Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume I


History and location

South and southeast of the sale shop there stood in 1845-1846 two large warehouses which were so much alike in function and appearance that it seems desirable to treat them together. They were the building presently designated as no. 5 on the Site Plan, Historic Structures Report, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (plate II of this report), which was known in Company days as the "Store," or "New Store;" and the structure now called Building no. 7, known to the employees of the Honorable Company as "Stores," or "Receiving Store."

As was seen in the last chapter, these structures were erected during the period from about 1843 to 1845 to replace, or at least reconstruct, earlier buildings of approximately the same sizes which stood on or near the same sites. In 1841 the building which stood where the "New Store" was located in 1845 was described by Lieutenant George Foster Emmons as a "General Store House -- provisions, Dry goods, Hardware, &c." The site of the 1845 "Receiving Store" was occupied in 1841 by the "Building for Furs &c." [1]

Evidently not long after Emmons drew his ground plan in 1841 it was decided that more warehouse space was required for the large stocks of trade goods, provisions, maritime stores, and other items kept on hand at the Fort Vancouver Depot, the supply point for the far-flung posts of the Columbia Department. By the end of 1844 the Fur Store no longer occupied the site of Building no. 7; it had been moved to the eastward a few feet into the structure now designated as Building no. 8. [2] The area thus left free was utilized for a new warehouse, known as the "Receiving Store," the present Building no. 7.

Seemingly it was somewhat later, in the spring of 1844, that the former "General Store House," the more southerly of the two warehouses along the west palisade, was demolished, entirely or in part, and work started on its replacement, the present Building no. 5, the "New Store."

The little that is known about the histories of these two new warehouses may be summarized as follows:

Building no. 5, the "New Store." In his journal for September 10, 1844, Clerk Thomas Lowe made the following notation: "Baron and a party of men employed at the New Store adjoining the Sale Shop which was commenced last Spring." [3] On October 15 he again mentioned this building: "Baron with a few men began to shingle the new Store next [to] the Sale Shop." [4]

Though these words are few, they tell a great deal. First, they indicate that the "New Store" was begun in the spring of 1844 and completed about the end of October that same year. Second, by describing the new structure as adjoining the sale shop they fix its location precisely, for the only building standing in such a position was the one presently called Building no. 5, which stood directly to the south of the trading store. In fact, on two versions of the Vavasour ground plan of 1845 and in the Coode water color of 1846-1847, the "New Store" is shown linked to the sale shop by structural elements of undeterminable nature (see plates VI, VII and XI).

The "New Store" seems to have been one of the two warehouses which were not torn down by the army during the two or three weeks of destruction which followed the military takeover of the Company's establishment on June 14, 1860. It probably fell prey to firewood scavengers, to decay, and perhaps to fire during the next several years. [5]

Building no. 7, the "Receiving Store." On July 23, 1844, Thomas Lowe noted in his diary: "Mr. Roberts putting up some articles for the N. W. Coast in the Store." [6] When one begins to speculate as to which building this particular "Store" was, one reaches an interesting conclusion. This "Store" undoubtedly was not the present Building no. 4, which Lowe consistently called the "Sale Shop." It certainly was not Building no. 5, because as we have just seen, this "New Store" had not been completed by July, 1844. And it probably was not Building no 8, which Lowe called the "Fur Store." Therefore, since "the Store" of July 23, 1844, must have been one of the four large warehouses then in the fort, it almost certainly was the present Building no. 7.

A year later, on June 5, 1845, Lowe entered the words, "began to shingle the Receiving Store," in his journal. [7] This "Receiving Store" clearly was not Building no. 5, the "New Store," because that building had been shingled the preceding fall. Neither was it, in all probability, Building no. 4, the "Sale Shop," or Building no. 8, the "Fur Store" since, as we have seen, Lowe seems always to have referred to those structures by name. Also, the sale shop is known to have been shingled just prior to June 5, 1845. Therefore, the "Receiving Store" very probably was the one presently called Building no. 7.

If this reasoning is correct, the "Receiving Store" had been completed and was in use by mid-1844. At that time it probably had a plank roof which was replaced by a shingled one during the summer of the next year.

Building no. 7 was situated parallel with the south palisade, east of and at right angle to the south end of Building no. 5. It was among the structures turned over to the army in mid-1860, and its fate seems to have been the same as that of the "New Store.

