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clusive against any claim on her part to a right of property
in it. For eight or nine years the British flag was not once
unfurled there, as I can learn, although the place had, in
the mean time, been visited by navigators of other nations;
and it was not until several years later still that it was even
entered by a public armed vessel of Great Britain ; and
then, not until the Spanish Government had taken formal
possession of it.

In 17^7? Berkeley, an Englishman, in the service of the
Austrian East India Company, saw the Strait of Juan de
Fuca, but without attempting to enter it. In like manner,
Meares, a lieutenant in the British navy, though in the ser-
vice of a Portuguese merchant, and sailing under the flag
of Portugal, sent a boat a few miles into the strait in I788,
having learned from Berkeley that he had rediscovered it the
preceding year. Meares also explored the coast in the vicin-
ity of the mouth of the Columbia River, and came to the
conclusion, to use his own language, that "no such river as
that of St. Roc exists, as laid down in the Spanish charts."^

As the transactions in which Meares was engaged, on
the northwest coast, are intimately connected with the claim
of Great Britain to a right of joint occupancy in respect to
Oregon, I trust it will not be deemed superfluous if I ex-
amine them somewhat in detail.

Before making the explorations above referred to, Meares
had landed at Nootka Sound, and left a party to build a
small vessel. He had, for a trifling consideration, obtained
the grant of "a spot of ground" from Maquinna, the king
of the surrounding country, to build a house for the accom-

1 Voyages, ^c, John Meares, Esq., p. 168.


modation of the party. The occupation was avowedly for
a temporary purpose ; and he had stipulated with Maquinna
to restore the possession to him, when he (Mearesj should
finally leave the coast.^ In the autumn of the same year,
he left Nootka Sound with his vessels, one of which win-
tered in China, and the two others in the Sandwich Islands.
I should have before observed that he arrived at Nootka
Sound with two vessels, the Felice and the Iphigenia ; and
the third, the Northwest America, was built there during
the summer. In the mean time, the Columbia and the
Washington, two American vessels from Boston, entered
the sound and passed the winter ; and, from all the testi-
mony relating to the subject, there is no doubt that the
lot occupied by Meares was abandoned, or restored to Ma-
quinna, in pursuance of the agreement between them. Dur-
ing all this time, it is to be recollected, Meares was sailing
under the Portuguese flag ; and it is a curious fact that he
carried with him instructions to repel by force any atten^pt
on the part of Russian, Spanish, or English vessels, to seize
him, or carry him out of his way. He was further in-
structed, in case he was successful in capturing his assailant,
to send the vessel to China, to be condemned, and the crew
to be tried as pirates ; ^ and yet, sir, notwithstanding he was
sailing under a foreign flag, with orders to treat his Britan-
nic Majesty's subjects as pirates, in case they molested him,
the British Government does not scruple to found its title
to Oregon on his voyage!

Though the vessels of Meares sailed under the Portuguese
flag, and under the name of a Portuguese subject, he as-

^ " Maquinna had not only most read- " The chief was also requested to
ily consented to grant us a spot of show every mark of attention and
ground in iiis territory, whereon a friendship to the party we should leave
house might be built for the accommo- on shore ; and, as a bribe to secure his
dation of the people we intended to attachment, lie was promised, that wheu
leave there, but had promised us also we finally left the coast, he should en-
his assistance in forwarding our works, ter into full possession of the house,
and his protection of the party, who and all the goods and cliattels there-
were destined to remain ^t Nootka dur- unto belonging." — Jb. p. 130.
ing our absence." — Fo^/uges, ^'c. by John -Appendix to Meares's Voij ages, ■pa-
Meares, p. 114. pers No. 1.


serted, in his memorial to Parliament, that the parties in
interest were British merchants. I desire to state the
whole truth, and therefore I give a fact I have not seen
noticed. At page 17^ of his " Voyages," it will he seen
that he took possession of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, in
the name of the King of Great Britain, in July, I788,
But, independently of the objection to claims founded upon
the transactions of an individual, who, under the most
favorable view that can be taken of him, had sought the
protection of a foreign flag to perpetrate frauds on the
revenue laws of China, this unauthorized act of taking pos-
session under such a flag was preceded many years by simi-
lar formalities on the part of the Spanish navigators, under
express orders from their sovereign. The twofold character
which Meares united in his person certainly gave him mani-
fest advantages, both as a trader and a discoverer. He was
a Portuguese captain when defrauding the revenue laws of
China for the benefit of British subjects, and a British
lieutenant when encroaching on the territorial rights of
Spain, for the benefit of the British sovereign.

