Tag Archives: Fort Astoria

Not Cowboys & Indians, Part 4

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 in 1811

The Tonquin in 1811

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.

Fort Astoria in 1813

Fort Astoria in 1813

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.




Posted by on April 27, 2014 in Canadian-related Links, Longer Entries


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They had Witnesses To Prove It

English: Fort Astoria, 1813

English: Fort Astoria, 1813 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If a British naval captain had not been so wide awake, to put it politely, Canada might now own what is American territory as far south as Portland, Oregon.  The Columbia River would be the “St. Lawrence of the West.”

Fort Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River, had been established by John Jacob Astor in 1811.  The fort’s only link with the outside world was a ship which visited the fort while on trading trips to Vancouver Island and dropped necessary supplies.  Unfortunately the captain was a rough character, and on one occasion struck an Indian chief who came on board to trade.   The next day members of the tribe came on board, ostensibly to trade, drew their knives and killed the captain and most of the crew.  The ship’s clerk, mortally wounded, crawled down to where the ammunition was stored, and set off a blast that killed the Indians and sent the ship to the bottom.

As a result, the people at Fort Astoria were isolated and without supplies.  They were starving when a party of Nor’Westers appeared, after travelling David Thompson’s route down the Columbia, and they were glad to sell the post to the North West Company.  They would be assured of supplies, and protection from any British naval unit that might appear.

In the meantime, such a unit had been sent to capture Fort Astoria.  It was H.M.S. Raccoon under the command of Captain William Black.  After sailing all the way from Britain he was greatly disappointed to find that Fort Astoria was already British territory, through purchase by the North West Company and not through a brilliant naval action of his own.  So Captain Black put on a show.  On December 12, 1813, he hauled down the British flag and raised it again, while the Americans and Indians watched the performance.

When the War of 1812 ended, it was agreed that all territory taken by military action would be returned.  Britain claimed Fort Astoria because it had been purchased from the Astor Company.  “Oh no,” said the Americans.  “The fort was taken by military action by the captain of H.M.S. Raccoon.”  They had witnesses to prove it, and their case held good.  The fort was returned to the States on October 6, 1818, and Canada lost the territory from the British Columbia border to Portland, Oregon.

If you would like to read more about Fort Astoria, I would suggest the Great Battles of the war of 1812 – there’s a great timeline there.


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