Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume I


History and dimensions

As determined by excavations conducted during the fall of 1947 by Mr. Louis R. Caywood, a National Park Service archeologist, the Fort Vancouver stockade at the time of its greatest extent formed a quadrangle approximately 732 feet long and 325 feet wide. The exact lengths of the walls, as revealed by actual measurements of their remains, were as follows:

North wall
South wall
West wall
East wall

731 feet
733 feet
326 feet
323 feet. [1]

Subsequent excavations during the years 1948, 1950, and 1952 revealed that these were not the only palisade walls to surround Fort Vancouver. Inside these exterior limits the remains of other stockade walls were uncovered, indisputably proving that at various periods during the fort's history the size of the area enclosed within the pickets had changed. [2]

The dating and sequence of the several walls have been considered in detail, with a presentation of the related historical and archeological evidence, in an earlier study. [3] There seems to be no need to repeat this material here, but the discovery of additional data during the intervening years makes it possible to be more positive concerning several points.

In the following discussion, therefore, it should be understood that statements unsupported by footnote citations are based on material in Hussey, The History of Fort Vancouver, pp. 118-127, where documentation will be found. Passages in the present text based upon other sources can be identified by the fact that they are footnoted.

In order to follow the discussion presented below it will be necessary for the reader to refer frequently to the plan, "Summary Sheet, Archeological Excavations, Fort Vancouver National Monument," dated September 1, 1954, which is plate I in the present report. Stockade walls designated by letters such as HD and CF will be found delineated on that map.

As nearly as can be determined from available data, the sequence of stockade wall construction at the 1829-1860 site of Fort Vancouver was as follows:

1. Original fort enclosure, 1829. When the post was moved from the bluff down onto the riverside plain during the winter of 1828-1829, the stockade erected at that time enclosed a parallelogram measuring 318 feet north and south and about 320 feet east and west. This is the nearly square enclosure outlined by the letters ABED on the "Summary Sheet, Archeological Excavations, Fort Vancouver National Monument."

Hitherto there has been some question as to whether this square or one of nearly the same size lying directly to the east (BCFE) was constructed first. [4] However, positive proof that the manager's residence of 1841, located in the eastern square, was an entirely different structure from the manager's residence of 1836, though practically identical in appearance, makes it possible to assume that the 1836 structure could have been in the western square and thus removes the chief stumbling block in the way of assigning construction priority to the enclosure ABED. [5]

2. "Doubled-in-size" fort, 1834-1836. Descriptions of Fort Vancouver by at least three visitors between September, 1834, and the fall of 1836 seem to indicate that by the latter date, and possibly by the former, the stockade had been enlarged to about twice its original size. Historical evidence shows that several buildings described as being in the "new" part of the fort were constructed shortly after 1836. These included the new manager's house, or Big House, completed during the winter of 1837-1838, and the Bachelors' Quarters, completed in the fall of 1838. [6]

These structures are indicated on the ground plan of Fort Vancouver made by Lieutenant George Foster Emmons when he visited the post as a member of the United States Exploring Expedition in 1841 (see plate III). [7] They are situated to the east of the original stockade, ABED, and they are within a 318-foot square of palisade walls revealed by archeological excavations and identified as BCFE on the archeological summary sheet. Furthermore, visitors to Fort Vancouver during the summer and fall of 1839 describe the post as being comprised of about 36 buildings grouped to form two courts within the stockade walls. In other words, the interior of the fort was divided by buildings and not by a transverse wall.

It is clear, then, that sometime between 1834 and mid-1839, and almost certainly by 1836, the original 318-foot-square fort was enlarged by adding another square of the same size to it on the east and removing the old wall (BE) between them. The resulting "doubled-in-size" fort (ACFD) measured about 638 feet by 318 feet.

Although the 1841 Emmons map is inaccurate in some particulars -- Emmons evidently did not feel free to make actual measurements -- a comparison of his drawing with the results of archeological excavations indicates that his plan represents the palisade as it stood in the "doubled-in-size" period before any additions were made at the west and east ends.

3. First expansion to the west, 1841-1844. As seems quite evident from the wall locations as given on the Emmons map of 1841 and, particularly, from the relationship of the fort's west wall at that time to the powder magazine and storehouses shown on that drawing, the west wall in 1841 was that designated as AD by the archeologists who found its remains.

