The History of Fort Vancouver and its Physical Structure
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Historical Background

History of Fort Vancouver, 1829-1846: A Brief Outline

Between 1829 and the early 1840's, the story of Fort Vancouver is largely that of its growth as the depot and headquarters of the constantly expanding Columbia Department. Except for its position as a great agricultural establishment, the importance of the post was largely dependent upon its role as the administrative and supply center for the vast Hudson's Bay Company territory west of the Rockies. The history of the fort and the history of the department, therefore, are inseparable. [1]

The Coastal Trade

As has been seen, the Company's policy in the Columbia region after 1827 was largely directed toward obtaining every benefit from the legal rights assured it as a British corporation under the "joint occupation" agreement. The two main phases of this program were an unrelenting campaign to drive the "Boston peddlers" from the coast and the creation of a "fur desert" south and east of the Columbia River region. With these two ends accomplished, the firm would be free to exhaust the southerly section of the area in dispute with the United States before the boundary was settled, and it could, as well, protect and preserve the fur resources of the rich northerly regions.

To oppose the Boston vessels, the program of building trading posts on the coast and of placing trading vessels on the coastal waters was greatly expanded. Following the founding of Fort Langley in 1827 and the reopening of Fort George in 1829, the next steps were the building of Fort Simpson, on Nass River, in 1831; Fort McLoughlin, on Millbanke Sound, in 1833; and Fort Nisqually, at the southern end of Puget Sound, in 1833. The latter post was intended chiefly as an agricultural center and a shipping point, since by using the overland route which connected it to Vancouver, the dangerous ocean voyage by way of the mouth of the Columbia could be avoided.

One of the greatest obstacles which plagued the Company in its efforts to drive the Americans from the coast was the fact that the Boston vessels were able to carry on a very profitable business supplying provisions and trade goods to the Russian American Company in Alaska. Thus, even if their ventures in the fur trade did not pay well, the Americans were nonetheless attracted to the northwestern shores.

For a number of years Governor Simpson had endeavored to induce the Russians to give the Hudson's Bay Company an exclusive contract to furnish the supplies needed in Alaska, but his efforts were not successful. But finally, in 1839, Simpson and Baron Wrangell, of the Russian American Company, signed an agreement whereby the Hudson's Bay Company obtained a ten-year lease of the narrow coastal strip of Russian territory between 54° 40' north and Cape Spencer. In return, the British firm agreed not to trade in the remaining Russian territory and also to pay an annual rent of 2,000 land otter skins. In addition, the Hudson's Bay Company contracted to sell at specified prices a certain number of additional furs and to supply quantities of agricultural products such as flour, barley, peas, butter, salted beef, and hams.

Upon his return to Fort Vancouver in October, 1839, after a visit to Europe, Chief Factor McLoughlin acted to take over the coastal strip from the Russians. Chief Factor James Douglas in 1840 occupied Fort Stikine, now the site of Wrangell, Alaska; and later in the same year he built a new fort at Taku, farther north.

As a result of a visit of Governor Simpson to the Columbia Department in 1841-1842, the number of posts on the northwest coast was somewhat reduced, the trade being conducted by shipping operating from the new depot of Fort Victoria, erected on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in 1843. Partly due to changed conditions brought about by the boundary settlement of 1846, a number of new posts were built in the coastal region in the late 1840's and early 1850's. Fort Yale, founded in 1848 at the head of navigation on the Fraser River, was the first of these establishments, and others followed in quick succession. By the time they were built, however, Fort Victoria had replaced Fort Vancouver as the depot and headquarters for the Company's territory west of the Rockies, and their story forms no part of the history of the old headquarters at Vancouver.

The Shipping

The Marine Department, the founding of which has already been discussed, was likewise expanded during the 1830's, in spite of McLoughlin's preference for trading posts rather than ships as the means of conducting the coasting trade. By 1833, five vessels had been assigned to this purpose. The most notable advance came in 1836, when the famous steamship Beaver reached Fort Vancouver under sail from England. Her engines were installed at the departmental headquarters, and her trial run and her departure upon her first sea voyage under steam were the occasions for some picturesque ceremonies. [2] With the arrival of the Beaver and the new barque Columbia in 1836, the number of vessels employed on the coast and in the annual voyages to and from London reached seven.

