The British Remain

September 6, 2009

Bruno de Hezeta y Dudagoitia was the second European to make contact with the Indians of the present-day British Columbia and this he did off the southern tip of Vancouver Island in 1775.

On Aug. 17, 1775, he thought for sure he had located the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as he recorded within his journal, “These currents and seething of the waters have led me to believe that it may be the mouth of some great river or some passage to another sea,” but it was only the Columbia River.

Hezeta soon gained the dubious distinction of being the first to bring smallpox to the Pacific Northwest, which led to the edification of approximately 11,000, or 30% of the Puget Sound tribes during the 1770’s.

The natives of the Pacific Northwest didn’t need such carelessness to cause them grief, they had sufficient natural disasters to place their health at risk. The Squamish tribe spoke of a dreadful misfortune when, “One salmon season, the fish were found to be covered with running sores and blotches, which rendered them unfit for food. But as a people who depended largely upon these salmon for their winter’s food supply, there were obliged to catch and cure them as best they could, and store them away for food. They put off eating them until no other food was available, and then began a terrible time of sickness and distress. A dreadful skin disease, loathsome to look upon, broke out upon all alike. None were spared. Men, women and children were sickened, taking the disease and dying in agony by the hundreds, so that when the spring arrived and fresh food was procurable, there was scarcely a person left of all their numbers to gather it. Camp after camp, village after village, was left desolate. The remains of which, can be found today in the old camp sites or midden-heaps, over which the forest has been growing for so many generations.”

By the time Hezeta reached the Olympic Peninsula, his crew had been beset by scurvy or some unknown disease. He stopped nonetheless near present-day Point Grenville, where some of Quadra’s men were killed by natives when they went ashore for water at an earlier date.

Quadra had led a similar expedition and noted in his journal on July of 1775, that his crew encountered violent resistance on the Washington coast when seven Spanish / Mexican sailors were massacred by more than 200 Indians, at a place they called Punta de lox Martines, now believed to be Port Grenville.

Also stricken with scurvy, Quadra and his crew pressed on as far north as the 58th parallel. North of Sitka he found a crudely constructed shelter where they erected the first Spanish cross on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Surprised not to find Russians in occupation of the land, he formally declared the land sovereign to Carlos III, King of Spain and the West Indies. He performed a similar ceremony on August 18, 1775, at Salisbury Sound, Alaska.

It was a full three years later, in 1778, that Captain James Cook arrived at Nootka Sound to take possession of “territories useful” to England. The race for occupation was on, but neither the Spanish nor the English knew of the others endeavours, so they proceeded on doing what they felt would be preemptive.

It was later noted that Nootka was not an Indian word but rather one that Captain Cook created as he misinterpreted the words of the local natives on his first visit. Dropping anchor in Resolution Cove, Cook and his men watched as the natives approached, calling out, “Itchme nutka! Itchme nutka!”, or ‘go around.’ They were urging Cook to sail his two ships around Bligh Island to an anchorage nearer their village. Cook assumed they were introducing themselves as the Nootka. We have since learned that the true name is Yuquot, which means ‘for this.’

On May 5, 1789, Esteban Jose Martinez dropped anchor in Friendly Cove, Nootka Island, with two Spanish gun-ships and a contingent of 76 soldiers, with orders to establish a Spanish presence by constructing a fort.

From the outset, he was disgruntled to find two American ships at anchor nearby, the Columbia under the direction of John Kendrick and the Lady Washington, under Robert Gray. Even more distressing was the presence of the Iphigenia Nubiana, a trading vessel under the command of Captain William Douglas.

Within days, two British ships, the North West America and the Argonaut arrived under the command of Captain James Colnett, the latter two with a force of Chinese labourers and instructions to build a British fort.

Martinez took exception to this further intrusion and arrested Colnett, seizing his two ships and sparking what became known as the “Nootka Incident.”