On the 6th of May, 1789, Martinez, a Spanish naval
commander, with two public armed vessels, entered Nootka
Sound, with instructions to assert and maintain the para-
mount rights of Spain to the place and to the adjacent
coasts. The Iphigenia and the Northwest America, two
of Meares's vessels, had returned from the Sandwich Islands,
still sailing under Portuguese colors, and arrived in the
sound on the 20th of April, sixteen days before Martinez.
The Northwest America sailed eight days afterwards on a
trading voyage, and the Iphigenia was a short time subse-
quently seized by Martinez, on the ground that her instruc-
tions were hostile to Spain. She was, however, soon
restored, and continued to trade under Portuguese colors, —
a fact which shows conclusively that no claim can justly be
set up by Great Britain on the basis of the voyage of
Meares to Nootka, and his temporary establishment there.

14h speeches in the senate.

The Northwest America was also seized, for reasons not
directly connected with any question of sovereignty, and
was employed for nearly two years in the Spanish service.

In the month of June, 1789, two vessels, the Argo-
naut and Princess Royal, sailing- under British colors, ar-
rived at Nootka, and were seized by Martinez. It is un-
necessary to enter into the details of this transaction. It is
sufficient to say that it led to an animated discussion between
the governments of Great Britain and Spain, in respect
to their rights in the Pacific and the western coast of
America, which, for several months, threatened to produce
a war between the two countries, but which was finally
terminated in October, 1790, by the Treaty of the Escurial,
or the Nootka Sound Convention, as it is more frequently
denominated with us. Before the negotiations were con-
cluded, both vessels were voluntarily released by the Span-
ish authorities in Mexico.

As the Nootka Sound Convention constitutes an essential
ingredient in the claim of Great Britain, it \vill be neces-
sary to advert to such of its provisions as are made the
foundation of her title to the qualified exercise of sover-
eignty which she asserts over the northwest coast of Amer-
ica, and to consider them in connection with the circum-
stances under which they were framed. The articles which
relate particularly to the question under discussion are the
1st, 3d, 5th, and 6th.

The first article provides that —

" The buildings and tracts of land situated on the northwest coast
of the continent of North America, or on the islands adjacent to that
continent, of which the subjects of His Britannic Majesty were dis-
possessed about the month of April, 1789, by a Spanish officer, shall be
restored to the said British subjects."

The third article provides, that —

" In order to strengthen the bonds of friendship, and to preserve in
future a perfect harmony and good understanding between the two
contracting parties, it is agreed that their respective subjects shall
not be disturbed or molested, either in navigating or carrying on their



fisheries in the Pacific Ocean, or* in the South Seas, or in landing on
the coasts of those seas in places not already occupied, for the pur-
pose of carrying on their commerce with the natives of the country,
or of making settlements there; the whole, subject, nevertheless, to
the restrictions specified in tlie three following articles."

The Hfth article provides that —

" As Avell in the places which are to be restored to the British
subjects by virtue of the first article, as in all other parts of the north-
western coast of America, or of the islands adjacent, situate to the
north of the parts of the said coast already occupied by Spain, where-
ever the subjects of either of the two Powers shall have made settle-
ments since the month of April, 1789, or shall hereafter make any,
the subjects of the other shall have free access, and shall carry on
their trade without any disturbance or molestation."

