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1792:] VANCOUVER MEETS GRAY NEAR THE STRAIT OF FUCA. 233
Vancouver accordingly sailed onwards, to the entrance of the Strait of Fuca, which he was eager to explore ; having, as he believed, ascertained that “the several large rivers and capacious inlets, that have been described as discharging their contents into the Pacific, between the 40th and the 48th degrees of north latitude, were reduced to brooks insufficient for our vessels to navigate, or to bays inaccessible as harbors for refitting.” Again he says,
Considering ourselves now on the point of commencing an examination of an entirely new region, I cannot take leave of the coast already known, without obtruding a short remark on that part of the continent, comprehending a space of nearly two hundred and fifteen leagues, on which our inquiries had been lately employed, under the most fortunate and favorable circumstances of wind and weather. So minutely has this extensive coast been inspected, that the surf has been constantly seen to break on its shores from the masthead; and it was but in a few small intervals only where our distance preeluded its being visible from the deck. Whenever the weather prevented our making free with the shore, or on our hauling off for the night, the return of fine weather and of daylight uniformly brought us, if not to the identical spot we had departed from, at least within a few miles of it, and never beyond the northern limits of the coast which we had previously seen. An examination so directed, and circumstances happily concurring to permit its being so executed, afforded the most complete opportunity of determining its various turnings and windings, as also the position of all its conspicuous points, ascertained by meridional altitudes for the latitude, and observations for the chronometer, which we had the good fortune to make constantly once, and in general twice, every day, the preceding one only excepted. It must be considered a very singular circumstance, that, in so great an extent of sea-coast, we should not until now have seen the appearance of any opening in its shore which presented any certain prospect of affording a shelter, the whole coast forming one compact and nearly straight barrier against the sea.”
On the same day, the 29th of April, 1792, Vancouver writes in his journal, “ At four o'clock, a sail was discovered to the westward, standing in shore. This was a very great novelty, not having seen any vessel but our consort during the last eight months. She soon hoisted American colors, and fired a gun to leeward. At six we spoke her; she proved to be the ship Columbia, commanded by Captain Robert Gray, belonging to Boston, whence she had been absent nineteen months. Having little doubt of his being the same person who had formerly commanded the sloop Washington, I desired he would bring to, and sent Mr. Puget and Mr. Menzies on board, to acquire such information as might be serviceable in our future operations. On the return of the boat, we found our conjectures had not been ill grounded; that this was the same gentleman who had commanded the sloop Washington, at the time, we are informed, she had made a very singular voyage behind Nootka. It was not a little remarkable, that, on our approach to the entrance of this inland sea, we should fall in with the identical person who, it was said, had sailed through it. His relation, however, differed very materially from that published in England. It is not possible to conceive any one to be more astonished than was Mr. Gray, on his being made acquainted that his authority had been quoted, and the track pointed out that he had been said to have made in the sloop Washington ; in contradiction to which, he assured the officers that he had penetrated only fifty miles into the straits in question, in an east-south-east direction; that he found the passage five leagues wide, and that he understood from the natives that the opening extended a considerable distance to the northward ; that this was all the information he had acquired respecting this inland sea, and that he returned into the ocean by the same way he had entered at. The inlet he supposed to be the same that De Fuca had discovered, which opinion seemed to be universally received by all the modern visitors. He likewise informed them of his having been off the mouth of a river, in the latitude of 46 degrees 10 minutes, where the outset or reflux was so strong as to prevent his entering for nine days. This was probably the opening passed by us on the forenoon of the 27th, and was apparently inaccessible, not from the current, but from the breakers that extended across it. He had also entered another inlet to the northward, in latitude of 547 degrees, in which he had sailed to the latitude of 56 degrees, without discovering its termination. The south point of entrance into De Fuca's Straits he stated to be in 48 degrees 24 minutes ; and he conceived our distance from it to be about eight leagues. The last winter he had spent in Port Cox, or, as the natives call it, Clyoquot, from whence he had sailed but a few days,” &c.
The part of this account relating to the Strait of Fuca appears to have been received with much satisfaction by Vancouver, as it seemed to assure him that he had not been anticipated in the exploration of that passage; to Gray's statement of his discovery of a river emptying into the Pacific, in the latitude of 46 degrees 10
GRAY'S ACCOUNT OF HIS DISCOVERIES.
minutes, he gave little, or rather no credit, being content with his own examination of that part of the coast. On the day after his meeting with the Columbia, he writes, “ The river mentioned by Mr. Gray should, from the latitude he assigned to it, have existence in the bay south of Cape Disappointment. This we passed in the forenoon of the 27th ; and, as I then observed, if any inlet or river should be found, it must be a very intricate one, and inaccessible to vessels of our burden, owing to the reefs and broken water, which then appeared in its neighborhood. Mr. Gray stated that he had been several days attempting to enter it, which, at length, he was unable to effect, in consequence of a very strong outset. This is a phenomenon difficult to account for, as, in most cases where there are outsets of such strength on a sea-coast, there are corresponding tides setting in. Be that, however, as it may, I was thoroughly convinced, as were also most persons of observation on board, that we could not possibly have passed any safe navigable opening, harbor, or place of security for shipping, on this coast, from Cape Mendocino to the promontory of Classet, (Cape Flattery, at the entrance of the Strait of Fuca ;] nor had we any reason to alter our opinions, notwithstanding that theoretical geographers have thought proper to assert in that space the existence of arms of the ocean communicating with a mediterranean sea, and extensive rivers with safe and convenient ports."
Having thus recorded his convictions, the British navigator proceeded to survey the Strait of Fuca; whilst the American fur trader sailed towards the mouth of the river, into which he resolved, if possible, to effect an entrance.
