Kids of Fort Vancouver: James Sangster

A boy wearing a blue and white striped shirt.

NPS Photo / Junelle Lawry

James Sangster

James Sangster was born in 1812, and was from Port Glasgow, Scotland. When he was 15 years old, he joined the Hudson's Bay Company. He worked as a "ship's boy" on board a ship called the Eagle. Ship's boys, also known as cabin boys, were usually between the ages of 13 and 16. Their job on board the ship was to help sail the ship, to help the ship's cook, and to serve food to the higher-ranking officers.

The Eagle was a brigantine - a large sailing vessel with two masts - that the Hudson's Bay Company used to bring supplies from England to the Pacific Northwest. In London, James would have watched as trade goods like beads, blue and white ceramic dishes, medicines, and window glass were loaded on to the ship. It would take six months to travel by sea from London to Fort Vancouver - halfway around the world.

At Fort Vancouver, the crew of the Eagle would unload their cargo. The items they had brought from London would be put to use or sold at Fort Vancouver. Then, the Eagle would be loaded with furs from the Northwest to take back to London. The Eagle would also be loaded with provisions, like food and water, at the fort. The fort's bakery often supplied the ships that visited Fort Vancouver with hardtack, also known as sea biscuits. These simple biscuits made of flour, salt, and water could last a long time, making them perfect for long sea voyages.

From the age of 15 to the age of 20, James made the ocean voyage from London to Fort Vancouver five times!

As he grew older, James rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the commander of a brigantine named the Una.

Part of a series of articles titled Kids at Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: August 14, 2020