R. E. (R. Edward) Gosnell.

A history; British Columbia online

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their position. On the nth of April, 1813, Astoria was visited by John
George McTavish and Joseph Leroche with a large party of nor'westers.
The Northwest Company wanted to purchase Astoria and McTavish had
come to show the partners there the danger of their position, the unlikeli-
hood of their receiving supplies now that British cruisers were sailing the
position and the wisdom of selling their post before it would be captured.
McDougall and his associates were not easily persuaded. At last they agreed
that if during the year supplies did not arrive arid if the war was not over,
they would disband and having sold the post at a good price hand the money
over to Astor, When Hunt returned shortly after the departure of Mc-
Tavish he was sadly disappointed at the position of affairs, but could propose
no better plan. In October of the same year McTavish came back, this time
accompanied by Alexander Stewart, and the purchase of Astoria was con-
cluded, the price being $80,500. Two weeks after H. M. S. Raccoon arrived
and great was the disappointment of her officers to find that the Northwest
Company by purchasing the trading-post had deprived them of a rich and
easily obtained prize. The captain changed the name of the place to Fort
George and took possession of the place in the name of Great Britain. In
1814 the treaty of Ghent was signed and by one of its clauses all territory,
places and possessions taken during the war, with the exception of certain
islands in the Bay of Fundy were to be restored. It was the 9th of August,


1818, before the British authorities finally restored Fort George in the fol-
lowing formula:

" We, the undersigned, do in conformity to the first article of the treaty
of Ghent, restore to the government of the United States the settlement of
Fort George on the Columbia River."

No attempt was made by the United States for several years after the
sale of Astoria to settle or establish trading posts in what came to be known
as the Oregon Country. In 18 19 Long's expedition, of which an account
was published in 1823, ascertained that the whole division of North America
drained by Missouri and Arkansas and their tributaries between the meridian
of the mouth of the Platte and the Rocky Mountains is a desert. The North-
west Company carried on their trade from Fort George at the mouth of the
Columbia to Fort St. James near the head waters of the Fraser without a
rival. By a convention made in 18 18 between Great Britain and the United
States it was agreed that the country westward of the Rocky Mountains
should be free and open for ten years from the date of the convention, to the
vessels, citizens, and subjects of both powers, without prejudice to the
claims of either country. In the year 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company and
the Northwest Company united and the courts of judicature of Upper Canada
were empowered to take cognizance of all causes, civil or criminal, in the
Hudson's Bay Territories or other ports not within the limits of Upper
Canada, Lower Canada, or the United States. Tliis company received a
license to trade in the regions which had not originally formed part of Ru-
pert's land for a period not exceeding 21 years, and persons in the service
might act as justices of the peace. The Hudson's Bay Company being now
a very powerful organization extended their fur trade along the coast to
the borders of Alaska and increased and improved their establishments in
the interior. Peace and good order were the rule wherever the company's
authority reached. • The manager of their affairs on the Pacific Coast was
John McLoughlin, a man eminently fitted for his position. He moved from


Fort George and built Fort Vancouver on the north bank of the Columbia
near the mouth of the Willamette. Large farms were cultivated at Van-
couver and at other places in the Columbia valley and on Puget Sound.

While the dispute about the ownership of the Northwest coast was aris-
ing between England and the United States, a third claim was made. The
Russian emperor issued a ukase claiming the ownership of the whole west
coast of America north of the fifty-first parallel and of the east coast of Asia
north of forty-five degrees forty-five minutes north latitude and forbidding
foreigners to come within one hundred miles of the coast. Both England and
the United States protested against this extravagant assumption on the part
of Russia and a treaty was made by each of them. That with the United
States was concluded first in 1824. By this treaty it was agreed that the
subjects of both nations should be free to navigate the waters of the Pacific
Ocean or to resort to its coasts to trade with the natives, though United
States citizens must not resort to any points where there is a Russian estab-
lishment nor found establishments north of fifty-four degrees forty minutes.
The subjects of either nation could frequent interior seas, gulfs, harbors ana
creeks for the purposes of fishing and trading with the natives.