Colnett wrote of the event some nine years later. “On my coming into his {Martinez} cabin, he said he wished to see my papers; on my presenting them to him, he just glanced his eyes over them, and although he did not understand a word of the language in which they were written, declared they were forged, and threw them disdainfully on the table, saying at the same time, I should not sail until he pleased. On my making some remonstrances at his breach of faith, and his forgetfulness of that word and honour which he had pledged to me, he arose in an apparent anger, and went out.

“I now saw, but too late, the duplicity of this Spaniard , and was conversing with the interpreter on the subject, when having my back towards the cabin door, I by chance cast my eyes on a looking-glass, and saw an armed party rushing behind me. I instantly put my hand to my hanger, but before I had time to place myself in a posture of defence, a violent blow brought me to the ground. I was then ordered into the stocks, and closely confined; after which, they seized my ship and cargo, imprisoned my officers and put my men in irons.

“They sent their boats likewise to sea and seized the sloop Princess Royal, and brought her into port, for trading on the coast. It may not be amiss to observe the Spaniards consider it contrary to treaty, and are extremely jealous, if any European power trades in those seas, but this cannot justify Don Martinez, who, not content with securing me and my people, carried me from ship to ship, like a criminal, rove halter to the yard-arm, and frequently threatened me with instant death, by hanging me as a pirate.”

The event led to a serious diplomatic exchange between London and Madrid. It was not until Oct. 28, 1790, that Spain and England signed the first Nootka Convention providing for the mutual territorial rights and access to the area. Each country named commissioners to oversee the loose terms of the truce. For Spain it was Captain Godega Quadra, for England it was Captain George Vancouver. The two coexisted together at Nootka Island exchanging diplomatic and cordial discourse through interpreters for the following four months.

Quadra spoke of his established relationship with the Mowachaht Chief Maquinna, the man who originally granted his verbal consent to the Spanish to occupy his land.

While Maquinna summered in the region of Nootka Island, his nation’s winter home was thirty miles to the north at the head of Tahsis Inlet. It was noted that Maquinna had an armoury of 14 muskets and that he had four windows installed in his longhouse. Later, it was pointed out that the windows had been a gift of the American John Kendrick.

It appeared however that Kendrick was generous to a fault. Records show that he purchased a piece of land from Maquinna in exchange for “ten guns and a little powder.”
Kendrick built a small cabin on that piece of land and spent the winter there, living with the natives. He was constantly giving them gifts and entertaining them with fireworks. He spoke their language and wore their clothes and adapted himself to their customs.
Captain Robert Morris of the Empress of China arrived shortly after Kendrick and wrote that Kendrick had been “perverse in the idea of teaching the savaged the handling of firearms — a lesson that could be harmful to all humanity. He gave Maquinna a swivel gun, and furnished him with power and a considerable portion of shot, which {the Indians} just finished using on the unhappy sailors of Captains Brown and Baker.”

Captain Vancouver was introduced to Maquinna’s favourite wife, who at the time was about twenty years of age, he wrote that of her as “whose attractive figure did not surprise us any less than the sentinel and the muskets. If after a lengthy voyage one could judge beauty with accuracy, we would dare say that this vivacious girl exceeds in beauty the heroines of the novel, as they are pictured to us by the magic of poetry.” Presents were given to all four of Maquinna’s wives and he would guess the tribes population to be about 4,000.

“The character of Maquinna is difficult to decipher. His personality seems simultaneously fierce, suspicious and intrepid. The natural tenancy of his inclinations is probably much disturbed on one hand by the desire of the Europeans to cultivate his friendship, the treasure he has accumulated in a few years of trade and the obvious discord between the Europeans, themselves. He was uncertain as to their attempts to obtain a monopoly of the fur trade; on the one hand, the weakness of his own forces and the skirmishes they have suffered, the usefulness of the trade, and the too frequent presence of European ships in these parts. 

“As for the use of their land, there was no formal cession and no part of it was donated or sold.” Quadra wrote, “I constantly treat Maquinna as a friend, singling him out among all with the clearest demonstrations of esteem. He always occupies a place of honour at my table and I take myself the trouble to serve him.”