The Interior Fur Trade

During the 1830's the Company was singularly successful in its attempts to exclude competition from the Columbia region. During the first half of the decade three notable attempts were made to penetrate the firm's defenses by land. All three were by novices in the fur trade, and all ended in failure.

Captain B. L. E. Bonneville, an officer on leave of absence from the United States Army, crossed the Rockies with a large company of trappers organized by himself in 1832. Twice in 1834 he attempted to obtain trading goods from the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Nez Percés. He was treated well at the post, but it was made clear to him that he could expect no help from the Company in his trading operations. Unsuccessful in his hunting, he was forced to retire from the business in 1835.

Nathaniel Wyeth, a Boston ice merchant who had been fired with an enthusiasm for Oregon through the writings of Hall J. Kelley, conceived the idea of forming a trading company to operate in the Columbia region. Despatching a ship loaded with trading goods to the Columbia, he set out overland with a party of men to meet the vessel. Weakened by desertions, his company numbered only eleven men when it reached Fort Vancouver in the fall of 1832. Upon its arrival, Wyeth's party broke up; and, learning that his ship had been wrecked, he was forced to return to Boston during the next year.

Not deterred by this failure, Wyeth organized the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company. He sent another vessel to the Columbia and in 1834 once more started for Oregon, this time at the head of a larger party, well loaded with trade goods. Unable to find a market for his stock among the American trappers at Green River, he established Fort Hall on Snake River during the summer. Pressing on with a section of his company, he was again at Fort Vancouver in September, 1834.

Although he knew that Wyeth had come to establish an opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company, Dr. McLoughlin welcomed the newcomers "in his usual manner." John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist who had crossed the continent in Wyeth's party, recorded that the Doctor "requested us to consider his house as our home, provided a separate room for our use, a servant to wait on us, and furnished us with every convenience which we could possibly wish for. I shall never cease to feel grateful to him for his disinterested kindness to the poor houseless and travel-worn strangers." [3]

Wyeth's ship, the May Dacre, reached the Columbia safely, and a fort and farm were erected on Sauvie Island. But both trapping and salmon fishing turned out badly for Wyeth, and the next year he was forced to start eastward. The Hudson's Bay Company erected a new post, Fort Boisé, east of Fort Nez Percés to cut off the trade to Wyeth's Fort Hall. The Boston ice merchant was glad enough, some time later, to sell the latter establishment to the Company, by which it was maintained for a number of years.

Although the Company had ordered McLoughlin to oppose Wyeth, the Doctor had not resorted to any harsh or underhanded measures to discourage him. In fact, he had entered into an agreement with the Bostonian to divide the trade. McLoughlin knew that Wyeth's small capital and lack of experience could not cope with the task of breaking the Hudson's Bay monopoly and that the new enterprise would fail of its own accord. To the end of his days, Wyeth was grateful for the kindness shown him at Fort Vancouver, and he believed that the Company had treated him fairly.

Another arrival at Vancouver in 1834 was Hall J. Kelley, the Boston school teacher whose writings had done so much to arouse the interest of the United States in Oregon. In 1832 Kelley started for the Columbia, supposedly at the head of a large party of emigrants. But at the last moment, most of his prospective settlers failed to materialize. By the time he reached Monterey, California, after a trip through Mexico, his companions had all left him. In California, however, Kelley met Ewing Young, a trapper, and nine other persons, whom he persuaded to accompany him to Oregon as settlers. On the way north Kelley fell desperately ill of malaria and probably would not have survived the trip had it not been for the help of Michel Laframboise, an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Kelley and Young found that they were not welcome at Fort Vancouver. An accusation had been received from the governor of California that the two men had stolen horses in the southern territory. Also, McLoughlin was not disposed to receive with open arms a colonizer and a man who for years had defamed the Hudson's Bay Company. Nevertheless, Kelley was housed in the village, was given food and medical attention, and finally, was provided with a free passage to the Hawaiian Islands in a Company vessel. Kelley failed in his main purpose of establishing a sizable colony of Americans in the Columbia Department, but he did bring with him ten men, "the first to come to Oregon for the sole purpose of settling on the land and making their homes." [4]

In addition to meeting the challenge of specific competitors, the Company vigorously pushed its plan to exhaust the regions south of the Columbia. The Snake expedition under John Work in 1830-1831 traveled southward as far as Utah Lake and returned with a very poor harvest of furs. Two years later McLoughlin stated that the Snake country was "ruined." In 1835 the Governor and Committee suggested that these unprofitable hunts be abandoned; and the founding of Fort Hall by Wyeth in 1834, followed by the establishment of the Company's Fort Boisé, marked the end of the Snake trapping expeditions, although trading parties continued to operate in the region for a considerable period.

