|Type||Fur Trade Post|
|Built for||Pacific Fur Company|
|Part of||Astoria Downtown Historic District (ID98000631)|
|NRHP reference No.||66000639|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||November 5, 1961|
Fort Astoria (also named Fort George) was the primary fur trading post of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company (PFC). A maritime contingent of PFC staff was sent on board the Tonquin , while another party traveled overland from St. Louis. This land based group later became known as the Astor Expedition. Built at the entrance of the Columbia River in 1811, Fort Astoria was the first American-owned settlement on the Pacific coast of North America.
The inhabitants of the fort differed greatly in background and position, and were structured into a corporate hierarchy. The fur trading partners of the company were at the top, with clerks, craftsmen, hunters, and laborers in descending order. Nationalities included Scots, French-Canadian voyageurs, American, Native Hawaiian Kanaka, and people from various indigenous North American peoples, including Iroquois and others from Eastern Canada. They found life quite monotonous, with the fish and vegetable diet boring. Venereal diseases were problematic.Types of fur taken in trade at the fort included beaver, sea otter, squirrel, and red fox.
The onset of the War of 1812 caused the PFC to fold, too isolated to expect any military protection or support from the United States. The Montreal-based North West Company (NWC) bought out the assets of the PFC in 1813, including Fort Astoria. They renamed it Fort George and utilized it as the headquarters of its most western operations, primarily based along the Columbia. In 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company incorporated Fort George into its collection of posts after absorbing the NWC. The opening of Fort Vancouver in 1825 was planned to allow for a better placed headquarters for the Columbia Department. While Fort George was abandoned in 1825, the arrival of American naval merchants on the Columbia necessitated the reopening of Fort George by the HBC.
Competition for control of Fort Astoria was a factor in the British and the Americans' resolving their disputed claims to the Oregon Country.[ citation needed ]
The Fort Astoria Site was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks on November 5, 1961. It is marked by a reconstructed block house.
John Jacob Astor was a German-American merchant who over several decades financed several successful mercantile missions to the Qing Empire. He promoted the idea of a joint company with the Canadian North West Company (NWC) to open trade posts in the Pacific Northwest. However, Astor was unable to convince the British subjects to join him in such a venture. This didn't deter the ambitious financier, who went ahead with his plans by creating the American Fur Company (AFC) in 1808.
The Pacific Fur Company (PFC) was established shortly afterwards as an AFC subsidiary to establish commercial stations on the Pacific Coast. Notably Astor was able to recruit several NWC partners and employees into the PFC, including Donald Mackenzie, Alexander MacKay and Duncan McDougall. To create these new fur trade locations, Astor planned to send detachments of laborers and officers both overland on a route similar to one taken by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and on merchant vessels that rounded Cape Horn for the Columbia.
The Tonquin was used to carry a detachment of employees to the Pacific under the command of Captain Jonathan Thorn. After several days were spent surveying the mouth of the Columbia River, 33 men disembarked on 12 April 1811.Among the PFC men were eleven Kanaka laborers from the Kingdom of Hawaii, including Naukane (also known as John Coxe). Notable among the early staff of Fort Astoria were two Scottish emigrants to Canada, Alexander MacKay, who had previously been with the North West Company, and Alexander Ross.
By the end of May 1811, company employees built Fort Astoria out of bark-covered logs that enclosed a stockade and guns mounted for defense. Ross recalled that in almost two months, "scarcely yet an acre of ground cleared"due to the many initial difficulties the PFC employees faced in establishing Fort Astoria:
The place thus selected for the emporium of the west, might challenge the whole continent to produce a spot of equal extent presenting more difficulties to the settler: studded with many gigantic trees of almost incredible size, many of them measuring fifty feet in girth, and so close together, and intermingled with huge rocks, as to make it work of no ordinary labour to level and clear the ground.
By the time an overland party joined them in February 1812, the PFC laborers had constructed a trading store, a blacksmith's shop, a house, and a storage shed for pelts acquired from trapping or trading with the local Native Americans. The traders arranged cannons around the perimeter for defense. The post was to serve as an administrative center for various PFC satellite forts such as Fort Okanogan.
