Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume I


History and location

In late 1845, the approximate period to which it is planned to restore Fort Vancouver, the post contained four large general warehouses or "stores" as they were commonly called. Two of these buildings were ranged along the west stockade wall and two along the western portion of the south wall.

These warehouses were as follows (building numbers from "Site Plan, Historic Fort Area, Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site," July 1965, see plate II; building names, first as given by Vavasour (plate VI), second as given by contemporary H.B.C. sources):

Bldg. no. 4. "Shop & Store"; "Sale Shop." [1]
Bldg. no. 5. "Store"; "New Store." [2]
Bldg. no. 7. "Stores"; "Receiving Store." [3]
Bldg. no. 8. "Stores"; "Fur Store." [4]

It will be noted that all of these structures were within the area of the original square stockade of 1829. Furthermore, the sites of these buildings were, in 1841, occupied by structures of similar size and general function as is shown by the Emmons ground plan (plate III) and the drawing by Henry Eld (plate IV). [5] The Emmons map shows the two warehouses along the west wall as a single structure, but the Eld view clearly shows that there were two separate buildings linked by a partial roof.

Because of the similarities in size and location, one might be tempted to assume that the warehouses of 1845 were also those of 1841. But the pictorial and documentary evidence proves otherwise, at least as far as most of the structures are concerned.

The Eld drawing of 1841 demonstrates that all four warehouses at that time had gable roofs. The Warre view of 1845, on the other hand, shows that by then three of the four, all that are visible in the picture, had hipped roofs (see plate IX). The Coode water color sketch and the Paul Kane pencil drawing, both dating from about a year later, show hipped roofs on all four structures with great clarity, as does the Yale University painting which probably represents the fort as it appeared in 1847-1848 (see plates XI, XIV, and XV). Also, the warehouses shown in the Eld drawing, except possibly for that on the site of Building no. 7, seem to be appreciably lower than those shown in the views of 1845 and later (see especially the George Gibbs drawings of 1851, plates XVII and XVIII). On the basis of the pictorial evidence, therefore, one must conclude that between 1841 and 1845 the four warehouses were either rebuilt or rather extensively altered.

The written record supports such a conclusion, at least in part. According to the later testimony of one old Company employee, the principal storehouses were replaced by better-built structures in 1843 and 1844, although another witness placed the construction of at least two of the new storehouses at a somewhat later date, about 1845 to 1846. [6] Still another witness, however, denied that there was any extensive rebuilding during 1845 and 1846. [7]

Be this as it may, the construction of one of these new stores, that now termed Building no. 5, is known by an entry in Clerk Thomas Lowe's diary to have begun in the spring of 1844. [8] Also Building no. 4 and Building no. 7 were shingled during the summer of 1845, which means that construction work on them had been completed, and perhaps long completed, prior to that time. [9] It is also most probable that Building no. 8 had been finished by the end of 1844, because on December 21 of that year Lowe noted the erection of a new flagpole "within a few feet of the East end of the Fur Store." [10] From Vavasour's plan it is known that this flagstaff was located directly east of the building presently designated as no. 8. In 1841 the structure on the site of Building no. 8 was the rather low, gable-roofed Indian trade store. By 1844, therefore, this old Indian shop had been replaced at least in function by the fur store, and it seems most reasonable to suppose that the replacement in the actual physical sense, which is known positively to have taken place by late 1845, had also occurred by the end of 1844.

It seems clear, then, that the sale shop of late 1845 was quite a new building, constructed sometime between 1841 and mid-1845. Probably when completed, perhaps about 1843, it was topped by a temporary plank roof. On May 24, 1845, Clerk Thomas Lowe noted in his journal: "A gang of men put to shingle the roof of the Sale Shop." On June 5 he recorded: "Finished shingling the Sale Shop." [11]

Nothing has been found in the documentary record concerning further structural alterations to the sale shop, but it is certain that some were made. The Coode water color dating from 1846-1847, for instance, shows the sale shop door to have been rather simple, unflanked by lights or windows and unsheltered (see plates XI and XII). By 1860, as is demonstrated by the photograph taken in May of that year, there were lights, similar to French doors, adjacent to each side of the door, and a covered entryway projected from the front of the building (see plate XXVIII).

