George Vancouver

George Vancouver

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As an officer of the Royal Navy and an explorer, George Vancouver is best known for his exploration of North America, including the Pacific coast along what would become Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He also explored the southwest coast of Australia.Early yearsGeorge Vancouver was born in King’s Lynn, England, on June 22, 1757. His parents were John Jasper Vancouver, an assistant collector of customs at King's Lynn, and Bridget Berners.In 1772, at the age of 15, George entered the Royal Navy and was appointed to a position under James Cook, serving as a midshipman during Cook’s second and third voyages. He was with Captain Cook on the latter's famous voyage around the world from 1772 through 1774.After 1780, Vancouver served under Admiral George Rodney in the West Indies, taking part in the great victory over Admiral de Grasse, in 1782.Master and commanderAs commander of his own ship, HMS Discovery, and accompanied by another, Vancouver sailed from Falmouth, England, and headed toward the northwest coast of America in April 1791. He had two goals in mind: to assume control over the territory at Nootka Sound that had been assigned to England by the Nootka Convention between Britain and Spain, and to explore and survey the North Pacific coast.One of Vancouver's main objectives was to keep a careful lookout for any river or passage that might connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The route Vancouver took was the one previously followed by Cook; the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and on to Hawaii where they would winter.In March 1792, the ships departed from their winter harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. A month later they arrived off the coast of California. However, Vancouver, like James Cook before him, initially missed the mouth of the Columbia River.Meeting Robert GrayRobert Gray, an American sea captain, had earlier come across what he believed to be the mouth of a large river. Vancouver’s ships encountered Gray’s vessel, the Columbia, and Gray informed Vancouver about the great river he had found.Shortly thereafter, Gray returned to the area and, managing to get his ship over the sandbar that lay at the mouth of the river, explored about 20 miles upriver. He claimed the river for the United States, naming it after his ship.Vancouver then pushed northward, where he discovered and explored Puget Sound, naming it after one of his lieutenants, Peter Puget. He sighted and named Mount Baker, in honor of another of his lieutenants who first spotted its beautiful snow-capped top.He explored the mainland of the future province of British Columbia, and circumnavigated the island that now bears his name. Many of the landmarks he named are familiar today, such as Port Discovery, Mount Rainier, Port Orchard, Whidbey Island, Vashon Island, and Hood Canal, to name a few.In order to make his discoveries official and thus bolster England’s claim to the area, Vancouver formally took possession of the entire region on June 4, 1792, near the present site of Everett, Washington. He named the region New Georgia, after George III, King of England.In October 1792, Vancouver himself approached the Columbia's mouth. Broughton navigated as far as the Columbia River Gorge, sighting and naming Mount Hood.Valuable recordsThe records made by Vancouver and Gray regarding the Columbia River were of great interest to President Thomas Jefferson. It did, in fact, encourage him in his plans for a westward crossing expedition. When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out a few years later, Jefferson made sure that they had copies of the charts made by both men.Vancouver also entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. Vancouver then went on to Nootka, located on Vancouver Island, and at that time the region's most important harbor.While there, he was to secure any British buildings or lands remanded by the Spanish. Following a visit to Spanish California, Vancouver used the winter to further explore the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands.The following year, Vancouver returned to British Columbia and explored the coast farther north. Vancouver spent the winter again in the Sandwich Islands.North, to AlaskaIn 1794, Vancouver sailed to Cook Inlet (Alaska), the northernmost limit of his exploration, and from there followed the coast southward to Baranov Island, which he had also reached the year before. He then set sail for England, choosing the route around Cape Horn — thus completing a circumnavigation of the globe.Vancouver returned to England in 1795. They had sailed about 65,000 miles and rowed another 10,000 miles.An account of the voyagesOn his return to England, Vancouver began to prepare an account of his voyage for publication, a task not quite completed at his death on May 12, 1798 — at the age of 40. Peter's, Petersham, England.With the aid of Peter Puget, his brother finished the book. It was published as A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World, and contained his collections of maps and notes.Various locations around the world were named after George Vancouver, including Vancouver Island and the cities of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Vancouver, Washington.

Glacier Bay's Glacial History

Reid, Johns Hopkins, Grand Pacific Glaciers circa 1900

Glaciers Advance, Glaciers Retreat

Until 10,000 years ago, continental-scale ice sheets came and went many times for seven million years. During this Great Ice Age these ice sheets would reach as far south as the upper Midwest of the United States. Glacier Bay today is the product of the Little Ice Age, a geologically recent glacial advance in northern regions. The Little Ice Age reached its maximum extent around 1750. Since then, the massive glacier that filled the bay has retreated 65 miles to the heads of its inlets.

Today, 95% of Alaska's 100,000 glaciers are currently thinning, stagnating, or retreating, and more importantly, the rate of thinning is increasing. Glacier Bay's glaciers follow this trend. Recent research determined that there is 11% less glacial ice in Glacier Bay than in the 1950s. However, heavy snowfall in the towering Fairweather Mountains means that Glacier Bay remains home to a few stable glaciers, a rarity in today's world.


Today you must travel 65 miles up the bay to view tidewater glaciers - a far cry from the glacier's 1750 maximum. The large glacier that once filled the bay has divided into its smaller tributaries and in all but a few special cases, retreated from salt water. Although spectacular, remember that today's glaciers are mere remnants of what once was. Will they advance again, or will Glacier Bay someday be all glacier and no bay?

Polar regions respond to changes in climate at faster rates than temperate and equatorial regions do. How will Glacier Bay change in your lifetime?

History & Culture

Fort Casey Historical State Park is home to the Admiralty head lighthouse, WWII history, and sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Fort Ebey State Park

Fort Ebey was the built as part of a World War II defense network. Today it is also home to extensive hiking and biking trails.

Island County Museum

The Island County Historical Society and Museum is located in downtown Coupeville and allows you to explore the rich history of the island.