On June 15, 1811, two unusual native visitors arrived: the Two-Spirit Kaúxuma Núpika (known in English as Man-like Woman or Bowdash, which is derived from the Chinook Jargon burdash) and their wife, both of the Kootenai from the far interior. PFC management suspected the two of being spies for the NWC, but at the same time welcomed their detailed geographical knowledge. A NWC employee, David Thompson, arrived about a month later after navigating the entire length of the Columbia River. Thompson knew the Kootenai couple and told the Astorians about Kaúxuma Núpika and their unusual life. Both the Astorians and Thompson's party ended up protecting the life of Kaúxuma Núpika, whose prophecies of smallpox among the local natives put her life at risk.
Thompson, who for months had been out of touch with the evolving politics between the fur companies, believed that the NWC held a one-third partnership with Astor's Pacific Fur Company. He carried a letter to the effect. The Astorians knew that the deal had fallen through but dealt with Thompson as if the deal were still on. The journals of Thompson and the Astorians are silent on the matter, yet both parties took steps to mislead or thwart the other, while at the same time remaining on friendly terms. It is likely that in this remote region, neither party knew for certain whether the two companies were to be allies or competitors.
In June 1812, the number of men at Fort Astoria were reduced to 11 Hawaiians and 39 European descendants.Fear of attack by Chinookans was high and drills were directed by McDougall frequently. A delegation of Chinookans visited Fort Astoria on 2 July quickly left after witnessing these military demonstrations. This fear by the natives convinced the Astorians that "they are not friendly disposed towards us..." having "a desire to harm us." According to Jones, this "latent distrust" of Chinookans by Astorians from this incident was probably unfounded, as they entered the post "for an innocent purpose" and were frightened by the drills.
Acting on the orders of Astor, Thorn and Tonquin departed for Russian America in June 1811. At Destruction Island a Quinault man with familial ties to Vancouver Island, Joseachal, was hired to serve as a translator. While at Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Island, Thorn became frustrated with the prices set by the local Tla-o-qui-aht people there. He reportedly took an animal pelt and struck the elder appointed as the primary negotiator. This greatly offended the Tla-o-qui-aht, and while Joseachal advised Thorn of the danger, the captain refused to immediately depart.
Eventually a brisk trade commenced with the locals who had remained on board, with the pelts being sold primarily for American blades. Soon after receiving the weapons the Tla-o-qui-aht attacked and in the ensuing conflict Tonquin was destroyed. Josechal was the sole survivor and later returned to Fort Astoria to inform McDougall of the fate of the vessel. The loss of Tonquin caused a great deal of hardship for the personnel at Fort Astoria as it still held a large amount of the trade goods and foodstuffs intended for trade in the region.
Many Tonquin passengers and crew members listed in Gabriel Franchère comprehensive travel logdid not get to winter over after the initial fort was built, due to either being lost (deserting), drowning or perishing in the June 1811 Tonquin disaster (aside a single Indigenous interpreter survivor). New Kanaka passengers had also been added during the stopover on the Sandwich Islands and similarly, some did not winter over. One Kanaka was exchanged for an experienced Voyageur that came with David Thompson during the summer before he returned. Two additions came during fall 1811 following an expedition to establish Fort Okanogan. Some members of that expedition did return by January 1812 along with the first arrivals of the Wilson Price Hunt overland expedition. The first "Astorians" to operate the fort during the first winter of 1811-1812 were:
Although based in Fort Astoria, Ross, de Montigny, Roussel and Lafantaisie all wintered over around new Fort Okanogan. Robert Stuart, Pillet, McGillis and Bruguier wintered around the Willamette.
Astor sent Beaver to resupply the fort which arrived in 1812. Besides additional American and British subjects, a further 26 Hawaiian Kanakas were transported to bolster the company workforce.From there the Beaver took the stockpiled animal pelts at Astoria on board and sailed for Novo-Arkhangelsk. An agreement with the Russian American Governor, Alexander Andreyevich Baranov, was made for the exchange of foodstuffs and trade goods in return for Russian furs. From there Beaver sailed to the Chinese port of Guangzhou to sell the furs for highly valuable Chinese manufactured goods. Due to then ongoing War of 1812, Beaver remained at Guangzhou until the resolution of the conflict and only reached New York City in 1816.
The War of 1812 between the British and Americans brought tension to Fort Astoria, though not as a result of hostilities between the fur companies. On 1 July 1813, the fort officers of Donald Mackenzie, Duncan McDougall, David Stuart and John Clarke, desiring to abandon the fort agreed to sell the PFC trading stations to the British-owned NWC, "unless the necessary support and supplies arrive with advice from John Jacob Astor of New York, or the Stockholders to continue the trade, the same shall be abandoned as impracticable, as well as unprofitable."NWC staff arrived at the coast after running low on food supplies in the Interior on 7 October, with the liquidation of the PFC assets being executed on 23 October.
