Part 7 - Changing Times
This is part seven of an eight part series, by Dr. Edward and Alice Beechert, exploring the Hawaiian history of Fort Vancouver.
Part 7: Changing Times
By 1834 the trade with Hawaii had increased to the point where an office was set up in Honolulu, where Columbia River salmon and the surplus products of Fort Vancouver, as well as European goods, found a ready market. Besides flour and fish, sawn lumber became an important article of export. The shippers received in return coffee, sugar, molasses, rice and salt.
The Hawaiian agency was not a regular fur-trading establishment under a chief factor, but rather a commercial post. After 1834, the Honolulu Agency became the Company’s channel for recruiting Hawaiians and paying any amounts due them on their return to Honolulu at the end of their contracts.
In 1840, Kamehameha III, faced with the seeming threat of racial extinction due to depopulation by both emigration and disease, enacted a law that required captains of vessels desiring to board Hawaiians to obtain the written consent of the island governor and sign a $200 bond to return the Hawaiian within the specified time. That same year, a contract was signed by HBC agent Pelly and the governor of Oahu.
...Kekuanoa allows Mr. Pelly to take sixty men to the Columbia River, to dwell there three years and at the end of said term of three years, Mr. Pelly agrees to return them to the Island of Oahu. And if it shall appear that any of the men
have died, it is well, but if they have deserted by reason of ill treatment, or remain for any other cause, then Mr. Pelly will pay twenty dollars for each man who may be deficient.
Hudson’s Bay Company Governor Simpson, on a visit to Hawaii in 1841, reported that
About a thousand males in the very prime of life are estimated annually to leave the islands, some going to California, others to the Columbia, and many on long and dangerous voyages, particularly in whaling vessels, while a considerable number of them are said to be permanently lost to their country, either dying during their engagements, or settling in other parts of the world.
Governor Simpson began to worry about the number of Hawaiians employed in the Company service and in 1842 ordered McLoughlin to hire no more. McLoughlin, faced with problems of increased production, disagreed and disobeyed the explicit order and hoped the home office in London would understand the necessity and overlook this breach of discipline.
In December 1845, the Territorial Provisional Government considered an act providing
“that all persons who shall hereafter introduce into the Oregon Territory any Sandwich Islanders ... for a term of service shall pay a tax of five dollars for each person introduced.” When the Provisional Government census was taken in August 1846, Indians, Hawaiians and “half-breeds” were not counted. Considerable discussion preceded this decision about whether any but white inhabitants should be allowed to become enrolled as American citizens and accorded voting privileges. When the Governor objected to including non-whites, the matter was referred to the Supreme Judge of the Territory who ruled that the inclusion of Hawaiians would be in violation of U.S. laws which had been written to exclude Africans and Native Americans.
In 1846, Dr. McLoughlin purchased the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Oregon City mill with his share of that year’s proceeds and left the Company. In that same year, the area became part of the United States and HBC began its withdrawal to British Columbia.
Another factor disrupting the operation of Fort Vancouver was the exodus of people to the gold fields of California in 1848-1849. The Fort was almost deserted and Indian laborers were hired to replace the deserting Hawaiians. The crew of a ship loaded with wheat for the Russian settlement at Sitka was left at the wharf. “The vessel was partially unmanned, several sailors having taken French leave for the mines. It is remarkable how wide spread is this gold mania.”
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.