As I was looking at my notes about the 19th century, I realized I’d come across the problem of length. I try to maintain my posts in “bite size” chunks. So, after consideration, I decided to choose one battle instead of wars in this continuance of “Not Cowboys & Indians.” I will pepper my blog with more posts about this series in the future. So for today, let’s visit Vancouver in the year 1811.
The Battle of Woody Point, also known as the Tonquin incident, took place in 1811, at Vancouver Island.
The Tonquin was an American ship that participated in the Fur Trade. Her captain, Jonathan Thorn, traded mostly with the natives of the northern Pacific coast. The ship had 23 men and carried 10 cannons. Though the Tonquin was American-flagged, her crew were made up of mostly British men. They needed a trading post, so they built Fort Astoria (later named Fort George).
On June 14, 1811, the Tonquin sailed to Woody Point to trade with the Nuu-chah-nulth. Their chief boarded the ship. Captain Thorn hoped to purchase sea otter pelts from them. However, when the bargaining began, he was so dissatisfied at the price that he waved and tossed the pelts back to the chief. Needless to say, this insulted the chief. Later that night, a woman approached the captain to warn him that the Nuu-chah-nulth were going to attack his ship. Thorn did not believe this, thinking the Nuu-chah-nulth were not hostile.
The next morning, two large canoes, each carrying more than 20 men, were allowed to board the Tonquin for trade. The Nuu-chah-nulth charged so little for the pelts that Thorn was very happy. He became so distracted, that he didn’t at first realize the danger he was in. The natives had hidden weapons under their clothing. As soon as Thorn realized this, he gave the orders to hoist the anchor and sails. At that moment, the chief gave the signal to attack. Most of the crew were unarmed because the rifles and powder were kept in the lower level of the ship. Thorn and most of his men were killed quickly. As the natives made their way down the ship, they were met with resistance from the men who now had access to the rifles. The natives left soon after that.
Only five men survived that attack, and one was seriously injured. After reviewing their options, they knew they could not set sail with so few hands. So instead, four of them left in one of the ship’s skiffs during the night, heading to Fort Astoria. The injured crewman (many believe his name to be James Lewis) remained on the Tonquin.
The next morning, the Nuu-chah-nulth returned to plunder the ship. Lewis feigned surrender and invited the natives to board the ship. While many of the natives were busy plundering, Lewis lit the ship’s store of black powder. There was a massive explosion, killing Lewis, obliterating the ship, and many natives. Some say 100 Nuu-chah-nulth were killed with many more injured. Others say that number was closer to 200 deaths.
The four in the skiff were blown ashore by a storm and were captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth. As revenge for the explosion, they were slowly tortured to death.