Nootka Convention

Last updated
Nootka Sound Conventions
Date Nootka Sound Convention: October 28, 1790

Nootka Claims Convention: February 12, 1793,

Convention for the Mutual Abandonment of Nootka: January 11, 1794
Location Madrid, Spain
Also known as Nootka Sound Convention, Nootka Claims Convention, Convention for the Mutual Abandonment of Nootka
Participants Spain, Great Britain
OutcomeBritain and Spain were guaranteed freedom of the seas

The Nootka Sound Conventions were a series of three agreements between the Kingdom of Spain and the Kingdom of Great Britain, signed in the 1790s, which averted a war between the two countries over overlapping claims to portions of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a European country located in Southwestern Europe with some pockets of Spanish territory across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

Pacific Northwest Region that includes parts of Canada and the United States

The Pacific Northwest (PNW), sometimes referred to as Cascadia, is a geographic region in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and (loosely) by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Though no official boundary exists, the most common conception includes the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) and the U.S. states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Broader conceptions reach north into Southeast Alaska and Yukon, south into northern California, and east to the Continental Divide to include Western Montana and parts of Wyoming. Narrower conceptions may be limited to the coastal areas west of the Cascade and Coast mountains. The variety of definitions can be attributed to partially overlapping commonalities of the region's history, culture, geography, society, and other factors.


Claims of Spain

The claims of Spain dated back nearly 300 years to the papal bull of 1493 that, along with the following Treaty of Tordesillas, defined and delineated a zone of Spanish rights exclusive of Portugal. In relation to other states the agreement was legally ineffective ( res inter alios acta ). Spain interpreted it in the widest possible sense, deducing that it gave them full sovereignty. Other European powers did not recognize the Inter caetera, and even Spain and Portugal only adhered to it when it was useful and convenient. [1] Britain's claims to the region were dated back to the voyage of Sir Francis Drake in 1579, and also by right of prior discovery by Captain James Cook in 1778, although the Spanish had explored and claimed the region in 1774, under Juan Pérez, and in 1775, under Bruno de Heceta and Bodega y Quadra.

<i>Inter caetera</i> papal bull

Inter caetera was a papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI on the fourth of May 1493, which granted to the Catholic Majesties of Ferdinand and Isabella all lands to the "west and south" of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde islands.

Treaty of Tordesillas "Age of Discovery" Catholic treaty dividing the "unclaimed" world between Spanish and Portuguese sovereignty

The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed at Tordesillas in Spain on June 7, 1494, and authenticated at Setúbal, Portugal, divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Spanish Empire, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. This line of demarcation was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage, named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia.

Res inter alios acta, aliis nec nocet nec prodest is a law doctrine which holds that a contract cannot adversely affect the rights of one who is not a party to the contract.

Disputed sovereignty

The Nootka Sound dispute began in 1789 when Spain sent José Martínez to occupy Nootka Sound and establish exclusive Spanish sovereignty. During the summer of 1789 a number of fur trading vessels, British and American, arrived at Nootka. A conflict over sovereignty arose between the captain of the British Argonaut, James Colnett, and Martínez. By the end of the summer Martínez had arrested Colnett, seized several British ships, and arrested their crews. Colnett had come to Nootka Sound intending to build a permanent trading post and colony on land previously acquired by his business associate John Meares. At the end of the summer Martínez abandoned Nootka and took the captured ships and prisoners to San Blas, New Spain. The news about these events triggered a confrontation between Spain and Britain known as the Nootka Crisis, which nearly led to war.

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra Spanish explorer

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra, or simply Esteban José Martínez (1742–1798) was a Spanish navigator and explorer, native of Seville. He was a key figure in the Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest.

Nootka Sound sound

Nootka Sound is a sound of the Pacific Ocean on the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, historically known as King George's Sound. It separates Vancouver Island and Nootka Island. It played a historically important role in the maritime fur trade.

James Colnett was an officer of the British Royal Navy, an explorer, and a maritime fur trader. He served under James Cook during Cook's second voyage of exploration. Later he led two private trading expeditions that involved collecting sea otter pelts in the Pacific Northwest of North America and selling them in Canton, China, where the British East India Company maintained a trading post. Wintering in the recently discovered Hawaiian Islands was a key component of the new trade system. Colnett is remembered largely for his involvement in the Nootka Crisis of 1789—initially a dispute between British traders and the Spanish Navy over the use of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island that became an international crisis that led Britain and Spain to the brink of war before being peacefully resolved through diplomacy and the signing of the Nootka Conventions.

