it did
not infringe any municipal law, our government could not
interfere. Yet, still it regarded, with solicitude, a traffic
which, if persisted in, might give offence to Russia, at that
time almost the only friendly power to us. In this dilemma the
government had applied to Mr. Astor, as one conversant in this
branch of trade, for information that might point out a way to
remedy the evil. This circumstance had suggested to him the idea
of supplying the Russian establishment regularly by means of the
annual ship that should visit the settlement at the mouth of the
Columbia (or Oregon) ; by this means the casual trading vessels
would be excluded from those parts of the coast where their
malpractices were so injurious to the Russians.

Such is a brief outline of the enterprise projected by Mr. Astor,
but which continually expanded in his mind. Indeed it is due to
him to say that he was not actuated by mere motives of individual
profit. He was already wealthy beyond the ordinary desires of
man, but he now aspired to that honorable fame which is awarded
to men of similar scope of mind, who by their great commercial
enterprises have enriched nations, peopled wildernesses, and
extended the bounds of empire. He considered his projected
establishment at the mouth of the Columbia as the emporium to an
immense commerce; as a colony that would form the germ of a wide
civilization; that would, in fact, carry the American population
across the Rocky Mountains and spread it along the shores of the
Pacific, as it already animated the shores of the Atlantic.
As Mr. Astor, by the magnitude of his commercial and financial
relations, and the vigor and scope of his self-taught mind, had
elevated himself into the consideration of government and the
communion and correspondence with leading statesmen, he, at an
early period, communicated his schemes to President Jefferson,
soliciting the countenance of government. How highly they were
esteemed by that eminent man, we may judge by the following
passage, written by him some time afterwards.

"I remember well having invited your proposition on this
subject,*** and encouraged it with the assurance of every
facility and protection which the government could properly
afford. I considered, as a great public acquisition, the
commencement of a settlement on that point of the western coast
of America, and looked forward with gratification to the time
when its descendants should have spread themselves through the
whole length of that coast, covering it with free and independent
Americans, unconnected with us but by the ties of blood and
interest, and enjoying like us the rights of self-government."

The cabinet joined with Mr. Jefferson in warm approbation of the
plan, and held out assurance of every protection that could,
consistently with general policy, be afforded.
Mr. Astor now prepared to carry his scheme into prompt execution.
He had some competition, however, to apprehend and guard against.
The Northwest Company, acting feebly and partially upon the
suggestions of its former agent, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, had
pushed one or two advanced trading posts across the Rocky
Mountains, into a tract of country visited by that enterprising
traveller, and since named New Caledonia. This tract lay about
two degrees north of the Columbia, and intervened between the
territories of the United States and those of Russia. Its length
was about five hundred and fifty miles, and its breadth, from the
mountains to the Pacific, from three hundred to three hundred and
fifty geographic miles.

Should the Northwest Company persist in extending their trade in
that quarter, their competition might be of serious detriment to
the plans of Mr. Astor. It is true they would contend with him to
a vast disadvantage, from the checks and restrictions to which
they were subjected. They were straitened on one side by the
rivalry of the Hudson's Bay Company; then they had no good post
on the Pacific where they could receive supplies by sea for their
establishments beyond the mountains; nor, if they had one, could
they ship their furs thence to China, that great mart for
peltries; the Chinese trade being comprised in the monopoly of
the East India Company. Their posts beyond the mountains had to
be supplied in yearly expeditions, like caravans, from Montreal,
and the furs conveyed back in the same way, by long, precarious,
and expensive routes, across the continent. Mr. Astor, on the
contrary, would be able to supply his proposed establishment at
the mouth of the Columbia by sea, and to ship the furs collected
there directly to China, so as to undersell the Northwest Company
in the great Chinese market.

Still, the competition of two rival companies west of the Rocky
Mountains could not but prove detrimental to both, and fraught
with those evils, both to the trade and to the Indians, that had
attended similar rivalries in the Canadas. To prevent any contest
of the kind, therefore, he made known his plan to the agents of
the Northwest Company, and proposed to interest them, to the
extent of one third, in the trade thus to be opened. Some
correspondence and negotiation ensued. The company were aware of
the advantages which would be possessed by Mr. Astor should he be
able to carry his scheme into effect; but they anticipated a
monopoly of the trade beyond the mountains by their
establishments in New Caledonia, and were loth to share it with
an individual who had already proved a formidable competitor in
the Atlantic trade. They hoped, too, by a timely move, to secure
the mouth of the Columbia before Mr. Astor would be able to put
his plans into operation; and, that key to the internal trade
once in their possession, the whole country would be at their
command. After some negotiation and delay, therefore, they
declined the proposition that had been made to them, but
subsequently despatched a party for the mouth of the Columbia, to
establish a post there before any expedition sent out by Mr.
Astor might arrive.

In the meantime Mr. Astor, finding his overtures rejected,
proceeded fearlessly to execute his enterprise in face of the
whole power of the Northwest Company. His main establishment once
planted at the mouth of the Columbia, he looked with confidence
to ultimate success. Being able to reinforce and supply it amply
by sea, he would push his interior posts in every direction up
the rivers and along the coast; supplying the natives at a lower
rate, and thus gradually obliging the Northwest Company to give
up the competition, relinquish New Caledonia, and retire to the
other side of the mountains. He would then have possession of the
trade, not merely of the Columbia and its tributaries, but of the
regions farther north, quite to the Russian possessions. Such was
a part of his brilliant and comprehensive plan.

He now proceeded, with all diligence, to procure proper agents
and coadjutors, habituated to the Indian trade and to the life of
the wilderness. Among the clerks of the Northwest Company were
several of great capacity and experience, who had served out
their probationary terms, but who, either through lack of
interest and influence, or a want of vacancies, had not been
promoted. They were consequently much dissatisfied, and ready for
any employment in which their talents and acquirements might be
turned to better account.