An important provision of the treaty of 1825 made with Great Britain
provides that : " the line of demarcation between possessions of the high con-
tracting parties upon the coast of the continent and the islands of America
to the northwest shall be drawn from the southern most point of Prince of
Wales Island, eastward to the great inlet in the continent called Portland
Channel and along the middle of that inlet to the fifty-sixth degree of lati-
tude, whence it shall follow the summit of the mountains bordering the coast
within ten leagues northwestward to Mount St. Elias and thence north in the
course of the twenty-first meridian from Greenwich, which line shall form the
limit between the Russian and British possessions in the continent of America
to the Northward." This clause of the treaty plainly acknowledged the Rus-


sian belief in the right of Great Britain tO' possessions on the northwest coast
of America.

As the time of the expiration of the convention of 1818 drew near there
was a strong- feeHng both in England- and the United States that the bound-
ary between their possessions should be determined, and plenipotentiaries
were appointed. England proposed that the southern boundary of her pos-
sessions should be the forty-ninth parallel to the northeasternmost branch of
the Columbia River, thence down the middle of the stream to the Pacific.
The utmost that the United States would concede was that the forty-ninth
parallel should be the boundary line to the Ocean. As neither side would
yield on the sixth of August, 1827, it was resolved " that the provisions of
October 20th, 18 18, rendering all territories claimed by Great Britain or by
the United States west of the Rock Mountains free and open to the citizens
or subjects of both nations for ten years should be extended for an indefinite
period, and that either party could annul or abrogate the convention by giv-
ing a year's notice."

So far the only settlers in Oregon had been fur traders, but from this
time immigrants from the United States began to arrive in very small num-
bers at first, but gradually increasing till about the year 1842 it was felt that
joint occupation was no longer practicable. In that year the Northeastern
boundary of the United States was fixed by the Ashburton Treaty, but the
contracting powers did not consider it wise to complicate the situation by
introducing into the negotiations the Oregon Question.

There was a party from the United States who claimed the whole region
west of the Rocky Mountains from the forty-second parallel of north latitude
to that of fifty-four degrees forty minutes, that is, from California to Alaska.
Some of its members asserted their determination to take up arms and drive
Great Britain from the Pacific Slope. They rested their claim on right de-
rived from the purchase of Louisianan in 1803 and on the Florida Treaty with
Spain in 1819. When by the Treaty of Versailles the Independence of the


United States was acknowledg-ed the Mississippi formed its western borders.
In 1803 the young Republic extended its borders by the purchase from France
of Louisiana. Concerning the western boundary of this new acquisition
Greenhow says : " In the absence of all light on the subject from histor)^ we
are forced to regard the boundaries indicated by nature, namely the high-
lands separating the headwaters of the Mississippi from those flowing into
the Pacific or Californian Gulf, as the true western boundaries of Louisiana."
By the Florida Treaty Spain ceded to the United States all rights, claims and
pretentions to territories beyond Louisiana, which by the words of that Treaty
reached on the north to latitude forty-two degrees, and on the west to the
Pacific Ocean. Spain, these claimants contended, owned the Northwest
Coast by virture of discovery, and that right she ceded by the treaty of 1819
to the United States. The moderate party claimed the valley of the Colum-
bia from Gray's discovery in 1792, the exploration of Lewis and Clark in
1804-5, the settlement of Astoria and others made by the Pacific Fur Com-
pany and on the ground of contiguity to what was their undisputed territory.
The British on their part based their claims on the discovery of Cook,
the Nootka Convention which gave them the right of settlement in what had
previously been claimed as Spanish possessions, the explorations of Van-
couver and the journeys and discoveries of Mackenzie, Fraser and Thomp-
son. Their strongest argument, however, was that for nearly thirty-five
years British subjects had been the chief occupants of the whole region and
for the greater part of that time no United States subject had lived west of
the Rocky Mountains. Many other matters were imported into the con-
troversy between the nations, which grew more and more bitter as time went
on. Negotiations having continued through the years 1844 and 1845 without
result, and notice of the abrogation of the Convention by the Ignited States
having been received in England, the British plenipotentiary was instructed
to present to the United States government a new scheme for the settlement of
the difiiculty. This was accepted and became in 1846 the Treaty of Oregon.


