Page images

terms of the foundation of Astoria, but few know any thing of the details; and the particulars which this narrative sets forth could only be known to one to whom the parties interested in the enterprise might think fit to communicate them. In a happy hour they were communicated to Mr. Irving, and they have furnished him a series of such pictures as he especially delights in drawing; the whole subject being one eminently suited to his tastes and turn of mind. He identifies himself so willingly with the heroes of his tale, and sympathizes with them so entirely, he depicts so vividly the scenes through which he makes them pass, from the barbaric pomp and wassail of Montreal, to the ruffling society of Mackinaw, and the border traders of St. Louis, the diplomatic dignity and military pageantry of the Arickara village, and the descending grades of savage life to the poor Snake Indians and wild Upsarokas, all these things are sketched con amore, and pass before you in a lively and attractive panorama. The voyage of the Tonquin, too, her stay at the Sandwich Islands, and the accounts of King Tamaahmaah and Governor John Young, are exceedingly spirited and amusing: but to connect all these things together and show what is the plot of the work, we must make an extract from the first part, where, after speaking of the return of Lewis and Clarke from the Rocky mountains in 1804, Mr. Irving adds :

"It was then that the idea presented itself to the mind of Mr. Astor, of grasping, with his individual hand, this great enterprise, which for years had been dubiously, yet desirously contemplated by powerful associations and maternal governments. For some time he revolved the idea in his mind, gradually extending and maturing his plans as his means of executing them augmented. The main feature of his scheme was to establish a line of trading posts along the Missouri and the Columbia, to the mouth of the latter, where was to be founded the chief trading house or mart. Inferior posts would be established in the interior, and on all the tributary streams of the Columbia, to trade with the Indians; these posts would draw their supplies from the main establishment, and bring to it the peltries they collected. Coasting craft would be built and fitted out, also, at the mouth of the Columbia, to trade, at favourable seasons, all along the northwest coast, and return, with the proceeds of their voyages, to this place of deposit. Thus all the Indian trade, both of the interior and the coast, would converge to this point, and thence derive its sustenance.

"A ship was to be sent annually from New York to this main establishment with reinforcements and supplies, and with merchandise suited to the trade. It would take on board the furs collected during the preceding year, carry them to Canton, invest the proceeds in the rich merchandise of China, and return thus freighted to New York.

"As, in extending the American trade along the coast to the northward, it might be brought into the vicinity of the Russian Fur Company, and produce a hostile rivalry, it was part of the plan of Mr. Astor to conciliate the good will of that company by the most amicable and beneficial arrangements. The Russian establishment was chiefly

dependent for its supplies upon transient trading vessels from the United States. These vessels, however, were often of more harm than advantage. Being owned by private adventurers, or casual voyagers, who cared only for present profit, and had no interest in the permanent prosperity of the trade, they were reckless in their dealings with the natives, and made no scruple of supplying them with firearms. In this way several fierce tribes in the vicinity of the Russian posts, or within the range of their trading excursions, were furnished with deadly means of warfare, and rendered troublesome and dangerous neighbours.

"The Russian government had made representations to that of the United States of these malpractices on the part of its citizens, and urged to have this traffic in arms prohibited; but, as it did not infringe any municipal law, our government could not interfere. Yet still it regarded, with solicitude, a traffic which, if persisted in, might give offence to Russia, at that time almost the only power friendly to us. In this dilemma the government had applied to Mr. Astor, as one conversant in this branch of trade, for information that might point out a way to remedy the evil. This circumstance had suggested to him the idea of supplying the Russian establishment regularly by means of the annual ship that should visit the settlement at the mouth of the Columbia (or Oregon); by this means the casual trading vessels would be excluded from those parts of the coast where their malpractices were so injurious to the Russians.