Mr. Astor made his overtures to several of these persons, and
three of them entered into his views. One of these, Mr. Alexander
M'Kay, had accompanied Sir Alexander Mackenzie in both of his
expeditions to the northwest coast of America in 1789 and 1793.
The other two were Duncan M'Dougal and Donald M'Kenzie. To these
were subsequently added Mr. Wilson Price Hunt, of New Jersey. As
this gentleman was a native born citizen of the United States, a
person of great probity and worth, he was selected by Mr. Astor
to be his chief agent, and to represent him in the contemplated

On the 23d of June, 1810, articles of agreement were entered into
between Mr. Astor and those four gentlemen, acting for themselves
and for the several persons who had already agreed to become, or
should thereafter become, associated under the firm of "The
Pacific Fur Company."

According to these articles, Mr. Astor was to be at the head of
the company, and to manage its affairs in New York. He was to
furnish vessels, goods, provisions, arms, ammunition, and all
other requisites for the enterprise at first cost and charges,
provided that they did not, at any time, involve an advance of
more than four hundred thousand dollars.

The stock of the company was to be divided into a hundred equal
shares, with the profits accruing thereon. Fifty shares were to
be at the disposition of Mr. Astor, and the other fifty to be
divided among the partners and their associates.

Mr. Astor was to have the privilege of introducing other persons
into the connection as partners, two of whom, at least, should be
conversant with the Indian trade, and none of them entitled to
more than three shares.

A general meeting of the company was to be held annually at
Columbia River, for the investigation and regulation of its
affairs; at which absent members might be represented, and might
vote by proxy under certain specified conditions.

The association, if successful, was to continue for twenty years;
but the parties had full power to abandon and dissolve it within
the first five years, should it be found unprofitable. For this
term Mr. Astor covenanted to bear all the loss that might be
incurred; after which it was to be borne by all the partners, in
proportion to their respective shares.

The parties of the second part were to execute faithfully such
duties as might be assigned to them by a majority of the company
on the northwest coast, and to repair to such place or places as
the majority might direct.

An agent, appointed for the term of five years, was to reside at
the principal establishment on the northwest coast, and Wilson
Price Hunt was the one chosen for the first term. Should the
interests of the concern at any time require his absence, a
person was to be appointed, in general meeting, to take his

Such were the leading conditions of this ascociation; we shall
now proceed to relate the various hardy and eventful expeditions,
by sea and land, to which it gave rise.

* Carver's Travels, Introd. b. iii. Philad. 1796.
** Carver's Travels, p. 360.
*** On this point Mr. Jefferson's memory was in error. The
proposition alluded to was the one, already mentioned, for the
establishment of an American Fur Company in the Atlantic States.
The great enterprise beyond the mountains, that was to sweep the
shores of the Pacific, originated in the mind of Mr. Astor, and
was proposed by him to the government.

Two Expeditions Set on Foot.- The Tonquin and Her Crew.- Captain
Thorn, His Character.- The Partners and Clerks - Canadian
Voyageurs, Their Habits, Employments, Dress, Character, Songs-
Expedition of a Canadian Boat and Its Crew by Land and Water.-
Arrival at New York.- Preparations for a Sea Voyage.- Northwest
Braggarts. -Underhand Precautions- Letter of Instructions.

IN prosecuting his great scheme of commerce and colonization, two
expeditions were devised by Mr. Astor, one by sea, the other by
land. The former was to carry out the people, stores, ammunition,
and merchandise, requisite for establishing a fortified trading
post at the mouth of Columbia River. The latter, conducted by Mr.
Hunt, was to proceed up the Missouri, and across the Rocky
Mountains, to the same point; exploring a line of communication
across the continent and noting the places where interior trading
posts might be established. The expedition by sea is the one
which comes first under consideration.

A fine ship was provided called the Tonquin, of two hundred and
ninety tons burden, mounting ten guns, with a crew of twenty men.
She carried an assortment of merchandise for trading with the
natives of the seaboard and of the interior, together with the
frame of a schooner, to be employed in the coasting trade. Seeds
also were provided for the cultivation of the soil, and nothing
was neglected for the necessary supply of the establishment. The
command of the ship was intrusted to Jonathan Thorn, of New York,
a lieutenant in the United States navy, on leave of absence. He
was a man of courage and firmness, who had distinguished himself
in our Tripolitan war, and, from being accustomed to naval
discipline, was considered by Mr. Astor as well fitted to take
charge of an expedition of the kind. Four of the partners were to
embark in the ship, namely, Messrs. M'Kay, M'Dougal, David
Stuart, and his nephew, Robert Stuart. Mr. M'Dougal was empowered
by Mr. Astor to act as his proxy in the absence of Mr. Hunt, to
vote for him and in his name, on any question that might come
before any meeting of the persons interested in the voyage.

Besides the partners, there were twelve clerks to go out in the
ship, several of them natives of Canada, who had some experience
in the Indian trade. They were bound to the service of the
company for five years, at the rate of one hundred dollars a
year, payable at the expiration of the term, and an annual
equipment of clothing to the amount of forty dollars. In case of
ill conduct they were liable to forfeit their wages and be
dismissed; but, should they acquit themselves well, the confident
expectation was held out to them of promotion, and partnership.
Their interests were thus, to some extent, identified with those
of the company.

Several artisans were likewise to sail in the ship, for the
supply of the colony; but the most peculiar and characteristic
part of this motley embarkation consisted of thirteen Canadian
"voyageurs,"who had enlisted for five years. As this class of
functionaries will continually recur in the course of the
following narrations, and as they form one of those distinct and
strongly marked castes or orders of people, springing up in this
vast continent out of geographical circumstances, or the varied
pursuits, habitudes, and origins of its population, we shall
sketch a few of their characteristics for the information of the

The "voyageurs" form a kind of confraternity in the Canadas, like
the arrieros, or carriers of Spain, and, like them, are employed
in long internal expeditions of travel and traffic: with this
difference, that the arrieros travel by land, the voyageurs by
water; the former with mules and horses, the latter with batteaux
and canoes. The voyageurs may be said to have sprung up out of
the fur trade, having originally been employed by the early
French merchants in their trading expeditions through the
labyrinth of rivers and lakes of the boundless interior. They
were coeval with the coureurs des bois, or rangers of the woods,
already noticed, and, like them, in the intervals of their long,
arduous, and laborious expeditions, were prone to pass their time
in idleness and revelry about the trading posts or settlements;
squandering their hard earnings in heedless conviviality, and
rivaling their neighbors, the Indians, in indolent indulgence and
an imprudent disregard of the morrow.