The exploitation of California was later in developing but continued for a longer period. Started under the leadership of A. R. McLeod in 1829, the fur brigades from Fort Vancouver to the Central Valley of California had by 1835 become annual events headed by Michel Laframboise. They continued until about 1843.

In the years after 1829, the number of inland posts in the Columbia Department continued to increase to accommodate the Company's expanding activities. By 1846 the posts maintained by the firm and its subsidiary, the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company, in the area south of the forty-ninth parallel included Fort Vancouver, Cowlitz, Fort George, Chinook or Pillar Rock, Cape Disappointment, Fort Umpqua, Fort Nez Percés, Fort Bois, é Hall, Fort Okanogan, Fort Colvile, Kootenai Post, Flathead Post, Champoeg, Coweeman, and Fort Nisqually.

Outposts in California and Hawaii

As has been seen, both McLoughlin and Governor Simpson had early planned to extend the trading activities of the Columbia Department southward into California. The first tentative step to open commerce by sea with the Mexican settlements was made in 1827, but the lack of shipping made it impossible to take advantage of the California market at more than spasmodic intervals during the 1830's.

As early as 1835, Governor Simpson appears to have suggested that a trading post be opened in California, but not until 1839 did the Governor and Committee recommend that attention be given to this subject. Negotiations were carried on with the California authorities during 1840 and the early part of 1841, and in the latter year property was purchased and a merchandising store was opened at San Francisco.

When Governor Simpson visited California early in 1842, however, he took a very pessimistic view of the outcome of the venture and ordered McLoughlin to close the San Francisco establishment by the end of 1843. McLoughlin resisted the decision with vigor and found excuse after excuse for delaying the closing of the post. Finally, early in 1845, he issued the required instructions, but meanwhile the suicide, in January, 1845, of William Glen Rae, the Company's manager at San Francisco and the Doctor's son-in-law, had for all practical purposes put an end to the California venture.

The brigades to California had ended about two years earlier. Thus, when Dugald Mactavish finally closed the affairs of the San Francisco store and sold the property early in 1846, California ceased to be a field of operations for the Columbia Department.

The beginnings of commerce between the Columbia and the Hawaiian Islands have already been discussed. During the earliest years of this trade the Hudson's Bay Company had entrusted its affairs in the Islands to the hands of the British consul at Honolulu. But in 1833 the firm decided to open its own agency for the Sandwich Islands, and the new establishment was placed under the jurisdiction of the Columbia Department. In 1844, however, the Council for the Northern Department, feeling that McLoughlin had "fully as many irons in the fire" as he could attend to, resolved to detach the Sandwich Island agency from the Columbia Department and place it directly under the authority of the Council and the directors in London. [5]

For a few years, therefore, the vast trading empire administered from Fort Vancouver included posts in two foreign countries. The removal of these establishments from the jurisdiction of the Columbia Department appears to have been a part of a revised program of operations inaugurated by Governor Simpson as a result of his visit to the Pacific Coast in 1841-1842, a program which was made necessary by conditions of trade and international politics and which resulted in the end of Fort Vancouver's reign as the preeminent Hudson's Bay Company post west of the Rockies.

The Puget's Sound Agricultural Company

As early as 1832, Dr. McLoughlin had conceived the idea of an independent company to conduct agricultural operations in Oregon, but no real action was taken on this plan until 1839, when the Company signed the contract with the Russian American Company, agreeing to supply quantities of agricultural products to the Russian settlements in Alaska. Some of the London directors believed it more prudent for the Hudson's Bay Company not to engage in activities outside of the main business of the fur trade, and McLoughlin's project of a separate Company was adopted as the means of fulfilling the agreement with the Russians.

McLoughlin was in London at the time the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company was formed in 1839. Legally the new firm was quite independent of the Hudson's Bay Company, but in fact it was a subsidiary corporation. Its plan of operations went far beyond the mere supplying of the Russians. The directors of the new firm envisaged a trade in farm products which would reach to many parts of the world. McLoughlin was placed in charge of the new company's affairs in the Columbia Department, but he also continued his former activities in the Hudson's Bay Company.