HMS Racoon, a British sloop-of-war, visited Fort Astoria on 12 December 1813, previously instructed to claim the station as a British possession. Its captain William Black found the trading station far from militarily imposing, reportedly exclaiming "Is this the fort about which I have heard so much talking? Damn me, but I'd batter it down in two hours with a four pounder!" Black renamed the post Fort George in honor of King George III.
Scholars have affirmed that the American company and its "economic success depended on mutually beneficial economic exchanges with Indian groups... who controlled trade."Many of the settlements near the station were under the influence of headman Comcomly. Consistently small stockpiles of foodstuffs at Fort Astoria created the need for frequent transactions with Chinookans for sustenance. Seasonal fish runs provided the major nutritional sources for the Columbian River based Natives. Major fish populations active in the Columbia included the Candlefish smelt, White sturgeon, Sockeye salmon and Chinook salmon. This dependence on fish made it a primary food source for the Astorians, which caused some discontent among employees desiring a more familiar diet.
Terrestrial animals like members of the family Cervidae such as Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer were not found in large numbers around Fort Astoria.This made them another important source of trade for the Chinookans when visiting the PFC station. Another frequent item sold was the Wapato root, with the volume consumed by the Astorians large enough to necessitate the creation of a small cellar made specifically to house the produce. Other typical purchases from Chinookans included manufactured goods. In particular woven hats were frequently bought for protection against the seasonal rains. These hats were tightly interwoven, making them essentially waterproof.
Fort George soon became the center of NWC operations along the Columbia River, becoming "a Fort William in miniature."At the time the NWC had no competition for the land-based fur trade in the region. NWC laborers developed Fort George by expanding its agricultural fields, in addition to creating "several large buildings erected, and the pallisades [sic] and bastions strengthened." Fort George became an important port-of-call for the Maritime Fur Trade. By 1818 there about 50 NWC employees at Fort George, over half being Hawaiian Kanakas.
In 1821, the North West Company was merged into the Hudson's Bay Company, which took ownership of the fort. Fort George continued to function the primary entrepôt of the Columbia Department until 1825. During a tour of the newly acquired assets on the Pacific shore, Governor George Simpson spent the winter of 1824 at Fort George.He found the station inappropriate both as a fur post and a regional depot. Simpson ordered the establishment of a new post and depot further in the interior along the Columbia River. A suitable prairie was selected by the Governor as having much more for agricultural projects. Besides his intention for this new post to supply foodstuffs for company stations in the Pacific Northwest, Simpson determined to relocate the Columbia Department administrative apparatus there as well. This new station was christened Fort Vancouver, with the initial construction completed in the spring of 1825. HBC personnel withdrew from Fort George two months later. Neighboring native villagers began to seasonally reside there, "rapidly reducing it to a state of ruin & filth." A small number of lodges, likely maintained by Clatsops, were established fairly close to Fort George.
To counter Americans merchant vessels, a reoccupation of Fort George by the HBC was ordered in 1829. 20 feet (6.1 m) wide by 60 feet (18 m) long. Along with two minor buildings, there was a small warehouse. While ordering a lowering of exchange rates for skins in 1829, Chief Factor John McLoughlin focused on maintaining commercial ties with the Chinookan peoples through "forcing our Competitors to reduce their prices." This continued value placed in the Chinookans by the British subjects went extended beyond a major source of fur pelts. For instance, the surrounding tribes of Fort George were frequently employed to man the post canoes.The post was placed at the forefront of competition between the British and American fur traders. While the post was gradually rebuilt, the dilapidated condition and extensive repairs required forced the sole clerk to live in a tent during the winter. The residency of the HBC trader was made to be
The sinking of such HBC ships as the William and Ann at the mouth of the Columbia necessitated the use of the trading post to guide ships inland.Beginning in 1830 the location was continuously used in a small capacity by the company. The Isabella, a HBC trading ship, crashed near the station during that year. Neighboring Clatsops appeared on the scene, offering to recover property from the ship. Despite Chief Factor McLoughlin lamenting that "we have no alternative but to run the risk or lose the property", the assistance tendered by them proved invaluable for the company.
