Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Mystique of the Pacific Fur Company

The Mystique of the Pacific Fur Company

By Sakura Honda
The Daily Magi
September 25, 2051

The Pacific Fur Company was an American-owned trading company, established in 1810, which competed with the British-owned Hudson's Bay Company in the Oregon Country of the Pacific Northwest. Wholly owned by John Jacob Astor, the company's base of operations in the west was Fort Astoria, constructed in 1811 near present-day Astoria, Oregon.

The Pacific Fur Company was founded June 23, 1810, in New York City. Half of the stock of the company was held by the American Fur Company, owned exclusively by John Jacob Astor, and Astor provided all of the capital for the enterprise. The other half of the stock was ascribed to working partners or kept in reserve. In 1811, the company established a trading post at present-day Astoria, Oregon. Astor's grand plan included a permanent American settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River, and a trade ring that included New York City, the old Oregon Country, Russian Alaska, Hawaii and China via Guangzhou (Canton). Indian trade goods would be loaded at New York; produce, provisions (and some Hawaiians) would be taken on at the Hawaiian Islands for the Northwest Coast; furs and pelts would be acquired from the Columbia and Russian Alaska; Canton, China was the best market for furs in those years, and they would be exchanged for porcelain, silk and other cloth, spices, etc., which would then be transported, via Hawaii, back to New York. Two initial expeditions were sent to the Columbia River, one by sea and the other by land.

The sea expedition transported fur from the pacific fur company and was transported by the ship Tonquin, under the command of Jonathan Thorn, an impatient and hard man. The Tonquin left New York on September 8, 1810, and arrived at the Columbia River April 12, 1811 to establish the first American-owned (if Canadian-staffed) outpost on the Pacific Coast, Fort Astoria, located not far from the Lewis and Clark 1805–1806 winter camp of Fort Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River. On the way to the Columbia the Tonquin stopped at Hawaii and picked up a number of Native Hawaiian laborers (called 'kanakas), including Naukane.

The Tonquin then sailed up the Pacific coast to trade. She was boarded by the Tla-o-qui-aht people of Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island. They killed 61 men before the ship was blown up by a surviving crew member.

The Overland Expedition of the Pacific Fur Company, often called the Astor Expedition or the Hunt Party, was led by Wilson Price Hunt. The party ascended the Missouri River as far as the Arikara villages near present-day Mobridge, South Dakota, then went west overland. They found hard times on the Snake River in southern Idaho, where they lost some goods and most of their food, and were forced to cache the rest of their trade goods and divided into fractions to make their way to the Columbia. Most members of the party reached Fort Astoria in January and February 1812.

After a number of setbacks, the Pacific Fur Company failed when the supply ship Beaver was late to arrive at Fort Astoria. In addition, the loss of the Tonquin left the post vulnerable. At risk of being captured by the British during the War of 1812, Fort Astoria and all other Pacific Fur Company assets in the Oregon Country were sold to the Montreal-based North West Company in October 1813.

In March 1814, the North West Company's supply ship Isaac Todd arrived, along with a British warship with orders to destroy any American settlements. Fort Astoria was British and its employees under the protection of the North West Company. The Isaac Todd dropped off much-needed supplies and offered some personnel, many of whom were former employees of the North West Company, comfortable passage back to Montreal and England. Alexander Henry and Donald McTavish, two veteran North West Company employees who had joined the Pacific Fur Company, drowned when their boat capsized in the Columbia River on the way to the Isaac Todd.

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