The Puget's Sound Agricultural Company established two large farms in the region between the upper Cowlitz River and the southern end of Puget Sound, at Cowlitz River Landing and at Fort Nisqually. Immediate management of the new establishments was entrusted to Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, with headquarters at Fort Nisqually; but the general supervision remained with Dr. McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver.

In order to get the new farms in operation, the Hudson's Bay Company transferred most of its livestock and farm implements in the Oregon country to the account of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. Although the farms at Fort Vancouver, Fort Colvile, and other posts continued to be operated on a large scale by the Hudson's Bay Company, the firm's main agricultural effort was shifted to the new subsidiary.

Advent of the Protestant Missionaries

While the Hudson's Bay Company was successful in repelling commercial rivals on the Columbia during the 1830s, it could do little about the missionaries and settlers who began to trickle into the Oregon country during the same decade. The first of the missionaries to arrive were the Methodists, the Rev. Jason Lee, the Rev. Daniel Lee, and three laymen, who came with Wyeth in 1834. In seeking a place to establish their mission, it was only natural that they should head for Fort Vancouver, the headquarters of the department and the place where they could expect to gather the greatest amount of information concerning the country.

Dr. McLoughlin made the newcomers welcome in his usual hospitable fashion. Jason Lee noted in his journal that the Doctor "seems pleased that Missionaries have come to the country and freely offers us any assistance that is in his power to render. It is his decided opinion that we should commence somewhere in this vicinity." [6]

Almost certainly as the result of McLoughlin's suggestion—the Doctor was anxious to confine American settlement to the area south of the Columbia—the Lees decided to establish their mission in the Willamette Valley. The Doctor furnished boats and other aid to speed the work, and he and other officers and men of the Company later subscribed funds to the cause.

When fifty-two persons arrived in the Lausanne in 1840 to strengthen the Methodist mission, Dr. McLoughlin afforded them all the hospitalities of Fort Vancouver. The Rev. Gustavus Hines, one of the passengers in the vessel, bore testimony to the uniform kindness extended by the Hudson's Bay Company's officers to the Methodist missionaries until their establishment broke up in 1844. "Few persons," he wrote, "whether coming by land or sea, have ever visited Vancouver without being received with a hospitality which knew no bounds, until every want of the traveller was supplied. Innumerable have been the favors conferred by them upon the American missionaries, and their assistance has been rendered at times when great inconvenience and even suffering would have resulted from neglect."

In 1835 the Rev. Samuel Parker reached the Columbia, having been sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to investigate conditions to be met in working among the Nez Percés and Flatheads. After being aided at the Company's posts on the upper Columbia, Parker headed for Vancouver, where, he later wrote, he "expected to find a hospitable people and the comforts of life." He was not disappointed. McLoughlin invited him to make the "Ty-ee House" his home for the winter. After having received free lodging and food and after having been transported by the Company without charge during a number of exploring trips in Oregon, Parker was given passage to the Hawaiian Islands in one of the firm's vessels during the next year.

Meanwhile, Dr. Marcus Whitman, with the Rev. H. H. Spalding and W. H. Gray, had set out under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to establish the institutions for which Parker had supposedly made the preliminary reconnaissances. Reaching Fort Vancouver in the fall of 1836, they received a cordial welcome and were aided in building their stations at Waiilatpu, near Walla Walla, and Lapwai, near the present Lewiston, Idaho.

Settlement of the Willamette Valley

While the establishment of the Protestant missions in the Oregon country was merely aided by help received from Fort Vancouver, the settlement of the Willamette Valley by farmers was, in effect, a direct result of the presence of the Company's headquarters on the Columbia. For a number of years—even before 1824—a small number of freemen had resided in the valley, but they had lived chiefly by trading and hunting, and the Company had made several efforts to remove them, "lest they should form the nucleus of a colony."

In the late 1820's the desire of discharged servants of the Company to remain in the country, contrary to the firm's regulations, was frequently expressed. Finally, in 1829, McLoughlin agreed, for reasons of expediency, to supply Etienne Lucier, a Company servant whose time had expired, with farming implements and to allow him to settle in the region. "From this beginning," states W. Kaye Lamb, "a settlement was to grow, and both McLoughlin and Simpson realized fully that it was both natural and inevitable that it should." [7]

By 1832 there were about eight settlers on the Willamette, all former employees of the Company. During the next year, however, McLoughlin "liberally engaged" to lend John Ball, an American who had come to Fort Vancouver with Wyeth, a plough, axe, oxen, cattle, and other articles necessary to start a farm in the valley. [8]

From that date the growth of an American population in the Willamette Valley was slow but steady. In 1838 the adult male population of the region consisted of twenty-three French-Canadians, ten members of the staff of the Methodist Mission, and eighteen additional Americans. By the time of Governor Simpson's visit in 1841, there were sixty-five Americans and sixty-one French-Canadians in the valley.