When Canada passed under British domination, and the old French
trading houses were broken up, the voyageurs, like the coureurs
des bois, were for a time disheartened and disconsolate, and with
difficulty could reconcile themselves to the service of the new-
comers, so different in habits, manners, and language from their
former employers. By degrees, however, they became accustomed to
the change, and at length came to consider the British fur
traders, and especially the members of the Northwest Company, as
the legitimate lords of creation.

The dress of these people is generally half civilized, half
savage. They wear a capot or surcoat, made of a blanket, a
striped cotton shirt, cloth trousers, or leathern leggins,
moccasins of deer-skin, and a belt of variegated worsted, from
which are suspended the knife, tobacco-pouch, and other
implements. Their language is of the same piebald character,
being a French patois, embroidered with Indian and English words
and phrases.

The lives of the voyageurs are passed in wild and extensive
rovings, in the service of individuals, but more especially of
the fur traders. They are generally of French descent, and
inherit much of the gayety and lightness of heart of their
ancestors, being full of anecdote and song, and ever ready for
the dance. They inherit, too, a fund of civility and
complaisance; and, instead of that hardness and grossness which
men in laborious life are apt to indulge towards each other, they
are mutually obliging and accommodating; interchanging kind
offices, yielding each other assistance and comfort in every
emergency, and using the familiar appellations of "cousin" and
"brother" when there is in fact no relationship. Their natural
good-will is probably heightened by a community of adventure and
hardship in their precarious and wandering life.

No men are more submissive to their leaders and employers, more
capable of enduring hardship, or more good-humored under
privations. Never are they so happy as when on long and rough
expeditions, toiling up rivers or coasting lakes; encamping at
night on the borders, gossiping round their fires, and
bivouacking in the open air. They are dextrous boatmen, vigorous
and adroit with the oar and paddle, and will row from morning
until night without a murmur. The steersman often sings an old
traditionary French song, with some regular burden in which they
all join, keeping time with their oars; if at any time they flag
in spirits or relax in exertion, it is but necessary to strike up
a song of the kind to put them all in fresh spirits and activity.
The Canadian waters are vocal with these little French chansons,
that have been echoed from mouth to mouth and transmitted from
father to son, from the earliest days of the colony; and it has a
pleasing effect, in a still golden summer evening, to see a
batteau gliding across the bosom of a lake and dipping its oars
to the cadence of these quaint old ditties, or sweeping along in
full chorus on a bright sunny morning, down the transparent
current of one of the Canada rivers.

But we are talking of things that are fast fading away! The march
of mechanical invention is driving everything poetical before it.
The steamboats, which are fast dispelling the wildness and
romance of our lakes and rivers, and aiding to subdue the world
into commonplace, are proving as fatal to the race of the
Canadian voyageurs as they have been to that of the boatmen of
the Mississippi. Their glory is departed. They are no longer the
lords of our internal seas, and the great navigators of the
wilderness. Some of them may still occasionally be seen coasting
the lower lakes with their frail barks, and pitching their camps
and lighting their fires upon the shores; but their range is fast
contracting to those remote waters and shallow and obstructed
rivers unvisited by the steamboat. In the course of years they
will gradually disappear; their songs will die away like the
echoes they once awakened, and the Canadian voyageurs will become
a forgotten race, or remembered, like their associates, the
Indians, among the poetical images of past times, and as themes
for local and romantic associations.

An instance of the buoyant temperament and the professional pride
of these people was furnished in the gay and braggart style in
which they arrived at New York to join the enterprise. They were
determined to regale and astonish the people of the "States" with
the sight of a Canadian boat and a Canadian crew. They
accordingly fitted up a large but light bark canoe, such as is
used in the fur trade; transported it in a wagon from the banks
of the St. Lawrence to the shores of Lake Champlain; traversed
the lake in it, from end to end; hoisted it again in a wagon and
wheeled it off to Lansingburgh, and there launched it upon the
waters of the Hudson. Down this river they plied their course
merrily on a fine summer's day, making its banks resound for the
first time with their old French boat songs; passing by the
villages with whoop and halloo, so as to make the honest Dutch
farmers mistake them for a crew of savages. In this way they
swept, in full song and with regular flourish of the paddle,
round New York, in a still summer evening, to the wonder and
admiration of its inhabitants, who had never before witnessed on
their waters, a nautical apparition of the kind.

Such was the variegated band of adventurers about to embark in
the Tonquin on this ardous and doubtful enterprise. While yet in
port and on dry land, in the bustle of preparation and the
excitement of novelty, all was sunshine and promise. The
Canadians, especially, who, with their constitutional vivacity,
have a considerable dash of the gascon, were buoyant and
boastful, and great brag arts as to the future; while all those
who had been in the service of the Northwest Company, and engaged
in the Indian trade, plumed themselves upon their hardihood and
their capacity to endure privations. If Mr. Astor ventured to
hint at the difficulties they might have to encounter, they
treated them with scorn. They were "northwesters;" men seasoned
to hardships, who cared for neither wind nor weather. They could
live hard, lie hard, sleep hard, eat dogs! - in a word they were
ready to do and suffer anything for the good of the enterprise.
With all this profession of zeal and devotion, Mr. Astor was not
overconfident of the stability and firm faith of these mercurial
beings. He had received information, also, that an armed brig
from Halifax, probably at the instigation of the Northwest
Company, was hovering on the coast, watching for the Tonquin,
with the purpose of impressing the Canadians on board of her, as
British subjects, and thus interrupting the voyage. It was a time
of doubt and anxiety, when the relations between the United
States and Great Britain were daily assuming a more precarious
aspect and verging towards that war which shortly ensued. As a
precautionary measure, therefore, he required that the voyageurs,
as they were about to enter into the service of an American
association, and to reside within the limits of the United
States, should take the oaths of naturalization as American
citizens. To this they readily agreed, and shortly afterward
assured him that they had actually done so. It was not until
after they had sailed that he discovered that they had entirely
deceived him in the matter.