By this treaty it was provided that the forty-ninth parallel should be the
boundary between the United States and the British possessions to the middle
of the channel that separates the continent from Vancouver Island; that the
navigation of the Columbia should be free to British subjects; that the pos-
sessory rights of all British subjects shall be respected and the farm lands
and other property of the Puget Sound Agricultural Company should be con-
firmed to it. There were many in Canada and in Great Britain who viewed
the Oregon treaty as a weak concession to^ the claims of the United States,
while on the other hand the extremists in the Republic believed that the
Monroe Doctrine promulgated in 1818 should have been followed and " that
the American continents by the free and independent condition which they
have assumed and maintain are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for
colonization by any European power."

Simon Eraser.

While Lewis and Clark were making their way down the Columbia the
Northwest Company were preparing to occupy the Pacific Slope. In 1805
Simon Eraser was at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, having received direc-
tions to follow Mackenzie's route, establish the fur trade among the tribes
near the headwaters of the Peace, and the yet unnamed river discovered by
the great explorer, and to follow, if possible, that river to its mouth and find
out whether or not it was the Columbia. About the same time David Thomp-
son received instructions to find a pass further to the south and seek in that
direction the headwaters of the Columbia. As we have seen that members
of the Northwest Company met Lewis and Clark in the Mandan country
the previous year, it is possible that news of the United States expedition
had reached the headquarters of that enterprising body and stimulated its
efforts to prevent the trade of the great unexplored region to the west from
falling into the hands of the shrewd citizens of the young republic.

The only explorations of which we have any record during the twelve


years since Mackenzie crossed the Pacific Slope is that of James Finlay, who
in 1797 ascended the Finlay River, the northern branch of the Peace River.
The first building' erected by a white man west of the Rocky Mountains
was Fort McLeod, built on McLeod Lake by James McDougall. No one
since 1793 had ventured to launch a boat on the terrible river, whose dangers
even the intrepid Mackenzie had feared to brave. The man to whom the
arduous task of exploring it was one of the youngest of the partners of the
Northwest Company. Simon Fraser was the son of a Loyalist, who served
under Burgoyne and who died not long after the surrender of the army of
that ill-fated general. His widow with her child removed to Cornwall, Up-
per Canada, and when her boy was sixteen years old he received a position
in the Northwest Company. Being hardy and adventurous as well as indus-
trious the boy succeeded and by the time he was twenty-six years old had
become one of the advance guard of the Northwest Company. Leaving
Fort Dunvegan on the Peace River in the autumn of 1805 he made his way
to the Rock Mountain portage where he with fourteen of his men spent the
winter. From Rocky Mountain House he proceeded by the Peace River to
the Pacific Slope, finding as Mackenzie had done, great difficulty in passing
from the headwaters of the Parsnip to those of the Fraser. In this region
of lakes and mountains Fraser remained building forts and establishing the
fur trade for more than two years. It was he who, recalling his mother's
stories of her childhood's home, first gave this rugged land the appropriate
name of New Caledonia. In a beautiful situation on Stuart Lake in 1806,
Fraser built Fort St. James, which has been ever since the principal depot of
the fur trade of northern British Columbia. The lake was called after John
Stuart, a clerk of the Northwest Company and Fraser's friend and lieutenant.
At the confluence of the Fraser and Nechaco the explorers met a band of In-
dians to whom tobacco and soap were alike unknown luxuries. Proceeding
up the Nechaco, Stuart discovered a lake which from its position he consid-
ered would make a good trading center. He gave it the name of his leader


and Fort Fraser was built where the lake falls into the river. The following
winter was passed at Stuart Lake. The difficulty of obtaining supplies in-
•duced Fraser to send for more men. While he was awaiting their arrival
he erected Fort George at the confluence of the Nechaco and the Fraser.
The reinforcement arrived in 1807 in charge of Hugh Fairies and Maurice
Quesnel, bringing rumors of Lewis and Qark and a request to hurry the