During the late 1850's when the staff at Fort Vancouver was reduced to a mere skeleton crew, it became impossible to keep up with the needed repair work. "The buildings are becoming very old and some of them crazy," lamented Chief Trader James Allan Grahame on September 19, 1859. "The Warehouses in which the goods are kept, being newer than any of the other buildings," he continue "are in a much better state of preservation, but even they are beginning to show the effects of wind and weather, and are so ponderously put together that when any part gives way it is very expensive and laborious to patch it up." [12]

The sale shop was still standing when the United States Army took possession of Fort Vancouver on June 14, 1860. The next day a board of officers examined the buildings in the old post and found the Hudson's Bay Company's "store" to be entirely unsuitable for military purposes. [13]

Under the direction of Captain Rufus Ingalls, assistant quartermaster of the army's Fort Vancouver, soldiers were soon set to work tearing down the Company's buildings. The destruction was halted about the end of June as the result of a protest by the British government, but by that time the old sale shop had been partly demolished. Nothing further concerning the fate of this individual structure has been found in the record, but it undoubtedly gradually melted away from vandalism and decay as did most of the other structures from the fur-trade period. [14]

Evidently from the date of its establishment Fort Vancouver possessed a sale shop which was distinct from the "Indian Shop" where the natives traded furs, salmon, mats, and various types of game for guns, axes, ammunition, blankets, and a host of other manufactured items. During the early years, when there were few visitors who were not Company employees and when there were no settlers except a few "freemen," the sale shop was largely for the convenience of the firm's own gentlemen and servants. The officers and clerks frequently ordered clothing, books, special foodstuffs, and similar luxuries directly from England, but for the men in the lower ranks the Fort Vancouver sale shop was ordinarily the only available source for the shirts and trousers, tobacco, pipes, eating utensils, and other items they and their families needed to augment the rather spare rations dispensed by the Company.

The sale shop or trading store at Vancouver served not only the employees at the headquarters depot but also those at many outlying posts, since the goods kept on hand at those places were largely reserved for trading with the Indians. Generally the servants at the subsidiary establishments were allowed to buy only once a year, through written orders sent to the Fort Vancouver sale shop. Perhaps this same rule held also for the lower ranks at the headquarters itself, since the common laborers and trades men certainly had little time for shopping. [15] But clerks and commissioned officers seem to have been permitted to drop into the shop whenever convenient. Dr. W. F. Tolmie, for instance, visited the store soon after his arrival at the post in 1833 and "looked out" cloth for two calico jackets and a tartan vest. He also purchased a rifle. [16]

Pricing at Company sale shops was in accordance with tariffs or rates established by the Councils of Rupert's Land. These rates varied from time to time and were fairly complicated. [17]

Thus Clerk George B. Roberts was only partially correct when he remembered in later years that commissioned officers (chief traders and chief factors) bought goods at an advance of 33-1/3 per cent over invoice or London cost, while clerks and servants paid an advance of 50 per cent, and "outsiders" paid 100 per cent.1 [8] That the rate to "outsiders" was of long standing and was applied in the Columbia District is demonstrated by the words of Narcissa Whitman, who wrote at Vancouver on November 1, 1836, that the Company "only charge us a hundred per cent more than the prime cost, or England prices" for the articles needed to establish the American Board missions in the Oregon Country "All their goods," she added, "are of the best quality & will be durable." [19]

Transaction at the sale shop were conducted almost entirely upon a credit and debit arrangement. As far as employees were concerned, this was virtually the only method used, since wages and other types of remuneration were not paid in cash but were credited to the accounts of each individual. Items purchased at the sale shop were charged to these accounts.

