Gabriel Franchere.

Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814 or the First American Settlement on the Pacific online

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[Transcriber's Note: Because this is a personal narrative,
inconsistencies in spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, and
italicization have been preserved in cases where it is not clearly an
error from the original printing.]

[Illustration: ASTORIA, AS IT WAS IN 1813.]


IN THE YEARS 1811, 1812, 1813, AND 1814







Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1854,


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and
for the Southern District of New York.


In 1846, when the boundary question (that of the Oregon Territory in
particular) was at its height, the Hon. THOMAS H. BENTON delivered in
the United States Senate a decisive speech, of which the following is an
extract: -

"Now for the proof of all I have said. I happen to have in my possession
the book of all others, which gives the fullest and most authentic
details on all the points I have mentioned - a book written at a time,
and under circumstances, when the author (himself a British subject and
familiar on the Columbia) had no more idea that the British would lay
claim to that river, than Mr. Harmon, the American writer whom I
quoted, ever thought of our claiming New Caledonia. It is the work of
Mr. FRANCHERE, a gentleman of Montreal, with whom I have the pleasure to
be personally acquainted, and one of those employed by Mr. ASTOR in
founding his colony. He was at the founding of ASTORIA, at its sale to
the Northwest Company, saw the place seized as a British conquest, and
continued there after its seizure. He wrote in French: his work has not
been done into English, though it well deserves it; and I read from the
French text. He gives a brief and true account of the discovery of the

I felt justly proud of this notice of my unpretending work, especially
that the latter should have contributed, as it did, to the amicable
settlement of the then pending difficulties. I have flattered myself
ever since, that it belonged to the historical literature of the great
country, which by adoption has become mine.

The re-perusal of "Astoria" by WASHINGTON IRVING (1836) inspired me with
an additional motive for giving my book in an English dress. Without
disparagement to Mr. IRVING'S literary, fame, I may venture to say that
I found in his work inaccuracies, misstatements (unintentional of
course), and a want of chronological order, which struck forcibly one so
familiar with the events themselves. I thought I could show - or rather
that my simple narration, of itself, plainly discovered - that some of
the young men embarked in that expedition (which founded our Pacific
empire), did not merit the ridicule and contempt which Captain THORN
attempted to throw upon them, and which perhaps, through the genius of
Mr. IRVING, might otherwise remain as a lasting stigma on their

But the consideration which, before all others, prompts me to offer this
narrative to the American reading public, is my desire to place before
them, therein, a simple and connected account (which at this time ought
to be interesting), of the early settlement of the Oregon Territory by
one of our adopted citizens, the enterprising merchant JOHN JACOB ASTOR.
The importance of a vast territory, which at no distant day may add two
more bright stars to our national banner, is a guarantee that my humble
effort will be appreciated.

* * * * *


It has been the editor's wish to let Mr. Franchere speak for himself. To
preserve in the translation the Defoe-like simplicity of the original
narrative of the young French Canadian, has been his chief care. Having
read many narratives of travel and adventure in our northwestern
wilderness, he may be permitted to say that he has met with none that
gives a more vivid and picturesque description of it, or in which the
personal adventures of the narrator, and the varying fortunes of a great
enterprise, mingle more happily, and one may say, more dramatically,
with the itinerary. The clerkly minuteness of the details is not
without its charm either, and their fidelity speaks for itself. Take it
altogether, it must be regarded as a fragment of our colonial history
saved from oblivion; it fills up a vacuity which Mr. IRVING'S classic
work does not quite supply; it is, in fact, the only account by an
eye-witness and a participator in the enterprise, of the first attempt
to form a settlement on the Pacific under the stars and stripes.

The editor has thought it would be interesting to add Mr. Franchere's
Preface to the original French edition, which will be found on the next

BALTIMORE, _February 6, 1854_.