The confidence of Mr. Astor was abused in another quarter. Two of
the partners, both of them Scotchmen, and recently in the service
of the Northwest Company, had misgivings as to an enterprise
which might clash with the interests and establishments protected
by the British flag. They privately waited upon the British
minister, Mr. Jackson, then in New York, laid open to him the
whole scheme of Mr. Astor, though intrusted to them in
confidence, and dependent, in a great measure, upon secrecy at
the outset for its success, and inquired whether they, as British
subjects, could lawfully engage in it. The reply satisfied their
scruples, while the information they imparted excited the
surprise and admiration of Mr. Jackson, that a private individual
should have conceived and set on foot at his own risk and expense
so great an enterprise.

This step on the part of those gentlemen was not known to Mr.
Astor until some time afterwards, or it might have modified the
trust and confidence reposed in them.

To guard against any interruption to the voyage by the armed
brig, said to be off the harbor, Mr. Astor applied to Commodore
Rodgers, at that time commanding at New York, to give the Tonquin
safe convoy off the coast. The commodore having received from a
high official source assurance of the deep interest which the
government took in the enterprise, sent directions to Captain
Hull, at that time cruising off the harbor, in the frigate
Constitution, to afford the Tonquin the required protection when
she should put to sea.

Before the day of embarkation, Mr. Astor addressed a letter of
instruction to the four partners who were to sail in the ship. In
this he enjoined them, in the most earnest manner, to cultivate
harmony and unanimity, and recommended that all differences of
opinions on points connected with the objects and interests of
the voyage should be discussed by the whole, and decided by a
majority of votes. He, moreover, gave them especial caution as to
their conduct on arriving at their destined port; exhorting them
to be careful to make a favorable impression upon the wild people
among whom their lot and the fortunes of the enterprise would be
cast. "If you find them kind," said he, "as I hope you will, be
so to them. If otherwise, act with caution and forebearance, and
convince them that you come as friends."

With the same anxious forethought he wrote a letter of
instructions to Captain Thorn, in which he urged the strictest
attention to the health of himself and his crew, and to the
promotion of good-humor and harmony on board his ship. "To
prevent any misunderstanding," added he, "will require your
particular good management." His letter closed with an injunction
of wariness in his intercourse with the natives, a subject on
which Mr. Astor was justly sensible he could not be too earnest.
"I must recommend you," said he, "to be particularly careful on
the coast, and not to rely too much on the friendly disposition
of the natives. All accidents which have as yet happened there
arose from too much confidence in the Indians."

The reader will bear these instructions in mind, as events will
prove their wisdom and importance, and the disasters which ensued
in consequence of the neglect of them.


Sailing of the Tonquin. - A Rigid Commander and a Reckless Crew.
- Landsmen on Shipboard.- Fresh-Water Sailors at Sea.- Lubber
Nests. - Ship Fare.- A Labrador Veteran- Literary Clerks.-
Curious Travellers.- Robinson Crusoe's Island.- Quarter-Deck
Quarrels.- Falkland Islands.- A Wild-Goose Chase.- Port Egmont.-
Epitaph Hunting.- Old Mortality- Penguin Shooting.- Sportsmen
Left in the Lurch.-A Hard Pull.- Further Altercations.- Arrival
at Owyhee.

ON the eighth of September, 1810, the Tonquin put to sea, where
she was soon joined by the frigate Constitution. The wind was
fresh and fair from the southwest, and the ship was soon out of
sight of land and free from the apprehended danger of
interruption. The frigate, therefore, gave her "God speed," and
left her to her course.

The harmony so earnestly enjoined by Mr. Astor on this
heterogeneous crew, and which had been so confidently promised in
the buoyant moments of preparation, was doomed to meet with a
check at the very outset.

Captain Thorn was an honest, straighforward, but somewhat dry and
dictatorial commander, who, having been nurtured in the system
and discipline of a ship of war, and in a sacred opinion of the
supremacy of the quarter-deck, was disposed to be absolute lord
and master on board of his ship. He appears, moreover, to have
had no great opinion, from the first, of the persons embarked
with him - He had stood by with surly contempt while they vaunted
so bravely to Mr. Astor of all they could do and all they could
undergo; how they could face all weathers, put up with all kinds
of fare, and even eat dogs with a relish, when no better food was
to be had. He had set them down as a set of landlubbers and
braggadocios, and was disposed to treat them accordingly. Mr.
Astor was, in his eyes, his only real employer, being the father
of the enterprise, who furnished all funds and bore all losses.
The others were mere agents and subordinates, who lived at his
expense. He evidently had but a narrow idea of the scope and
nature of the enterprise, limiting his views merely to his part
of it; everything beyond the concerns of his ship was out of his
sphere; and anything that interfered with the routine of his
nautical duties put him in a passion.

The partners, on the other hand, had been brought up in the
service of the Northwest Company, and in a profound idea of the
importance, dignity, and authority of a partner. They already
began to consider themselves on a par with the M'Tavishes, the
M'Gillivrays, the Frobishers, and the other magnates of the
Northwest, whom they had been accustomed to look up to as the
great ones of the earth; and they were a little disposed,
perhaps, to wear their suddenly-acquired honors with some air of
pretension. Mr. Astor, too, had put them on their mettle with
respect to the captain, describing him as a gunpowder fellow who
would command his ship in fine style, and, if there was any
fighting to do, would "blow all out of the water."

Thus prepared to regard each other with no very cordial eye, it
is not to be wondered at that the parties soon came into
collision. On the very first night Captain Thorn began his man-
of-war discipline by ordering the lights in the cabin to be
extinguished at eight o'clock.

