Page images




in their favor stronger than could be alleged by any other power. This right could not be legally contested by Great Britain, either on the ground of the Nootka convention or of the law of nations. It was an exclusive right to occupy, within a reasonable time, the countries drained by the Columbia River, and those immediately attached to them, not already occupied by another civilized nation ; and the fulfilment of that condition would perfect the sovereignty of the United States in those countries.

Soon after the signature of the Florida treaty, an expedition for the purpose of examining the country drained by the Missouri and its branches was organized by Mr. Calhoun, the Secretary of State of the United States, who had been, for some time previous, assiduously endeavoring to regulate the intercourse with the Indians, and to extend the military posts of the Union through those regions.* The expedition was conducted by Major Stephen Long, who, accompanied by a large number of officers and men of science, ascended the River Platte to the source of its southern branch, in 1820, and thence returned, by way of the Arkansas, to the Mississippi. † Much information was obtained, through this expedition, respecting the geography, natural history, and aboriginal inhabitants, of those regions; and a fact, most important in a political point of view, was then first established — namely, that the whole division of North America, drained by the Missouri and the Arkansas, and their tributaries, between the meridian of the mouth of the Platte and the Rocky Mountains, is almost entirely unfit for cultivation, and therefore uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence.

Changes were, about the same time, made in the system of the British trade in the northern parts of America, which led to the most important political and commercial results.

Frequent allusions have been already made to the enmity subsisting between the Hudson's Bay and the North-West Companies.

* See Mr. Calhoun's report on this subject to the House of Representatives, dated December 5th, 1818, in which he reviews the system of intercourse with the Indians, then pursued, and recommends, as the only means of protecting them against the cupidity of the traders, and of securing the United States against the deleterious influence exercised over those people by the British trading companies, that the whole trade in the regions beyond the organized states and territories of the Union should be vested, for twenty years, in a company, subject to such regulations as might be prescribed by law. This document merits attention, from the accu. racy of the details and the force of the reasoning; and we may now regret that the plan proposed by Mr. Calhoun was not carried into effect.

+ Narrative of the expedition, by Dr. James, in 2 vols. 8vo., with an atlas.

[ocr errors]

This feeling was displayed only in words, or in the commission of petty acts of injury or annoyance by each against the other, until 1814, when a regular war broke out between the parties, which was, for some time after, openly carried on. The scene of the hostilities was the territory traversed by the Red River of Hudson's Bay and its branches, in which Lord Selkirk, a Scotch nobleman, had, in 1811, obtained from the Hudson's Bay Company a grant of not less than a hundred thousand square miles, for the establishment of agricultural colonies. The validity of this grant was denied by the North-West Company, to which the proposed occupation of the territory in question would have been absolutely ruinous, as the routes from Canada to the north-western trading posts ran through it, and from it were obtained nearly all the provisions consumed at those posts. The British government, however, appeared to favor and protect Lord Selkirk's project, and a large number of Scotch Highlanders were, without opposition, established on Red River, the country about which received, in 1812, the name of Ossinobia. For two years after the formation of the settlement, peace was maintained; at length, in January, 1814, Miles Macdonnel, the governor of the new province, issued a proclamation, in which he set forth the limits of the region claimed by his patron, and prohibited all persons, under pain of seizure and prosecution, from carrying out of it "any provisions, either of flesh, dried meat, grain, or vegetables,” during that year. The attempts to enforce this prohibition were resisted by the North-West traders, who appeared so resolute in their determination not to yield, that the colonists became alarmed, and quitted the country, some of them returning to Canada, and others emigrating to the United States. In the following year, Lord Selkirk again sent settlers of various nations to the Red River, between whom and the NorthWest people hostilities were immediately begun. Posts were taken and destroyed on both sides; and, on the 19th of June, 1816, a battle was fought, in which the Ossinobians were routed, and seventeen of their number, including their governor, Mr. Semple, were killed. The country was then again abandoned by the settlers.*

These affairs were brought before the British Parliament in June,

* Lord Selkirk's Sketch of the British Fur Trade in North America, published in 1816, and the review of it in the London Quarterly Review for October, 1816 – Narrative of the Occurrences in the Indian Countries of America, published by the North-West Company in 1817, containing all the documents on the subject.



[ocr errors]

1819; and a debate ensued, in the course of which the proceedings of the two rival associations were minutely investigated. The ministry then interposed its mediation, and a compromise was thus at length effected, by which the North-West Company became united with, or rather merged in, the Hudson's Bay Company. At the same time, and in connection with this arrangement, an act for regulating the fur trade and establishing a criminal and civil jurisdiction in certain parts of North Americawas passed in Parliament, containing every provision required to give stability to the Hudson's Bay Company, and efficiency to its operations.

