Fort Vancouver
Historic Structures Report
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Volume II


History and location

Enough has been said in previous chapters of this study to make clear the substantial amount of building activity that was carried on almost continuously at Fort Vancouver and at its outlying mills and farms. Until 1850 there generally were three or four men listed as carpenters or apprentice carpenters each year on the rolls of depot employees, and these tradesmen were assisted by laborers whose numbers increased and decreased according to the type and amount of work to be done, the requirements for labor at other depot tasks, and the length of the sick list.

The carpenters were skilled artisans, who not only could put up the heavy frames of the rough, Canadian-style buildings but also could do the finish work and joining. They made most of the furniture used at the depot. Window frames and sash fabricated in the Fort Vancouver Carpenter Shop were employed locally and occasionally shipped to other posts in the district. [1] When the French-Canadian settlers in the Willamette Valley built a chapel at Chief Factor McLoughlin's urging during the 1830s, the windows for the structure were made at Fort Vancouver. [2]

William A. Slacum, a purser in the United States Navy, visited Fort Vancouver in 1837. Among the depot structures listed in his report were "workshops for carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, coopers, tinners, &c." [3] These words would appear to indicate that the carpenters and the wheelwrights were then in separate shops. Such may well have been the case, but in 1860, when a board of United States Army officers appraised the structures in the fort, they listed one designated as the "Carpenters & wheelwright shop, long since abandoned by the Company." [4] By at least the 1850s, there fore, the two trades seem to have been conducted in the same building.

It may also be worth noting that even for Outfit 1837 no wheelwrights were listed among the employees at the depot. [5] And the inventory of the Company's buildings at Fort Vancouver in 1846-47 listed a carpenter's shop but no wheelwright's shop. [6] For these reasons it appears probable that the wheelwright activities were con ducted by the carpenters in the Carpenter Shop from the time of establishment in 1824-25. It has been seen in Chapter XV on the Harness Shop that the wooden parts of ploughs and other farm implements were manufactured at Fort Vancouver, and it can be assumed that such work, together with the manufacture and repair of farm carts and wagons, was performed in the Carpenter Shop.

The American trapper, Jedediah Smith, spent the winter of 1828-29 in the first Fort Vancouver on the hill overlooking the river plain. He reported that carpenters were among the "mechanics" housed within the walls. [7] After the post was moved closer to the river in 1829, a carpenter shop must have been among the first structures erected. Samuel Parker found a shop for carpenters among the fort buildings in 1835-36. [8] This structure probably was the "Carpenters Shop" shown as Building No. 12 on the ground plan drawn by Lieutenant Emmons on July 25, 1841. It stood south and a bit to the west of the old Catholic chapel in the western half of the fort enclosure as it existed at that time.

By the date of the next available ground plan, the "Line of Fire" map of September 1844, this early carpenter shop had disappeared (see Plate V, vol. I). The next time a building definitely identified as the Carpenter Shop can be located is on the Vavasour ground plan of late 1845. That map shows a "Carpenters Shop" situated near the north stockade wall, just west of its center. It lay directly north of the Old Office (Plate VI, vol. I). This same structure appears on the "Line of Fire" map of 1844, though it is not identified.

Mr. Louis R. Caywood, who conducted archeological explorations on the depot site from 1948 to 1952, has pointed out that this Carpenter Shop of 1845 appears to have been of about the same size and shape as the one shown by Emmons in 1841. He believed it possible that the 1841 shop was simply moved about 170 feet or so almost due north and set up in a new location. [9] Certainly such could have been the case, although it should be recognized that the Emmons plan had no scale and was only diagrammatic in several important respects. Therefore, in the opinion of this writer at least, it is not possible to state positively that the two buildings were identical in dimensions.