It will he noted that this building was near the west gate in the south palisade. This entrance provided the closest access into the fort from the wharf, and a warehouse almost adjacent to it would have been advantageously located for receiving cargo imported from London.

Warehouse operations In a sense, the warehouses or "stores" at Fort Vancouver were the very heart of the Company's business in the entire area west of the Rocky Mountains, from Mexican California on the south to Russian Alaska on the north. To a degree, Fort Vancouver operated as any other headquarters post for a fur-trading district. Through its own Indian sale shop and the subsidiary posts of Fort George and Fort Umpqua as well other trading activities, it collected peltries in return for goods of various types. This activity was segregated in the Company's account books under the heading "Fort Vancouver Fur Trade."

By far the more important aspect of the post's affairs, however, was that conducted under the heading "Fort Vancouver Depot." Into this category fell all the activities having to do with Vancouver's position as administrative headquarters, supply point, and shipping port for the vast Columbia Department. The office, the principal warehouses, the mills, the farm, the bakery, the boat sheds and shipyard, and the several shops for artisans were primarily depot facilities.

To the depot the annual supply ships from England brought the trade goods and other necessities for the Company's operations west of the Rockies, and from there, in turn, the goods were distributed by coastal vessel, river boat, and pack train to the far-flung posts of the department. And to Fort Vancouver each year were brought the fur returns from the entire region. Here they were packed and shipped off to the auctions in London.

By late 1845, the period in which we are primarily interested for purposes of this study, the importance of Fort Vancouver as a depot had begun to decline. The Company for years had desired to find a more central location on the Northwest Coast for its depot, one which would eliminate the need to risk each year the entire departmental supplies and returns in crossing the dangerous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River. The unsettled boundary question and the growing agressiveness of American settlers in the Oregon Country also caused apprehension. Dr. McLoughlin was long able to delay such a move by pointing out that the Columbia River offered the only practicable route for getting supplies into the vast interior area.

But Governor George Simpson ordered the construction of a new depot on Vancouver Island in 1842, and the post, known as Fort Victoria, was built during the next year. The arrival of the "great immigration" of American settlers in 1843 and the formation of the Oregon Provisonal Government made it clear that Great Britain might not be able to maintain its position in Oregon, at least south of the 49th parallel.

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Fort Vancouver was recognized by the Governor and Committee in London. Late in 1844 they instructed the captain of the annual supply ship Vancouver to proceed directly to Fort Victoria rather than to the Columbia. The vessel reached Victoria in February, 1845, and there landed the portion of her cargo destined for the Northwest Coast. Late in March she visited Fort Vancouver to discharge the supplies for the Columbia and the inland posts. [8]

In January, 1845, Simpson warned McLoughlin of the large immigration expected to reach Oregon from the United States during the year. In order to "guard against lawless aggression," the Governor recommended that no more goods be kept at Fort Vancouver than absolutely necessary to meet immediate demands. The "reserved outfit" for the Columbia River posts -- that maintained for a year in advance as a protection in case of a disaster to the supply ships -- should be kept at Fort Victoria along with all the supplies for the Northwest Coast. Furthermore, said Simpson, the furs for the entire Columbia Department should be collected at Victoria instead of Fort Vancouver, and the vessels sailing for England with the annual returns should take their departure from the new post. In other words, the departmental depot was to remain at Fort Vancouver no longer. [9]

During the spring of 1845, McLoughlin took the first step to effect the change by ordering the furs from the coast to be left at Fort Victoria. On July 19 of that year he promised the Governor and Committee that the returns from the interior would he sent there as soon as a vessel was available. [10]

Thus the warehouses as reconstructed at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site should reflect in their furnishings a certain diminution in activity. However, the effects of the new policy on the stocks of warehoused goods probably were slight before the departure of the inland brigade in the summer of 1846. Evidently the first complete departmental reserve stock of goods to be placed in storage at Fort Victoria was that for Outfit 1847, which did not arrive there until the spring of 1846. [11] It should be remembered that the great bulk of the trade goods for the Columbia Department, including New Caledonia (the present inland British Columbia), still had to be transported laboriously up the Columbia River by modified York boats, known as Columbia boats, to such posts as Fort Walla Walla, Fort Okanogan, and Fort Colvile, from whence they were sent by pack animal to the still-more-distant outposts. Thus the amount of goods kept on hand at Fort Vancouver, at least until the departure of all the inland boats, would have been impressive even without the reserve outfit.