Scroll down for an overview of Reserve History

First Settlement

As early as 1300, the Skagit Indians had established permanent villages on the shores of Penn Cove. The island provided an abundance of natural resources —salmon, bottom fish, shellfish, berries, small game, deer, and water fowl. The Indians cultivated the prairies with selective burning, transplanting, and mulching to encourage the growth of favored root crops like bracken fern and camas. When the first western explorers came to central Whidbey Island, they found a land tempered by centuries of human settlement and habitation. When the first western explorers came to central Whidbey Island, they found a land tempered by centuries of human settlement and habitation. More than 1500 Native Americans were recorded in the area in 1790. By 1904, with most of the Indian population from around Coupeville relocated to the reservation in LaConner, the local tribal population was reduced to a few small families.

Vancouver and Exploration

Whidbey Island was named by explorer Captain George Vancouver in honor of Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey, who explored the island in 1792. Vancouver's well-publicized exploration of Puget Sound helped prepare the way for settlers to the area. A more important inducement was the Donation Land Law of 1850, which offered free land in Oregon Territory to any citizen who would homestead the land for four years. Newcomers flocked to the fertile prairies of central Whidbey Island and, within three short years, had carved out irregularly-shaped claims that followed the lay of the best land. Today, this early settlement pattern can still be seen by the fence lines, roads, and ridges of the Reserve.

Letters Home.

"My dear brother— I scarcely know how I shall write or what I shall write . . . the great desire of heart is to get my own and father's family to this country. I think it would be a great move. I have always thought so . . . To the north down along Admiralty Inlet . . . the cultivating land is generally found confined to the valleys of streams with the exception of Whidbey's Island . . . which is almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island. I have taken a claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation Law. If Rebecca, the children, and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content."

Colonel Isaac Ebey, letter to his brother, W.S. Ebey, Olympia, Oregon, April 25, 1851

The Ebey Family

Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey was among the first of the permanent settlers to the island. Upon the advice of his friend Samuel Crockett, Ebey came west from his home in Missouri in search of land. Both men had filed donation claims on central Whidbey by the spring of 1851. Ebey wrote home, enthusiastically urging his family to join him.

Ebey's family soon emigrated to the island. The simple home of Isaac's father Jacob, and a blockhouse he erected to defend his claim against Indians, still stand today overlooking the prairie that bears the family name. As for Isaac, he became a leading figure in public affairs, but his life was cut short in 1857, when he was slain by northern coastal Indians seeking revenge for the killing of one of their own chieftains.

Today some farmers of Central Whidbey still plow donation land claims established by their families in the 1850s. Their stewardship of the rich alluvial soil preserves a historic pattern of land use centuries old.

Fertile farmland was not the only incentive to settlement. Sea captains and merchants from New England were drawn to the protected harbor of Penn Cove and the stands of tall timber valued for shipbuilding. Many brought their families and took up donation claims along the shoreline. One colorful seafaring man was Captain Thomas Coupe, who startled his peers by sailing a full-rigged ship through treacherous Deception Pass on the north end of the island. In 1852, Coupe claimed 320 acres which later became the town of Coupeville on the south shore of the cove.

The early success of central Whidbey's farming and maritime trade transformed Coupeville into a dominant seaport. The past remains apparent in Coupeville today, with its many 19th-century false-fronted commercial buildings on Front Street, its historic wharf and blockhouse, and its rich collection of Victorian residential architecture.

Military History

The military introduced another layer of history to the landscape of central Whidbey, with the construction of Fort Casey Military Reservation in the late 1890s. Built on the bluff above Admiralty Head, Fort Casey was part of a three-fort defense system designed to protect the entrance to Puget Sound.

The first contingent of U.S. Army troops reported for duty in 1900, and eventually numbered 400. The fort became a social center for the surrounding community, hosting ball games, dances, and other social events. Today, the handsome wood-framed officers' quarters, the gun escarpments, Admiralty Head Lighthouse, and other remnants of military history still stand at old Fort Casey.

Near the north boundary of the Reserve is Fort Ebey, a remnant of the defensive build-up of World War Two.

"Vancouver" History of the family name

The origins of the family name are a hotly disputed issue, popular belief states that the name is derived from a small village in the north east of the Netherlands. However this theory is directly quoted from the misinterpretations of Mr. Adrien Mansfeld (Consul General of the Netherlands based in Vancouver BC in the 1970's).

As per Mr. Mansvelt's theory, The family name Vancouver was derived from 'Van Coevorden', meaning 'from Coevorden', hence the locations mentioned were indirectly named after this town in the Netherlands.

The World exposition in Vancouver BC in 1986 Expo 86 asserted to the world that this belief was correct and solidified it as historical fact.

However this theory is based solely on the assumptions of Mr. Mansfeld and lack any actual proof, documents quoted by Mr. Mansvelt which are accepted as undeniable proof of his theory are at most skeptical proof of actual fact.

This theory is based on the theory that the name Vancouver was actually a misspelling or anglicized version of the name "van Couwen", which is still a very common name in the Netherlands.

Though the two theories both agree that the name was changed to an anglicized version of the original Dutch name, the contradictions start with "WHICH NAME" was changed and how was it changed.

Both opinions show ample evidence of being correct, but without actual DNA evidence it will likely never be proven otherwise.

Book: The Hidden Journals

Captain Vancouver and His Mapmaker : A Personal Journey of Discovery, by Mary Tasi and Wade Baker (2015)
HIstory turns into mystery when the authors begin to research the oral stories about Wade Baker's ancestor, Third Lieutenant Joseph Baker, mapmaker on HMS Discovery. from 1791 to 1795. Memories from Grannie Lizzie and other Coast Salish and Hawaiian elders lead to authentic stories about Captain Vancouver, and his officer's relationships with Kings, Queens and royal families in their kingdoms in North America and Hawaii. A fascinating presentation on the intersection between unknown indigenous oral stories and archival primary source documents from the 18th century.


In many ways the Royal Navy was more of a meritocracy then British Society. Captain George Vancouver was an example of this in that he joined the Royal Navy in 1772 at the age of 13 as an able seaman and was able to work his way up to become a Captain by 1792. After Cook, Vancouver was the greatest British explorer and cartographer to sail the Pacific. He learned many of his skills and gained much knowledge from his Experience with Captain Cook in 1775 on the HMS Discovery. It was during this voyage that Vancouver was promoted to midshipman.