The pride of the partners was immediately in arms. This was an
invasion of their rights and dignities not to be borne. They were
on board of their own ship, and entitled to consult their ease
and enjoyment. M'Dougal was the champion of their cause. He was
an active, irritable, fuming, vainglorious little man, and
elevated in his own opinion, by being the proxy of Mr. Astor. A
violent altercation ensued, in the course of which Thorn
threatened to put the partners in irons should they prove
refractory; upon which M'Dougal seized a pistol and swore to be
the death of the captain should he ever offer such an indignity.
It was some time before the irritated parties could be pacified
by the more temperate bystanders.

Such was the captain's outset with the partners. Nor did the
clerks stand much higher in his good graces; indeed, he seems to
have regarded all the landsmen on board his ship as a kind of
Iive lumber, continually in the way. The poor voyageurs, too,
continually irritated his spleen by their "lubberly" and unseemly
habits, so abhorrent to one accustomed to the cleanliness of a
man-of-war. These poor fresh-water sailors, so vainglorious on
shore, and almost amphibious when on lakes and rivers, lost all
heart and stomach the moment they were at sea. For days they
suffered the doleful rigors and retchings of sea-sickness,
lurking below in their berths in squalid state, or emerging now
and then like spectres from the hatchways, in capotes and
blankets, with dirty nightcaps, grizzly beard, lantern visage and
unhappy eye, shivering about the deck, and ever and anon crawling
to the sides of the vessel, and offering up their tributes to the
windward, to infinite annoyance of the captain.

His letters to Mr. Astor, wherein he pours forth the bitterness
of his soul, and his seamanlike impatience of what he considers
the "lubberly" character and conduct of those around him, are
before us, and are amusingly characteristic. The honest captain
is full of vexation on his own account, and solicitude on account
of Mr. Astor, whose property he considers at the mercy of a most
heterogeneous and wasteful crew.

As to the clerks, he pronounced them mere pretenders, not one of
whom had ever been among the Indians, nor farther to the
northwest than Montreal, nor of higher rank than barkeeper of a
tavern or marker of a billiard-table, excepting one, who had been
a school-master, and whom he emphatically sets down for "as
foolish a pedant as ever lived."

Then as to the artisans and laborers who had been brought from
Canada and shipped at such expense, the three most respectable,
according to the captain's account, were culprits, who had fled
from Canada on account of their misdeeds; the rest had figured in
Montreal as draymen, barbers, waiters, and carriole drivers, and
were the most helpless, worthless beings "that ever broke sea-

It may easily be imagined what a series of misunderstandings and
cross-purposes would be likely to take place between such a crew
and such a commander. The captain, in his zeal for the health and
cleanliness of his ship, would make sweeping visitations to the
"lubber nests" of the unlucky "voyageurs" and their companions in
misery, ferret them out of their berths, make them air and wash
themselves and their accoutrements, and oblige them to stir about
briskly and take exercise.

Nor did his disgust and vexation cease when all hands had
recovered from sea-sickness, and become accustomed to the ship,
for now broke out an alarming keenness of appetite that
threatened havoc to the provisions. What especially irritated the
captain was the daintiness of some of his cabin passengers. They
were loud in their complaints of the ship's fare, though their
table was served with fresh pork, hams, tongues, smoked beef, and
puddings. "When thwarted in their cravings for delicacies," Said
he, "they would exclaim it was d-d hard they could not live as
they pleased upon their own property, being on board of their own
ship, freighted with their own merchandise. And these," added he,
"are the fine fellows who made such boast that they could 'eat
dogs.' "

In his indignation at what he termed their effeminacy, he would
swear that he would never take them to sea again "without having
Fly-market on the forecastle, Covent-garden on the poop, and a
cool spring from Canada in the maintop. "

As they proceeded on their voyage and got into the smooth seas
and pleasant weather of the tropics, other annoyances occurred to
vex the spirit of the captain. He had been crossed by the
irritable mood of one of the partners; he was now excessively
annoyed by the good-humor of another. This was the elder Stuart,
who was an easy soul, and of a social disposition. He had seen
life in Canada, and on the coast of Labrador; had been a fur
trader in the former, and a fisherman on the latter; and, in the
course of his experience, had made various expeditions with
voyageurs. He was accustomed, therefore, to the familiarity which
prevails between that class and their superiors, and the
gossipings which take place among them when seated round a fire
at their encampments. Stuart was never so happy as when he could
seat himself on the deck with a number of these men round him, in
camping style, smoke together, passing the pipe from mouth to
mouth, after the manner of the Indians, sing old Canadian boat-
songs, and tell stories about their hardships and adventures, in
the course of which he rivaled Sinbad in his long tales of the
sea, about his fishing exploits on the coast of Labrador.

This gossiping familiarity shocked the captain's notions of rank
and subordination, and nothing was so abhorrent to him as the
community of pipe between master and man, and their mingling in
chorus in the outlandish boat-songs.

Then there was another whimsical source of annoyance to him. Some
of the young clerks, who were making their first voyage, and to
whom everything was new and strange, were, very rationally, in
the habit of taking notes and keeping journals. This was a sore
abomination to the honest captain, who held their literary
pretensions in great contempt. "The collecting of materials for
long histories of their voyages and travels," said he, in his
letter to Mr. Astor, "appears to engross most of their
attention." We can conceive what must have been the crusty
impatience of the worthy navigator, when, on any trifling
occurrence in the course of the voyage, quite commonplace in his
eyes, he saw these young landsmen running to record it in their
journals; and what indignant glances he must have cast to right
and left, as he worried about the deck, giving out his orders for
the management of the ship, surrounded by singing, smoking,
gossiping, scribbling groups, all, as he thought, intent upon the
amusement of the passing hour, instead of the great purposes and
interests of the voyage.