During 1833 the post had a staff of four: an English clerk, a Scottish field manager from Stromness, and two Hawaiians.Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, several men served as Fort George's managing officer with James Birnie serving the longest. The Methodist missionary Daniel Lee reported that Birnie maintained "abundant crops of most excellent potatoes and garden vegetables" at the post. The growing salmon harvesting operations of the Hudson's Bay Company were focused on the fisheries surrounding Fort George. The company used the salmon to feed its employees, as well as exporting some to the markets of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
The USS Ontario was dispatched in 1817 to reassert the American claim to Fort Astoria, though ordered to avoid an armed confrontation.NWC partner Simon McGillivray dramatically claimed that the vessel was sent "to seize or destroy the establishments and trade of the North West Company..." The NWC partners had already instructed its staff at Fort George to not resist an attempt by Americans to reclaim the fur trading station. Despite the ceremony of formally transferring national possession, actual ownership by the NWC went on as before, and no actual American presence was established aside from the symbolic repossession.
The negotiations that would formally end the War of 1812 briefly touched upon the topic of Fort Astoria/George. The American government exerted pressure for the return of the station from British subjects. British Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh determined a conciliatory policy. In a letter to Charles Bagot on 4 February 1818, Castlereagh stated that "whilst the Government is not disposed to contest with the American govt't the point of possession as it stood in the Columbia River at the moment of the rupture, they are not prepared to admit the validity of the title of the Govt of the United States to this Settlement."Ultimately the Treaty of 1818 established a "joint occupancy" of the Pacific Northwest between the United Kingdom and the United States. This accord allowed for subjects from either nation to travel to the distant region without hindrance.
In 1846 the post finally became United States territory as one of the terms of the Oregon Treaty, which ended the Oregon boundary dispute. In the treaty, Great Britain ceded its territorial rights south of the 49th parallel. As the treaty would have subjected the Hudson's Bay Company to American jurisdiction, the company opted to sell off its possessions south of the 49th parallel, despite the fact that the treaty had specifically guaranteed their right to retain such properties.
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Fort Vancouver was a 19th-century fur trading post that was the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department, located in the Pacific Northwest. Named for Captain George Vancouver, the fort was located on the northern bank of the Columbia River in present-day Vancouver, Washington. The fort was a major center of the regional fur trading. Every year trade goods and supplies from London arrived either via ships sailing to the Pacific Ocean or overland from Hudson Bay via the York Factory Express. Supplies and trade goods were exchanged with a plethora of Indigenous cultures for fur pelts. Furs from Fort Vancouver were often shipped to the Chinese port of Guangzhou where they were traded for Chinese manufactured goods for sale in the United Kingdom. At its pinnacle, Fort Vancouver watched over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600 employees. Today, a full-scale replica of the fort, with internal buildings, has been constructed and is open to the public as Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
The Pacific Fur Company (PFC) was an American fur trade venture wholly owned and funded by John Jacob Astor that functioned from 1810 to 1813. It was based in the Pacific Northwest, an area contested over the decades between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Spanish Empire, the United States of America and the Russian Empire.
Jonathan Thorn was a career officer of the United States Navy in the early 19th century.
The American Fur Company (AFC) was founded in 1808, by John Jacob Astor, a German immigrant to the United States. During the 18th century, furs had become a major commodity in Europe, and North America became a major supplier. Several British companies, most notably the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, were eventual competitors against Astor and capitalized on the lucrative trade in furs. Astor capitalized on anti-British sentiments and his commercial strategies to become one of the first trusts in American business and a major competitor to the British commercial dominance in North American fur trade. Expanding into many former British fur-trapping regions and trade routes, the company grew to monopolize the fur trade in the United States by 1830, and became one of the largest and wealthiest businesses in the country.
Tonquin was a 290-ton American merchant ship initially operated by Fanning & Coles and later by the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), a subsidiary of the American Fur Company (AFC). Its first commander was Edmund Fanning, who sailed to the Qing Empire for valuable Chinese trade goods in 1807. The vessel was outfitted for another journey to China and then was sold to German-American entrepreneur John Jacob Astor. Included within his intricate plans to assume control over portions of the lucrative North American fur trade, the ship was intended to establish and supply trading outposts on the Pacific Northwest coast. Valuable animal furs purchased and trapped in the region would then be shipped to China, where consumer demand was high for particular pelts.