In 1780 Vancouver passes his Lieutenants exam and is sent to the Mediterranean where he sees a considerable amount of action against the French who were allied with the Americans. Vancouver's rise in rank proceeds quickly during his service on the HMS Europa while serving in the Caribbean. He is promoted from 3rd Lieutenant to 2nd Lieutenant and then to 1st Lieutenant which put him second in command of the ship. It was during this period that he served with many of the men that he would later take with him to the Pacific Northwest such as Joseph Baker, (Mount Baker Named after him) Peter Puget, (Puget Sound named after him, Zachary Mudge, (Cape Mudge named after him) and Joseph Whidbey (Whidbey Island named after him)

In 1792 Vancouver was chosen as the Captain to lead an expedition to the Pacific Northwest. He was assigned 3 objectives by the admiralty and was expected to act as a diplomat as well as an explorer. He was to meet with the Spaniard Bodega y Quadra on the wets coast of the Island that was to bear his name, Vancouver Island. The exact location for this meeting was Nootka Sound where the Nootka Indians inhabited the shoreline and the Spanish had built a fort. By the terms of the Nootka Convention which both Spain and England had agreed to, England was to settle damage claims that the Spanish had claimed. Vancouver was also to chart the coastline in the Pacific Northwest from 30 degrees North to Cook's Inlet in Alaska. This was not done in any detail with Cook because he was primarily looking for a passage to the Atlantic. The third objective was to look for that elusive passage which Cook had not found. The discovery of this passage would give the British a huge advantage in this area of the world with direct access via the arctic to the Northern Pacific.

Vancouver meet with the Spanish and he and Quadra became friends in the course of the negotiations. The Spanish recognized the primacy of the British in the area. Vancouver also completed the second task with charts that were so accurate they could be used today. He mapped the intricate, roughed coastline and meet with many of the native groups along the coast. His third objective was a relatively impossible due to the fact that the great Northwest passage that he and many others were looking for over the centuries was only open at the height of the summer around the Northern tip of Alaska and only during some summer seasons.

Vancouver returned to Britain in 1795 and in 1798 his journals "A Voyage of Discovery to the Pacific Ocean and Round the World in the Year 1790 - 1795: were published posthumously. Vancouver had died on May 12, 1798.

His voyages and the cross continent journey by Alexander Mackenzie which brought him to the West Coast on July 20th, 1793, were the two actions which opened up the Northern Pacific for the British. Coincidently, Mackenzie and Vancouver missed each other on the West Coast by just 6 weeks.

George Vancouver Maps Pacific Northwest Coast

Setting sail in 1791, Vancouver made detailed maps of the hundreds of inlets, bays, coves, islands and sounds of the passage from northern Washington to Southeast Alaska.

Vancouver was the last of the eighteenth century explorers to chart the Pacific Northwest coast by sea. Juan Pérez and Bruno Heceta had explored the coastline for Spain in 1774 and 1775, and Captain James Cook sailed for England in 1776.

Vancouver had been on Cook’s Pacific Northwest voyage. Now, 10 years after returning, and a seasoned officer himself, he was named commander of a new expedition to explore yet uncharted waters north of what is today the Oregon-California border. He was also to either find the long-fabled Northwest Passage–a hoped-for waterway across North America from Atlantic to Pacific–or lay to rest any continued belief in its existence.

Seeking a Waterway to the Interior

Should no through route be found, London hoped for a water route that would lead into the interior of the continent.

Vancouver crossed the South Pacific toward Oregon with two ships, the HMS Discovery, which he commanded himself, and the Chatham, commanded by Lieutenant William Broughton.

Vancouver initially passed the mouth of the Columbia River, but on the return journey, Lieutenant Broughton sailed the Chatham up the Columbia a few miles beyond present-day Portland, Oregon. Along the way, he sighted and named Mt. Hood.

Broughton was the second European to claim entry to the Columbia. The American Fur trader Captain Robert Gray had previously entered the river, though sailing a shorter stretch.

Exploring the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Perhaps Vancouver’s greatest contribution to Pacific Northwest knowledge was his exploration of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, leading around Vancouver Island to the mainland of British Columbia and Puget Sound. Here he explored the hundreds of islands and inlets tucked into this inside passage. He dispatched his crewmen in small boats to row through each cove and bay, mapping them in intricate detail.

He met two Spanish ships in the straits and for a time, the four boats explored together.

Vancouver named many now-familiar locations in that region after crew members and friends: Puget Sound, Whidbey Island, Port Townsend, Mt. Rainier and Hood Canal in Washington still bear the names Vancouver gave them.

The name of Desolation Sound in British Columbia was prompted by what Vancouver found to be a gloomy coastline of dense fog and forests.

Vancouver not only charted the geography of the coasts he explored, but recorded information about the tides, the landscape and the life of the native tribes, including the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, Bella Coola, and Nootka that he met along the way.

Finally he rounded the north side of Vancouver Island and sailed to Nootka Sound, where traders of several nations had established a base.

Here Vancouver was charged with helping settle a dispute over rights to the American Pacific coast that had nearly brought Britain and Spain to war.

Vancouver Meets Spanish Negotiator

As the first to explore the waters of the Pacific Northwest coast, Spain claimed exclusive rights to the land. But times were changing, and Britain now claimed rights for its ships. British traders had complained that Spain had seized some of their ships at Nootka Sound. Vancouver was to oversee the return of British property.

The dispute would finally be resolved in Europe, but when Vancouver met with the Spanish representative in Nootka Sound, Lieutenant Juan Francisco de Bodega y Cuadra, the two became such good friends that Vancouver proposed naming the island where they met “Vancouver and Cuadra Island.” Today it is known simply as Vancouver Island.

Vancouver’s crews mapped all the way to the islands and inlets of the Alaska Panhandle, finally determining that no Northwest Passage could exist.

The maps they had so laboriously charted were to guide future sailors into the 19th and even 20th centuries.