The Hudson's Bay Company realized by 1839 that the increasing American immigration threatened its position on the Columbia, and at the end of that year the directors issued instructions for the encouragement of British settlers to migrate from Red River to the region north of the Columbia. One hundred and sixteen such immigrants actually reached Fort Vancouver, but most of them soon drifted to the Willamette Valley. [9]

As early as 1841 Sir George Simpson reluctantly admitted that Great Britain had little chance of obtaining the Columbia River as a boundary line. The preponderance of the American settlers really began to make itself felt after 1842. In that year some 140 immigrants arrived from the United States. The "great immigration" of 1843 brought about 875 persons, while some 1,400 arrived in 1844 and nearly 3,000 in 1845.

Along with the population, a sentiment in favor of a local government grew in the Willamette Valley. Led by the Methodist missionaries, the American settlers sent several petitions to Congress asking that American laws be extended over Oregon. A strong effort to organize a provisional government was made by the American immigrants in 1841, but it came to naught, largely because of McLoughlin's influence over the French-Canadians and because Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, advised the Americans to take no action until the boundary was fixed.

In 1843, however, a Provisional Government was formed by the American settlers. The French-Canadians, still dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company, remained aloof from the movement until 1844, when McLoughlin withdrew his opposition. In the summer of 1845, the Doctor agreed to permit the Company's establishments to come under the jurisdiction of the Provisional Government and to pay taxes, although the allegiance to Great Britain of the Company and its officers was not prejudiced. By cooperating with the Americans, McLoughlin felt that the firm would actually gain, through having an organized machinery of government which could be employed for the collection of debts, protection from lawless elements, and the eviction of trespassers from the lands claimed by the Company.

Effect of Population Increase upon Fort Vancouver, 1840-1846

The great increase in the population of the Willamette Valley during the early 1840's had some important effects upon Fort Vancouver. Up to about 1843 the establishment was the central point in the economic life of the entire Oregon country. It was practically the only source of supplies in the region. Settlers already in the Willamette Valley could produce scarcely enough food to satisfy their own needs and to repay their debts to the Company. Therefore newly-arrived immigrants, who nearly all reached the Columbia in a destitute condition, were forced to turn to Fort Vancouver for food, as well as clothing and the equipment needed to start farms.

McLoughlin received the newcomers with kindness. He frequently loaned them farming implements, seed, and cattle. Since most of them had no money, he allowed them to make purchases on credit, a policy which brought upon him the disapproval of Governor Simpson and the directors.

While humanitarianism undoubtedly motivated the Doctor in his conduct toward the immigrants, there was also an element of self-preservation involved. The newcomers were of the type who would have raided the Company's warehouses rather than starve because they lacked ready cash to purchase food. By furnishing supplies on credit, Dr. McLoughlin believed he was saving Fort Vancouver from being looted or even being burned to the ground. Also, by lending out equipment for the founding of new farms, the Doctor was ensuring that there would be enough food to meet the needs of the next annual migration.

But by about 1843 and 1844 the focus of economic life in Oregon began to shift to the Willamette Valley, to the neighborhood of Oregon City. Americans opened retail stores which gradually attracted much of the trade away from Fort Vancouver, McLoughlin was forced to open a branch store at the falls of the Willamette to meet this competition.

Beginning in about 1845, fewer and fewer members of the yearly migrations stopped at Fort Vancouver on their way to the Willamette. The new settlements were by that time nearly self-sufficient and could supply the wants of the newcomers. And after the Barlow Road was opened in 1846, Fort Vancouver was no longer on the main route of travel from the Missouri frontier to the chief area of settlement.

Troubles with Squatters

Another result of the increased population was to bring encroachments upon the Company's lands at Fort Vancouver and elsewhere. The best farming lands in the Willamette Valley were quickly taken up by the earliest arrivals, and later settlers were forced into the marginal areas or into the more distant sections. It was little wonder that they looked with envious eyes upon the fertile fields at Fort Vancouver. And it was very easy for them to reach the conclusion that the Oregon country by right belonged to the United States and that, therefore, no foreign corporation was entitled to occupy extensive tracts of the best lands in the territory.