It is possible the captain was in some degree right in his
notions. Though some of the passengers had much to gain by the
voyage, none of them had anything positively to lose. They were
mostly young men, in the heyday of life; and having got into fine
latitudes, upon smooth seas, with a well-stored ship under them,
and a fair wind in the shoulder of the sail, they seemed to have
got into a holiday world, and were disposed to enjoy it. That
craving desire, natural to untravelled men of fresh and lively
minds, to see strange lands, and to visit scenes famous in
history or fable, was expressed by some of the partners and
clerks, with respect to some of the storied coasts and islands
that lay within their route. The captain, however, who regarded
every coast and island with a matter-of-fact eye, and had no more
associations connected with them than those laid down in his sea-
chart, considered all this curiosity as exceedingly idle and
childish. "In the first part of the voyage," says he in his
letter, "they were determined to have it said they had been in
Africa, and therefore insisted on stopping at the Cape de Verdes.
Next they said the ship should stop on the coast of Patagonia,
for they must see the large and uncommon inhabitants of that
place. Then they must go to the island where Robinson Crusoe had
so long lived. And lastly, they were determined to see the
handsome inhabitants of Easter Island."

To all these resolves, the captain opposed his peremptory veto,
as "contrary to instructions." Then would break forth an
unavailing explosion of wrath on the part of certain of the
partners, in the course of which they did not even spare Mr.
Astor for his act of supererogation in furnishing orders for the
control of the ship while they were on board, instead of leaving
them to be the judges where it would be best for her to touch,
and how long to remain. The choleric M'Dougal took the lead in
these railings, being, as has been observed, a little puffed up
with the idea of being Mr. Astor's proxy.

The captain, however, became only so much the more crusty and
dogged in his adherence to his orders, and touchy and harsh in
his dealings with the passengers, and frequent altercations
ensued. He may in some measure have been influenced by his
seamanlike impatience of the interference of landsmen, and his
high notions of naval etiquette and quarter-deck authority; but
he evidently had an honest, trusty concern for the interests of
his employer. He pictured to himself the anxious projector of the
enterprise, who had disbursed so munificently in its outfit,
calculating on the zeal, fidelity, and singleness of purpose of
his associates and agents; while they, on the other hand, having
a good ship at their disposal and a deep pocket at home to bear
them out, seemed ready to loiter on every coast, and amuse
themselves in every port.

On the fourth of December they came in sight of the Falkland
Islands. Having been for some time on an allowance of water, it
was resolved to anchor here and obtain a supply. A boat was sent
into a small bay to take soundings. Mr. M'Dougal and Mr. M'Kay
took this occasion to go on shore, but with a request from the
captain that they would not detain the ship. Once on shore,
however, they were in no haste to obey his orders, but rambled
about in search of curiosities. The anchorage proving unsafe, and
water difficult to be procured, the captain stood out to sea, and
made repeated signals for those on shore to rejoin the ship, but
it was not until nine at night that they came on board.

The wind being adverse, the boat was again sent on shore on the
following morning, and the same gentlemen again landed, but
promised to come off at a moment's warning; they again forgot
their promise in their eager pursuit of wild geese and seawolves.
After a time the wind hauled fair, and signals were made for the
boat. Half an hour elapsed but no boat put off. The captain
reconnoitered the shore with his glass, and, to his infinite
vexation, saw the loiterers in the full enjoyment of their
"wildgoose-chase." Nettled to the quick, he immediately made
sail. When those on shore saw the ship actually under way, they
embarked with all speed, but had a hard pull of eight miles
before they got on board, and then experienced but a grim
reception, notwithstanding that they came well laden with the
spoils of the chase.

Two days afterwards, on the seventh of December, they anchored at
Fort Egmont, in the same island, where they remained four days
taking in water and making repairs. This was a joyous time for
the landsmen. They pitched a tent on shore, had a boat at their
command, and passed their time merrily in rambling about the
island, and coasting along the shores, shooting sealions, seals,
foxes, geese, ducks, and penguins. None were keener in pursuit of
this kind of game than M'Dougal and David Stuart; the latter was
reminded of aquatic sports on the coast of Labrador, and his
hunting exploits in the Northwest.

In the meantime the captain addressed himself steadily to the
business of his ship, scorning the holiday spirit and useless
pursuits of his emancipated messmates, and warning them, from
time to time, not to wander away nor be out of hail. They
promised, as usual, that the ship should never experience a
moment's detention on their account, but, as usual, forgot their

On the morning of the 11th, the repairs being all finished, and
the water casks replenished, the signal was given to embark, and
the ship began to weigh anchor. At this time several of the
passengers were dispersed about the island, amusing themselves in
various ways. Some of the young men had found two inscriptions,
in English, over a place where two unfortunate mariners had been
buried in this desert island. As the inscriptions were worn out
by the time and weather, they were playing the part of "Old
Mortality," and piously renewing them. The signal from the ship
summoned them from their labors; they saw the sails unfurled, and
that she was getting under way. The two sporting partners,
however, Mr. M'Dougal and David Stuart, had strolled away to the
south of the island in pursuit of penguins. It would never do to
put off without them, as there was but one boat to convey the

While this delay took place on shore, the captain was storming on
board. This was the third time his orders had been treated with
contempt, and the ship wantonly detained, and it should be the
last; so he spread all sail and put to sea, swearing he would
leave the laggards to shift for themselves. It was in vain that
those on board made remonstrances and entreaties, and represented
the horrors of abandoning men upon a sterile and uninhabited
island; the sturdy captain was inflexible.

In the meantime the penguin hunters had joined the engravers of
tombstones, but not before the ship was already out at sea. They
all, to the number of eight, threw themselves into their boat,
which was about twenty feet in length, and rowed with might and
main. For three hours and a half did they tug anxiously and
severely at the oar, swashed occasionally by the surging waves of
the open sea, while the ship inexorably kept on her course, and
seemed determined to leave them behind.

On board the ship was the nephew of David Stuart, a young man of
spirit and resolution. Seeing, as he thought, the captain
obstinately bent upon abandoning his uncle and the others, he
seized a pistol, and in a paroxysm of wrath swore he would blow
out the captain's brains, unless he put about or shortened sail.

Fortunately for all parties, the wind just then came ahead, and
the boat was enabled to reach the ship; otherwise, disastrous
circumstances might have ensued. We can hardly believe that the
captain really intended to carry his threat into full effect, and
rather think he meant to let the laggards off for a long pull and
a hearty fright. He declared, however, in his letter to Mr.
Astor, that he was serious in his threats, and there is no
knowing how far such an iron man may push his notions of

"Had the wind," writes he, "(unfortunately) not hauled ahead soon
after leaving the harbor's mouth, I should positively have left
them; and, indeed, I cannot but think it an unfortunate
circumstance for you that it so happened, for the first loss in
this instance would, in my opinion, have proved the best, as they
seem to have no idea of the value of property, nor any apparent
regard for your interest, although interwoven with their own."