When I was writing my journal on the vessel which carried me to the
northwest coast of North America, or in the wild regions of this
continent, I was far from thinking that it would be placed one day
before the public eye. I had no other end in writing, but to procure to
my family and my friends a more exact and more connected detail of what
I had seen or learned in the course of my travels, than it would have
been possible for me to give them in a _viva voce_ narration. Since my
return to my native city, my manuscript has passed into various hands
and has been read by different persons: several of my friends
immediately advised me to print it; but it is only quite lately that I
have allowed myself to be persuaded, that without being a learned
naturalist, a skilful geographer, or a profound moralist, a traveller
may yet interest by the faithful and succinct account of the situations
in which he has found himself, the adventures which have happened to
him, and the incidents of which he has been a witness; that if a simple
ingenuous narrative, stripped of the merit of science and the graces of
diction, must needs be less enjoyed by the man of letters or by the
_savant_, it would have, in compensation, the advantage of being at the
level of a greater number of readers; in fine, that the desire of
affording an entertainment to his countrymen, according to his capacity,
and without any mixture of the author's vanity or of pecuniary interest,
would be a well-founded title to their indulgence. Whether I have done
well or ill in yielding to these suggestions, which I am bound to regard
as those of friendship, or of good-will, it belongs to the impartial and
disinterested reader, to decide.




Departure from Montreal. - Arrival in New York. - Description of
that City. - Names of the Persons engaged in the Expedition.


Departure from New York. - Reflections of the Author. - Navigation,
falling in with other Ships, and various Incidents, till the Vessel
comes in Sight of the Falkland Isles.


Arrival at the Falkland Isles. - Landing. - Perilous Situation of the
Author and some of his Companions. - Portrait of Captain Thorn. - Cape
Horn. - Navigation to the Sandwich Islands.


Accident. - View of the Coast. - Attempted Visit of the Natives. - Their
Industry. - Bay of Karaka-koua. - Landing on the Island. - John Young,
Governor of Owahee.


Bay of Ohetity. - Tamehameha, King of the Island. - His Visit to the
Ship. - His Capital. - His Naval Force. - His Authority. - Productions of
the Country. - Manners and Customs. - Reflections.


Departure from Wahoo. - Storm. - Arrival at the Mouth of the
Columbia. - Reckless Order of the Captain. - Difficulty of the
Entrance. - Perilous Situation of the Ship. - Unhappy Fate of a Part
of the Crew and People of the Expedition.


Regrets of the Author at the Loss of his Companions. - Obsequies
of a Sandwich-Islander. - First Steps in the Formation of the intended
Establishment. - New Alarm. - Encampment.


Voyage up the River. - Description of the Country. - Meeting with
strange Indians.


Departure of the Tonquin. - Indian Messengers. - Project of an Expedition
to the Interior. - Arrival of Mr. Daniel Thompson. - Departure of the
Expedition. - Designs upon us by the Natives. - Rumors of the Destruction
of the Tonquin. - Scarcity of Provisions. - Narrative of a strange
Indian. - Duplicity and Cunning of Comcomly.


Occupation at Astoria. - Return of a Portion of the Men of the
Expedition to the Interior. - New Expedition. - Excursion in Search
of three Deserters.


Departure of Mr. R. Stuart for the Interior. - Occupations at
Astoria. - Arrival of Messrs. Donald M'Kenzie and Robert
M'Lellan. - Account of their Journey. - Arrival of Mr. Wilson P. Hunt.


Arrival of the Ship Beaver. - Unexpected Return of Messrs. D. Stuart,
B. Stuart, M'Lelland, &c. - Cause of that Return. - Ship discharging. - New
Expeditions. - Hostile Attitude of the Natives. - Departure of the
Beaver. - Journeys of the Author. - His Occupations at the Establishment.


Uneasiness respecting the "Beaver." - News of the Declaration of
War between Great Britain and the United States. - Consequences
of that Intelligence. - Different Occurrences. - Arrival of two
Canoes of the Northwest Company. - Preparations for abandoning the
Country. - Postponement of Departure. - Arrangement-with Mr. J.G. M'Tavish.


Arrival of the Ship "Albatross." - Reasons for the Non-Appearance of
the Beaver at Astoria. - Fruitless Attempt of Captain Smith on a Former
Occasion. - Astonishment and Regret of Mr. Hunt at the Resolution of
the Partners. - His Departure. - Narrative of the Destruction of the
Tonquin. - Causes of that Disaster. - Reflections.


Arrival of a Number of Canoes of the Northwest Company. - Sale of the
Establishment at Astoria to that Company. - Canadian News. - Arrival of
the British Sloop-of-War "Raccoon." - Accident on Board that Vessel. - The
Captain takes Formal Possession of Astoria. - Surprise and Discontent of
the Officers And Crew. - Departure of the "Raccoon."