In June, 1844, the Oregon Provisional Government passed an act which provided that every settler should, subject to certain conditions, be entitled to the possession of 640 acres of land. Dr. McLoughlin was quick to see that this measure provided machinery whereby adverse claimants could contest the Company's claims, but he hit upon a scheme by which he hoped to utilize the act to strengthen the rights of the Company. During 1845 he laid out nine lots, each one mile square, in the neighborhood of Fort Vancouver and had them registered in the names of nine officers and employees of the Company. After the Treaty of 1846 made it clear that the "possessory rights" of the firm were to be respected, these individual claims were with drawn in favor of the Hudson's Bay Company. [10]

Despite McLoughlin's precautions, settlers soon attempted to establish claims upon the lands occupied by the Company at Vancouver. The best known of these squatters was Henry Williamson, who first posted notice of a claim near the fort in February, 1845. The officers of the Hudson's Bay Company repeatedly ejected him from the land and even lodged a complaint with the Provisional Government, but Williamson maintained at least a show of occupation until several years later, when his representative was killed by another settler-claimant.

Administration of the Columbia Department, 1838-1841

In the spring of 1838, John McLoughlin left the Columbia to begin a long delayed furlough in Europe. During his absence the Columbia Department was divided into three jurisdictions. Chief Factor Peter Skene Ogden remained in charge of New Caledonia; Chief Factor Samuel Black was placed in control of the posts on the upper Columbia; and Chief Trader James Douglas was given the supervision of Fort Vancouver, the lower Columbia, the coastal trade, the shipping, and the expeditions.

When in London, McLoughlin conferred with the directors of the Company and evidently made a very favorable impression upon them. The lease of the Alaska "panhandle" from the Russians and the consequent formation of the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company had enlarged the Columbia Department and greatly increased the responsibilities of its director. At a meeting held on February 27, 1839, the Governor and Committee decided that McLoughlin was the man best fitted to assume this added burden, and they appointed the Doctor "to the principal superintendence or management of the Columbia District" at a salary of £500 per year in addition to his compensation as a chief factor. [11] He returned to Fort Vancouver and once more took up the direction of the Columbia Department in October of that same year.

Dispute Between McLoughlin and Simpson

In August, 1841, Sir George Simpson reached Fort Vancouver on his first visit to the Columbia since 1829. As far as is known, relations between the Governor and McLoughlin were cordial and friendly during the first part of Simpson's stay. But early in September, the Governor left for a tour of inspection of the Company's posts on the Northwest Coast. Upon his return late in October, he informed the Doctor that a complete reorganization of the coastal trade should be made. He believed that the agreement with the Russians had changed the character of the business, that American vessels would no longer come to the coast, and that operations would consist chiefly of periodic collections of furs from the Indians. The Governor proposed, therefore, to abandon all the northern coast establishments except Fort Simpson and to carry on most of the trade by means of the steamer Beaver.

Against this plan McLoughlin protested vigorously. He had an intense prejudice against the Beaver and believed that forts could serve the ends of the trade more satisfactorily and at less expense than vessels. The matter came to a climax at a meeting held between the two men at Honolulu in February and March, 1842. After a series of bitter debates, Simpson felt it necessary to order McLoughlin directly to abandon Taku and Fort McLoughlin in 1843 and to build a new depot on Vancouver Island. The quarrel over this matter caused a rift between the two men which was never mended. All personal correspondence between them ceased, and additional differences were to widen the breach still further.

The next, and most grievous, quarrel was not long in coming. Before going to Siberia on his way around the world, Simpson paid another visit to some of the Company's northern posts. Reaching Stikine on April 25, 1842, he found that on the night of April 20, John McLoughlin, jr., son of the Doctor and in charge of the post, had been killed by one of his own men. Simpson made a rather superficial inquiry into the affair and accepted the story told by the employees that young McLoughlin had been leading a life of drunkenness and profligacy and by his violent and cruel treatment of his associates had brought his death upon himself. Simpson turned the murderer over to the Russian authorities for investigation and was disposed to let the matter drop there, feeling that further action would only succeed in bringing unfavorable publicity upon the McLoughlin family and the Company.