This, it must be confessed, was acting with a high hand, and
carrying a regard to the owner's property to a dangerous length.
Various petty feuds occurred also between him and the partners in
respect to the goods on board ship, some articles of which they
wished to distribute for clothing among the men, or for other
purposes which they deemed essential. The captain, however, kept
a mastiff watch upon the cargo, and growled and snapped if they
but offered to touch box or bale. "It was contrary to orders; it
would forfeit his insurance; it was out of all rule." It was in
vain they insisted upon their right to do so, as part owners, and
as acting for the good of the enterprise; the captain only stuck
to his point the more stanchly. They consoled themselves,
therefore, by declaring, that as soon as they made land, they
would assert their rights, and do with ship and cargo as they

Beside these feuds between the captain and the partners, there
were feuds between the partners themselves, occasioned, in some
measure, by jealousy of rank. M'Dougal and M'Kay began to draw
plans for the fort, and other buildings of the intended
establishment. They agreed very well as to the outline and
dimensions, which were on a sufficiently grand scale; but when
they came to arrange the details, fierce disputes arose, and they
would quarrel by the hour about the distribution of the doors and
windows. Many were the hard words and hard names bandied between
them on these occasions, according to the captain's account. Each
accused the other of endeavoring to assume unwarrantable power,
and take the lead; upon which Mr. M'Dougal would vauntingly lay
down Mr. Astor's letter, constituting him his representative and
proxy, a document not to be disputed.

These wordy contests, though violent, were brief; "and within
fifteen minutes," says the captain, "they would be caressing each
other like children."

While all this petty anarchy was agitating the little world
within the Tonquin, the good ship prosperously pursued her
course, doubled Cape Horn on the 25th of December, careered
across the bosom of the Pacific, until, on the 11th of February,
the snowy peaks of Owyhee were seen brightening above the


Owyhee.- Sandwich Islanders- Their Nautical Talents.- Tamaahmaah.
-His Navy.- His Negotiations.- Views of Mr. Astor With Respect to
the Sandwich Islands- Karakakooa.- Royal Monopoly of Pork.-
Description of the Islanders-Gayeties on Shore.- Chronicler of
the Island. -Place Where Captain Cook was Killed.- John Young, a
Nautical Governor.- His Story.- Waititi - A Royal Residence.- A
Royal Visit - Grand Ceremonials.- Close Dealing- A Royal Pork
Merchant- Grievances of a Matter-of-Fact Man.

OWYHEE, or Hawaii, as it is written by more exact orthographers,
is the largest of the cluster, ten in number, of the Sandwich
Islands. It is about ninety-seven miles in length, and seventy-
eight in breadth, rising gradually into three pyramidal summits
or cones; the highest, Mouna Roa, being eighteen thousand feet
above the level of the sea, so as to domineer over the whole
archipelago, and to be a landmark over a wide extent of ocean. It
remains a lasting monument of the enterprising and unfortunate
Captain Cook, who was murdered by the natives of this island.

The Sandwich Islanders, when first discovered, evinced a
character superior to most of the savages of the Pacific isles.
They were frank and open in their deportment, friendly and
liberal in their dealings, with an apt ingenuity apparent in all
their rude inventions.

The tragical fate of the discoverer, which, for a time, brought
them under the charge of ferocity, was, in fact, the result of
sudden exasperation, caused by the seizure of their chief.

At the time of the visit of the Tonquin, the islanders had
profited, in many respects, by occasional intercourse with white
men; and had shown a quickness to observe and cultivate those
arts important to their mode of living. Originally they had no
means of navigating the seas by which they were surrounded,
superior to light pirogues, which were little competent to
contend with the storms of the broad ocean. As the islanders are
not in sight of each other, there could, therefore, be but casual
intercourse between them. The traffic with white men had put them
in possession of vessels of superior description; they had made
themselves acquainted with their management, and had even made
rude advances in the art of ship-building.

These improvements had been promoted, in a great measure, by the
energy and sagacity of one man, the famous Tamaahmaah. He had
originally been a petty eri, or chief; but, being of an intrepid
and aspiring nature, he had risen in rank, and, availing himself
of the superior advantages now afforded in navigation, had
brought the whole archipelago in subjection to his arms. At the
time of the arrival of the Tonquin he had about forty schooners,
of from twenty to thirty tons burden, and one old American ship.
With these he held undisputed sway over his insular domains, and
carried on intercourse with the chiefs or governors whom he had
placed in command of the several islands.

The situation of this group of islands, far in the bosom of the
vast Pacific, and their abundant fertility, render them important
stopping-places on the highway to China, or to the northwest
coast of America. Here the vessels engaged in the fur trade
touched to make repairs and procure provisions; and here they
often sheltered themselves during the winters that occurred in
their long coasting expeditions.

The British navigators were, from the first, aware of the value
of these islands to the purposes of commerce; and Tamaahmaah, not
long after he had attained the sovereign sway, was persuaded by
Vancouver, the celebrated discoverer, to acknowledge, on behalf
of himself, and subjects, allegiance to the king of Great
Britain. The reader cannot but call to mind the visit which the
royal family and court of the Sandwich Islands was, in late
years, induced to make to the court of St. James; and the serio-
comic ceremonials and mock parade which attended that singular
travesty of monarchal style.

