Spain insisted throughout the years of discovery and exploration in the Pacific that she possessed sovereign rights over all lands washed by the waters of this great sea, but these broad claims were ignored by the other nations. The original American colonies had no sooner won their independence from the mother country when England became entangled with Spain over the possession of certain lands in the newly opened Northwest. War threatened between these nations for a time, but finally Spain yielded and England was enriched in power and lands by a diplomatic solution of the trouble in 1795.
During the negotiations between Spain and England which preceded their solution, an American sea captain, Captain Robert Gray, of Boston, sailed, explored and traded along the northwest coast and made important discoveries which were to figure in the final solution of national sovereignty in the northwest between England and the United States of America. In his ship "Columbia" while on his second voyage to the Northwest in 1788, Captain Gray, on May 11th of that year, sailed over the bar near the mouth of a great river and entered the stream which he subsequently named after his ship. Thus was the Columbia River discovered and named. Capt. Gray also discovered the harbor which we know today as Gray's Harbor on this same voyage.
All things preceded actual contact with "The Mountain" by white men. Yet while not directly associated with Mt. Rainier National Park, they had an important bearing upon its history. It will be noted that while Spanish, English, Russian, American and even French (these voyages have not been mentioned in this account, due to the relative unimportance) mariners sailed along the coast of Washington and into the Straits of Juan de Fuca, no white man had yet reported a sight of Mount Rainier.
The first record of a white man seeing this great volcano is found in the log of Captain George Vancouver, of the Royal English Navy, under the date of May 8, 1792. This English captain was on a voyage of exploration and discovery for his government, and he commanded two ships; the "Discovery" and the "Chatham," which sailed through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and into the waters of what we now know as Puget Sound. Early in May the two vessels lay at anchor off the shore near the present city of Port Townsend, and on May 8, 1792, Vancouver recorded in his diary the following:
Vancouver sailed south, established his headquarters, and then directed the exploration of the entire sound area in small boats. Many geographical features in this vicinity were named by Vancouver at this time. Puget Sound was named for Peter Puget who explored and charted the lower sound area below the present city of Tacoma; Vashon Island was named for Captain Vashon; Port Orchard was named after the clerk of the Discovery who led a minor expedition to that point. Joseph Whidby, one of Vancouver's officers who explored the narrow passage east of the island of that name, was also honored by Vancouver in like manner and Bellingham Bay was named so after Sir William Bellingham of the English Navy. These names and many others are the result of the voyage of Capt. George Vancouver to the Northwest in 1792.
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