By this act, passed on the 2d of July, 1821, the king was authorized to make grants or give licenses to any body corporate, company, or person, for the exclusive privilege of trading with the Indians, in all such parts of North America as may be specified in the grants, not being parts of the territories previously granted to the Hudson's Bay Company, or of any of his majesty's provinces in North America, or any territories belonging to the United States of America : provided, however, that no such grant or license shall be given for a longer period than twenty-one years; that no grant or license for exclusive trade, in the part of America west of the Rocky Mountains, which, by the convention of 1818 with the United States, remained free and open to the subjects or citizens of both nations, shall be used to the prejudice or exclusion of citizens of the United States engaged in such trade; and that no British subject shall trade in those territories west of the Rocky Mountains without such license or grant. By the same act, also, the courts of judicature of Upper Canada are empowered to take cognizance of all causes, civil or criminal, arising in any of the above-mentioned territories, including those previously granted to the Hudson's Bay Company, and “other parts of America, not within the limits of either of the provinces of Upper or Lower Canada, or of any civil government of the United States ;” and justices of the peace are to be commissioned in those territories, to execute and enforce the laws and the decisions of the courts, to take evidence, and commit offenders and send them for trial to Canada, and even, under certain circumstances, to hold courts themselves, for the trial of criminal offences and misdemeanors not punishable by death, and of civil causes, in which the amount at issue should not exceed two hundred pounds.*

[ocr errors]

* Sce the act and the grant here mentioned in the Proofs and Illustrations, at the end of this volume, under the letter I, No. 2.

Upon the passage of this act, the union of the two companies was effected, and a grant was made, by the king, to “the governor and company of adventurers trading to Hudson's Bay, and to William Macgillivray, Simon Macgillivray, and Edward Ellice,” the persons so named, representing the former proprietors of the NorthWest Company,* of the exclusive trade, for twenty-one years, in all the countries in which such privileges could be granted agreeably to the act. Persons in the service of the company were, at the same time, commissioned as justices of the peace for those countries; and the jurisdiction of the courts of Upper Canada was rendered effective as far as the shores of the Pacific, no exception being made, in that respect, by the act, with regard to any of the territories embraced in the grant, “ not within the limits of any civil government of the United States.

About this period, also, the search for a north-west passage, or navigable communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific, north of America, which had been so long suspended, was resumed by British officers, under the auspices of their government; and expeditions for that object were, made through Baffin's Bay, as well as by land, through the northernmost parts of the American continent. The geographical results of these expeditions were highly interesting, while, at the same time, the skill, courage, and perseverance, of the British were honorably illustrated by the labors of Ross, Parry, Franklin, and their companions. The west coasts of Baffin's Bay were carefully curveyed, and many passages leading from it towards the west and south-west, were traced to considerable distances. The progress of the ships through these passages

. was, however, in each case, arrested by ice; and, although many extensive portions of the northern coast of the continent were explored, and the Arctic Sea, in their vicinity, was found free from ice during the short summer, the question respecting the existence of a northern channel of communication between the oceans was left unsolved. These voyages, independently of the value of their scientific results, also proved most advantageous to the commerce of the British throughout the whole of their territories in America, as new routes were opened, and new regions, abounding in furs, were rendered accessible.

The Russians were, in the mean time, constantly increasing their

In 1824, the North-West Company surrendered its rights and interests to the Hudson's Bay Company, in the name of which alone all the operations were thenceforward conducted.




trade in the Pacific, and, in addition to their establishments on the northernmost coasts of that ocean, they had taken possession of the country adjoining Port San Francisco, which they seemed determined, as well as able, to retain. With this object, Baranof, the chief agent of the Russian American Company, in 1812, obtained from the Spanish governor of California permission to erect some houses, and to leave a few men on the shore of Bodega Bay, a little north of Port San Francisco, where they were employed in hunting the wild cattle, and drying meat for the supply of Sitka and the other settlements. In the course of two or three years after this permission was granted, the number of persons thus employed became so great, and their dwelling assumed so much the appearance of a fort, that the governor thought proper to remonstrate on the subject; and, his representations being disregarded, he formally commanded the Russians to quit the territories of his Catholic majesty. The command was treated with as little respect as the remonstrance; and, upon its repetition, the Russian agent, Kuskof, coolly denied the right of the Spaniards over the territory, which he asserted to be free and open for occupation by the people of any civilized power. The governor of California was unable to enforce his commands; and, as no assistance could be afforded to him from Mexico, in which the rebellion was then at its height, the intruders were left in possession of the ground, where they remained until 1840, in defiance alike of Spaniards and of Mexicans.

On the restoration of peace in Europe, in 1814, the Russian American Company resolved to make another effort to establish a direct commercial intercourse, by sea, between its possessions on the North Pacific and the European ports of the empire. With this object, the American ship Hannibal was purchased, and, her name having been changed to Suwarrow, she was despatched from Cronstadt, under Lieutenant Lazaref, laden with merchandise, for Sitka, whence she returned in the summer of 1815, with a cargo of furs valued at a million of dollars. The adventure proving successful, others of the same kind were made, until the communications became regular, as they now are.

After the departure of this vessel from Sitka, Baranof sent about a hundred Russians and Aleutians, under the direction of Dr. Schaeffer, a German, who had been the surgeon of the Suwarrow, with the intention, apparently, of taking possession of one of the Sandwich Islands. These men landed first at Owyhee, whence

« PreviousContinue »