"Such is a brief outline of the enterprise projected by Mr. Astor, but which continually expanded in his mind. Indeed, it is due to him to say, that he was not actuated by mere motives of individual profit. He was already wealthy beyond the ordinary desires of man, but he now aspired to that honourable fame which is awarded to men of similar scope of mind, who, by their great commercial enterprises have enriched nations, peopled wildernesses, and extended the bounds of empire. He considered his projected establishment at the mouth of the Columbia as the emporium to an immense commerce; as a colony that would form the germ of a wide civilization; that would, in fact, carry the American population across the Rocky mountains; and spread it along the shores of the Pacific, as it already animated the shores of the Atlantic." Vol. I. pp. 37-40.

It is difficult to convey, in the short space of a review, an adequate notion of the energy with which this idea, once matured, was acted on and followed up. A numerous party, consisting of partners in the scheme, clerks, boatmen, trappers, Indian interpreters, &c., recruited from New York, Montreal, Mackinaw, and St. Louis, after many difficulties and delays, left the last named place October 21st, 1810, sixty persons in all, for the mouth of the Columbia, the good ship Tonquin having sailed on the 8th of September for the same destination, from New York. The Tonquin arrived at the Columbia in the end of March, 1811, and landed safely several of the partners, some clerks, hunters, Canadians, and Sandwich Islanders; a party strong enough to build a fort for the nucleus and citadel of the new colony, and to push up the rivers and establish hunting and trapping and commercial posts, which they expected to increase and improve on the arrival of the reinforce


ments and supplies which were coming from St. Louis with the inland expedition. The fort and posts were for the present under charge of Mr. Duncan McDougal, a Scotchman, and former clerk of the Northwest Company; but the inland party was commanded by Mr. Wilson Price Hunt, who, on his arrival, was to take the general superintendence. Both these gentlemen, and several others in both parties, were partners, that is, they were associated in the prospective profits of the enterprise but for five years Mr. Astor was to bear all loss and of the hundred shares into which the stock of the company was to be divided, he was definitively to retain fifty. This power, and that of introducing more partners, gave him a perfect control, as a matter of right, and it was only because this control was nullified in practice, by disobedience of orders, and at last by treachery, that the undertaking fell to the ground. Those who ruined it to build upon its ruins prospered no better the Northwest Company is long since extinct, and the Hudson's Bay Company, its ancient rival, has gathered the fragments of its inheritance.

In June, 1811, the Tonquin, having seen Astoria in a defensible condition, sailed along the coast to Neweetee, to trade for furs with the savages, and by an imprudence of the captain in admitting too many of them on board at a time, she fell into their hands; the crew were overpowered and murdered, and Mr. Lewis, the ship's clerk, being wounded and defenceless, and hopeless of mercy, set fire to the magazine, and blew himself, his savage enemies, and their prey, at once into the air. This dreadful tragedy was the first of many misfortunes which occurred to this well-planned enterprise, and it was a case against which the forethought of Mr. Astor had especially cautioned the brave but imprudent commander of the Tonquin. Captain Thorn, when it was too late, did all that despair and courage could effect; he fought like a lion, but was overpowered by numbers and slain.

The overland party were forced to pass the winter of 1810-11 on the Missouri, they suffered much from desertion, for even the rude hearts of western hunters quailed a little at the terrible deserts and various dangers they must traverse from the Missouri to the Columbia. In April, however, they set forward, and for several months kept on together, till they reached the Rocky mountains, where multiplying difficulties met them. First, the increased obstacles in their mountainous journey, then the rigour of the season, and, by and by, when they had abandoned their horses on the upper waters of a tributary of the Columbia and trusted themselves to canoes, they floated down three or four hundred miles, so as to make returning to the horses impossible, and came to an impracticable VOL. XXI.-No. 41. 9

navigation. Here, in a frightful, howling waste, a country scarcely habitable in summer, they encountered winter and famine they bore up and kept together while they could, but at last separated, and several small parties, after excessive suffering, arrived successively at Astoria in February and March, 1812. The narration of all these adventures should be perused in Mr. Irving's words, no pen is so fit as his to exhibit all its various phases. He sympathizes perfectly in all the exultation, the hardihood, the sufferings and patient endurance of the hunter; he enters, with spontaneous glee, into all the odd traits and wild originality of the fresh characters he encounters, and he interests himself equally with gossiping inquisitiveness in the domestic relations of Pierre Dorion, or the marriage of Duncan McDougal with the clean princess, the daughter of the one-eyed Comcomly. We can give but little idea of all this by extracts, nor have we space for many; but the original book is within every body's reach.

