Person

Naukane (John Coxe)

Drawing of Old Cox.
Artist Paul Kane painted this portrait of John Cox at Fort Vancouver in 1847.

With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM collections.rom.on.ca

Quick Facts

Naukane, also known as John Cox (or Coxe), was one of many Hawaiians who came to the Pacific Northwest to work in the fur trade. With his royal background and his extensive travels between the Hawaiian Islands, the Pacific Northwest, eastern Canada, and England, Cox's story is exceptional in many ways. But his final journey to Fort Vancouver was echoed by many of his countrymen, who also found a life that suited them in the fur trade. For nearly three decades, John Cox was a fixture at the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Vancouver, where his story is still told today.

Naukane was likely born on the island of Hawai'i, and was a high-ranking member of Hawai'i's royal family. As a child of about twelve years old, he witnessed the death of famed British explorer Captain James Cook at Kealakekua Bay in 1779.

In February 1811, the Pacific Fur Company's ship Tonquin also arrived in Kealakekua Bay. The Pacific Fur Company (PFC) was an American fur trade enterprise owned by businessman John Jacob Astor. When it arrived to resupply in Hawai'i, the Tonquin was en route from New York City to the mouth of the Columbia River, where the PFC intended to establish a fur trading post.

From Kealakekua Bay, the Tonquin proceeded to Waikiki, where the ship's officers met with Kamehameha I, King of the Hawaiian Islands. In the course of their visit, the king contracted a group of twelve Hawaiian laborers to go to the Northwest with the PFC on board Tonquin. Naukane was appointed a "royal observer," in charge of overseeing these laborers. On the journey to the Northwest, Naukane was given the name "John Cox," because he resembled another PFC crew member of the same name.

In the spring of 1811, the Tonquin arrived on the Northwest coast, and its crew set to constructing Fort Astoria, which was intended to be the PFC's primary trading post. The Hawaiian members of the expedition were charged with tending to the fort's three pigs and maintaining a garden. Fur trader Alexander Ross described Cox during this time as "a bold and trustworthy fellow." In July, Fort Astoria received a visitor: a small party led by British-Canadian mapmaker and surveyor David Thompson, employed by the Canada-based North West Company. Thompson rested at Fort Astoria for a week, and came to regard Cox as "a prodigy of wit and humour." When Thompson departed, Cox went with him, severing his contract with the PFC and embarking on a cross-continent journey.

With David Thompson's party, Cox traveled by canoe and portage to Fort William, the North West Company's supply depot near Lake Superior, arriving in July 1812. There, they received news that the United States and Great Britain had declared war against each other, and the War of 1812 had begun. To aid in the war against the Americans, the North West Company decided to forcibly seize Fort Astoria; a party, which included Cox, due to his experience crossing the treacherous Columbia River bar, was sent to England with the mission to outfit a ship and return to Astoria.

After a brief sojourn in England, during which he was nearly shanghaied in Portsmouth, Cox returned to Astoria in 1813, aboard the HMS Racoon. However, by that time the peaceful surrender and transfer of Fort Astoria from the Pacific Fur Company to the North West Company had been negotiated, and the fort, now under British control, was renamed "Fort George." Cox remained at Fort George until 1814, when he returned to Hawai'i.

Back in Hawai'i, Naukane joined the court of Prince 'Iolani Liholiho, who succeeded Kamehameha I in 1819 and became King Kamehameha II. In 1823, Kamehameha II and other high ranking members of the court, including Naukane, traveled to England, arriving there in May, 1824. For nearly a month, the court was received in London, and toured the city. But by late June, many members, including the king, had contracted measles. On July 8, the Queen consort, Kamamalu, died. Days later, on July 14, Kamehameha II died. The bodies were returned to Hawai'i for burial, but Naukane and others in the traveling party who did not contract measles were regarded with suspicion. Concerns about misspent funds from the late king's treasury also increased tensions, and it is speculated that Naukane returned to his life in the North American fur trade - and his identity as John Cox - to escape this scrutiny.

In 1821, Cox's former employer, the North West Company, merged with the Hudson's Bay Company. Thus, when Cox resumed his career in the fur trade, it was as an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). From 1824 until 1842, Cox worked as a middleman at Fort George and Fort Vancouver. The term "middleman" was a boating term that was also used in a broader sense to describe general laborers at fur trade posts. During this time, Cox may have served in boats traveling the Columbia River and other regional waterways, but he likely also performed other types of manual labor.