Nootka Conventions

The Nootka Conventions of the 1790s, carried out in part by George Vancouver and his Spanish counterpart Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, prevented the dispute from escalating to war. The first Convention was signed on October 28, 1790. [2] and was purposefully vague. Its preamble contained the statement, "setting aside all retrospective discussions of the rights and pretensions of the two parties...". Its first article said that all "the buildings and tracts of land" at Nootka Sound that had been seized by Martínez would be restored to Britain. For this purpose Vancouver and Bodega y Quadra were sent to Nootka Sound in 1792. However, no buildings had been seized and Bodega said no land had been acquired by the British, as attested by the indigenous chief Maquinna as well as the American traders Robert Gray and Joseph Ingraham, who were present in 1789. [3] Vancouver was unwilling to accept Bodega's various counter-offers and the whole matter was sent back to the British and Spanish governments. [4]

George Vancouver 18th-century English naval explorer

Captain George Vancouver was a British officer of the Royal Navy best known for his 1791–95 expedition, which explored and charted North America's northwestern Pacific Coast regions, including the coasts of what are now the American states of Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, as well as the province of British Columbia in Canada. He also explored the Hawaiian Islands and the southwest coast of Australia.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra Spanish naval officer

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was a Spanish naval officer born in Lima, Peru. Assigned to the Pacific coast Spanish Naval Department base at San Blas, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, this navigator explored the Northwest Coast of North America as far north as present day Alaska.

Maquinna politician

Maquinna was the chief of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Nootka Sound, during the heyday of the maritime fur trade in the 1780s and 1790s on the Pacific Northwest Coast. The name means "possessor of pebbles". His people are today known as the Mowachaht and reside today with their kin, the Muchalaht, at Gold River, British Columbia, Canada.

First Nootka Convention

The first Nootka Convention plays a role in the disputed sovereignty of the Falkland Islands between the United Kingdom and Argentina. Article VI provided that neither party would form new establishments on any of the islands adjacent to the east and west coasts of South America then occupied by Spain. Both retained the right to land and erect temporary structures on the coasts and islands for fishery-related purposes. However, there was an additional secret article that stipulated that Article VI shall remain in force only so long as no establishment shall have been formed by the subjects of any other power on the coasts in question. This secret article had the same force as if it were inserted in the convention. The Nootka Convention's applicability to the Falklands dispute is controversial and complicated. The United Provinces of the River Plate was not a party to the convention. Therefore, it is defined in the convention as 'other power' and the occupation of the settlement (at Port Louis) by subjects of any other power negated Article VI and allowed Great Britain to re-assert prior sovereignty and form new settlements. [5] [ dubious ]

Sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is disputed by Argentina and the United Kingdom.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Argentina Federal republic in South America

Argentina, officially the Argentine Republic, is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America. Sharing the bulk of the Southern Cone with Chile to the west, the country is also bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north, Brazil to the northeast, Uruguay and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Drake Passage to the south. With a mainland area of 2,780,400 km2 (1,073,500 sq mi), Argentina is the eighth-largest country in the world, the fourth largest in the Americas, and the largest Spanish-speaking nation. The sovereign state is subdivided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city, Buenos Aires, which is the federal capital of the nation as decided by Congress. The provinces and the capital have their own constitutions, but exist under a federal system. Argentina claims sovereignty over part of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Second Nootka Convention

The second Nootka Convention, known as the Nootka Claims Convention, was signed in February 1793 and awarded compensation to John Meares for the Spanish seizure of his ships at Nootka in 1789. [6]

Third Nootka Convention

The third Nootka Convention, also known as the Convention for the Mutual Abandonment of Nootka, was signed on January 11, 1794. [7] It called for the mutual abandonment of Nootka Sound. Britain and Spain were both free to use Nootka Sound as a port and erect temporary structures, but, "neither ... shall form any permanent establishment in the said port or claim any right of sovereignty or territorial dominion there to the exclusion of the other. And Their said Majesties will mutually aid each other to maintain for their subjects free access to the port of Nootka against any other nation which may attempt to establish there any sovereignty or dominion". [8]

Unresolved borders

Although the Nootka Crisis originally revolved around the issue of sovereignty and the northern limits of New Spain, the basic issues were left unresolved. Both sides took up positions regarding the border, with Britain desiring it set just north of San Francisco and Spain at the Strait of Juan de Fuca. After Vancouver rejected Bodega's proposal of the Strait of Juan de Fuca the border question was not again addressed and instead left unspecified. The third convention addressed the issue of sovereignty only for the port of Nootka Sound itself.

U.S. claims

The fledgling United States had no claim in this area at the time of the first Nootka Convention. US claims in the region began with Robert Gray's Columbia River expedition. They were strengthened and enlarged by the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the establishment of Fort Astoria by the Pacific Fur Company. The Spanish claims to the Pacific Northwest were acquired by the United States by the Adams-Onís Treaty, signed in 1819. The United States argued that it had acquired a right of exclusive sovereignty from Spain. This position led to a dispute with Britain known as the Oregon boundary dispute. This dispute was not resolved until the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846, which divided the disputed territory and established what later became the international boundary between Canada and the United States.

