Page images



the operations. His first objects were to concentrate in the hands of the company the fur trade of every part of the unsettled territories of America claimed by the United States, and also the supply of the Russian establishments on the North Pacific, which was to be conducted agreeably to arrangements made with the Russian American Company, similar to those proposed by the government of St. Petersburg to the cabinet at Washington, as already mentioned; and by the attainment of these first objects, he expected to be able to control, if not exclusively to possess, the whole commerce between the ports of China and those of America, and of a large portion of Europe.

For these purposes, posts were to be established on the Missouri, the Columbia, and the coasts of the Pacific contiguous to the latter river, at which places the furs were to be collected by trade with the Indians, or by hunters in the employ of the company. The posts were to be supplied with the merchandise required, either by way of the Missouri, or by ships despatched from the ports of the United States to the North Pacific; and the furs collected were to be carried either down the Missouri to the Atlantic ports of the Union, or westward to the establishments of the company on the Pacific. The merchandise sent to the Pacific would be discharged, in the first instance, at a principal factory, to be founded at some point most convenient for distributing the articles among the interior posts, and for receiving the furs from those places; and the vessels would then take in cargoes of furs, which they would transport to Canton. Vessels would also be sent, either directly from the United States, or from the principal factory on the Pacific, to the Russian American establishments, with provisions and other articles, for which furs were to be received in payment; and from Canton these vessels would bring to Europe or America teas, silks, and other Chinese goods, procured in exchange for their furs. It is scarcely necessary to ad 1, that all these movements were to be conducted with order and regularity, and at stated periods, so as to prevent loss of time and labor, or injury to the various articles transported.

The number of shares in the company was to be one hundred : of these half were retained by Mr. Astor, who was to advance the funds necessary for the first operations, and to manage the concerns at New York; the remaining shares being divided among the other partners, who were to conduct the business in the western territories, on the Pacific, and at Canton. The association, if prosperous, was to continue twenty years, after which it might be prolonged; but it might be abandoned by any of the partners, or dissolved, within the first five years, Mr. Astor bearing all the losses incurred during that period.

This was certainly an extensive and complicated scheme; but it appeared, at the time when it was devised, to be perfectly practicable. The territories in which the new establishments were to be formed, had never been occupied : there could be no doubt that the Russians would gladly agree to the proposed arrangements for the trade with their factories; the demand for furs at Canton was regular, and sufficiently great to insure the superiority, in that market, to those who could control the supply; and the Americans would possess, in China and on the Pacific, a decided advantage over the British, whose flag was then rarely seen in the Pacific, in consequence of the monopoly enjoyed by the East India Company. Moreover, there was then no prospect of a material change in the political positions of the principal nations of the world.

The only party from which the Pacific Company could apprehend any immediate and serious difficulties, was the North-West Company of Montreal. The resources of that body were in every respect inferior to Mr. Astor's; but, in order to prevent rivalry, he communicated his intentions confidentially to its directors, and offered them an interest to the extent of one third in his enterprise: they, however, rejected his proposal, and took measures, as will be shown hereafter, to forestall him. Was Mr. Astor — a citizen of the United States - justifiable in thus offering to an association of British subjects, noted for its enmity to his adopted country, a share of the advantages to be obtained under the flag of the United States, from territories exclusively belonging to the United States, or of which the exclusive possession by the United States was evidently essential to the welfare and advancement of the republic?

Having matured his scheme, Mr. Astor engaged as partners, clerks, and voyageurs, a number of Scotchmen and Canadians, who had been in the service of the North-West Company, and afterwards a number rather greater, of other persons, principally natives of the United States. The partners first admitted were Alexander Mackay, who had accompanied Mackenzie in his expedition to the Pacific in 1793, Duncan Macdougal, and Donald Mackenzie, all Scotchmen, formerly belonging to the North-West Company: these persons signed the constitution or articles of agreement of the Pacific Company, with Mr. Astor, on the 23d of June, 1810; having, however, previously communicated the whole plan of the enterprise to Mr. Jackson, the minister plenipotentiary of Great Britain in the United 1810.]



States, who quieted all their scruples as to engaging in it, by assuring them that,“ in case of a war between the two nations, they would be respected as British subjects and merchants.” The partners subsequently admitted were David and Robert Stuart, and Ramsay Crooks, Scotchmen, who had also been in the service of the NorthWest Company, and Wilson Price Hunt, John Clarke, and Robert Maclellan, citizens of the United States. The majority of the clerks were Americans; among the others were Ross Cox, an Englishman, and Gabriel Franchère, a Canadian, each of whom has written an interesting history of the enterprise. The voyageurs were nearly all from Canada. Mr. Hunt, a native of New Jersey, was chosen as chief agent of the company, to superintend all its concerns on the western side of America for five years.

Thus it will be seen that, although the chief direction of the concerns of the Pacific Fur Company, in New York and on the western side of the continent, were at first intrusted to American citizens, yet the majority not only of the inferior servants, but also of the partners, were British subjects, nearly all of whom had been in the service of a rival British association.