Tlie sixth article relates to the coast of South Amer-
ica ; but it has an importance in containing a definition of
the erections which may be made, confining them to such
as may serve the purposes of fishing ; and the provisions
of the third article are expressly declared to be subject to
the restrictions in " the three following articles, " one of
which is the sixth. ^

1 On the 1st of Marcli, 1825, Colonel
Benton made an able speech in the
Senate of the United States in fiivor of
tlie occupation of the Oregon (Colum-
bia) River. In this speech he examined
the Treaty of the Escurial, (the Nootka
Sound Convention,) and insisted that
it was proved by its terms to be "a
treaty of concession, and not of acqui-
sition of riglits on the part of Great
Britain " ; and " that the permission to
land and to make settlements, so far
from contemplating an acquisition of
territory, was limited by subsequent
restrictions to the erection of temporary
huts for the personal accommodation of
fishermen and traders only." These
positions were enforced in his argu-
ment by a reference to the assertions
of Mr. Fox, and the admissions of Mr.
Pitt, when the Nootka Sound contro-
versy was under discussion in the Brit-
ish Parliament. The following are
some of the passages to which he re-
ferred : —

" Mr. Fox said : What, then, was
the extent of our rights before the con-
vention, (whether admitted or denied

by Spain was of no consequence,) and
to what extent were they now secured
to us ? We possessed and exercised
the free navigation of tlie Pacific Ocean
without restraint or limitation. We
possessed and exercised the right of
carrying on fisheries in the South Seas
equally unlimited." " This estate we
had, and were daily improving ; it was
not to be disgraced by the name of an
acquisition. The admission of part of
these rights was all we had obtained.
Our right before was to settle in any
part of the south or northwest coast of
America not fortified against us by pre-
vious occupancy ; and we were now re-
stricted to settle in certain places only,
and under certain restrictions. This
was an important concession on our
part. Our rights of fishing extended
to the whole ocean ; and now it was
limited and to be carried on within
certain distances of the Spanish settle-
ments. Our right of making settle-
ments was not, as now, a right to
build huts, but to plant colonies if we
thought proper. Surely these were
not acquisitions, or rather conquests,


I now proceed to state certain facts in respect to this con-
vention, and to draw from them conclusions at which I have
arrived with some diffidence. The facts I shall endeavor
to present with a rigid regard to accuracy. If my conclu-
sions are erroneous, the better judgment of the Senate will
correct them ; and I shall have the consolation of reflecting
that my errors — if they shall prove such — have led to
the discovery of truth, which I am sure is the great object
of every senator on this floor.

The first article was practically inoperative, from a total
misapprehension of the facts which it supposed. There
is no evidence that subjects of his Britannic Majesty had
been dispossessed of buildings or tracts of lands in April,
1789, or at any other time, by a Spanish officer. In the
message of the British King to Parliament, and in the
earnest discussions between the two countries in respect
to the seizure of the British ships, I find no mention of
such dispossession. When Vancouver was sent out, in
1792, to receive possession of the buildings, &c. to be re-
stored, none could be found excepting those erected by the
Spaniards. No building occupied by British subjects re-
mained at Nootka in 1789, when Martinez arrived there;
and it was denied by the Indians that any tracts of land

as they must be considered, if we were accuracy of this construction of the
to judjre by the triurapliant language treaty as to settlements and erections,
respecting them, but great and im- But he maintained " tliat, though what
portant concessions." " Ey the third this country (Great Britain) had gained
article we are authorized to navigate consisted not of new rights, it certainly
the Pacific Ocean and South Seas, un- did of new advantages. We had be-
molested, for the purpose of carrying fore a right to the southern whale-fish-
on our fisheries, and to land on the ing, and a right to navigate and carry
unsettled coasts for the purpose of trad- on fisheries in the Pacific Ocean, and to
ing with the natives; but after this trade on the coast of any part of North-
pompous recognition of right to navi- west America ; but that riglit had not
gation, fishing, and commerce, comes only not been acknowledged, but dis-
another article, the sixtli, which takes puted and resisted ; Miiereas by the
away the right of landing, and erect- convention it was secured to us, — a
ing even temporary huts, for any pur- circumstance which, though no new
pose but that of carrying on the fish- right, was a new advantage." — 76. p.
ery, and amounts to a complete dere- 1002.

liction of all right to settle in any way This subject has recently been fur-

for the purpose of commerce with the ther illustrated in a close and well-rea-

natives." — British Parliamentary His- soned argument by Mr. Owen, of Indi-

tory, Vol. XXVIII. p. 990. ana, in the House of Representatives.
iSIr. Pitt, in reply, did not deny the


had been ceded to British subjects. In fact, there were no
traces of the occupancy which the article supposed. The
only pretence of a cession of territory of which there was
any evidence, was the right acquired by Meares, while
acting in the name of a Portuguese citizen, and sailing
under the flag of Portugal, to occupy temporarily a very
small lot, which he himself admits he had agreed to restore
when he should leave the coast.