George Vancouver (1757-1798)

The role George Vancouver played in Oregon history is tangential, yet it is foundational to the developments that radically changed the region during the early nineteenth century. In 1791-1795, Vancouver led the most thorough scientific maritime exploration of the Northwest Coast of North America, which included the creation and publication of detailed maps of the coastlines of present-day Oregon and Washington and the complex waterways of Puget Sound. Vancouver and his officers laid down dozens of place-names in the region, including Mount Rainier, for British Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, and Mount Hood, for Lord Samuel Hood of the British Admiralty Board. Most important, in October 1792, Vancouver sent two longboats under Lt. William Broughton one hundred miles up the Columbia River, an expedition that produced a detailed map of the lower river. When published in 1798 in Vancouver’s A Voyage of Discovery, Broughton’s map became the first to accurately represent the lower Columbia River. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark used the map to orient themselves on the river in 1805.

Vancouver grew up in King’s Lynn on England’s east coast, where he was born on June 22, 1757. Through his father’s influence as collector of customs in King’s Lynn, fourteen-year-old Vancouver joined James Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific Ocean in January 1772. On board, he learned navigation from expert mariners, and he did well enough to be promoted to senior midshipman on Cook’s third voyage in 1776. Vancouver was on hand when Hawaiians killed Cook at Kealakekua Bay in February 1779, and he played an important role in continuing the expedition and bringing Cook’s ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, back to England in 1780.

In 1790, Britain became embroiled in a dispute with Spain over control of Nootka Sound on the coast of present-day Vancouver Island. The next year, Vancouver was named the leader of a scientific and diplomatic expedition to the Northwest Coast. His instructions required Vancouver to represent Britain in negotiations with Spain’s emissary, Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, at Nootka Sound, where he sought restitution for damages to British ships and materials. The two men resolved the main issues, which left both nations free to sail international waters on the Northwest Coast.

Afterward, with Vancouver commanding the 330-ton Discovery and William Broughton captaining the 131-ton Chatham brig, the expedition sailed 65,000 miles around the world. It was the longest deep-water sailing voyage on record and produced the world’s most detailed maps and charts of the Northwest Coast. Those maps were used by all nineteenth-century mariners sailing from present-day Oregon to the Aleutians, and they were consulted during the Oregon Treaty negotiations in 1846.

After the voyage and what he hoped would be a hero’s welcome in Britain, Vancouver came under political attack by disgruntled crew members who claimed he had abused them on the voyage. Archibald Menzies, the physician and naturalist on the Discovery, claimed that Vancouver was "indiscreet. in exceeding his powers in the matter of discipline," and the Chatham’s master mate Thomas Manby called Vancouver "Haughty Proud Mean and Insolent.”

Because of Vancouver’s middle-class background, he had little success defending himself against the vitriolic challenges of an aristocratic crew member, Thomas Pitt, who was Lord Camelford and nephew of Prime Minister William Pitt. Pitt confronted Vancouver on a public street in September 1796, brutally caning him for avoiding a duel. A cartoon of the attack, published in London newspapers and distributed as prints on October 1, 1796, further humiliated Vancouver, whose health had been failing since his return from sea.

Vancouver’s ailments, likely from malaria contracted in the West Indies twenty years earlier, led to death in May 1798 when he was only forty years old. While Vancouver died with little acclaim, today he is recognized as one of Britain’s greatest mariners.

Zoom image

A chart shewing [sic] part of the coast of NW America, 1798.

From the voyages of the Discovery and the Chatham Courtesy Library of Congress, G420.V22

Jason Lee, (left). (Dorothy O. Johansen and Charles Gates, Empire of the Columbia. New York, 1957. Plates following p. 160. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, University of Oregon Library, Eugene.)

Jason Lee's "First Oregon Mission" at the edge of French Prairie in the Willamette Valley (right). (Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. Vol. 4. Philadelphia, 1845, 374. Drawn by A. T. Agate.)

British and American Activities in the Pacific Northwest, 1818-1848

The Convention of 1818, resolving territorial disputes following the War of 1812, authorized a "joint occupancy" of the Pacific Northwest whereby the rights of both British subjects and American citizens to "occupy" and trade in the region were recognized. The British North West Company of fur traders remained the best established colonizing power in the region.

The merger of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, in 1821, brought the American Northwest and Canadian West into the domain of the HBC, a successful fur-trading company that, over time, also developed other extractive resources in the region. The well-capitalized and shrewdly managed HBC dominated non-native society in the region between 1821 and 1840, mainly through the designs of George Simpson.

American interest in the Pacific Northwest was sustained by a variety of individuals visiting the region in the 1820s and 1830s. Mountain man Jedediah Smith traveled to the area in 1829. Booster Hall Jackson Kelly came in 1832, although he did not require a visit before promoting the Oregon country to U.S. citizens. American missionaries arriving during the mid- and later 1830s included Jason Lee (1834), Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (1836), and Henry and Eliza Spalding (1836). These individuals did not represent substantial institutional power, but their labors kept alive the idea of an American Northwest.

The overland migration of Americans to Oregon began in earnest in the early 1840s. In 1840 there were about 150 Americans residing in the Oregon Country. By 1845 there were 5,000 or more U.S. settlers, most of them clustered in the Willamette Valley (see illustration below). Most had arrived by way of the overland trail, and thus ushered in a new and epic means of cross-country travel. The sudden growth of a resident U.S. population, and of settlers rather than fur traders, altered the balance of power in the area that would become U.S. territory.

In 1842, anticipating the possible loss of much of the Oregon Country to the U.S., Simpson consolidated HBC operations northward by shifting the Columbia Department's base from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River to Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island.

In 1843-45, American settlers established the Oregon Provisional Government in order to provide an American system of laws and principles for their growing society.

In 1846 Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Treaty , extending the international border between the U.S. and what would become Canada along the 49th parallel to the Strait of Georgia, and then out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This agreement resolved one "contest" for the region by dividing it between the British and the Americans. Thereafter, such questions as Indian and land policies on either side of the border would be determined by different systems of government. The HBC long remained influential in British Columbia.