Doctor McLoughlin, however, was not willing to let the matter rest. After a long and thorough investigation he was able to show that the charges against his son were largely false and that the murder was a premeditated crime. He went even further, saying that by leaving the younger McLoughlin in charge of Stikine without competent assistants, Governor Simpson had brought on the crime and was thus responsible for it. The Doctor also rounded up all of the men involved in the affair and insisted that they be brought to trial. Aware of the legal difficulties involved, the Company refused to accede to this demand, and in the end even the chief culprits escaped without trial.

The affair of his son's murder occupied much of the Doctor's time for about four years, and references to it filled his dispatches to the Company. His stubborn insistence upon his extreme view at last made it necessary for the directors to support Simpson, and the Doctor was ordered to compose his differences with the Governor. When he refused to obey and continued to harp upon the same unceasing theme in his reports, the directors decided that a change in the management of the Columbia Department would be necessary.

McLoughlin Removed as Superintendent of Columbia Department

In addition to the quarrel between McLoughlin and Simpson, there were other factors which made the Governor and Committee dissatisfied with the Doctor's direction of affairs west of the Rockies. Chief among them was a decline in revenue from the Columbia Department. McLoughlin's delay in closing out the California post, his large credit advances to American settlers, his expenditures at the falls of the Willamette, and disappointing financial returns from the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company were all in the minds of the directors in the fall of 1844, when it was determined to relieve the Doctor of the exclusive superintendency of the Columbia Department and to end his salary of £500.

In conformity with this resolve, the Council of the Northern Department, at its meeting in June, 1845, appointed a Board of Management of three members to assume control of the Company's affairs west of the Rockies. For Outfit 1845 this Board was to consist of McLoughlin, James Douglas, and Peter Skene Ogden.

Resignation of McLoughlin

Not content with relieving McLoughlin from his commanding position on the Columbia, Governor Simpson took advantage of a rather singular circumstance to make certain that the troublesome Doctor would remove himself from the Company's affairs. As has already been discussed, the Hudson's Bay Company had determined to occupy a tract of land at the falls of the Willamette as early as 1828, and shortly thereafter preparations had been made to construct a mill there. Although the mill was not built for a number of years, the claim was kept alive.

But as the American population continued to grow, other settlers cast longing eyes at this valuable location. McLoughlin soon realized that as a foreign corporation, the Hudson's Bay Company had very little chance of holding the claim in its own name. Therefore he announced publicly that the claim was in his own behalf, but he maintained in private that it was held for the benefit of the Company. In 1843 he constructed a sawmill at the falls in his own name, using machinery which belonged to the Company.

The Hudson's Bay Company, however, did not approve of the expenditures made in McLoughlin's name at the falls of the Willamette and charged them to McLoughlin's account. Meanwhile, convinced that the only way to retain possession of the property was to be able to swear that it was actually his, McLoughlin sent Governor Simpson drafts to cover the costs of the improvements at the falls.

On June 15, 1845, Simpson informed the Doctor that his offer had been accepted and that the Company relinquished all rights to the claim and the mills. At the time he accepted the drafts, the Governor knew, and the Doctor did not, that the special superintendency of the Columbia had been ended and that McLoughlin had been ordered to return east of the Rockies at an early date. Since Simpson knew that the ownership of the mills would require McLoughlin's personal attention and would thus make it impossible for him to obey the order to leave the Columbia, he also knew that the acceptance of the drafts would actually force McLoughlin's retirement from the Company.

The effect of the action was as had been anticipated. McLoughlin went on furlough in 1846 and never returned to active duty with the firm.

After McLoughlin left Fort Vancouver for Oregon City in January, 1846, Chief Factors Peter Skene Ogden and James Douglas took over the management of the department and of Fort Vancouver. Ogden, being the senior chief factor, was technically in charge of the fort; but his duties kept him much in the field, and Douglas handled most of the detailed work at Vancouver, as, in fact, he had done for a number of years before McLoughlin's retirement. [12]

Removal of Depot to Fort Victoria

The old proposal to locate the departmental depot on the Northwest Coast reappeared about 1834. Because of the fever epidemics which had swept the lower Columbia Valley after 1829, the Governor and Committee believed that the site at Vancouver was unhealthful, and they also desired to have the depot nearer the center of the coastal trade. In 1835 both Governor Simpson and the directors instructed McLoughlin to take action toward that end, but the Doctor failed to do so. Rather, he replied that the move would be merely "incurring the expense of an additional Establishment to no purpose," since Fort Vancouver was the only suitable supply center for the vast interior area. [13]