Travelers and settlers transacted business at the store on much the same basis. Missionaries, government expeditions, and well-recommended travelers like William Drummond Stuart established accounts with various types of notes or bills of exchange. Free trappers brought in furs, deerskins, and other product of the chase for which they were given credits on the Company's books. Even as late as the mid-1840's the sale shop continued to take in furs, although by that time the amount of credit established in this manner was small. [20]

The first permanent agricultural settlers in the Oregon County were retired Company servants, largely French-Canadians. Since Dr. McLoughlin would not permit them to establish farms unless they had a credit of £50 on the Company's books, these settlers all had substantial balances against which they could charge their purchases at the sale shop. But when Americans began drifting into the Willamette Valley during the early 1830's they were, for the most part, destitute. McLoughlin was practically forced to grant them credit, though it was against Company policy to do so.

As soon as the Willamette farms came into production, however, there was a new form of "currency" -- wheat -- which could be applied against the debit balances and used to create credit accounts. Until 1840 the settlers had to bring their grain to Fort Vancouver, but in 1840 the Company began accepting it at Champoeg. For many years the Company purchased all the wheat that was offered, and the receipts given by the receiving clerk passed as currency. [21]

The sale shop account books for Fort Vancouver have disappeared, but those for the trading store at Fort Nisqually have survived. They illustrate vividly the types of transactions that were conducted in the sale shop, though undoubtedly provisions played a larger role in the trade at Nisqually than they did at Vancouver. James Flett was a settler, one of a group brought from Red River by the Company to strengthen the British position in Oregon. His account from November, 1841, to January, 1842, includes the following transactions:

Novr. 9
lbs. fresh beef
Bushel Potatoes
lbs. salt salmon
Gall Pease [peas]
lbs. salt salmon
. . . .
Novr. 153-1/2yd. Green Baize
lb. California Grease
Ox Yoke Ring Complete [22]

These items were charged to Flett's account, and it is not clear how he made payment. Another settler, however, paid for a "Boar Chinese breed 35 days old" by turning in two "Chevreuil [mule deer] Skins" and by "27 days Labor Cradling and mowing." [23]

Until well into the 1840's there was very little coin circulating in the Oregon Country, and seemingly not much of that found its way to the Fort Vancouver sale shop. In fact, one old settler said that gold and silver money was not accepted by the Company during the "early days." [24] Be this as it may, the firm certainly had no hesitation in receiving gold dust and coin after the California gold rush made those articles common in Oregon. The transportation of gold between Fort Vancouver and Fort Victoria became almost routine after 1849.

All of these matters are not merely of academic interest as far as a restoration project at Fort Vancouver is concerned. It will be recognized that the system of business only briefly and partially outlined above must have required the keeping of voluminous accounts. These started with the "pencilled blotter" that the clerk carried around with him in the shop for recording sales and also receipts of items such as furs. The blotter entries were copied in ink into a day book, a fur receipt book, and one for receipts and expenditures of provisions. [25] From these records, evidently, the clerks in the office posted entries in the accounts of the individual employees, settlers, and other customers. All of this activity should be reflected in the furnishings of both the sale shop and the office.

Evidently during the earliest years the stock carried in the Fort Vancouver sale shop was somewhat limited. In 1829 William Connolly wrote from Stuart Lake in British Columbia to his friend James Hargrave in the East asking him to send a half dozen "neat cotton handkerchiefs" as "nothing of the kind can be got at Fort Vancouver." [26] When ordering fresh stock, Chief Factor McLoughlin frequently kept in mind the tastes and the incomes of the Company's servants. [27]

The effects of this policy were evident as late as 1836. Mrs. Whitman complained that she could buy no sheets at Fort Vancouver, nor was any bedding except blankets offered. No cloth was available for making shirts, she found, "except striped or calico." She could find only one piece of linen cloth in the shop. [28] Her conclusion was that the shop contained "every article for comfort & durability we need, but many articles for convenience & all Fancy articles are not here." [29]

As more and more settlers moved into Oregon, the Company responded to demand by increasing the variety of goods stocked. The inventories reproduced later in this chapter and in chapter XII show that by the mid-1840's there was no lack of white muslin handkerchiefs, "bed ticking linen," and even white cotton shirts with linen "collars & bosoms" in the Fort Vancouver sale shop.