The next west wall that can definitely be dated was the outermost west stockade uncovered by the archeologists. This wall, designated as IJ on the archeological summary sheet, was constructed during January and February, 1845. [8] It shows on the "Plan of Fort Vancouver" drawn by Lieutenant Mervin Vavasour of the Royal Engineers during the fall of 1845 (see plate VII) and can be positively identified because it was tied into the blockhouse, the construction date of which was likewise in February, 1845. [9]

However, archeologists in 1952 discovered the remains of a third west wall, designated as HG, lying between inner wall AD of 1829 and outer wall IJ of 1845. Wall HG ran parallel to and about 16 to 18 feet inside of the outer west wall and about 21 feet west of the innermost west wall (AD). [10]

It would seem logical to conclude that this center west wall came between the inner and outer walls in time as it did in space. Yet if inner wall AD existed as late as 1841, as seems almost certain, and if outer wall IJ was built early in 1845, as is demonstrated, then the fort managers must have gone to the expense of constructing the new wall HG and then removing it within the short span of about 3-1/2 years.

A most valuable map in the archives of the Hudson's Bay Company perhaps holds the clue to a more precise dating of wall HG. Entitled "Sketch of Fort Vancouver and Plain, Representing the Line of Fire in September 1844," it shows the fort structures as they existed a year before the Vavasour plan was drawn (see plate V). [11]

Unfortunately, the small scale of this map does not permit one to tell by measurement whether the west wall shown thereon was wall AD or wall HG (it was not wall IJ, since the bastion had not been built by September, 1844). The key is a building shown near the northwest corner of the stockade. If this structure was the Root House which is known to have stood on the same site at a later date, then one can safely say that the west stockade in 1844 was wall HG (see plate I). The Root House, as archeological evidence shows, was built after wall AD had been demolished. But if this structure was the small building (No. 17) identified as a warehouse on the Emmons plan of 1841, then the 1844 west palisade was wall AD. [12] The Vavasour map of 1845 shows no building inside the northwest corner, while the Covington map of 1846 (see plate XIII) shows a small square structure which cannot be positively identified. Since these maps thus give no clear support to the theory that the Root House may have existed as early as September, 1844, it seems impossible to say positively whether the 1844 west wall was AD or HG.

Since it seems extremely unlikely, however, that a new west wall would have been built after September, 1844, and then replaced by a still more westerly wall in January and February, 1845, it seems reasonable to assume that wall HG had already been built when the Line of Fire Map was drawn. If this theory is correct, wall HG was erected between 1841 and September, 1844.

When wall HG was built, the northern and southern palisades were extended about 21 feet westward, creating walls HA and GD and enclosing the space added to the fort by wall HG.

4. Expansion to the east, c. 1844. On the Emmons map of 1841 the east stockade wall is shown as being only a short distance -- about 20 feet-- east of the Bachelors' Quarters. The line of Fire Map, showing conditions as they existed at the very end of September, 1844, places the east wall about 75 or 80 feet east of the same building. This new location corresponds almost exactly with that of the outer eastern wall as revealed by archeological excavations (wall KL less a short addition made when the southern fort wall was later pushed outward about five feet). This shortened version of line KL was found to be, on the average, 56 feet east of wall CF.

It is clear from the Line of Fire Map, then, that the outer east wall was erected prior to September 24, 1844 (the date of the breaking out of the fire). But the construction date can be assigned to a still earlier time. It will be noted that the Line of Fire Map shows a building incorporated in the northern end of the east wall. This structure, as proved by the Vavasour map of 1845 (see plate VII) and other evidence, was the bakery.

The bakery was not completed until after October 15, 1844, but work on it had been under way for some months evidently. On September 18 the fort received a shipment of 5,000 bricks which undoubtedly were for the bake ovens in this structure. [13] It seems most probable that the new east wall was built at about the time the bakery was started, since they apparently were intended to form a unit. [14] Lacking positive evidence, a reasonable guess for the date of the outer east wall's construction would be the spring of 1844. [15] In any event, it can be stated with assurance that the new east wall was built between July 25, 1841, the date of the Emmons map, and September 24, 1844, the approximate date of the developments illustrated by the Line of Fire Map.

Of course when wall CF was moved an average distance of 56 feet to the east, the additional fort area thus created was enclosed on the south by an eastward extension of line EF. The northern end of this space was closed by extending the north stockade by the line CK. This latter wall was a single row of pickets which formed part of the north palisade as it stood at the time of the fort's greatest extent.