This much impressed Captain Vancouver. “I could not help observing, with a mixture of surprise and pleasure how much the Spaniards had succeeded in gaining the good opinion and confidence of the people, together with the very orderly behaviour, so conspicuously evident in their conduct towards the Spaniards on all occasions.”

Vancouver was uncertain of the Spaniard’s practice to trade guns for children who were slaves. The Spaniards would ostensibly baptize them and in doing so save them from alleged cannibalism. “There was one among them whom the sailors called Primo. He told us that he had been destined to be a victim and to be eaten by Chief Maquinna together with many others, and that this custom was practiced with the younger prisoners of war, as well as in the ceremonies which were used in such a detestable and horrible sacrifice.
One of the priests with Martinez reported, “Maquinna ate the little boys among the enemies who had the misfortune to fall prisoner. For this purpose he tried to fatten them up first, and then when they were ready, got them all together in a circle (he did this eight days before our people left that waterway), put himself in the middle with an instrument in hand and, looking at all the miserables with furious visage, decided which one was to serve as dish for his inhumane meal. Then, advancing upon the unhappy victim with his voracious appetite, he opened its abdomen at one blow, cut off the arms, and commenced devouring the innocents raw flesh, bloodying himself as he satiated his barbarous appetite.”
They practiced polygamy and in birth, “as soon as they throw off the afterbirth, they run into the sea and swim with great resolution. If a son is born, the father will enclose himself with his son in their lodge, seeing neither the sun nor the waves, being fearful of gravely offending Qua-utz, who would leave both him and his son without life in punishment of his sin. Names are changed according to one’s age, and in the matter each new one is solemnized with greater luxury and magnificence than the first.”

Captain Cook drew a fair comparison between the Kanaka natives of the Sandwich Islands and that of the Nootka nations. In watching the Kanaka women coming offshore in canoes, “it was not possible to keep the latter out of the ship and no women I ever met with were more ready to bestow their favours. When any one of us sees a handsome girl in a canoe that he has a mind to, upon waving his hand to her she immediately jumps overboard and swims to the ship, where we receive her in our arms like another Venus just rising form the waves; both men and women come on board the ship in great numbers and during the whole time of trafficking with them it is nothing but one scene of noise and confusion on board the ships and all round them.”

As for the Nootka women, “the organized sale of sex to Europeans seems to have come about through adaptation not imposition. When Europeans proposed a trade in sex with women, slavery provided Nuu-chah-nulth elites with a class of sex workers who were outside Nuu-chah-nulth social rules of sexual modesty, and whose work would only re-affirm existing wealth relationships.”

It was recorded that sailors first scrubbed many of the women brought onto the ships prior to having sex. “In general in their dealings with us they acted in a fair part tho’ they made no scruple of stealing when the opportunity offered; but upon being detected they would immediately return whatever they had taken and laugh in our faces, as they considered it as a piece of dexterity that did them credit rather than dishonor.”

Maquinna was no fool, for he used the Europeans to assert his own superiority among rival chiefs. Notwithstanding, their occupation was not without incident.

Shortly after Martinez had seized the two British ships, Callicum, the son-in-law of Maquinna, took umbrage with the Spanish treatment of the English, whereupon he paddled out to the Spanish vessel, and engaged in an unintelligible shouting match with Martinez. Martinez tried to shoot Callicum but his gun failed. Regretfully another Spanish soldier standing nearby, finished the job killing Callicum. The killing “was a black cloud that hung over the Spanish for the remaining five years of their presence.”

Subsequent conventions were signed by the British and Spanish in 1793, 1794 and finally in 1795, the last of which led to the Spanish dismantling their Fort on March 23, 1795 marking the end of Spanish dominance on the West Coast of Canada.

Upon leaving Nootka Sound, Martinez took with him several young Indians for whom he had bartered their ownership. Christened with Spanish names, they became pawns in an emerging propaganda campaign by Spanish priests to convince Spanish authorities to commit more funds for missionary conversion of heathen souls.

With gratitude for all that he had done, the naming of Vancouver Island appeared to be an appropriate acknowledgement.

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