At any rate, by 1844 the Carpenter Shop had either been relocated to, or built anew upon, a site near the north palisade, and there it continued to stand as long as the Company occupied Fort Vancouver. Because no traces of the Carpenter Shop foundations were found despite extensive excavation of the site and its surrounding area, the only reasonably precise record of the location of this building is the Vavasour map. [10] According to that drawing the Carpenter Shop stood about fifteen or sixteen feet south of the north palisade, about twenty-five feet east of the Wheat Store, about forty-two feet north of the Old Office, and about fifty feet west of the Jail. Its location is now designated as Building No. 10 on the site plan of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

The Carpenter Shop continued to be a busy and very necessary unit in the depot operation even after 1845 when many of the warehousing functions were transferred to Fort Victoria and even for a time after the Treaty of 1846, which brought troubles of many types down on the Company's Columbia activities. But the shop could not survive the impact of the California gold rush coupled with the inroads of squatters who took over most of the firm's farms. As late as Outfit 1848 there were four employees in the shop--a carpenter, a "House Carpenter,"

a "carpenter and laborer," and an apprentice carpenter. [11] Outfit 1849 started out with three carpenters, but two of them went off to California during September. [12] The next business year there were once more three carpenters on the rolls, but one served only for part of the year, and another was James Scarth, the veteran ship carpenter who was then blind or nearly blind. [13]

By the beginning of Outfit 1851 there was only one carpenter at Fort Vancouver, and he retired on November 1 of that year. [14] Thereafter the rolls, as far as they have been searched by this writer, list no carpenters at Fort Vancouver. Accounts for Outfit 1852 show that by then the Company was hiring outside help for such chores as squaring timber and "carpenters work on Mess Room," while articles such as wagons and tables were purchased. [15] It would appear that the army officers who described the "Carpenters & wheelwright shop" on June 15, 1860, as "long since abandoned by the Company--in a ruinous condition" were indeed correct. The firm's employees had moved out of the fort on the previous day, and the subsequent fate of the Carpenter Shop is not known in detail. It disappeared with the rest of the old depot structures within a few years.

Carpenters at Fort Vancouver, Outfit 1845. During the period of primary interest for this study--June 1, 1845, to May 31, 1846--the depot rolls list five men who appear to have been associated with the Carpenter Shop. They were Charles Diamare dit Baron, a carpenter who was paid L30 per annum; John Finlay, another carpenter who also received L30; Alexander Lattie, an apprentice carpenter who was paid only L8 a year; George McKenzie, a carpenter at L30 yearly; and Norman Martin (a), the fourth carpenter, who received L30 per annum. James Scarth, who was paid the relatively high wage of L50.8.0, was also listed as a carpenter for Outfit 1845, but, as rolls for other years show, he was actually a "ship carpenter" and probably worked at the boatyard near the river and not ordinarily in the Carpenter Shop. [16]

All of these men undoubtedly lived outside the pickets, and therefore their personal histories are scarcely relevant to a discussion of the physical structure and furnishings of the Carpenter Shop. Yet several of them were persons of interest whose lives throw considerable light upon social and economic conditions at the depot.

Perhaps the one whose presence may have been most reflected in the appearance and arrangement of the shop was, strangely enough, the apprentice carpenter, Alexander Lattie. He was a mere boy during Outfit 1845. On November 3, 1845, and again on March 29, 1846, his age was given as thirteen years. He was the son of Alexander Lattie, a Scotsman who had long served in the Company's marine department but who by early 1846 was stationed at Fort George, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Young Alexander's mother was Marie Catherine Sikkas, an Indian of Tillamook and Chinook descent. The father's and mother's marriage by a Catholic priest during 1845 legitimized their five children. By Outfit 1846 the boy had already served two years with the Company, and his apprenticeship was not due to terminate until 1852. [17]

John Finlay was a mature man by Outfit 1845, and at that time he had already been in the Honourable Company's employ for thirteen years. He was forty-two years old when on November 2, 1842, he abjured the "heresy of Luther" and was baptized a Roman Catholic. He was described at that time as the "son of Jean Fenlay now dead, and of a woman now dead of the nation of Sauteux." His godfather was Charles Baron. On the same day Finlay married Catherine, a Chinook Indian. She was described as "aged about 35 years" when she died at Chinook in 1849. [18]

The name of Charles Diamare dit [called] Baron was spelled in a variety of ways. Ordinarily he was called "Baron" or "Charles Baron" even in church records. He had been in the Company's service six years by Outfit 1845. He was married to Therese Tmiway, and the couple were the parents of a daughter born on April 26, 1846. [19]

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Last Updated: 10-Apr-2003