Although the Nootka Conventions theoretically opened the Pacific Northwest coast from northern California to Alaska to British colonization, the advent of the Napoleonic Wars distracted any efforts towards this (as recommended by Vancouver at the time) and the proposed settlement colony in the region was to be abandoned. The Hudson's Bay Company, the remaining British presence in the region, was averse to settlement and any economic activity other than its own, such that settlement and resource development did not take place to any degree until the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858, which formalized British claims on the mainland still residual from the Nootka Conventions into the Colony of British Columbia.

See also

Related Research Articles

John Meares British navigator, explorer and fur trader

John Meares was a navigator, explorer, and maritime fur trader, best known for his role in the Nootka Crisis, which brought Britain and Spain to the brink of war.

Spanish Canadians are Canadians of full or partial Spanish heritage or people who hold a European Union citizenship from Spain as well as one from Canada.

Robert Gray (sea captain) American merchant sea captain

Robert Gray was an American merchant sea captain who is known for his achievements in connection with two trading voyages to the northern Pacific coast of North America, between 1790 and 1793, which pioneered the American maritime fur trade in that region. In the course of those voyages, Gray explored portions of that coast and, in 1790, completed the first American circumnavigation of the world. Perhaps his most remembered accomplishment from his explorations was his coming upon and then naming of the Columbia River in 1792, while on his second voyage.


Yuquot, also known as Fort San Miguel or Friendly Cove, is a small settlement of around six people - The Williams family of the Mowachaht band, plus two full-time lighthouse keepers, located on Nootka Island in Nootka Sound, just west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It was the summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht (Nuu-chah-nulth) people for generations, housing approximately 1,500 natives in 20 traditional wooden longhouses. The name means "Wind comes from all directions" in Nuu-chah-nulth.

Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest research expedition

Spanish claims to the West Coast of North America date to the papal bull of 1493, and the Treaty of Tordesillas. In 1513, this claim was reinforced by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean, when he claimed all lands adjoining this ocean for the Spanish Crown. Spain only started to colonize the claimed territory north of present-day Mexico in the 18th century, when it settled the northern coast of Las Californias (California).

Francisco de Eliza y Reventa was a Spanish naval officer, navigator, and explorer. He is remembered mainly for his work in the Pacific Northwest. He was the commandant of the Spanish post in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, and led or dispatched several exploration voyages in the region, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.

Don Pedro de Alberni or Pere d'Alberní i Teixidor[ˈpeɾə ðəlβəɾˈni j təʃiˈðoɾ] in Catalan was a Spanish soldier who served the Spanish Crown for almost all his life. He spent most of his military career in colonial Mexico. He is notable for his role in the exploration of the Pacific Northwest in the 1790s, and his later term as ninth Spanish governor of Alta California in 1800.

Fenis and St. Joseph, also known as the São Jao y Fenix or the San José el Fénix, was a 50 foot brig that visited Nootka Sound in 1792. She was also described as "an open shallop, with only 14 men". She bore a Portuguese flag of convenience, possibly out of Macau and had a Portuguese captain, João de Barros Andrade, but had the Englishman Robert Duffin on board as supercargo. Duffin was an associate of John Meares who had organized a number of British fur trading expeditions using the Portuguese flag in order to evade paying for trading licenses from the East India Company. It is probable that Duffin was actually in command of the vessel.

Nootka Crisis

The Nootka Crisis, also known as the Spanish Armament, was an international incident and political dispute between the Spanish Empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the fledgling United States of America triggered by a series of events that took place during the summer of 1789 at Nootka Sound in present-day British Columbia, Canada. Spanish coastguards seized some British commercial ships engaged in the fur trade at an uncolonized coastline area to which Spain claimed ownership. Britain rejected the Spanish claims and used its greatly superior naval power to threaten a war and win the dispute. Spain, a rapidly fading military power, was unable to depend upon its longtime ally, France, which was in the throes of the French Revolution.

Juan Carrasco was a Spanish naval officer, explorer, and navigator. He is remembered mainly for his work in the Pacific Northwest during the late 18th century. He was second in command of the 1791 voyage of José María Narváez, the first European exploration of the Strait of Georgia.