It was a part of the wide and comprehensive plan of Mr. Astor to
establish a friendly intercourse between these islands and his
intended colony, which might, for a time, have occasion to draw
supplies thence; and he even had a vague idea of, some time or
other, getting possession of one of their islands as a rendezvous
for his ships, and a link in the chain of his commercial

On the evening of the 12th of February, the Tonquin anchored in
the bay of Karakakooa, in the island of Owyhee. The surrounding
shores were wild and broken, with overhanging cliffs and
precipices of black volcanic rock. Beyond these, however, the
country was fertile and well cultivated, with inclosures of yams,
plantains, sweet potatoes, sugar-canes, and other productions of
warm climates and teeming soils; and the numerous habitations of
the natives were pleasantly sheltered beneath clumps of cocoanut
and bread-fruit trees, which afforded both food and shade. This
mingled variety of garden and grove swept gradually up the sides
of the mountains, until succeeded by dense forests, which in turn
gave place to naked and craggy rocks, until the summits rose into
the regions of perpetual snow.

The royal residence of Tamaahmaah was at this time at another
island named Woahoo. The island of Owyhee was under the command
of one of his eris, or chiefs, who resided at the village of
Tocaigh, situated on a different part of the coast from the bay
of Karakakooa.

On the morning after her arrival, the ship was surrounded by
canoes and pirogues, filled with the islanders of both sexes,
bringing off supplies of fruits and vegetables, bananas,
plantains, watermelons, yams, cabbages and taro. The captain was
desirous, however, of purchasing a number of hogs, but there were
none to be had -The trade in pork was a royal monopoly, and no
subject of the great Tamaahmaah dared to meddle with it. Such
provisions as they could furnish, however, were brought by the
natives in abundance, and a lively intercourse was kept up during
the day, in which the women mingled in the kindest manner.

The islanders are a comely race, of a copper complexion. The men
are tall and well made, with forms indicating strength and
activity; the women with regular and occasionally handsome
features, and a lascivious expression, characteristic of their
temperament. Their style of dress was nearly the same as in the
days of Captain Cook. The men wore the maro, a band one foot in
width and several feet in length, swathed round the loins, and
formed of tappa, or cloth of bark; the kihei, or mantle, about
six feet square, tied in a knot over one shoulder, passed under
the opposite arm, so as to leave it bare, and falling in graceful
folds before and behind, to the knee, so as to bear some
resemblance to a Roman toga.

The female dress consisted of the pau, a garment formed of a
piece of tappa, several yards in length and one in width, wrapped
round the waist, and reaching like a petticoat, to the knees.
Over this kihei, or mantle, larger than that of the men,
sometimes worn over both shoulders, like a shawl, sometimes over
one only. These mantles were seldom worn by either sex during the
heat of the day, when the exposure of their persons was at first
very revolting to a civilized eye.

Towards evening several of the partners and clerks went on shore,
where they were well received and hospitably entertained. A dance
was performed for their amusement, in which nineteen young women
and one man figured very gracefully, singing in concert, and
moving to the cadence of their song.

All this, however, was nothing to the purpose in the eyes of
Captain Thorn, who, being disappointed in his hope of obtaining a
supply of pork, or finding good water, was anxious to be off.
This it was not so easy to effect. The passengers, once on shore,
were disposed, as usual, to profit by the occasion. The partners
had many inquiries to make relative to the island, with a view to
business; while the young clerks were delighted with the charms
and graces of the dancing damsels.

To add to their gratifications, an old man offered to conduct
them to the spot where Captain Cook was massacred. The
proposition was eagerly accepted, and all hands set out on a
pilgrimage to the place. The veteran islander performed his
promise faithfully, and pointed out the very spot where the
unfortunate discoverer fell. The rocks and cocoa-trees around
bore record of the fact, in the marks of the balls fired from the
boats upon the savages. The pilgrims gathered round the old man,
and drew from him all the particulars he had to relate respecting
this memorable event; while the honest captain stood by and bit
his nails with impatience. To add to his vexation, they employed
themselves in knocking off pieces of the rocks, and cutting off
the bark of the trees marked by the balls, which they conveyed
back to the ship as precious relics.

Right glad, therefore, was he to get them and their treasures
fairly on board, when he made sail from this unprofitable place,
and steered for the Bay of Tocaigh, the residence of the chief or
governor of the island, where he hoped to be more successful in
obtaining supplies. On coming to anchor the captain went on
shore, accompanied by Mr. M'Dougal and Mr. M'Kay, and paid a
visit to the governor. This dignitary proved to be an old sailor,
by the name of John Young; who, after being tossed about the seas
like another Sinbad, had, by one of the whimsical freaks of
fortune, been elevated to the government of a savage island. He
received his visitors with more hearty familiarity than
personages in his high station are apt to indulge, but soon gave
them to understand that provisions were scanty at Tocaigh, and
that there was no good water, no rain having fallen in the
neighborhood in three years.

The captain was immediately for breaking up the conference and
departing, but the partners were not so willing to part with the
nautical governor, who seemed disposed to be extremely
communicative, and from whom they might be able to procure some
useful information. A long conversation accordingly ensued, in
the course of which they made many inquiries about the affairs of
the islands, their natural productions, and the possibility of
turning them to advantage in the way of trade; nor did they fail
to inquire into the individual history of John Young, and how he
came to be governor. This he gave with great condescension,
running through the whole course of his fortunes "even from his
boyish days."

He was a native of Liverpool, in England, and had followed the
sea from boyhood, until, by dint of good conduct, he had risen so
far in his profession as to be boatswain of an American ship
called the Eleanor, commanded by Captain Metcalf. In this vessel
he had sailed in 1789, on one of those casual expeditions to the
northwest coast, in quest of furs. In the course of the voyage,
the captain left a small schooner, named the Fair American, at
Nootka, with a crew of five men, commanded by his son, a youth of
eighteen. She was to follow on in the track of the Eleanor.

In February, 1790, Captain Metcalf touched at the island of
Mowee, one of the Sandwich group. While anchored here, a boat
which was astern of the Eleanor was stolen, and a seaman who was
in it was killed. The natives, generally, disclaimed the outrage,
and brought the shattered remains of the boat and the dead body
of the seaman to the ship. Supposing that they had thus appeased
the anger of the captain, they thronged, as usual, in great
numbers about the vessel, to trade. Captain Metcalf, however,
determined on a bloody revenge. The Eleanor mounted ten guns. All
these he ordered to be loaded with musket-balls, nails, and


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