Part 3 - The Village
This is part 3 of an eight part series, by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, exploring the Hawaiian history of Fort Vancouver.
Part 3: The Village
The rapid development of the various functions of the newly established supply depot and the strict class segregation policies of the Company, led to the establishment of living quarters for the “gentlemen” of the Company within the stockade and housing for servants, Hawaiians, French-Canadian metis, and Indians [primarily the wives of servants] outside the stockade. The scale of operations at Fort Vancouver made it impractical to include servants within the stockade as the Company did at its other smaller locations. The servant class built their own shelters, usually one or two rooms, of whatever material was at hand.
By 1848 the village consisted of 60-75 buildings according to some reports. Maps of the village made in 1846 and 1850 show only 20-odd structures. In 1854 Governor Stevens of the Oregon Territory estimated 20 “cabins” remaining in the village. As Stevens reported, “...the structures were, with few exceptions, built of slabs and untenanted and left to decay.” Another writer called Kanaka Village “a boisterous little community...where the Company employees of lower rank—Iroquois, Scottish, Hawaiian, French metis—lived with their Indian wives and families.” At its peak, the village was home to around 535 men, 254 Indian women and 301 children.
Population figures for the village vary considerably. For example, employee rosters for 1827 list 99 servants at the Fort. A year later, 82 members of the work force were left after those on “detached service” were gone. Of these only 33 had occupations suggesting they lived in the village. “Detached service” employees provided communication and supplies between the posts of the Columbia District. Hawaiians were a significant number of the detached service personnel as they were employed as “watermen,” on the canoes and ships of the Company.
The employee roster for 1843 lists 136 servants, but perhaps only half of these were in the village. The others had occupations indicating they might be living at the sawmill, or at dairies and farms in the vicinity of the Fort. McLoughlin described the size of the Fort Vancouver work force and its mobility in 1843:
...[W]e had last year  149 men on our list in winter, and we have every year a large winter Establishment, because we have in the winter all the men who come with the Express, the Goers and Comers for the Snake Country, and the extra men for the Brigade in the Summer.
The brigades employed large numbers of company servants who lived in the village only on a seasonal basis. The Snake country and summer brigades were trapping and exploring expeditions sent annually from Fort Vancouver to Snake River country, British Columbia, and central California. Many Hawaiians, especially in the early years, were part of this transient population.
Between 1827 and 1842, approximately 50% of the Hawaiians were engaged in water-based occupations. By 1842, a dramatic shift had occurred and the majority were engaged in land-based occupations. At the peak of employment in 1844, there were probably from 300 to 400 Kanakas employed on the Columbia River.
To learn more about the connection between Fort Vancouver and the Hawaiian Islands, click on one of the links below to connect to the next section of the eight part series written by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, historians specializing in Hawaiian history.
Did You Know?
Did you know that Fort Vancouver National Historic Site hosts a number of special events each year that feature costumed interpretation and living history, including the Brigade Encampment, Soldiers' Bivouac, and Candlelight Tour? More...