It was the function of the New Store and the Receiving Store, the two buildings we are concerned with in this chapter, to house the precious cargoes of imported goods which were the lifeblood of the Company's western fur trade. Although information on the subject is slight, it seems to have been the practice to house in one store the "goods opened for the current year's business, that is, to sell to their men and to send off to the various stations" and in the other the advance supplies for the following year. [12] From its name, one would suppose that the Receiving Store was the latter.

The business conducted in the two warehouses was essentially a wholesale operation. The goods received from London were charged by the Northern Department to the account of the Columbia District. [13] It was the duty of the clerk in charge of the stores -- who from July, 1844, to December, 1846, was George B. Roberts -- to check the supplies against the bills of lading. He also opened the goods for the current year's operations, sorted them according to the orders from the different posts, and packed them for shipment. The items going to the outlying establishments and to Vancouver's own sale shop were charged against the accounts of the posts "as if they belonged to outsiders." [14]

The process by which goods reached the warehouses started several years before their actual arrival. First the individual post commander or the district chief trader, sometimes nearly four years in advance, made out orders for the supplies he would need for a particular year or outfit. These were then consolidated by Dr. McLoughlin three years in advance to make up a requisition or "indent" for the entire Columbia Department.

The ordering of these goods was perhaps the most important responsibility of the Company's field officers. There was little room for error, because once one of the more distant posts received its outfit it had to be "as self-sufficient as a ship at sea" for an entire year. [15] The whole prosperity of the trade depended upon the receipt of the right types of goods in the right quantities.

The indent which Dr. McLoughlin prepared for Outfit 1838, for example, was signed by him at Fort Vancouver on March 2, 1835. This requisition was carried by the Company's express across the continent to the great depot at York Factory on Hudson Bay, from whence it was sent by ship to England. A duplicate order was dispatched later in the year directly to London in the vessel conveying the annual fur returns. Sometimes patterns or samples of certain desired goods were sent along in an attempt to assure the receipt of items of desired size and quality.

The order was filled by the firm's London office after review, and evidently sometimes after minor changes, by the officers of the Northern Department at York Factory and by the home office staff. [16] Purchases usually were made directly from the manufacturers, sometimes based upon the Company's own specifications.

But such measures did not always assure the receipt of high quality products. In March, 1846, for instance, Chief Factors Peter Skene Ogden and James Douglas complained "in the strongest terms" of the cotton goods purchased from Laurie, Hamilton & Co. "They are of the worst quality, and the colors invariably fade, in washing, or exposure to the light," the factors told the Governor and Committee. "Some cases of the Navy blues, have been utterly destroyed, we presume in the dying. Any such found in future we will return." [17]

It was McLoughlin's intention, when he made out his order on March 2, 1835, that the requested goods should be shipped from London in the fall of 1836, since that season was the usual one for the departure of the annual supply vessel to the Columbia. There was some delay in chartering a ship, however, and it was about the end of January, 1837, before the Sumatra sailed with the supplies for Outfit 1838. She did not reach Fort Vancouver until the fall of 1837, several months later than was customary. But McLoughlin did not complain. The cargo was in "excellent order," and it was transferred to the warehouses for use during the trading year which would begin on June 1, 1838. [18]

The bulging warehouses of Fort Vancouver were always objects of interest to visitors. Mrs. Whitman, in 1836, was among those who, as she wrote in her diary, "went to the stores & found them filled with the cargos of the two ships both above & below, all in unbroken bails." [19] Lieutenant Emmons of the Wilkes party found "quite a large variety & quantity of stores and Furs on hand -- much order and system in the general arrang[e]ment. . . ." [20]

The great bulk of the incoming cargo arrived from London in "huge bales" and large boxes and barrels of various types. Most of the bales consisted of blankets, drygoods, and clothing. In 1847 the Columbia Department factors asked that the bales of moleskin be "wrapped in blankets and each piece to be put up in stout paper, to prevent injury or stain from the effects of the voyage." [21] By the 1860's "tarred inside wrappers" were being used to protect the bales. [22] It is assumed that the bales of the early 1840's had some type of protective wrapping, but its nature has not yet been learned by the present writer. These bales and large containers were routinely unpacked in the stores and made up into smaller bundles for shipment to the individual posts.

Another part of the cargo consisted of what were known as "whole pieces" -- smaller bales, cases, boxes, and kegs of suitable weight and size for inland transport and, particularly, for portaging on the backs of voyageurs. These smaller units were made up in London with a view to saving repacking. They generally weighed a hundredweight or less.