After a long controversy on this subject between Van-
couver and Quadra, the Spanish commander at Nootka,
the former departed without receiving any restitution of
buildings or lands, and the subject was referred to their
respective governments. In 1796, Captain Broughton
arrived at Nootka, and found the place unoccupied.^ He
nowhere states that he was sent out with instructions to
adjust the difficulty. But he says he was informed, by
letters left with Maquinna, the Indian king, that " the
Spaniards had delivered up the port of Nootka, &c. to
Lieutenant Pierce, of the marines, agreeably to the mode
of restitution settled between the two courts." But there
is no proof of such restitution. The only authority relied
on to show such a restitution, is one recently produced by
the " London Times." I allude to De Koch, Vol. I. page
126. He says:

"The execution of the convention of the 28th October, 1790, [the
Nootka Convention,] experienced some difficulties which delayed it till
1795. They were terminated the 23d of March of that year, on the
spot itself, by the Spanish Brigadier Alava and the English Lieuten-
ant Poara, who exchanged declarations in the bay of Nootka ; after
which the Spanish fort was destroyed, the Spaniards embarked, and
the English flag Avas planted there in sign of possession." ^

- See his Voyage of Discovery to the Mars de cette annee, sur les lieux
North Pacific Ocean, p. 50. niemes, par le Brigadier Espagnol Ala-

- See Hisloire Abre'ye'e des Traii^s de va, et le Lieutenant Anglois Poara, qui
Paix, &c., par M. de Koch, continue, echangerent des declarations dans le
&c., par F. Schoell. golfe de Nootka merae; apres que le

" L'exe'cution de la convention du 28 fort Espagnol tut rase', les Espagnols
Octobre, 1790, e'prouva, au reste, des s'embarquerent, et le pavilion Anglais
difficultcs qui la retarderent jusqu'en y fut plante en signe de possession."
1795. Elles furent termine'es le 23


De Koch has the reputation of being accurate ; but there
is certainly one error in his statement. There was no such
name as Poara in the British Registers of that year. He
doubtless meant Pierce.

In opposition to this testimony of a foreign writer, we
have the assertion, twice repeated, of the British historian,
Belsham, that the Spanish flag at Nootka was never struck,
and that the place was virtually relinquished by Great
Britain.^ If any restitution was ever made, the evidence
must be in the possession of Great Britain. Senor Quadra,
in 1792, offered to give Vancouver possession, reserving
the rights of sovereignty which Spain possessed. There
may have been a restitution with such reservation ; but if
there is any evidence of a restitution, why has it not been
produced by the British negotiators, or at least referred to 1
Where are the declarations mentioned by De Koch as hav-
ing been exchanged 1 Why, I repeat, has the evidence not
been produced? Probably because, if there is any such
evidence, it must prove a conditional and not an absolute
surrender, — such a surrender as she is unwilling to show,
—.-a surrender reserving to Spain her rights of sovereignty.
If there was a restitution, and she possesses the evidence of
it, she probably secretes it, as she secreted the map of the
Northeastern Territory with the red line, because it would
have been a witness against her. When Vancouver went

1 "It is certain, nevertheless, from and reparation, it is well ascertained,

the most authentic subsequent infer- first, that the settlement in question

mation, that the Spanisli flaar flying at never -was restored by Spain, nor the

the fort and settlement of Nootka was Spanish flag at Nootka ever struck ;

never struck, and that the whole terri- and, secondlij, that no settlement has

tory has been virtually relinquished by even been subsequently attempted by

Great Britain, — a measure, however England on the Californian coast. The

politically expedient, which involves m claim of right set up by the Court of

it a severe reflection upon the minister London, it is therefore plain, has been

who could permit so insidious an en- virtually abandoned, notwithstanding

croachment upon the ancient and ac- the menacing tone in which the nego-

knowledged rights of the Crown of tiation was conducted by the British

Spain." — Belsham' s History of Great administration, who cannot escape some

£nVa/?i, Vol. VIII. pp. 337, 338. censure for encouraging those vexa-

"But though England, at the ex- tious encroachments on the territorial

pense of three millions, extorted from rights of Spain." — Ih. Appendix, pp

the Spaniards a promise of restoration 40, 41.