The preparations for commencing the enterprise having been completed, four of the partners, Messrs. Mackay, Macdougal, David Stuart, and Robert Stuart, with eleven clerks, thirteen Canadian voyageurs, and five mechanics, all British subjects, took their departure from New York for the mouth of the Columbia River, in September, 1810, in the ship Tonquin, commanded by Jonathan Thorne. In January following, the second detachment, conducted by Mr. Hunt, the chief agent, and Messrs. Maclellan, Mackenzie, and Crooks, set out for the same point, by way of the Missouri River; and in October, 1811, the ship Beaver, under Captain Sowles, carried out from New York, to the North Pacific, Mr. Clarke, with six clerks and a number of other persons.

Mr. Astor had already, in 1809, despatched the ship Enterprise, under Captain Ebbets, an intelligent and experienced seaman and trader, to make observations at various places on the north-west coasts of America, and particularly at the Russian settlements, and to prepare the way for the new establishments. He, also, in 1811, sent an agent to St. Petersburg, by whose means he concluded an arrangement with the Russian American Company, to the effect that his association should have the exclusive privileges, of supplying the Russian establishments on the North Pacific with merchandise, receiving furs in payment, and of transporting to Canton such


other furs as the Russians might choose to ship for that port, on their own account, provided that the Americans should visit no other parts of the coast north of a certain latitude.

The Tonquin passed around Cape Horn, and in February, 1811, arrived at Owyhee, where Macdougal, who was to superintend the affairs of the company on the Pacific and its coasts until the arrival of Hunt, endeavored to conclude a treaty of amity and commerce with King Tamahamaha : but that aged chief, whom experience had rendered distrustful, refused to bind himself by any contract with the white men; and he would only promise to furnish the vessels of the company with provisions on the same terms with other vessels — namely, on payment of the value in Spanish dollars. Having obtained the necessary supplies in this way, and taken on board a dozen of the islanders, who were permitted by their sovereign to engage in the service of the Pacific Company, Captain Thorne sailed for the mouth of the Columbia, where he effected an entrance on the 24th of March, with great danger and difficulty, after losing three of his men, who attempted to reach the shore in a boat.

The passengers immediately disembarked on the shore of Baker's Bay, on the north side of the Columbia, just within Cape Disappointment, where sheds were built for their temporary accommodation. A few days afterwards, the partners set off in search of a place proper for the establishment of a factory; and they soon selected for that object a spot on the south bank of the river, distant about ten miles from the ocean, which had received from Broughton, in 1792, the name of Point George. To this place the Tonquin was removed ; and, her goods and materials being landed, preparations were commenced for the erection of a fort and other houses, and for building a small vessel, of which the frame had been brought out from New York. In the course of two months, these works were so far advanced, that the assistance of the ship's crew was no longer needed; and Captain Thorne accordingly sailed on the 5th of June for the northern coasts, carrying with him Mr. Mackay who was to conduct the trade, and to make arrangements with the Russians, Mr. Lewis one of the clerks, and an Indian who spoke English, to serve as interpreter.

During the ensuing summer, much progress was made in the buildings for the factory, which, in honor of the head of the company, was named AstoRIA. A large piece of ground was cleared and laid out as a garden, in which various vegetables were planted ; the small vessel was finished and launched ; trade was carried on with the neighboring Indians, and also with others from the higher 1811.]



parts of the river, who gave skins, fish, and game, in exchange for manufactured articles; and every thing, in fine, seemed to promise success to the enterprise.

While the Astorians were thus engaged, they were unexpectedly visited, on the 15th of July, by a party of the North-West Company's men, under the direction of Mr. David Thompson, the surveyor or astronomer of that body. These men had been despatched from Canada in the preceding year, with the object of forestalling the Americans in the occupation of the mouth of the Columbia, which they hoped to effect before the end of that season : but they were so long delayed in seeking a passage through the Rocky Mountains, that they were obliged to winter in that ridge, near the northernmost sources of the Columbia, under the 52d parallel of latitude ; whence they hastened down the river in the spring of 1811, building huts. and erecting flags at various places, by way of taking possession of the country. They were received at the fort not as rivals, but as friends; and were treated with the utmost respect and hospitality, during their stay, by their old companion, the superintendent, Macdougal, who, moreover, furnished them with provisions, and even with goods, for trading on their departure up the river.

Mr. Thompson and his followers in this expedition were, from all the accounts as yet made public, the first white persons who navigated the northern branch of the Columbia, or traversed any part of the country drained by it. The British commissioners, in the negotiation with the American plenipotentiary at London, in 1826, nevertheless, attempted to place Mr. Thompson's expedition on an equality, not only as to extent of discovery, but also as to date, with that of Lewis and Clarke; and to represent the establishments which he is said to have founded on his way down the Columbia as prior to those formed by the Pacific Company. In their statement of the claims of Great Britain to territories west of the Rocky Mountains, they say *—“The United States further pretend that their claim to the country in question is strengthened and confirmed by the discovery of the sources of the Columbia, and by the exploration of its course to the sea by Lewis and Clarke, in 1805–6. In reply to this allegation, Great Britain affirms, and can distinctly prove, that, if not before, at least in the same and subsequent years, her North-West Trading Company had, by means of their agent, Mr. Thompson, already established their posts among the Flat-head and

See the British statement, among the Proofs and Illustrations, in the latter part of this volume, under the letter H.

« PreviousContinue »