On the 26th of May Fraser set out on his journey to the sea. Every
hour of the long summer days, during which the explorers followed the wind-
ings of the tumultuous river around towering mountains and over jagged
rocks which tore its waters into foam, was full of peril. The coolness with
which they overcame the boiling surges of the river and crept along its pre-
cipitous banks, often making a foothold for themselves with their daggers,
showed that these rugged fur traders were as fearless as the vikings of old.
Their canoes were repeatedly broken, often destroyed. At length the at-
tempt to navigate the river was abandoned and the party toiled over the
mountains till at length the smoother current showed that they were nearing
the sea. On the way down Fraser had observed and named the rivers Quesnel
and Thompson, which contributed their waters to the volume of the river.
Fraser reached the tide waters of the Pacific in the vicinity of the site of
the city of New Westminster on the second day of July, 1808. He was pre-
vented from proceeding to the ocean by the attacks of hostile Indians, but he
had learned that the river he had been exploring was not the Columbia.

David Thompson.

The leader of the northern expedition of the Northwest Company was a
remarkable man. David Thompson had in his youth received a good educa-
tion, and having adopted the calling of a surveyor received a position in the
Hudson's Bay Company. In 1795 he found a route from Hudson's Bay to
Lake Athabasca. On his return he learned that his services were no longer


needed and immediately set out for the headquarters of the Northwest Com-
pany. He was immediately engaged and on August 9th, 1796, began a series
of surveys lasting for many years, during which he traced the courses of the
Saskachewan, the Assiniboine and most of the rivers between Lake Superior
and the Rocky Mountains. He visited the Mandan country and sought and
thought he had found the sources of the Mississippi. In his busy, though
often lonely life, the explorer found time and opportunity to pursue the study
of the heavens, and has been distinguished by the title of astronomer.

In 1805 Thompson was commissioned to ascend the Saskachewan to
explore the Columbia and examine the region between the mountains and
the Pacific Ocean.

During the five years from 1806 to 181 1 Thompson spent most of his
time in southeastern British Columbia. He discovered the source of the
Columbia and explored its northern waters. He followed the course of the
Kootenay and finally reaching the Lower Columbia by way of the Spokane
and Pend d'Oreille branches rowed down to its mouth, as has been before
related, on the 15th of July, 181 1. He established the fur trade at points as
far distant as the Bend of the Columbia, the Forks of the Thompson and the
United States boundary line. The explorer made frequent journeys east-
ward, and is said to have come through the wall of mountains by the Kicking
Horse, the Yellowhead, Howe's and Athabasca passes. The importance of
his labors can hardly be overestimated though they were very ill-requited. It
is largely due to the achievement of these explorers and pioneers of the fur
trade, Fraser and Thompson, that Great Britain owns the magnificent prov-
ince of British Columbia.

San Juan.

When in 1846 the Oregon Treaty was signed it was believed that the
question of the northern limits of the territory of the United States was set-
tled at once and forever ; yet the ink was hardly dry on the paper when events


took place which at an earlier period would have ended in a fratricidal war.

Seven miles to the southeast of Victoria, now the capital of British
Columbia, at the time of the signing- of the treaty a Hudson's Bay Company
trading post, lies the island of San Juan, the largest of the Haro Archipelago.
About the time of the founding of Fort Camosun, when the Hudson's Bay
Company were seeking new pastures for their flocks and herds at a distance
from those of the settlers in Oregon, they sent a number of sheep and cattle in
charge of some of their servants to the island of San Juan. These throve so
well that when disputes arose as to the ownership of the place they had five
thousand sheep and a great number of cattle, pigs and horses. In 185 1 W.
J. McDonald, one of the Hudson's Bay Company's employes, established a
salmon fishery at San Juan and warned the United States fishermen in the
vicinity that they must not fish inshore as the island was British territory.

