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To Supply the Russian Fur Establishment
Comprehensive Views.—To Supply the Russian Fur
Establishment.—An Agent Sent to Russia.—Project of an Annual
Ship.—The Beaver Fitted Out.—Her Equipment and Crew.—Instructions to
the Captain.—The Sandwich Islands.—Rumors of the Fate of the Tonquin.—Precautions
on Reaching the Mouth of the Columbia.
HAVING traced the fortunes of the two expeditions by
sea and land to the mouth of the Columbia, and presented a view of
affairs at Astoria, we will return for a moment to the master spirit
of the enterprise, who regulated the springs of Astoria, at his
residence in New York.
It will be remembered, that a part of the plan of Mr. Astor was to
furnish the Russian fur establishment on the northwest coast with
regular supplies, so as to render it independent of those casual
vessels which cut up the trade and supplied the natives with arms.
This plan had been countenanced by our own government, and likewise
by Count Pahlen, the Russian minister at Washington. As its views,
however, were important and extensive, and might eventually affect a
wide course of commerce, Mr Astor was desirous of establishing a
complete arrangement on the subject with the Russian American Fur
Company, under the sanction of the Russian government. For this
purpose, in March 1811, he despatched a confidential agent to St.
Petersburg, full empowered to enter into the requisite negotiations.
A passage was given to this gentleman by the government of the
United States in the John Adams, an armed vessel, bound for Europe.
The next step of Mr. Astor was, to despatch the annual ship
contemplated on his general plan. He had as yet heard nothing of the
success of the previous expeditions, and had to proceed upon the
presumption that everything had been effected according to his
instructions. He accordingly fitted out a fine ship of four hundred
and ninety tons, called the Beaver, and freighted her with a
valuable cargo destined for the factory at the mouth of the
Columbia, the trade along the coast, and the supply of the Russian
establishment. In this ship embarked a reinforcement, consisting of
a partner, five clerks, fifteen American laborers, and six Canadian
voyageurs. In choosing his agents for his first expedition, Mr.
Astor had been obliged to have recourse to British subjects
experienced in the Canadian fur trade; henceforth it was his
intention, as much as possible, to select Americans, so as to secure
an ascendency of American influence in the management of the
company, and to make it decidedly national.
Accordingly, Mr. John Clarke, the partner who took the lead in the
present expedition, was a native of the United States, though he had
passed much of his life in the northwest, having been employed in
the trade since the age of sixteen. Most of the clerks were young
gentlemen of good connections in the American cities, some of whom
embarked in the hope of gain, others through the mere spirit of
adventure incident to youth.
The instructions given by Mr. Astor to Captain Sowle, the commander
of the Beaver, were, in some respects, hypothetical, in consequence
of the uncertainty resting upon the previous steps of the
He was to touch at the Sandwich Islands, inquire about the fortunes
of the Tonquin, and whether an establishment had been formed at the
mouth of the Columbia. If so, he was to take as many Sandwich
Islanders as his ship could accommodate, and proceed thither. On
arriving at the river, he was to observe great caution, for even if
an establishment should have been formed, it might have fallen into
hostile hands. He was, therefore, to put in as if by casualty or
distress, to give himself out as a coasting trader, and to say
nothing about his ship being owned by Mr. Astor, until he had
ascertained that everything was right. In that case, he was to land
such part of his cargo as was intended for the establishment, and to
proceed to New Archangel with the supplies intended for the Russian
post at that place, where he could receive peltries in payment. With
these he was to return to Astoria; take in the furs collected there,
and, having completed his cargo by trading along the coast, was to
proceed to Canton. The captain received the same injunctions that
had been given to Captain Thorn of the Tonquin, of great caution and
circumspection in his intercourse with the natives, and that he
should not permit more than one or two to be on board at a time.
The Beaver sailed from New York on the 10th of October, 1811, and
reached the Sandwich Islands without any occurrence of moment. Here
a rumor was heard of the disastrous fate of the Tonquin. Deep
solicitude was felt by every one on board for the fate of both
expeditions, by sea and land. Doubts were entertained whether any
establishment had been formed at the mouth of the Columbia, or
whether any of the company would be found there. After much
deliberation, the Captain took twelve Sandwich Islanders on board,
for the service of the factory, should there be one in existence,
and proceeded on his voyage.
On the 6th of May, he arrived off the mouth of the Columbia and
running as near as possible, fired two signal guns. No answer was
returned, nor was there any signal to be descried. Nigh coming on,
the ship stood out to sea, and every heart drooped as the land faded
away. On the following morning they again ran in within four miles
of shore, and fired other signal guns, but still without reply. A
boat was then despatched, to sound the channel, and attempt an
entrance; but returned without success there being a tremendous
swell, and breakers. Signal guns were fired again in the evening,
but equally in vain, and once more the ship stood off to sea for the
night. The captain now gave up all hope of finding any establishment
at the place, and indulged in the most gloomy apprehensions. He
feared his predecessor had been massacred before they had reached
their place of destination; or if they should have erected a
factory, that it had been surprised and destroyed by the natives.
In this moment of doubt and uncertainty, Mr. Clarke announced his
determination, in case of the worst, to found an establishment with
the present party, and all hands bravely engaged to stand by him in
the undertaking. The next morning the ship stood in for the third
time, and fired three signal guns, but with little hope of reply. To
the great joy of the crew, three distinct guns were heard in answer.
The apprehensions of all but Captain Sowle were now at rest. That
cautious commander recollected the instructions given him by Mr.
Astor, and determined to proceed with great circumspection. He was
well aware of Indian treachery and cunning. It was not impossible,
he observed, that these cannon might have been fired by the savages
themselves. They might have surprised the fort, massacred its
inmates; and these signal guns might only be decoys to lure him
across the bar, that they might have a chance of cutting him off,
and seizing his vessel.
At length a white flag was descried hoisted as a signal on Cape
Disappointment. The passengers pointed to it in triumph, but the
captain did not yet dismiss his doubts. A beacon fire blazed through
the night on the same place, but the captain observed that all these
signals might be treacherous.
On the following morning, May 9th, the vessel came to anchor off
Cape Disappointment, outside of the bar. Towards noon an Indian
canoe was seen making for the ship and all hands were ordered to be
on the alert. A few moments afterwards, a barge was perceived
following the canoe. The hopes and fears of those on board of the
ship were in tumultuous agitation, as the boat drew nigh that was to
let them know the fortunes of the enterprise, and the fate of their
predecessors. The captain, who was haunted with the idea of possible
treachery, did not suffer his curiosity to get the better of his
caution, but ordered a party of his men under arms, to receive the
visitors. The canoe came first alongside, in which were Comcomly and
six Indians; in the barge were M'Dougal, M'Lellan, and eight
Canadians. A little conversation with these gentlemen dispelled all
the captain's fears, and the Beaver crossing the bar under their
pilotage, anchored safely in Baker's Bay.
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Astoria; Or Anecdotes Of An Enterprise Beyond The