To establish itself as a nation and assert its borders and control over territory, the United States had to accomplish two things. First, it needed to dispossess and displace native peoples, and extinguish their claims to land. The last lesson offers examples of that process beginning to work (albeit under British rather than American influence) among Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Second, it needed to interact with other non-native powers, particularly the nations of Europe, to define and defend American claims to territory. Some times this interaction was peaceful, and some times it was not. Most American territory came into the nation's possession via wars or purchases. Thus the Revolutionary War produced most of the territory east of the Mississippi River and the war with Mexico between 1846 and 1848 incorporated the Southwest, while the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 brought most of the lands between the Mississippi and the Rockies into the nation, and a deal with Russia in 1867 procured Alaska.

Oregon City, sketched as the "American Village" by Captain Henry J. Warre. (Reproduced in Henry James Warre, Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory. London, 1848. Plate 9.) Courtesy University of Washington Special Collections.

The territory that became the American Northwest was appended to the nation in somewhat unusual fashion, by comparison. First it passed through a phase during which the main two non-native claimants, Britain and the U.S., agreed to share it for an indefinite time—the so-called joint occupation. Second, national ownership of the area was resolved not by war or purchase but by treaty, as the two sides negotiated a boundary dispute. The dispute on the Pacific coast, settled in 1846, was complemented by one on the Atlantic coast, resolved in 1842, between Maine and Canada. Both sets of negotiations were part of the process whereby Britain and the United States reached a more substantial accommodation with one another, after the conflicts of the American Revolution and War of 1812.

The Pacific coast area in dispute, called the Oregon country, stretched from the crest of the Rockies in the east to the ocean in the west, and from the 42nd parallel in the south (today's California-Oregon border) to the parallel of 54 degrees, 40 minutes in the north (today's Alaska-British Columbia border). This territory was claimed by the various explorers who arrived first by sea and then by land. At different times, then, Spain and Russia were among those contesting the region, but between 1818 and 1824 the Spanish and Russians relinquished their claims to the territory south of Alaska and north of California. Thereafter, only Great Britain and the United States, among the developed nations, competed for the Oregon Country.

It should be noted that while Great Britain and the United States both had claims to the entire Oregon country, the two sides mostly expected to divide the territory between themselves neither could realistically expect to acquire the entire Oregon Country. East of the continental divide, the U.S. and Britain had agreed upon a border running west from the Great Lakes at the 49th parallel. Virtually from the start of discussions over Oregon, the British expected this border to continue west to the Columbia River, and then to follow that river to the ocean. They were willing, in other words, to concede everything south of the 49th parallel, and then south and east of the Columbia River, to the United States. But they wanted to maintain access to the river itself, which after all was the key artery of travel within HBC holdings, and they wanted control over Puget Sound, which they rightly regarded as a superior harbor. At the same time, the Americans generally did not expect to gain anything north of the 49th parallel, but they coveted Puget Sound and access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Keep in mind that during the 1820s and 1830s the United States had no good harbor on the Pacific coast. San Diego and San Francisco were first Spanish and then Mexican ports. The shoreline of Oregon offered no great harbor for ships, and the bar at the mouth of the Columbia was notorious for interfering with transportation between ocean and river. Until the conclusion of war with Mexico, 1846-48, the U.S. regarded Puget Sound as the best place for it to acquire a protected, deep-water harbor on the Pacific coast.

Michael T. Simmons , one of the first settlers of Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River. (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, Portrait Files.)

Basically, then, the boundary dispute between Britain and the U.S. revolved around which side would get the Puget Sound country and the remainder of Washington state west and north of the Columbia River. In this competition, the British initially had by far the strongest hand. The Englishman George Vancouver, after all, had been the first non-native to discover and explore Puget Sound. And British fur traders, particularly in the employ of the HBC, had in the course of organizing the entire region into an economy of extractive resources, set up permanent bases in western Washington. By the 1830s the HBC had established posts at Fort Vancouver and Fort Nisqually and along the Cowlitz Rover, and they had also developed cordial relations with Indians. Many of George Simpson's designs for the Columbia Department between 1824 and 1840 had been based on the assumption that the British would retain western Washington and lose eastern Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Thus Simpson had, for example, encouraged American missionaries to set up operations south and east of the Columbia accepted settlement by American citizens in the Willamette Valley and tried to extinguish fur supplies in the lands he expected the British would not retain. He believed until the early 1840s that the British would hold on to western Washington, which he regarded as integral to HBC operations on the west coast, and thus did not expect to have to modify activities there in response to an American takeover. Simpson's decision to relocate the Department's headquarters in 1842 from Fort Vancouver to Victoria, however, signaled a change in his thinking. By that time, the balance of power between the British and Americans in regard to the boundary dispute was shifting.

When the U.S. initially agreed to the idea of joint occupation in 1818, it did not really have the resources to make a strong imprint on the Pacific Northwest. It had neither a navy as powerful as Britain's nor a colonizing agent as well-organized and focused as the Hudson's Bay Company. The great majority of its population resided far to the east of the Mississippi River. Its fur traders and trappers had not, until the 1820s, penetrated the Rockies successfully or found ways through the mountains to the west coast. Some Americans nurtured the idea of a Pacific-coast harbor, but most did not envision the United States expanding its holdings beyond the continental divide.

Champoeg in 1851, (right) looking south.

This situation began to change during the 1830s and 1840s. Mountain men and missionaries began to link the Pacific Northwest to the eastern states through their travels to, working in, and descriptions of the region. Moreover, a few parties of settlers began to make their way into the area. Then, during the 1840s, the United States became keenly interested in westward expansion—so interested that national politicians took up the West as a key campaign issue and the U.S. annexed Texas and went to war with Mexico for the remainder of its northern holdings (what became the American Southwest). Simultaneously, thousands more Americans decided to migrate overland toward the coast, including especially the Willamette Valley. American interest in the Pacific Northwest, after about two decades of stagnation, suddenly climbed dramatically, taking the form of both settlers arriving to reside in the region and politicians and statesmen willing to confront the British in order to resolve the boundary dispute in the Americans’ favor. By contrast, British interest in the Northwest remained limited, largely because the HBC monopoly in the area had precluded much attention by others from Great Britain. American citizens were taking a keen interest in the far corner of the continent, while British subjects most likely knew little about it, or else resented the fact of that the HBC was a monopoly.