On the other hand, the Legislature of Oregon in 1852 organized Whid-
by Island and the Haro Archipelago into a district called Esland County.
The next year Oregon was divided and the district placed under the juris-
diction of Washington. In 1854 the collector of customs for Puget Sound,
I. N. Ebey, came over to collect dues from the Hudson's Bay Company agent
for pure bred stock which had been lately imported. The customs house
officer met Charles John Griffen, a clerk of the company and justice of the
peace for the colony of Vancouver Island, who asserted that San Juan was
British territory and that no duties could be collected on behalf of the United
States. When Governor Douglas heard of the matter he came over from
Victoria in the steamer Otter, with Charles Sangster, collector of customs for
that port. Sangster came on shore, declared the island British territory and
hoisted the British flag. Ebey unfurled the United States revenue flag, swore
in Henry Webber as a deputy and sailed away. Within the year, fear of
the northern Indians caused Webber to leave the island. During this year
an appraiser was sent over from Washington to assess the property of San
Juan. As the Hudson's Bay Company refused to pay the assessment the


sheriff of Whatcom arrived and seized and sold at auction a number of the
company's sheep. The protests against this action caused Governor Stephens
to apprise the executive of the United States of what he had done. He was
told to instruct the officials of the territory not to attempt to enforce the pay-
ment of any taxes on the island of San Juan as longf as there was any dispute
as to its ownership. At the same time they were not to acknowledge that
it was a British possession. Accordingly assessments continued to be made
and imports valued as before though the officials sent to perform these serv-
ices were frequently obliged to seek from the Hudson's Bay Company's men
protection from the northern Indians, who were frequent and dangerous visit-
ors. Affairs had reached this point when in 1856 a commission was ap-
pointed to fix the boundary line laid down in the Treaty of Oregon in 1846.
The commissioners were Captain Prevost and Captain Richards for the Brit-
ish government and Archibald Campbell, with whom was associated Lieuten-
ant Parke, for that of the United States. Expeditions were fitted out by both
nations. That of the United States, the first to arrive, was on board the sur-
veying ship " Active," and the brig "' Fauntleroy." Captain Prevost came out
in H. M. S. " Satellite " in June, 1857, followed some months later by
Captain Richards in H. M. S. " Plumper."

There was no question as to the boundary between the British and
United States possessions until the sea was reached. The position of the
forty-ninth parallel was ascertained and monuments placed from the north
shore of Semiahmoo Bay to the southeastern limit of East Kootenay. But
as to the boundary through the water after it left the forty-ninth parallel there
was an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the commissioners. The
words of the Oregon Treaty which refer to this part of the boimdary are:
" From the point on the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, where the
boundary laid down by existing treaties and conventions between Great Brit-
ain and the United States terminates, the line of the boundary between the
territories of her Britannic Majesty and those of the United States shall be


continued westward along the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude to the
middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island
and thence southerly through the middle of said channel, and of Fuca Strait
to the Pacific Ocean, provided, however, that the navigation of the said
channel and straits, south of the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, remain
free and open to both parties."

If there had been only one channel between Vancouver Island and the
continent, there could have been no dispute, as the words of the treaty are
very explicit. But the water immediately south of the forty-ninth parallel
is divided by the Haro Archipelago, into three navigable channels. The
largest of these, some seven miles wide, called the Canal de Haro, separates
Vancouver Island from the Archipelago. Rosario Straits lies between Wash-
ington and the islands of Orcas and Lopez. Through which of these chan-
nels should the boundary run? The United States commissioners declared
that the framers of the treaty had in mind the Canal de Haro, the widest
channel and the one nearest Vancouver Island. The British commissioners
contended quite as strongly that Rosario Strait fulfilled the conditions of
the treaty and that moreover at the time it was drawn up, San Juan, the larg-
est of the islands, belonged to Vancouver Island, the Hudson's Bay Company
having occupied it since 1843. I" August, 1859, Lord John Russell, head of
the foreign office, in a dispatch to Lord Lyons, the British minister at Wash-

Online LibraryR. E. (R. Edward) GosnellA history; British Columbia → online text (page 6 of 79)