Princess Royal was a British merchant ship that sailed on fur trading ventures in the late 1780s, and was captured at Nootka Sound by Esteban José Martínez of Spain during the Nootka Crisis of 1789. Called Princesa Real while under the Spanish Navy, the vessel was one of the important issues of negotiation during the first Nootka Convention and the difficulties in carrying out the agreements. The vessel also played an important role in both British and Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. In 1790, while under Spanish control, Princesa Real carried out the first detailed examination of the Strait of Juan de Fuca by non-indigenous peoples, finding, among other places, the San Juan Islands, Haro Strait, Esquimalt Harbour near present-day Victoria, British Columbia, and Admiralty Inlet.

La Princesa was a Spanish frigate or corvette built at the Spanish Navy base at San Blas and launched in 1778. She is sometimes called a frigate and sometimes a corvette. At the time a corvette was similar to a frigate in that both were three-masted, ship-rigged warships, but corvettes were slightly smaller and had a single deck instead of two. The exact specifications of La Princesa are not known. La Princesa was designed with storage enough to sail for a year without having to restock. She was built for durability rather than speed. Like La Favorita, a similar corvette stationed at San Blas, La Princesa was heavily used, serving for over three decades, playing an important role in the exploration of the Pacific Northwest as well as the routine work of provisioning the missions of Alta California. During her 1779 voyage the Princesa carried six four-pounder cannons and four three-pounders, and had a crew complement of 98. The Princesa carried 26 cannons in 1789 when Esteban José Martínez took control of Nootka Sound.

<i>Sutil</i> (ship)

Sutil was a brig-rigged schooner built in 1791 by the Spanish Navy at San Blas, New Spain. It was nearly identical to Mexicana, also built at San Blas in 1791. Both vessels were built for exploring the newly discovered Strait of Georgia, carried out in 1792 under Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, on Sutil, and Cayetano Valdés y Flores, on Mexicana. During this voyage the two Spanish vessels encountered the two British vessels under George Vancouver, HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham, which were also engaged in exploring the Strait of Georgia. The two expeditions cooperated in surveying the complex channels between the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait, in the process proving the insularity of Vancouver Island. After this first voyage Sutil continued to serve the San Blas Naval Department, making various voyages to Alta California and the Pacific Northwest coast.

<i>Mexicana</i> (ship) ship of the Spanish Navy, built in 1791

The Mexicana was a topsail schooner built in 1791 by the Spanish Navy at San Blas, New Spain. It was nearly identical to the Sutil, also built at San Blas later in 1791. Both vessels were built for exploring the newly discovered Strait of Georgia, carried out in 1792 under Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, on the Sutil, and Cayetano Valdés y Flores, on the Mexicana. During this voyage the two Spanish vessels encountered the two British vessels under George Vancouver, HMS Discovery and Chatham, which were also engaged in exploring the Strait of Georgia. The two expeditions cooperated in surveying the complex channels between the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Strait, in the process proving the insularity of Vancouver Island. After this first voyage the Mexicana continued to serve the San Blas Naval Department, making various voyages to Alta California and the Pacific Northwest coast.

Santa Cruz de Nuca

Santa Cruz de Nuca, was a Spanish settlement and the first European colony in British Columbia. The settlement was founded in 1789 and abandoned in 1795, with its far northerly position making it the "high-water mark" of verified Northerly Spanish settlement along the North American West coast. The colony was first established with the Spanish aim of securing the entire West coast of the continent from Vancouver island southwards, for the Spanish crown.


  1. Benson, Robert Louis; Robert Charles Figueira (2006). Plenitude of Power: The Doctrines and Exercise of Authority in the Middle Ages. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 137–138. ISBN   978-0-7546-3173-6.
  2. Pethick, Derek, The Nootka Connection, p. 260, Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 1980
  3. Tovell, Freeman M. (2008). At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco De La Bodega Y Quadra. University of British Columbia Press. pp. 252–253. ISBN   978-0-7748-1367-9.
  4. Robert J. King, “George Vancouver and the contemplated settlement at Nootka Sound”, The Great Circle, vol.32, no.1, 2010, pp.6-34; At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 263
  5. See, for example, Chenette, Richard D. (4 May 1987). "The Argentine Seizure of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands: History and Diplomacy" . Retrieved 10 April 2010.; and Todini, Bruno (2007). Falkland Islands, History, War and Economics. Chapter 2: Beginning of the disputes over the Falkland islands sovereignty among Spanish, British and French. pp. 252–253. ISBN   978-84-690-6590-7. Archived from the original on 2009-11-29.
  6. Pethick, Derek, The Nootka Connection, p. 266, Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 1980
  7. Pethick, Derek, The Nootka Connection, p. 268, Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 1980
  8. Carlos Calvo, Recueil complet des traités, conventions, capitulations, armistices et autres actes diplomatiques de tous les états de l'Amérique latine, Tome IIIe, Paris, Durand, 1862, pp.366-368.