The arrival of American settlers cast into bold relief the different approaches adopted by the British and Americans for colonizing the region. British colonization proceeded through the Hudson's Bay Company, whose corporate operations focused on extraction of natural resources. The HBC generally discouraged settlement in the lands it expected to retain, and discouraged private ownership of lands it aimed to minimize any disruption to the fur trade and any dislocation of its Indian trading partners. It also worked to control non-native society in the area so that the company, and not individuals, dominated the local economy and governed the region. Americans, by contrast, expected to bring to the Northwest the more individualistic and democratic attitudes of their society. They insisted upon acquiring privately owned parcels of land and having a voice in government. And they did not wish to be subordinate to such a powerful firm as the HBC. One HBC official summarized the differences nicely: farms in the Willamette Valley, he explained, could flourish "only through the protection of equal laws [the antithesis of monopoly], the influence of free trade [again, the antithesis of monopoly], the accession of respectable inhabitants [meaning the arrival of families of settlers, as opposed to unattached, male fur traders]. while the fur trade much suffer by each innovation."

The arriving American settlers were aware of these differences. Although they did a good deal of business with the HBC, and actually benefited from HBC assistance and trade, they also resented the power of the Company. One way to assert their own interests, and try to limit the influence of the company in the region, was for them to organize their own government—an action that reiterated their faith in American values of self-government and republicanism. Borrowing from the Iowa Territory code of laws, Oregon settlers formed the Provisional Government between 1843 and 1845. The first laws provided for the acquisition and secure ownership of land, the holding of elections, and the formation of a militia. Later legislation provided for an executive and judicial branch of government and divided the territory into counties for local administration. Importantly, the Provisional Government outlawed the migration and residence of African Americans—both free and enslaved—to Oregon. In short order, between about 1838 and 1845, the American presence had gone from being minimal to being substantial. This change was an important factor in strengthening the American claim to the territory.At the national level, too, there existed a desire to stake a stronger claim to the Pacific Northwest. Britain and the U.S. had remained in communication about the Northwest boundary, with both sides generally unyielding in their desire to control Puget Sound. Some Americans grew impatient with the dispute, so much so that James K. Polk, when running for president in 1844, declared that he wanted the U.S. to acquire "all" of Oregon, i.e., the entire region between California and Alaska, including present-day British Columbia. Another campaign slogan to the same effect, "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" (which meant that if the British did not yield the entire Oregon Country, up to the parallel at 54 degrees, 40 minutes, the Americans would go to war for it), summarized the aggressiveness of some Americans in this era of "Manifest Destiny." This belligerence came exactly as Britain was growing more inclined to concede western Washington to the U.S., and it actually may have stalled resolution of the dispute. By 1846, nonetheless, the two nations came to an agreement and signed the Oregon Treaty. The United States, patient since 1818, finally secured the Pacific port they had coveted for so long, a port to which they surely had less claim than the British. The British lost western Washington, but retained the interior coastline of the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island. The HBC retained the right of navigation on the Columbia and its substantial holdings in what was now American territory. Yet the transfer to U.S. control did not bode well for further operations south of the 49th parallel, and the HBC would eventually sell its interests in the American Northwest and retrench to British Columbia.

Few Americans today pay much attention to the Oregon Treaty of 1846.The nation's acquisitions by war have seemed more dramatic, and even its acquisitions by purchase have seemed more memorable. The diplomatic negotiations that produced the treaty perhaps appear dull, as if the two sides finally just arrived at a fair compromise. Maybe there is a sense, too, that the U.S. did not take the far corner of the Pacific Northwest so much from another nation or people as it did from a company, the HBC, whose own operations were inhibiting American-style "development" of the region. It would be best, however, to keep in mind that in Canada, across the border that the Oregon Treaty extended in 1849, feelings are different. There, the Oregon Treaty is often remembered vividly as a loss, and one of many examples of American disrespect for Canadian borders and national integrity. Thus James R. Gibson, a Canadian geographer, writes in Farming the Frontier: The Agricultural Opening of the Oregon Country 1786-1846 (1985):

The Oregon Treaty was not a fair compromise there was no division of the 'Oregon triangle' [the disputed lands in Washington state], all of which went to the United States. Canadians have valid reasons for regretting and even resenting the Oregon settlement, since the British claim to the territory north of the Columbia-Snake-Clearwater river system was at least as good as, if not better than, that of the United States on the grounds of discovery, exploration, and settlement, and since the future Canadian Dominion was deprived of any harbour on Puget Sound. Canadians should not forget that they were dispossessed of part of their rightful Columbia heritage, a heritage whose economic potential in general and agricultural possibilities in particular were initially and successfully demonstrated by the Hudson's Bay Company. They should also remember that whenever it is tritely declared that Canada and the United States share the longest undefended border in the world, it is so mainly because the stronger American republic won its northern boundary disputes at the expense of its weaker neighbour, just as it southern boundary was gained at the expense of a weaker Mexico.

Map of the San Juan Islands International Boundary Dispute, (right).

Gibson's interpretation reflects a longstanding and pervasive Canadian concern about the sheer power of the United States as well as an accurate memory of the many threats that Americans have posed to the integrity of Canadian borders and Canadian national identity. I would, however, add one caveat to Gibson's formulation. When the Oregon Treaty was signed, the Confederation of Canada did not exist America's northern neighbor was not a nation, but rather several British colonies. When the U.S. negotiated the Oregon Treaty, it did so with Great Britain, not Canada, so it is logical to keep Britain's participation in the treaty in mind (there was as of yet no official Canadian participation in diplomacy). Canadian views of this British participation hint at different kinds of weakness in the face of American strength. Gibson, for example, refers to a British mood of "appeasement" in yielding western Washington to the U.S., while another Canadian scholar (John Saywell, Canada: Pathways to the Present [1994]), recalls not only American aggression but also British carelessness in giving "what is now Washington and Oregon to the United States." American interpretations, by contrast, do not portray Britain as weak, and thus do not tend to see the Oregon Treaty as a deal struck with a "weaker neighbour." Quite the contrary, in fact. In explaining President Polk's decision to accept the 49th parallel as the boundary, Robert H. Ferrell, in American Diplomacy: A History (1975), writes that Polk "had given in to Great Britain [rather than standing up for more territory]. It was one thing to press territorial claims against a nation such as Mexico, and quite another to stand up to the most powerful nation in the world, as Britain was during the nineteenth century."