After parting with the English ships, Gray sailed along the coast of the continent to the south, and, on the 7th of May, he saw an entrance which had a very good appearance of a harbor," in the latitude of 46 degrees 58 minutes. Passing through this entrance, he found himself in a bay “well sheltered from the sea by long sand-bars and spits,” where he remained at anchor three days, engaged in trading with the natives; and he then resumed his voyage, bestowing on the place thus discovered the name of Bulfinch's Harbor, in honor of one of the owners of his ship.
At daybreak on the 11th, after leaving Bulfinch's Harbor, Gray observed “the entrance of his desired port, bearing east-south-east, distant six leagues ;” and running into it, with all sails set, between the breakers, (which Meares and Vancouver pronounce impassable,) he anchored, at one o'clock, " in a large river of fresh water,” ten miles above its mouth. At this spot he remained three days, engaged in trading and filling his casks with water, and then sailed up the river about twelve or fifteen miles along its northern shore ; where, finding that he could proceed no farther, from having “ taken the wrong channel,” he again came to anchor. During the week which followed, he made several attempts to quit the river, but was constantly baffled, until, at length, on the 20th, he crossed the bar at the mouth, by beating over it with a westerly wind, and regained the Pacific.*
On leaving the river, Gray gave to it the name of his ship — the Columbia — which it still bears; though attempts are made to fix upon it that of Oregon, on the strength of the accounts which Carver pretended to have collected, in 1766, among the Indians of the Upper Mississippi, respecting a River Oregon, rising near Lake Superior, and emptying into the Strait of Anian. The extremity of the sand-bank, projecting into the sea on the south side of its entrance, was called by Gray Point Adams; and he assigned the name of Cape Hancock to the opposite promontory, on the north side, being ignorant that Meares had already called it Cape Disappointment, in token of the unsuccessful result of his search for the river.
The principal circumstances relating to the discovery of this river, the greatest which enters the Pacific from America, have now been fairly presented. It has been shown that the opening through which its waters are discharged into the ocean was first seen in August, 1776, by the Spanish navigator Heceta, I and was distinguished on Spanish charts, within the thirteen years next following, as the mouth of the River San Roque -- that it was examined in July, 1788, by Meares, $ who quitted it with the conviction that no river existed there --- and that this opinion of Meares was subscribed, without qualification, by Vancouver, after he had minutely examined that coast, “ under the most favorable conditions of wind and weather," and notwithstanding the assurances of Gray to the contrary. Had Gray, after parting with the English ships, not returned to the river, and ascended it as he did, there is every reason to believe that it would have long remained unknown; for the assertions of Vancouver that no opening, harbor, or place of refuge for vessels, was to be found between Cape Mendocino and the
See the extract from the log-book of the Columbia, containing the account of the entrance of Gray into the river, among the Proofs and Illustrations, in the latter part of this volume, under the letter E, No. 2. + See p. 142 # See p. 120.
WHO DISCOVERED THE COLUMBIA ?
Strait of Fuca, and that this part of the coast formed one compact, solid, and nearly straight, barrier against the sea, would have served completely to overthrow the evidence of the American fur trader, and to prevent any further attempts to examine those shores, or even to approach them.*
From the mouth of the Columbia River, Gray sailed to the east coast of Queen Charlotte's Island, near which his ship struck on a rock, and was so much injured that she was with difficulty kept afloat until she reached Nootka Sound, where the damage was repaired. The Hope also arrived at Nootka at this time, and Gray communicated the particulars of his recent discoveries to Ingraham, and to the Spanish commandant Quadra, to whom he also gave charts and descriptions of Bulfinch's Harbor, and of the mouth of the Columbia. On this occasion, moreover, the two American captains addressed to Quadra, at his request, a letter containing a narrative of the transactions at Nootka in 1789, to which particular reference will be hereafter made. Having soon completed their business on the north-west coasts, Gray and Ingraham departed severally for Canton, in September, and thence they sailed to the United States. I
* It was, nevertheless, insisted, on the part of the British government, in a discussion with the United States, in 1826, that the merit of discovering the Columbia belongs to Meares! “that, in 1788, four years before Gray entered the mouth of the Columbia River, Mr. Meares, a lieutenant of the royal navy, who had been sent by the East India Company on a trading expedition to the north-west coast of America, had already minutely explored the coast from the 49th to the 54th degree of north latitude; had taken formal possession of the Straits of De Fuca in the name of his sovereign; had purchased land, trafficked and formed treaties with the natives ; and had actually entered the Bay of the Columbia, to the northern headland of which he gave the name of Cape Disappointment, a name which it bears to this day;" and that " if any claim to these countries, as between Great Britain and the United States, is to be deduced from priority of the discovery, the above exposition of dates and facts suffices to establish that clajm in favor of Great Britain, on a basis too firm to be shaken. It must indeed be admitted,” continue the British plenipotentiaries, “that Mr. Gray, finding himself in the bay formed by the discharge of the waters of the Columbia into the Pacific, was the first to ascertain that this bay formed the outlet of a great river - a discovery which had escaped Lieutenant Meares, uchen, in 1788, four years before, he entered the same bay.” The truth in the last of these assertions atones for the errors in those which precede, and counteracts the impression which the whole was intended to produce. - See the statement presented by Messrs. Huskisson and Addington to Mr. Gallatin, in 1826, among the Proofs and Illustrations, in the latter part of this volume, under the letter G. + See Proofs and Illustrations, in the latter part of this volume, under the letter C.
Ingraham subsequently entered the navy of the United States as a lieutenant, and was one of the officers of the ill-fated brig Pickering, of which nothing was ever heard, after her departure from the Delaware in August, 1800. Gray continued to command trading vessels from Boston until 1809, about which time he died.