Expeditions to the Interior. - Return of Messrs. John Stuart and
D. M'Kenzie. - Theft committed by the Natives. - War Party against
the Thieves.


Description of Tongue Point. - A Trip to the _Willamet_. - Arrival
of W. Hunt in the Brig Pedlar. - Narrative of the Loss of the Ship
Lark. - Preparations for crossing the Continent.


Situation of the Columbia River. - Qualities of its Soil. - Climate,
&c. - Vegetable and Animal Productions of the Country.


Manners, Customs, Occupations, &c., of the Natives on the River Columbia.


Manners and Customs of the Natives continued. - Their Wars. - Their
Marriages. - Medicine Men. - Funeral Ceremonies. - Religious
Notions. - Language.


Departure from Astoria Or Fort George. - Accident. - Passage of
the Dalles or Narrows. - Great Columbian Desert. - Aspect of the
Country. - Wallawalla and Sha-aptin Rivers. - Rattlesnakes. - Some
Details regarding the Natives of the Upper Columbia.


Meeting with the Widow of a Hunter. - Her Narrative. - Reflections of
the Author. - Priest's Rapid. - River Okenakan. - Kettle Falls. - Pine
Moss. - Scarcity of Food. - Rivers, Lakes, &c. - Accident. - A
Rencontre. - First View of the Rocky Mountains.


Course of the Columbian River. - Canoe River. - Foot-march toward the
Rocky Mountains. - Passage of the Mountains.


Arrival at the Fort of the Mountains. - Description of this
Post. - Some Details in Regard to the Rocky Mountains. - Mountain Sheep,
&c. - Continuation of the Journey. - Unhappy Accident. - Reflections. - News
from Canada. - Hunter's Lodge. - Pembina and Red Deer Rivers.


Red Deer Lake. - Antoine Déjarlais. - Beaver River. - N. Nadeau. - Moose
River. - Bridge Lake. - Saskatchawine River. - Fort Vermilion. - Mr.
Hallet. - Trading-Houses. - Beautiful Country. - Reflections.


Fort Montée. - Cumberland House. - Lake Bourbon. - Great Winipeg
Rapids. - Lake Winipeg. - Trading-House. - Lake of the Woods. - Rainy
Lake House, &c.


Arrival at Fort William. - Description of that Post - News from the
River Columbia.


Departure from Fort William. - Navigation on Lake Superior. - Michipicoton
Bay. - Meeting a Canoe. - Batchawainon Bay. - Arrival at Saut Ste.
Marie. - Occurrences there. - Departure. - Lake Huron. - French
River. - Lake Nipissing. - Ottawa River. - Kettle Falls. - Rideau
River. - Long-Saut. - Arrival in Montreal. - Conclusion.


Present State of the Countries visited by the Author. - Correction of
Mr. Irving's Statements respecting St. Louis.


Mr. Seton's Adventures. - Survivors of the Expedition in
1851. - Author's Protest against some Expressions in Mr. Irving's
"Astoria." - Editor's Note.


Since the independence of the United States of America, the merchants of
that industrious and enterprising nation have carried on an extremely
advantageous commerce on the northwest coast of this continent. In the
course of their voyages they have made a great number of discoveries
which they have not thought proper to make public; no doubt to avoid
competition in a lucrative business.

In 1792, Captain Gray, commanding the ship Columbia of Boston,
discovered in latitude 46° 19" north, the entrance of a great bay on the
Pacific coast. He sailed into it, and having perceived that it was the
outlet or estuary of a large river, by the fresh water which he found
at a little distance from the entrance, he continued his course upward
some eighteen miles, and dropped anchor on the left bank, at the opening
of a deep bay. There he made a map or rough sketch of what he had seen
of this river (accompanied by a written description of the soundings,
bearings, &c.); and having finished his traffic with the natives (the
object of his voyage to these parts), he put out to sea, and soon after
fell in with Captain Vancouver, who was cruising by order of the British
government, to seek new discoveries. Mr. Gray acquainted him with the
one he had just made, and even gave him a copy of the chart he had drawn
up. Vancouver, who had just driven off a colony of Spaniards established
on the coast, under the command of Señor Quadra (England and Spain being
then at war), despatched his first-lieutenant Broughton, who ascended
the river in boats some one hundred and twenty or one hundred and fifty
miles, took possession of the country in the name of his Britannic
majesty, giving the river the name of the _Columbia_, and to the bay
where the American captain stopped, that of _Gray's bay_. Since that
period the country had been seldom visited (till 1811), and chiefly by
American ships.