Typical "whole pieces" were small bales of blankets and cloth; "tin-lined cases of small hardware; kegs of gunpowder (sixty-six and two-thirds pounds net) and sugar, chests of tea (of one hundred weight and half a hundredweight net); rolls and 'serons' of tobacco, done up in red-painted canvas, and weighing one hundredweight; double canvas bags of ball and shot, each one hundredweight; cases of yellow soap and long cases of Indian flintlock guns." [23]

Each bundle, bale, and box in the cargo bore a shipping mark, indicating the outfit and the destination for which it was intended. For instance, most of the goods received at Vancouver by the barque Brothers in June, 1844, were marked 45/C, meaning they were for use during Outfit 1845 in the Columbia District. Some, however, were marked 45/NS indicating that they contained naval stores for use during that trading year. Still others, bearing the symbol 45/B were destined for use on the Company's steamer, Beaver, which operated on the Northwest Coast. [24]

During March of 1845 the barque Vancouver landed the goods marked intended for use on the Northwest Coast during Outfit 1846, at Fort Victoria. Then she proceeded to the Columbia River and Fort Vancouver to land the cargo marked 46/C. [25]

It will be noted that in this section of the report no attempt is made to give a detailed list of the types and quantities of goods received in the shipments from England and housed in the stores. Such exact inventories will be found in the later section of this chapter headed "Furnishings." The purpose of the present section is to outline the functions of the warehouses and to give a general idea of the sizes, shapes, and appearance of the goods housed there so that architects and curators can plan interior layouts and perhaps arrangements of goods and equipment which might illustrate key activities.

It should be made clear at this point that not only imported goods were stored in the warehouses. The Company also gathered in for its own use at the posts and for the conduct of its operations, as well as for sale to Indians, employees, and settlers, a considerable quantity of what was termed "country produce." Such items included the products of its own farms, such as wheat, dried peas, salt beef and pork, and even vegetable seeds. Also coming under this heading were such fruits of hunting and fishing as pickled salmon, deer skins, elk skins, and "Cape Flattery Oil." These goods, if of suitable type, were stored in bags and barrels manufactured at Fort Vancouver or at the post which produced the goods.

Another class of locally produced goods was called "country made articles." Under this heading came items fabricated in the Columbia Department's own tradesmen's shops, generally from imported raw materials. So classified were axe heads, canvas shot bags, tin boxes, tin candlesticks, garden hoes, beaver traps, and many other articles.

It is apparent from such sources as Clerk Thomas Lowe's journal that trade goods and supplies flowed out from the depot warehouses to the subordinate posts at intervals throughout the business year, often as special needs had to be met or as transportation was available. On July 23, 1844, for instance, Clerk George B. Roberts was busy "putting up some articles for the N. W. Coast in the Store." During the first half of 1846, two boats left Vancouver on February 1 with part of the Colvile outfit. On March 5 goods for the interior to be left at Walla Walla, were sent forward in four boats. Early in April two more boats left for The Dalles laden with flour, "part of the Snake Country Outfit." On June 5 the vessel Columbia sailed with supplies for Stikine and the steamer Beaver. Then, on June 30, the big depletion of the stores came when the interior Brigade of nine boats started its usual mid-summer journey up stream for the upper Columbia and New Caledonia. [26]

It was the responsibility of the clerk in charge of the stores to assemble the articles called for by the requisition from each post and to pack them into bundles or "pieces" of about 90 pounds each which could be stowed in small boats, carried by pack animals, and portaged by voyageurs. This process consisted of more than simply opening bales and bundling up, say, so many blankets and so many pieces of cloth, and then augmenting the smaller packages with an assortment of "whole pieces" from London. Care had to be taken to distribute goods and articles of the same type throughout a number of bundles which would be shipped in different boats so that in case of upset in the river or other accident a post's entire yearly supply of, say, capotes would not be lost.

