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Affairs of State at Astoria
Affairs of State at Astoria.—M'Dougal Proposes for
the Hand of An Indian Princess—Matrimonial Embassy to Comcomly.—
Matrimonial Notions Among the Chinooks.—Settlements and
Pin-Money.—The Bringing Home of the Bride.—A Managing
Father-in-Law.—Arrival of Mr. Hunt at Astoria.
WE have hitherto had so much to relate of a gloomy
and disastrous nature, that it is with a feeling of momentary relief
we turn to something of a more pleasing complexion, and record the
first, and indeed only nuptials in high life that took place in the
infant settlement of Astoria.
M'Dougal, who appears to have been a man of a thousand projects, and
of great, though somewhat irregular ambition, suddenly conceived the
idea of seeking the hand of one of the native princesses, a daughter
of the one-eyed potentate Comcomly, who held sway over the fishing
tribe of the Chinooks, and had long supplied the factory with smelts
Some accounts give rather a romantic origin to this affair, tracing
it to the stormy night when M'Dougal, in the course of an exploring
expedition, was driven by stress of weather to seek shelter in the
royal abode of Comcomly. Then and there he was first struck with the
charms of the piscatory princess, as she exerted herself to
entertain her father's guest.
The "journal of Astoria," however, which was kept under his own eye,
records this union as a high state alliance, and great stroke of
policy. The factory had to depend, in a great measure, on the
Chinooks for provisions. They were at present friendly, but it was
to be feared they would prove otherwise, should they discover the
weakness and the exigencies of the post, and the intention to leave
the country. This alliance, therefore, would infallibly rivet
Comcomly to the interests of the Astorians, and with him the
powerful tribe of the Chinooks. Be this as it may, and it is hard to
fathom the real policy of governors and princes, M'Dougal despatched
two of the clerks as ambassadors extraordinary, to wait upon the
one-eyed chieftain, and make overtures for the hand of his daughter.
The Chinooks, though not a very refined nation, have notions of
matrimonial arrangements that would not disgrace the most refined
sticklers for settlements and pin-money. The suitor repairs not to
the bower of his mistress, but to her father's lodge, and throws
down a present at his feet. His wishes are then disclosed by some
discreet friend employed by him for the purpose. If the suitor and
his present find favor in the eyes of the father, he breaks the
matter to his daughter, and inquires into the state of her
inclinations. Should her answer be favorable, the suit is accepted
and the lover has to make further presents to the father, of horses,
canoes, and other valuables, according to the beauty and merits of
the bride; looking forward to a return in kind whenever they shall
go to housekeeping.
We have more than once had occasion to speak of the shrewdness, of
Comcomly; but never was it exerted more adroitly than on this
occasion. He was a great friend of M'Dougal, and pleased with the
idea of having so distinguished a son-in-law; but so favorable an
opportunity of benefiting his own fortune was not likely to occur a
second time, and he determined to make the most of it. Accordingly,
the negotiation was protracted with true diplomatic skill.
Conference after conference was held with the two ambassadors.
Comcomly was extravagant in his terms; rating the charms of his
daughter at the highest price, and indeed she is represented as
having one of the flattest and most aristocratical heads in the
tribe. At length the preliminaries were all happily adjusted. On the
20th of July, early in the afternoon, a squadron of canoes crossed
over from the village of the Chinooks, bearing the royal family of
Comcomly, and all his court.
That worthy sachem landed in princely state, arrayed in a bright
blue blanket and red breech clout, with an extra quantity of paint
and feathers, attended by a train of half-naked warriors and nobles.
A horse was in waiting to receive the princess, who was mounted
behind one of the clerks, and thus conveyed, coy but compliant, to
the fortress. Here she was received with devout, though decent joy,
by her expecting bridegroom.
Her bridal adornments, it is true, at first caused some little
dismay, having painted and anointed herself for the occasion
according to the Chinook toilet; by dint, however, of copious
ablutions, she was freed from all adventitious tint and fragrance,
and entered into the nuptial state, the cleanest princess that had
ever been known, of the somewhat unctuous tribe of the Chinooks.
From that time forward, Comcomly was a daily visitor at the fort,
and was admitted into the most intimate councils of his son-in-law.
He took an interest in everything that was going forward, but was
particularly frequent in his visits to the blacksmith's shop;
tasking the labors of the artificer in iron for every state,
insomuch that the necessary business of the factory was often
postponed to attend to his requisitions.
The honey-moon had scarce passed away, and M'Dougal was seated with
his bride in the fortress of Astoria, when, about noon of the 20th
of August, Gassacop, the son of Comcomly, hurried into his presence
with great agitation, and announced a ship at the mouth of the
river. The news produced a vast sensation. Was it a ship of peace or
war? Was it American or British? Was it the Beaver or the Isaac
Todd? M'Dougal hurried to the waterside, threw himself into a boat,
and ordered the hands to pull with all speed for the mouth of the
harbor. Those in the fort remained watching the entrance of the
river, anxious to know whether they were to prepare for greeting a
friend or fighting an enemy. At length the ship was descried
crossing the bar, and bending her course towards Astoria. Every gaze
was fixed upon her in silent scrutiny, until the American flag was
recognized. A general shout was the first expression of joy, and
next a salutation was thundered from the cannon of the fort.
The vessel came to anchor on the opposite side of the river, and
returned the salute. The boat of Mr. M'Dougal went on board, and was
seen returning late in the afternoon. The Astorians watched her with
straining eyes, to discover who were on board, but the sun went
down, and the evening closed in, before she was sufficiently near.
At length she reached the land, and Mr. Hunt stepped on shore. He
was hailed as one risen from the dead, and his return was a signal
for merriment almost equal to that which prevailed at the nuptials
We must now explain the cause of this gentleman's long absence,
which had given rise to such gloomy and dispiriting surmises.
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Astoria; Or Anecdotes Of An Enterprise Beyond The