Two years later McLoughlin again put off the matter by declaring that no suitable site had been discovered. But in the spring of 1838, Chief Trader James Douglas, in charge of Fort Vancouver during McLoughlin's absence on furlough, reported to Simpson that a good location for the new depot had been found by Captain W. H. McNeill while exploring the southern end of Vancouver Island in the Beaver. McLoughlin visited the site in 1839 but dismissed it as "not a place suitable to our purpose." [14] Meanwhile, the Governor and Committee decided to delay action on the matter of a new depot until Governor Simpson could visit the region in person and choose the location for the proposed establishment.

Sir George Simpson reached the Columbia during the summer of 1841, and his observations only confirmed his earlier belief that the depot should be shifted from Fort Vancouver. The delays and dangers encountered in crossing the bar at the mouth of the Columbia, he told the Governor and Committee, recalled his attention "very forcibly to the importance of a depot being formed for such portion of the Company's business, as is more immediately connected with the Foreign Trade and Shipping department, on some eligible part of the coast instead of continuing Fort Vancouver as the great centre of the business of the west side of the Continent." [15]

Simpson had also come to the belief that Fort Vancouver was too near the American settlements in the Willamette Valley, and he feared that the depot might be attacked and plundered. In addition, he realized by 1841 that the boundary line between British territory and the United States in the Oregon country might be north of the Columbia River. He therefore decided that a new post should be built on the southern end of Vancouver Island and that it should gradually become the headquarters for the Columbia Department. On March 1, 1842, he issued specific orders to McLoughlin to construct the new depot.

In spite of his violent objections to the proposed new headquarters, the Doctor had no choice but to obey. In the summer of 1842 he sent James Douglas to reexamine Vancouver Island and to select the exact location for the post. Douglas chose a site on the present Victoria Harbour, and in 1843 he commenced the construction of the new establishment. Still fighting to keep the depot at Vancouver, McLoughlin instructed Douglas to build only a small fort, about seventy yards square; but Douglas was convinced that the new post must eventually become a center of widespread operations, and on his own responsibility he commenced a stockade of considerably greater dimensions. Named Fort Victoria by order of the Council of the Northern Department in 1843, the new post quickly grew in importance.

The arrival of the "great immigration" of 1843 and the organization of the Oregon Provisional Government made it clear that the Company could not hope to maintain its position of dominance on the Columbia and that the area would fall to the United States. 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 Vancouver to discharge the supplies for the Columbia and the inland posts. [16]

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. [17]

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 be sent there as soon as a vessel was available. [18]

The Oregon Treaty of 1846

According to one eminent historian, the removal of the depot to Fort Victoria in 1845 made it possible for Great Britain during the next year to propose the forty-ninth parallel as an international boundary dividing the Oregon country, since the action demonstrated that the Columbia River was not so essential to the trade of the Hudson's Bay Company as the firm had previously maintained. There is probably some substance to this theory, although it has been disputed. Undoubtedly even more important in influencing the British to make the offer was the fact that the British government did not believe the area between the forty-ninth parallel and the Columbia was worth fighting for and that the English people "knew nothing and cared less about Oregon." [19]

In addition to fixing the boundary, the treaty—concluded on June 15, 1846—contained several clauses of great importance to the Hudson's Bay Company. The "possessory rights" of the Company and other British subjects who already occupied land or other lawful property in the area south of the forty-ninth parallel were to be respected. The farms, lands, and "other property of every description" belonging to the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company were to be confirmed. And the Company and other British subjects trading with the firm were to have the same right to the free navigation of the Columbia River to the ocean as was possessed by American citizens. The Hudson's Bay Company and its subsidiary, the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company, made a great show of being disappointed in the Oregon Treaty, complaining that they would be forced to abandon their seventeen establishments which fell within the boundaries of the United States and that they would lose all their trade. Actually, as letters show, they felt that they had come off better than they had reason to expect. [20]

Upon orders of Governor Simpson, who was already looking ahead to the time when the Company could sell its property south of the boundary line to the United States, the firm's officers on the Columbia made an inventory late in 1846 and early in 1847 of the property of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. The land claimed at Fort Vancouver amounted to 8,960 acres, of which 1,419-1/2 were under cultivation. [21] The extent of the land claimed at Vancouver was later considerably increased.

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Last Updated: 18-Feb-2008