But the wants of most customers continued to be simple. Undoubtedly the purchases made by John Minto, a pioneer of 1844, at the Fort Vancouver sale shop during January of the next year were quite typical. He came away with 20 pounds of flour, 6 pounds of salt pork ("the company made no bacon" he later recalled), a gallon bucket of block tin, with a lid, a pint cup, and 6 "highly colored coarse cotton handkerchiefs." [30]

In order to round out this picture of the trading store, it may be well to notice that during the boom period of the fur trade in the Oregon Country, largely the 1830's, the sale shop was not rated highly as an income producer. "The business of Fort Vancouver may be said to consist of three distinct branches," wrote James Douglas in 1838: "These are the Indian Trade, the Farm & Saw Mill, each of importance." There was no mention of the sale shop although for Outfit 1836 its profit was about £1665, about half that produced by the "important" Indian shop, while for Outfit 1837 the sale shop profit of £1613 was almost equal to the £1985 produced by the Indian shop. [31]

As the 1840's progressed, the sale shop assumed an ever-larger share of the business conducted at Fort Vancouver. The fur trade, on the lower Columbia at least, declined greatly during this same period. Figures for the years 1840 to 1850 reveal that, for the posts south of the forty-ninth parallel as a whole, business shrank about two thirds during that time, from about £13,000 to approximately £4,500.

As the fur returns grew less, the Company turned more and more to a general merchandising business, which continued to expand with the population. During the California gold rush, particularly, the Hudson's Bay wholesale and retail stores enjoyed a booming trade. One employee of the firm later estimated that for Outfit 1849/50 the profits "at and around" Fort Vancouver were about £22,000. Sir George Simpson was somewhat more conservative in 1852 when he stated that the profit at Fort Vancouver exceeded £17,000 in 1849. [32]

By 1852, however, the competition of American merchants began to make itself felt. [33] Three years later Chief Factor Grahame could only describe business at Fort Vancouver's "extremely dull." [34] The Indian wars of 1855 to 1858 brought large sales to the Oregon Volunteers and others engaged in the campaigns, but the prosperity did not last. [35] By 1859 Grahame was again complaining, "Business here is very dull indeed." [36] The course of the Fort Vancouver sale shop had nearly been run.

During 1845 and early 1846, the period in which we are particularly interested, the clerk in charge of the Fort Vancouver sale shop was James Allen Grahame. He was a young Scotsman from Edinburgh who had signed with the Company as an apprentice clerk in 1843. After wintering at Red River he had come overland to the Columbia Department with the express in the fall of 1844. He reached Fort Vancouver on October 31, 1844.

At that time David McLoughlin, clerk and son of Chief Factor John McLoughlin, presided over the sale shop, but since he was away on another assignment the freshman apprentice, Grahame, was put in his place. On November 29, 1844, Grahame began the responsible task of taking the sale shop inventory. By the twenty-third of the next month it had been "settled" that Grahame would remain in charge of the trading store, since David McLoughlin was being transferred to the post at Willamette Falls.

Although perhaps not immediately germane to the present study, it is interesting to note that Grahame's career, both before and after he served in the Vancouver sale shop, illustrates certain aspects of the Company's employment policies. First, he was the nephew of Chief Trader George Trail Allan, and thus family influence no doubt played a part in his winning an appointment. Second, he demonstrated that a man of ability could go far in the firm's service. As a chief trader in 1860 it fell to him to turn the keys of Fort Vancouver over to the army quartermaster when the Company decided to retire from the post. A year later he was promoted to chief factor, and in 1874 he was appointed chief commissioner, the Company's principal officer in North America, at a salary of £1500. [37]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003