Sir Alexander McKenzie, in his second overland voyage, tried to reach
the western ocean by the Columbia river, and thought he had succeeded
when he came out six degrees farther north, at the bottom of Puget's
sound, by another river.[A] In 1805, the American government sent
Captains Lewis and Clark, with about thirty men, including some Kentucky
hunters, on an overland journey to the mouth of the Columbia. They
ascended the Missouri, crossed the mountains at the source of that
river, and following the course of the Columbia, reached the shores of
the Pacific, where they were forced to winter. The report which they
made of their expedition to the United States government created a
lively sensation.[B]

[Footnote A: McKenzie's Travels.]

[Footnote B: Lewis and Clark's Report.]

Mr. John Jacob Astor, a New York merchant, who conducted almost alone
the trade in furs south of the great lakes Huron and Superior, and who
had acquired by that commerce a prodigious fortune, thought to augment
it by forming on the banks of the Columbia an establishment of which the
principal or supply factory should be at the mouth of that river. He
communicated his views to the agents of the Northwest Company; he was
even desirous of forming the proposed establishment in concert with
them; but after some negotiations, the inland or wintering partners of
that association of fur-traders having rejected the plan, Mr. Astor
determined to make the attempt alone. He needed for the success of his
enterprise, men long versed in the Indian trade, and he soon found them.
Mr. Alexander M'Kay (the same who had accompanied Sir Alexander M'Kenzie
in his travels overland), a bold and enterprising man, left the
Northwest Company to join him; and soon after, Messrs Duncan M'Dougal
and Donald M'Kenzie (also in the service of the company) and Messrs.
David Stuart and Robert Stuart, all of Canada, did the same. At length,
in the winter of 1810, a Mr. Wilson Price Hunt of St. Louis, on the
Mississippi, having also joined them, they determined that the
expedition should be set on foot in the following spring.

It was in the course of that winter that one of my friends made me
acquainted in confidence with the plan of these gentlemen, under the
injunction of strictest secrecy. The desire of seeing strange countries,
joined to that of acquiring a fortune, determined me to solicit
employment of the new association; on the 20th of May I had an interview
with Mr. A. M'Kay, with whom the preliminaries were arranged; and on the
24th of the same month I signed an agreement as an apprenticed clerk for
the term of five years.

When the associates had engaged a sufficient number of Canadian boatmen,
they equipped a bark canoe under charge of Messrs. Hunt and M'Kenzie,
with a Mr. Perrault as clerk, and a crew of fourteen men. These
gentlemen were to proceed to Mackinaw, and thence to St. Louis, hiring
on the way as many men as they could to man the canoes, in which, from
the last-mentioned port, they were to ascend the Missouri to its source,
and there diverging from the route followed by Lewis and Clark, reach
the mouth of the Columbia to form a junction with another party, who
were to go round by way of Cape Horn. In the course of my narrative I
shall have occasion to speak of the success of both these expeditions.



Departure from Montreal. - Arrival in New York. - Description of that
City. - Names of the Persons engaged in the Expedition.

We remained in Montreal the rest of the spring and a part of the summer.
At last, having completed our arrangements for the journey, we received
orders to proceed, and on the 26th of July, accompanied by my father and
brothers and a few friends, I repaired to the place of embarkation,
where was prepared a birch bark canoe, manned by nine Canadians, having
Mr. A. M'Kay as commander, and a Mr. A. Fisher as passenger. The
sentiments which I experienced at that moment would be as difficult for
me to describe as they were painful to support; for the first time in my
life I quitted the place of my birth, and was separated from beloved
parents and intimate friends, having for my whole consolation the faint
hope of seeing them again. We embarked at about five, P.M., and arrived
at La Prairie de la Madeleine (on the opposite side of the St.
Lawrence), toward eight o'clock.[C] We slept at this village, and the
next morning, very early, having secured the canoe on a wagon, we got in
motion again, and reached St. John's on the river Richelieu, a little
before noon. Here we relaunched our canoe (after having well calked the
seams), crossed or rather traversed the length of Lake Champlain, and
arrived at Whitehall on the 30th. There we were overtaken by Mr. Ovid de
Montigny, and a Mr. P.D. Jeremie, who were to be of the expedition.