Canadians and Americans tend to recall the Oregon Treaty in distinctly different ways. In this case and in virtually every other, how one interprets the past depends in large part upon where one is viewing it from.

UW Site Map © Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington

Our History

Ever wonder where the name Capilano comes from? It is actually a First Nations name belonging to the Squamish Nation and originally spelled Kia’palano, meaning “beautiful river”. Kia’palano was the name of a great Squamish chief who lived in this area in the early part of the 1800s. Over time “Kia’palano” was anglicized into “Capilano”: a word that has become the namesake of our bridge and park as well as the river and surrounding area.

In 1888, George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and land developer, arrived in the young city of Vancouver in Canada. Mackay purchased 6,000 acres of dense forest on either side of Capilano River and built a cabin on the very edge of the canyon wall. In 1889 he suspended a footbridge made of hemp rope and cedar planks across the canyon with the help of August Jack Khahtsahlano and a team of horses who swam the ropes across the river. The ropes were then pulled up the other side and anchored to huge buried cedar logs.

The bridge, and Mackay’s cabin, became a popular destination for adventurous friends, dubbed Capilano Tramps, who made a long journey by steamship before ‘tramping’ up the rough trail to Mackay’s property. After his death, the hemp rope bridge was replaced by a wire cable bridge in 1903.

Edward Mahon arrived in Vancouver in 1888 and began mining operations in the Nelson-Slocan area, naming the camp Castlegar after his ancestral home in Ireland. Returning to Vancouver, he purchased and developed land and businesses on the North Shore, among them Capilano Suspension Bridge. In 1910, 48 year old Mahon met and fell in love with Lilette, the 19 year old daughter of his deceased friend, James Rebbeck. He arranged for Lilette’s mother, Elizabeth to manage his bridge property. The plan worked – he married Lilette a year later. Mahon built the Tea House in 1911 and continued to improve the Capilano Suspension Bridge property, reinforcing the bridge with additional cables in 1914.

Elizabeth was lonely after Lilette married, until she met a handsome young forest ranger, “Mac” MacEachran, who was 20 years her junior. Mac swept her off her feet and they married in 1921. Mac was an aggressive promoter, advertising the bridge as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Meagre earnings forced Mac to seek employment elsewhere in the off-season and for several winters he managed warehouses in Tahiti for rum-running friends.

In 1934 Mac announced to Elizabeth that he had a 19 year old daughter, Irene, whom he wished to bring to Capilano. Arrangements were made to build a new and larger house across the street from the bridge but sadly, Elizabeth died. Mac purchased the Bridge from Mahon in 1935 and invited local First Nations to place their totem poles in the park. In 1945, he sold the bridge to Henri Aubeneau and moved to California.

In 1953 Rae Mitchell purchased the bridge property from Henri Aubeneau and aggressively promoted his attraction world-wide. He completely rebuilt the bridge in 5 days in 1956, encasing the cables in 13 tons of concrete at either end. He developed the trails on the west side of the bridge and converted the Tea House into the Trading Post Gift Store.

Nancy Stibbard purchased Capilano Suspension Bridge in 1983 from her father Rae Mitchell. Her goal, to elevate the park from a mere stop-off to a destination attraction, was realized in less than ten years. Nancy’s success has resulted in expansion to other popular visitor destinations: Moraine Lake Lodge (hotel, restaurant, retail) in Banff National Park, Alberta and Cathedral Mountain Lodge (hotel, restaurant, retail) in Yoho National Park, BC. Once involved in the management and operation of her own business, Nancy recognized the need to serve and advance tourism in the province. Nancy’s success has included induction into the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame in 2000.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Captain George Vancouver

George Vancouver was born on June 22, 1757 at King's Lynn, Norfolk, England, the youngest of five children of John Jasper Vancouver (collector of customs) and his wife Bridget.

At about age 15, Vancouver joined the navy and spent seven years under Captain James Cook on Cook’s second (1772-74) and third (1776-80) voyages of discovery (the latter was when Cook commanded the first European exploring expedition to visit the Hawaiian Islands.)

The story of Cook's death at Kealakekua Bay, on February 14, 1779, has been often described, but the small part played by midshipman George Vancouver is not widely known.

The day before Cook's death, for the second time in one day, a Hawaiian took some tools from the Discovery and escaped in a canoe. Thomas Edgar, master of the Discovery, and midshipman Vancouver were part of the chase to retrieve the stolen tools - a scuffle later occurred, which included Edgar marooned on a rock close to shore.

As Edgar later reported the incident in his journal: “I not being able to swim had got upon a small rock up to my knees in water, when a man came up with a broken Oar, and most certainly would have knock'd me off the rock, into the water, if Mr. Vancover, the Midshipman, had not at that Inst Step'd out of the Pinnace, between the Indian & me, & receiv'd the Blowe, which took him on the side, and knock'd him down.” (Speakman, HJH)

That same night the cutter itself was taken, setting off the events which culminated in Cook's death on the beach. The following day, Vancouver was again involved in momentous events when Lieutenant King chose him to accompany the armed party ashore to recover Cook’s body. (Speakman, HJH)

In 1791, Captain George Vancouver entered the Pacific a dozen years later in command of the second British exploring expedition. (HJH)

In the introduction to Vancouver’s journals of his voyage to the Pacific, his brother John wrote, "that from the age of thirteen, his whole life to the commencement of this expedition, (to the Pacific) has been devoted to constant employment in His Majesty's naval service."

Vancouver visited Hawaiʻi three times, in 1792, 1793 and 1794. He completed the charting of the Islands begun by Cook and William Bligh.

On the first trip, Vancouver’s ships “Discovery” and “Chatham” first rounded the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, and traveled to Tahiti, via Australia and New Zealand, and then sailed north to the Hawaiian Islands.