In October 1825, Cox was implicated in a possible theft of beaver skins and blankets aboard the ship William and Ann at Fort George, said to have been perpetrated by some of the fort's Hawaiian employees. Cox was accused of giving blankets to his wife (probably an Indigenous woman he had married since his return to the Northwest). Some of the accused admitted they had taken blankets for the Native women they were living with or married to, but Cox maintained his innocence.

A unique aspect of Cox's service in the fur trade is his work as Fort Vancouver's swineherd. He is recorded in this position in the years 1826-1835 and 1842-1843, concurrently with being recorded as a middleman. Fort Vancouver's Chief Factor Dr. John McLoughlin had received orders from his superiors to establish a farm that could provide provisions to the HBC's network of forts in the region, as well as enough beef and pork for ships leaving the fort to return to England. McLoughlin was dedicated to the creation of a highly productive and efficient farm surrounding the post.

Early on, establishing a herd of pigs at the fort was difficult; many were killed as a result of eating "poisonous weeds." In 1836, McLoughlin wrote to the Company's directors in London, "There is a weed on our plains, which poisons a great number of our Pigs but it will get extirpated." By 1844, the farm was a success; the herd that Cox was responsible for included 727 pigs. Cox was not the only Hawaiian who was in charge of this important task at Fort Vancouver - he was joined by fellow Hawaiians Orohuay (recorded as a pigherd 1832-1837) and Towai (recorded as a pigherd 1833-1845). Cox, Orohuay, and Towai grazed the fort's pigs on the plain between the fort and the Columbia River, an area that became known as "Coxe's Plain."

In his later years, Cox was remembered by Fort Vancouver's residents and visitors as a great storyteller, who was especially fond of recounting his memories of Captain Cook's death. In 1845, he was joined at Fort Vancouver by his younger relative (perhaps a son or nephew) William Naukana, who went on to have a long career at the HBC's posts in Canada and San Juan Island. In 1847, traveling artist Paul Kane visited Fort Vancouver and painted Cox. This portrait is now in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum.

On February 2, 1850, Naukane, or John Cox, died at Fort Vancouver at the approximate age of 83. Thomas Lowe, a clerk at the fort, wrote in his journal the next day: "Old Cox, a Sandwich Islander [Hawaiian] who has been a long time in this Country in the Company's employ, died here yesterday afternoon. He was in England and Canada, and was about 12 years old when Captain Cook was killed at Owhyhee [Hawai'i]."

Today, John Cox's story is told through exhibits and public programs at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Local Hawaiian artist Amy Kapuanani Antonio-Claussen has also used Cox's story as inspiration for her artwork, which has been featured at the site in a temporary exhibit from 2017 to 2018, and in prints and postcards available for sale in the Friends of Fort Vancouver bookstore. Learn more about how the stories of Hawaiians at Fort Vancouver influence her artwork here.

Visitors to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site today can walk in the footsteps of John Cox on the Land Bridge Trail, which leads from East Fifth Street, near the reconstructed Fort Vancouver, through the site of the fort's employee Village, where Cox lived, and provides sweeping views of the area - now covered by an airfield, a freeway, and a railroad berm - that was once "Coxe's Plain."

Bibliography


Barman, Jean & McIntyre Watson, Bruce. (2006). Leaving Paradise: Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest, 1787-1898. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press.

Franchère, Gabriel. (1854). Narrative of a voyage to the northwest coast of America in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814, or, The first American settlement of the Pacific. New York, NY: Redfield. Accessed online here.

Koppel, Tom. (1995). Kanaka: The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, BC: Whitecap Books, Ltd.

Lowe, Thomas. Journals kept at Fort Vancouver - 1843-1850. E/A/L95 Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.

McDonald, Archibald. (2001). This Blessed Wilderness: Archibald McDonald's Letters from the Columbia, 1822-44. Jean Murray Cole (Ed.). Kelowna, BC: UBC Press.

McIntyre Watson, Bruce. (2010). Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858. Kelowna, BC: The Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice, the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
 

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Last updated: February 28, 2020