[Footnote C: This place is famous in the history of Canada, and more
particularly in the thrilling story of the Indian missions. - ED.]

Having again placed our canoe on a wagon, we pursued our journey, and
arrived on the 1st of August at Lansingburg, a little village situated
on the bank of the river Hudson. Here we got our canoe once more afloat,
passed by Troy, and by Albany, everywhere hospitably received, our
Canadian boatmen, having their hats decorated with parti-colored ribands
and feathers, being taken by the Americans for so many wild Indians, and
arrived at New York on the 3d, at eleven o'clock in the evening.

We had landed at the north end of the city, and the next day, being
Sunday, we re-embarked, and were obliged to make a course round the
city, in order to arrive at our lodgings on Long Island. We sang as we
rowed; which, joined to the unusual sight of a birch bark canoe impelled
by nine stout Canadians, dark as Indians, and as gayly adorned,
attracted a crowd upon the wharves to gaze at us as we glided along. We
found on Long Island (in the village of Brooklyn) those young gentlemen
engaged in the service of the new company, who had left Canada in
advance of our party.

The vessel in which we were to sail not being ready, I should have found
myself quite isolated and a stranger in the great city of New York, but
for a letter of introduction to Mr. G - - , given me on my setting out,
by Madame his sister. I had formed the acquaintance of this gentleman
during a stay which he had made at Montreal in 1801; but as I was then
very young, he would probably have had some difficulty in recognising me
without his sister's letter. He introduced me to several of his friends,
and I passed in an agreeable manner the five weeks which elapsed between
my arrival in New York and the departure of the ship.

I shall not undertake to describe New York; I will only say, that the
elegance of the buildings, public and private, the cleanliness of the
streets, the shade of the poplars which border them, the public walks,
the markets always abundantly provided with all sorts of commodities,
the activity of its commerce, then in a flourishing condition, the vast
number of ships of all nations which crowded the quays; all, in a word,
conspired to make me feel the difference between this great maritime
city and my native town, of whose steeples I had never lost sight
before, and which was by no means at that time what it is now.

New York was not then, and indeed is not at this time a fortified town;
still there were several batteries and military works, the most
considerable of which were seen on the _Narrows_, or channel which forms
the principal mouth of the Hudson. The isles called _Governor's Island_,
and _Bedloe_ or _Gibbet Island_, were also well fortified. On the first,
situated to the west of the city and about a mile from it, there were
barracks sufficiently capacious for several thousand soldiers, and a
Moro, or castle, with three tiers of guns, all bomb-proof. These works
have been strengthened during the last war.

The market-places are eight in number; the most considerable is called

The _Park_, the _Battery_, and _Vauxhall Garden_, are the principal
promenades. There were, in 1810, thirty-two churches, two of which were
devoted to the catholic worship; and the population was estimated at
ninety thousand souls, of whom ten thousand were French. It is thought
that this population has since been augmented (1819) by some thirty
thousand souls.

During my sojourn at New York, I lodged in Brooklyn, on Long Island.
This island is separated from the city by a sound, or narrow arm of the
sea. There is here a pretty village, not far from which is a basin,
where some gun-boats were hauled up, and a few war vessels were on the
stocks. Some barracks had been constructed here, and a guard was

Before leaving New York, it is well to observe that during our stay in
that city, Mr. M'Kay thought it the part of prudence to have an
interview with the minister plenipotentiary of his Britannic majesty,
Mr. Jackson,[D] to inform him of the object of our voyage, and get his
views in regard to the line of conduct we ought to follow in case of war
breaking out between the two powers; intimating to him that we were all
British subjects, and were about to trade under the American flag. After
some moments of reflection Mr. Jackson told him, "that we were going on
a very hazardous enterprise; that he saw our object was purely
commercial, and that all he could promise us, was, that in case of a war
we should be respected as British subjects and traders."

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Online LibraryGabriel FranchereNarrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814 or the First American Settlement on the Pacific → online text (page 1 of 16)