Arriving off South Point, on March 1, 1792, the Discovery and the Chatham sailed close to the western coast of the island of Hawaiʻi. Later, leaving Kawaihae Bay, Vancouver's ships made their way past Maui, Kahoʻolawe, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, to Oʻahu, anchoring off Waikīkī - they later made their way to Kauaʻi.

It is clear from Vancouver’s Journal and other accounts of events in Hawaiʻi in 1792, that neither Vancouver nor the Hawaiian chiefs were completely confident of the good will of each other. On Hawaiʻi, he had found that the people refused to trade except for arms and ammunition, which Vancouver refused to agree to, and on Kauaʻi he was alarmed by tales of Hawaiian hostility. (Speakman, HJH)

Vancouver was also concerned about the apparent drop in the Hawaiian population since his earlier visit with Captain Cook. Waikīkī was “thinly inhabited, and many [houses] appeared to be entirely abandoned.” On Kauaʻi, the village of Waimea had been “reduced at least two-thirds of its size, since the years 1778 and 1779.” (Speakman, HJH)

Vancouver did not seem to have been conscious of disease among the Hawaiian people, but he was aware of the arms trade and interisland warfare and attributed the decrease in the population to the deplorable sale of arms by avaricious European traders to “ambitious and enterprizing chieftains.” (Vancouver, Speakman, HJH) He later left Hawaiʻi and sailed to survey the Northwest coast of the American continent.

On his second trip in February 1793, the “Discovery” and “Chatham” first circled and surveyed the Island Hawaiʻi. From a meeting he had with Kamehameha, he noted in his Journal, that he was “agreeably surprised in finding that his riper years had softened that stern ferocity, which his younger days had exhibited, and had changed his general deportment to an address characteristic of an open, cheerful, and sensible mind combined with great generosity, and goodness of disposition.” (Vancouver, 1798)

He also met John Young and Kaʻahumanu, noting, “the kindness and fond attention, with which on all occasions (Kamehameha and Kaʻahumanu) … seemed to regard each other.” Vancouver was delighted at “the decorum and general conduct of this royal party. … They seemed to be particularly cautious to avoid giving the least cause for offence….” (Vancouver, 1798)

When Kamehameha came aboard the ship, taking Vancouver’s hand, he “demanded, if we were sincerely his friends”, to which Vancouver answered in the affirmative. Kamehameha then said “he understood we belonged to King George, and asked if he was likewise his friend. On receiving a satisfactory answer to this question, he declared the he was our firm good friend and according to the custom of the country, in testimony of the sincerity of our declarations we saluted by touching noses.” (Vancouver, 1798)

In the exchange of gifts, after that, Kamehameha presented four feathered helmets and other items, Vancouver gave Kamehameha the remaining livestock on board, “five cows, two ewes and a ram.”

The farewell between the British and the Hawaiians was emotional, but both understood that Vancouver would be returning the following winter. Just before Vancouver left Kawaihae on March 9, 1793, he gave Isaac Davis and John Young a letter testifying that "Tamaah Maah, with the generality of the Chiefs, and the whole of the lower order of People, have conducted themselves toward us with the strictest honest, civility and friendly attention." (Speakman, HJH)

On the third trip to the islands, arriving in early-January 1794, Vancouver brought three ships, “Discovery,” “Chatham” and “Daedalus.” They headed to Hilo.

Here, he met Kamehameha and Vancouver noted Kamehameha was “with his usual confidence and cheerful disposition. It was impossible to mistake the happiness he expressed on seeing us again which seemed to be greatly increased by his meeting us at this, his most favorite part of the island.” (Vancouver 1801)

Shortly after, Kamehameha assembled the principal chiefs from all over the island for a meeting at Kealakekua. There they had a serious discussion of cession. A treaty was discussed that afforded British protection of Hawaiians from unscrupulous traders and predatory foreign powers. It would be achieved through the cession of the Island of Hawaiʻi to Great Britain.

“Tamaahmaah opened the business in a speech, which he delivered with great moderation and equal firmness. He explained the reasons that had induced him to offer the island to the protection of Great Britain and recounted the numerous advantages that himself, the chiefs, and the people, were likely to derive by the surrender they were about to make.” (Vancouver, 1801)

The chiefs stated clearly that this cession was not to alter their religion, economy, or government, and that Kamehameha, the chiefs and priests "were to continue as usual to officiate with the same authority as before in their respective stations ….” “(T)he king repeated his former proposition, which was now unanimously approved of, and the whole party declared their consent by saying, that they were no longer ‘Tanata no Owhyhee,’ the people of Owhyhee but ‘Tananta no Britannee,’ the people of Britain.” (Vancouver, 1801)

To commemorate the event, an inscription on copper was made stating, “On the 25th of February, 1794, Tamaahmaah, king of Owhyhee, in council with the principal chiefs of the island, assembled on board His Britannic Majesty's sloop Discovery in Karakakooa bay, in the presence of George Vancouver, commander of the said sloop Lieutenant Peter Puget, commander of his said Majesty's armed tender the Chatham and the other officers of the Discovery after due consideration, unanimously ceded the said island of Owhyhee to His Britannic Majesty, and acknowledged themselves to be subjects of Great Britain.” (Vancouver, 1801)

Vancouver then noted in his Journal, “Thus concluded the ceremonies of ceding the island of Owhyhee to the British crown but whether this addition to the empire will ever be of any importance of Great Britain, or whether the surrender of the island will ever be attended with any additional happiness to its people, time alone must determine.” (Vancouver, 1801)

The British government did not receive a copy of the "cession" until after Vancouver's return to England a year later, and then the British parliament never acted on it. The British ship and men expected by the Hawaiians never arrived, and Kamehameha and his chiefs resumed the wars against Maui and the other islands until, in 1810, Kamehameha was King not only of Hawai'i but of all the islands of the Hawaiian chain. (Speakman, HJH)

Captain George Vancouver died on May 10, 1798 at the age of 40. The image shows Captain George Vancouver arriving at Kealakekua Bay. I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

Watch the video: George Vancouver (September 2022).


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