Also, breakable articles, glassware, had to be protected or other drygoods. No packing such as bottles of medicine and by being wrapped in sashes, blankets, in paper, straw, or other waste material that would add weight or bulk was permitted. Since space in the boats was at a premium, articles were "nested" wherever possible. [27]

The Company's clerks had many "tricks of the trade" by which they made sure that fragile items survived the rigors of the long and difficult journeys to the outposts. Window glass suffered a high casualty rate until someone thought of dipping the panes into heated molasses before packing them in boxes. When the "black strap" cooled it firmly glued the panes together into a shock-resistant mass. After the cargo reached its destination, hot water was applied to dissolve the molasses, which was salvaged by the employees to sweeten their tea. It is small wonder that the clerks considered making up the outfits for the subordinate districts and posts to be "an art of calculation and accuracy." [28]

Not everyone was as charmed with these "perfect packages" as were the clerks who assembled them, however. When J. W. Dease complained in 1827 that some articles in his post's requisition had not been received, McLoughlin admitted: "It may be that some other place has these things and got mixed with theirs in the Baling Room." [29] And protests against the practices that permitted goods such as crockery and pipes to arrive broken at their destinations were not infrequent. [30]

Evidently the final wrapping and tieing of each piece, at least those which were not made up of rigid boxes and which could stand some degree of compression, were performed in a press. The type of protective covering used at Fort Vancouver during the 1840's is not known.

The invariable final touch on each piece was the mark to indicate the outfit, the destination, and the number of the bale or box in the shipment. At certain times and places this mark was placed on a board or slat which was lashed to the bundle with the wrapping cord (see plate CIX). [31] At other times and places it was placed directly on the wrapper or cover with marking pencil or perhaps some type of ink or paint (plate CX). The method used at Fort Vancouver during the 1840's is not known.

But something is known of the marks themselves. Seemingly in the 1840's it was the custom to place the year of the outfit over the symbol for the post. Thus 43/FN #1 stood for Outfit 1843, destination Fort Nisqually, bale number 1 of the shipment. [32] By the mid-1850's, on the other hand, all the elements of the mark seem to have been placed on a single level, thus: 54 C #2 meaning Outfit 1854, destination Fort Colvile, bale number 2. [33]

From the two sources cited in the paragraph immediately above and from a scattering of other primary materials, a partial list of post symbols used in packing marks has been assembled. Unfortunately these symbols varied from time to time, so it does not seem possible to be sure which ones were in use at Fort Vancouver in 1845-1846. At any rate, some of those which are known to have been used during the 1840's and 1850's are as follows:

Fort ColvileC
Fort Nez PercesNP
Fort NisquallyN or FN
Fort Nisqually, Puget's Sound Agric. Co.NPSA
Fort VancouverV, FV, or Van
Snake CountrySC

The departure of a supply brigade involved a vast amount of paper work. Not only were detailed inventories kept of the outfits going to each post, but exact lists were kept of what was in each piece or bundle of each outfit. One copy of this list, called a packing account, went to the receiving post. If the same practice was followed as in shipping furs, a piece of paper was tucked into each bundle bearing a list of its contents and a copy of the mark, thus providing a means of identification should the outside marking be lost or damaged in transit. [34]

Due to the feeling for history possessed by a long-time Company employee, some of the highly ephemeral packing accounts associated with the Fort Vancouver stores have been preserved. One, for a shipment of "sundries" sent from Fort Vancouver to Fort Nisqually on September 26, 1843, seems worth reproducing at least in part:

25plain Blankets 2-1/2 pts BB
2pieces Navy blue Cotton
1parcel common round Beads

#2do ditto

2balls Cotton Wicks
3parcels Beads
6plain Blankets 2-1/2 pts BB
3Scotch Bonnets
3prs Cordy. Trousers
15com. Cotton Shirts
1piece Navy blue Cotton
50-1/2yds green Baize
5Ct. Kirby trout hooks

#4do ditto except 52 yds red in lieu of green Baize

11plain Blankets 2-1/2 pts BB
3prs Cordy. Trousers
3Scotch Bonnets
3balls Cotton wick
2parcels Beads
5Ct. Gunflints
7lbs. necklace Beads
1doz. butchers CS Knives
10Com Cott. Shirts
1piece Navy blue Cotton
1Tent 10 ells

27 plain Blankets 2-1/2 pts BB
1piece Navy blue Cotton
3[illegible] Beads
3balls Cotton wick
3Scotch Bonnets
3prs olive Cord Trousers
10Com. Cott Shirts
5Ct. Kirby Hooks
5Ct. Gunflints
1gro. Wire Gunworms
1cupboard Lock

10 beaver Traps complete w. chains

92 lbs Canada twist Tobacco

[MS torn]
[24]lbs brass collar wire
[10]beaver trap springs [35]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003