Spokane House was a fur-trading post founded in 1810 by the British-Canadian North West Company, located on a peninsula where the Spokane River and Little Spokane River meet. When established, it was the North West Company's farthest outpost in the Columbia River region. An American rival of the NWC, the Pacific Fur Company opened a station adjacent to Spokane House, called Fort Spokane. The War of 1812 and ongoing supply issues caused the collapse of the PFC, with its posts now under the control of the NWC. The original Spokane House was abandoned in favor of Fort Spokane, though the latter location was still called Spokane House. The second Spokane House saw use as a major post in the interior Oregon Country until the NWC was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821. During a general tour of the Pacific Northwest, Spokane House was abandoned by George Simpson in 1825, in favor of a new post that became Fort Colvile. The site of Spokane House is in Spokane County in the U.S. state of Washington, just northwest of the city of Spokane.
The Columbia District was a fur trading district in the Pacific Northwest region of British North America in the 19th century. Much of its territory overlapped with the disputed Oregon Country. It was explored by the North West Company between 1793 and 1811, and established as an operating fur district around 1810. The North West Company was absorbed into the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821 under which the Columbia District became known as the Columbia Department. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 marked the effective end of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department.
Robert Stuart was a Scottish-born, Canadian and American fur trader, best known as a member of the first European-American party to cross South Pass during an overland expedition from Fort Astoria to Saint Louis in 1811. He was a member of the North West Company (NWC) until recruited by John Jacob Astor to develop the new Pacific Fur Company, which was based at Fort Astoria, on the coast of present-day Oregon. Astor intended the venture to develop a continent-wide commercial empire in fur trading.
Étienne Lucier, né Lussier, was a French-Canadian fur trader active primarily in the Pacific Northwest. He was hired by the Pacific Fur Company and sent to the region to help establish Fort Astoria. Later he became a settler in the Willamette Valley. Lucier attended the Champoeg Meetings and was one of few French-Canadians or "Canadiens" to vote for the Provisional Government of Oregon, an American and Canadian civil authority for the valley. He is credited with becoming the first European descendant farmer within the modern state of Oregon.
Alexander MacKay was a Canadian fur trader and explorer who worked for the North West Company and the Pacific Fur Company. He co-founded Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific coast.
The York Factory Express, usually called "the Express" and also the Columbia Express and the Communication, was a 19th-century fur brigade operated by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). Roughly 4,200 kilometres (2,600 mi) in length, it was the main overland connection between HBC headquarters at York Factory and the principal depot of the Columbia Department, Fort Vancouver.
Naukane, also known as John Coxe, Edward Cox, and Coxe was a Native Hawaiian chief who traveled widely through North America in the early 19th century. He was either considered a member of the royal household of Kamehameha I or a chiefly retainer, possibly the same person as Noukana, the son of High Chief Kamanawa, the King's uncle and trusted advisor.
Thomas McKay (1796–1849) was an Anglo-Métis Canadian Fur trader who worked mainly in the Pacific Northwest for the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), the North West Company (NWC), and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). He was a fur brigade leader and explorer of the Columbia District and later became a U.S. citizen and an early settler of Oregon.
The Battle of Woody Point was an incident in western Canada in June 1811 involving the Tla-o-qui-aht natives of the Pacific Northwest and the Tonquin, an American merchant ship of the Astor Expedition. The vessel had traveled to Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Island to trade for furs. Following an argument begun during the bartering, the Tla-o-qui-aht captured the vessel and massacred most of the crew; one remaining sailor then scuttled her by detonating the powder magazine.
The Wallace House, Wallace Post or Calapooya Fort, was a fur trading station located in the French Prairie in what is now Keizer, Oregon. Founded by personnel of the Pacific Fur Company (PFC) in 1812, it was an important source of beaver pelts and venison for the short lived American enterprise in the Pacific Northwest. Isolated in the War of 1812, the real possibility of the Royal Navy or their North West Company (NWC) competitors attacking Fort Astoria motivated the PFC management to sell its holdings and assets to the NWC in late 1813. Wallace House was utilized by the NWC until 1814, when they abandoned it in favor of the nearby Willamette Trading Post.
Ovide de Montigny was a French-Canadian fur trapper active in the Pacific Northwest from 1811 to 1822.
John Reed (??-1814) was an American clerk employed by several fur trade companies until his death in 1814.
David Stuart (1765-1853) was a fur trader who worked primarily for the North West and Pacific Fur companies throughout his varied career.
François Benjamin Pillet was a French-Canadian fur trapper active in the Pacific Northwest in the early 19th century, primarily employed by the Pacific Fur Company.
Coalpo was a Clatsop Chinookan leader alive in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He married a daughter of Comcomly, the most prominent Chinookan headman on the lower Columbia River.