Mr. Astor remained at New York without information as to the expeditions by sea and land; but he acted on his plan as laid down, and on the presumption that every thing had gone right. He fitted out another ship, the Beaver, in October, 1811, which arrived at Astoria in May, 1812, with supplies and reinforcements, and having staid long enough to concert operations for her return and homeward voyage, she sailed along the coast to trade with the Russian settlements. Every thing at Astoria depended on her return; she had taken Mr. Hunt from that post, where his presence soon afterwards became exceedingly necessary, as the news of war with England had arrived there, and many dangers were growing out of it for the American interests at Astoria. But the Beaver never did return. By an unfortunate decision of Mr. Hunt, after getting a load of seal skins, she left him at the Sandwich Islands and sailed for Canton; the agents of the Northwest Company came down the Columbia upon Astoria, and Mr. McDougal, the partner in command, received them hospitably, supplied them with provisions to enable them to stay in the country, made them friends among the natives, and furnished them goods to trade with them, and, finally, sold out to them Mr. Astor's merchandise, furs, and posts on the Columbia and its tributaries, at a base price, and entered into partnership with them to get a share in the profits of the operation. Mr. Hunt arrived in time to protest against all this, but the mischief was consummated; the pretext for it was, that an armed ship of the Northwest Company was expected, which had obtained the aid of several vessels of war from the British government, and that unless the Astorians would sell peaceably, they would be plundered forcibly. A sloop of war did, in fact, come there soon after, and landed

some agents of the Northwest Company, but the party at Astoria were strong, the coast most dangerous and inhospitable, the fort inaccessible from the sea, and could only be attacked by parties landed for the purpose, who would have been opposed by the Indians, now fully in the American interest. And in the worst event, the furs might have been carried up the river and secreted; there was no force to prevent that, and had they even been lost it would have been more satisfactory to the feelings of Mr. Astor, and infinitely better for the honour of Duncan McDougal.

In the mean time, the ship Lark was fitted out from New York by Mr. Astor for the colony, and wrecked on the Sandwich Islands, and another yet, the Enterprise, had been prepared and loaded, and would have sailed under convoy of the frigate John Adams, when the sailors of the frigate were taken for the service of the lakes, and the harbour of New York being blockaded by the enemy, the Enterprise was unloaded and laid up. Such perseverance as this in the face of uncertainties, disappointment and disaster, indicates no ordinary character; but this is not all, nor near all, that Mr. Astor did for his colony. He wrote to Canton to have the Beaver go back from thence, but Captain Sowle took it upon him to disobey the order and act upon some opinions of his own; neglecting what he was directed to do, and marring what he attempted. Mr. Astor had sent an agent to St. Petersburgh, and concluded an advantageous arrangement with the Russian Northwest Company for an amicable intercourse and interchange of supplies, merchandise and services, and he had applied to the government of the United States for a little reinforcement of forty or fifty men for his fort, which one of their armed ships might drop at the Columbia river, while the arrival of his merchant vessels was very uncertain. He spared no forethought nor expenditure, he left no stone unturned to find assistance, he never hesitated nor doubted for a moment in proceeding on the principles he had once laid down. But war, fraud, disobedience, and the disasters of the desert and the sea, were at last too much for him, and this great undertaking was abandoned. "Were I among you," he writes to Mr. Hunt, just before the final catastrophe, "and had the management of affairs, I would defy them all; but as it is, every thing depends upon you, and your friends about you. Our enterprise is grand, and deserves success, and I hope in God it will meet it. If my object was merely gain of money, I should say, think whether it is best to save what we can, and abandon the place; but the very idea is like a dagger to my heart."

An important and characteristic feature of this affair, is the interest with which it was viewed by the rulers of several of

« PreviousContinue »