5. Second expansion to the west, January-February, 1845. When the Vavasour map of late 1845 is examined closely, it is seen that the north, east, and south walls remained in the same positions as shown on the 1844 Line of Fire Map but that the west wall had been moved outward during the intervening year. As shown by the scale on his map, Vavasour placed this new west wall about 45 to 50 feet west of the Company's trading shop and store. This location corresponds almost exactly with the position of the outer west wall as uncovered by National Park Service archeologists (wall IJ except for the southern four feet).

Confirmation of the hypothesis that Vavasour's west wall was also the extreme west wall of the fort at the time of its greatest extent is found in the fact that Vavasour shows a bastion at the northwest corner of the stockade, exactly where the foundations of a bastion were uncovered in 1947. As far as is known, there was only one bastion in the northwest angle of Fort Vancouver between 1845 and 1860, and no evidence has yet come to light to demonstrate that it was ever moved from the spot upon which it was originally constructed.

Since, as we have seen, the previous west wall, HG, was a relatively new structure, certainly built after July, 1841, it would seem that a new palisade only about 18 feet to the west would not have been erected except in connection with the building of an important structure whose location was determined by factors other than economy. Such a structure was the blockhouse. Evidently it was felt necessary to keep this bastion and a new palisade to be built in connection with it a greater distance from the Company's principal western warehouses and shops. [16]

At any rate, the historical record shows that the construction of the new west wall and the building of the bastion were related in time. Clerk Thomas Lowe noted in his journal on February 7, 1845:

Finished erecting the new Pickets on the West side and part of the North side of the Fort, at which the men have been employed for some time past. A bastion is to be built in the N. W. Corner of the Fort.... [17]

These words seem to fix the date of construction of the outermost west wall, the shortened IJ, with precision. At about the same time the north and south walls must have been extended westward to meet the new palisade. [18]

6. Expansion to the south, 1846-1854. The last change in the dimensions of the stockade occurred when the south wall was moved outward about four to six feet (the distance being a little greater on the east end than on the west) to the position JL. That this move occurred after the completion of the outermost west wall on February 7, 1845, is demonstrated by construction details uncovered during the archeological explorations. For instance the extension of wall DG to the westward would not have been undertaken if there had been in existence an outer south wall which could have been lengthened to close the southern end of the additional fort area created when the outer west wall was built.

There are several known periods of south palisade repair or reconstruction during which this move could have been made. The journal of Thomas Lowe contains the following references to the south, or front, wall:

November 21, 1845. "Some men set to dress pickets for the front of the Fort."

January 20, 1846. "Putting up new Pickets in front of the Fort."

January 23, 1846. "People busy erecting the Pickets in front of the Fort."

February 2, 1848. "Men began putting up new pickets in front of the fort."

January 9, 1850. "Blowing very hard. . . . Last night the wind blew down about 40 feet of the pickets in front of the Fort."

February 18, 1850. "Men employed. . . putting up a row of pickets in front of the Fort, which had fallen down about a month ago." [19]

About a decade and a half after this last entry was written an early settler in the Vancouver region, Lewis Love, testified that between 1850 and 1854 the stockade as a whole was "about rotted down," and that repairs were made. [20]

From these data it seems that after 1845 there apparently were substantial reconstructions of the south wall in January, 1846; February, 1848; and at least once between February, 1850, and 1854. A certain amount of additional information is available which throws light on the possible extent of each of these reconstructions.

a. January, 1846. As is demonstrated in the following section of this chapter dealing with stockade construction details, sometime between the end of 1845 and May 3, 1847, there apparently was a change in the building method used on at least a part of the south wall. Instead of the pickets being fastened to two horizontal girths as had been the case from at least 1841 to the end of 1845, the posts were pegged to only a single girth. Although the evidence of this change is only known to apply to a very short segment of the wall (see plate XII), it, together with Lowe's journal entries, seems to indicate that the January, 1846, reconstruction was a major effort.

b. February, 1848. As is shown by Lowe's journal, the erection of "new pickets" was commenced "in front of the fort" on February 2, 1848. But only about a week earlier, on January 24, 1848, the same industrious clerk had recorded, "A Bastion has been put up to day in front of the Fort." [21]

Thus far no conclusive evidence has been found to indicate the exact location of this blockhouse of 1848, the second such structure to be erected at Fort Vancouver. During the 1952 archeological excavations the remains of "three parallel timbers roughly 6 to 8 inches square" were found where the easternmost 17 feet of the inner south wall may have once stood (see plate I). Mr. Caywood believed that these timbers marked the foundation of the second blockhouse and fixed its location as the southeast corner. [22]

As shall be seen in a later chapter, there is historical evidence tending to confirm this hypothesis, but in the opinion of the present writer the location of the bastion erected in 1848 is still uncertain. Further archeological excavations might settle this question.