out ill 1792? ^6 carried an order from the Spanish Gov-
ernment to the commander at the port of St. Lawrence
(Nootka) to restore the buildings and districts or parcels
of land which were " occupied " by the subjects of Great
Britain at Nootka and Port Cox, and of " which the Eng-
lish subjects were dispossessed." Quadra refused to exe-
cute it. No occupation — no dispossession was proved.
The treaty did not name Nootka nor Port Cox. Quadra
considered, doubtless, the occupation and dispossession as
facts to be proved. Though the treaty was absolute in its
terms, its execution depended on a contingency assumed to
have happened, — a contingency to be shown. In the ab-
sence of any such proof, we have a right to insist on the
evidence of a restitution, full, formal, unconditional, absolute.
Broughton, in 1796, says the restitution was made agree-
ably to the mode " settled between the two courts." This
was a mode settled on the reference of the subject to the
two governments after the refusal of Quadra to surrender
Nootka to Vancouver. Vancouver, in his " Journal," Vol.
VI. page 118, says that on the ISth September, 1791', Seiior
Alava told him at Monterey that the matter had been ad-
justed by their respective courts " ^zear/y on the terms"
wdiich he (Vancouver) had repeatedly offered to Quadra.
Even this statement, coming from Vancouver, shows that
there was a new agreement between the courts. What
was the agreement ? We have a right to call for its pro-

Such was the practical execution of the first article of
the Nootka Sound Convention. One fact is undeniable.
Great Britain never occupied Nootka. From 1796 to the
present day, no attempt has been made to reoccupy it by
civilized men. Captain Belcher, a British naval officer,
visited the place in 1 837, while making a voyage round the
world. In his "Narrative," page 113, Vol. L, he says: —

" No vestige remains of the settlement noticed by Vancouver, nor
could I discern on the site of the Spanish battery the slightest trace of


stones employed for building. The chiefs pointed out where their
houses stood, and where the potatoes grew, but not a trace remains of
a European."

The third article, besides stipulating- for an unmolested
enjoyment of the right of navigating and fishing in the
Pacific and South Seas, and landing on the coast, conceded
in express terms to the subjects of both nations the right
to form settlements in places not already occupied ; but
this right was subject to the restrictions of the three fol-
lowing articles, one of which was to limit its exercise to
the parts of the coast, or the islands adjacent, north of the
parts already occupied by Spain. It had, by the terms of
the compact, no application whatever to parts of the coast
of North America south of the places occupied by Spain
at the time the treaty was made. The important question
arises, what was the most northern point occupied by Spain
in 1790] This became a matter of disagreement between
the Spanish and British authorities at a very early day after
the Nootka Sound Convention was formed. Vancouver
claimed not only the whole of Nootka Sound, but also Port
Cox, south of it ; and he insisted, to use his own phrase-
ology, that " the northernmost spot on the Pacific coast of
America, occupied by the Spaniards previous to the month
of May, 1789, was the Presidio of San Francisco, in lati-
tude 37° 48^" Now, it will be observed that an attempt
was made to give to the Nootka Sound Convention a con-
struction wholly unwarranted by its terms. Vancouver
endeavored to fix the month of April, 1789, as the time
when the question of the most northern occupation of
Spain was to be settled. The language of the con-
vention, in respect to the right of forming settlements,
is, " north of the parts of the said coast already occupied
by Spain " ; fixing the time, according to every just rule
of construction, at the date of the treaty, the J28th of
October, 1790. This construction is strengthened by the
fact, that a subsequent article concedes the right of forming


temporary establishments on the coast of South America,
south of parts " already occupied " by Spain, and refer-
ring indisputably to the date of the treaty. The words
" already occupied " are the same in both articles, and they
must be considered as referring' to the same period of

The question then recurs, what was the most northerly
point occupied by Spain in October, 1790, at the conclu-
sion of the treaty ?

Martinez, as has been seen, took possession of Nootka

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 40)