In any event, even if the three timbers should be shown to be part of the bastion, they do not shed much light on the problem of whether the south wall was moved outward about six feet when the new blockhouse was constructed. Apparently a foundation in the inner wall location would not have been incompatible with a palisade at either the inner or outer wall sites. If precedent at the first bastion was followed at the second, however, it seems more probable that the inner bastion wall would have been inside the stockade line. It is quite possible, then, that the stockade construction in February, 1848, was designed to advance the south wall to position JL.

c. 1850-1854. It seems quite evident from Lowe's journal that the work performed on the south wall in February, 1850, was more in the nature of repair than complete reconstruction. However, there seem to be grounds for believing that by 1854 the outward movement of the front palisade had been accomplished.

Unfortunately, the small scales of the available maps and the differences between the several copies of them make it impossible to detect a change in stockade dimensions as small as six feet, at least with any certainty. All one can say is that when the Vavasour plan of 1845 (see plate VII) is compared with the careful survey made by Lt. Col. B. L. E. Bonneville in 1854 (plate XIX) the south wall seems in the latter to be farther away from the storehouses inside the south palisade. Almost certainly the Bonneville map represents the fort as it stood at the time of its greatest extent. [23]

One circumstance which seems to support, though by no means prove, the hypothesis that the movement of the south wall had been completed by 1854 is the fact that the location of one of the gates in that palisade was shifted sometime between 1846 and 1854. Of course such a shift need not necessarily have been associated with a movement of the entire stockade wall, but if a change in a gate had been contemplated, it probably would have been easier to make the shift at a time when the entire wall was being reconstructed.

An examination of the Warre plan of 1845 (plate VII) and the Covington map of 1846 (plate XIII) will show that the east gate in the south wall at these dates was directly or almost directly south of the north wall gate. On the Bonneville map of 1854, however, the east gate in the south wall has shifted to the west a substantial distance. [24] This same shift is shown on maps of 1859 and 1860. [25]

The only thing this chain of events proves is that between late 1846, when the Covington map seems to have been drawn, and 1854 there was a change in the location of the southeast gate. But if there is any validity to the theory that the shift in gate location was associated with the outward movement of the south wall, then the latter event can be placed between late 1846 (the Covington map does not show the old Catholic Church which was demolished during June of that year) and 1854.

A review of what is known about the moving of the front wall six feet to the south leads to the following conclusives:

a. The inner wall (line GF as extended to the outer palisades at each end) was the outer south stockade wall when the outermost west wall was completed on February 7, 1845.

b. The rebuilding of the south wall during January 1846, could have involved moving that palisade six feet southward but probably did not. The latter surmise is based on the fact that the Covington map of late 1846 continues to show the southeast gate in the same position as does the Vavasour map of 1845. Also, the south wall, as far as can be determined from general appearance. seems in 1846 to be as close to the buildings inside the wall as it was on the 1845 map.

c. The stockade construction in February, 1848, appears to have been linked with the erection of a bastion somewhere along the south extremity of the fort. It seems quite probable that the south wall was moved to position JL in connection with the construction of the new blockhouse. Whether the southeast gate was moved westward at the same time is not apparent from available evidence.

d. Between early 1850 and 1854 the south wall underwent, at the very least, extensive repair. This activity could have involved the moving of both the stockade and the southeast gate. A reason for assigning the outward movement of the wall to this period might be the fact (which shall be brought out in a later chapter) that the second bastion was a very short-lived structure. Built in 1848, it seems to have disappeared at least by 1854. The removal could have occurred as the result of a rebuilding of the south wall over its site.

On the basis of these conclusions, it appears to the present writer that the inner south palisade most likely formed the south stockade wall in late 1845 and early 1846, the period to which it is intended to restore Fort Vancouver.

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003