Fort Astoria

The establishment of Fort Astoria was the birth of the present day Oregon Community. Thus, the initial actions of the Pacific Fur Company at the fort are crucial in order to understand how Astoria evolved into a symbol of American westward expansion.

Fort Astoria, 1813.
 
 

While both the seaward and trancontinental journeys were treacherous, the Astorians managed to arrive at the mouth of the Columbia River beginning in March 1811, with the Tonquin, and February, 1812 with Hunt's overland party. However, the mission was hardly accomplished. Point George, or Astoria, was selected because of the deep cove which afforded the Tonquin a comfortable anchorage. When the overland party arrived 11 months later, the seaward party had established a large trading store, a dwelling house, a blacksmith shop, and a storage shed. Cannons were set up on the boundaries of the fort for defense. The Hawaiians worked the garden, and tended the livestock. Trade had begun with the local Indians. Supplies were traded to the Indians for wild game, which was scarce, and the more prolific salmon. Trapping was fairly succesful, as the storage shed held the pelts.

The men of Astoria were a diverse lot. Although the economic goal was common, they were quite different in background and position. The hierarchy consisted of partners at the top, followed by clerks, skilled craftsmen, hunters, and finally the French Canadians. The men of the Pacific Fur Company were also of various nationalities. Some were Scots, others French Canadians, Americans, Hawaiians, and of course the Native American influence was evident in the everyday events.

Astoria was meant not to be the sole outpost of the Paific Fur Company's far western ventures. It was only to serve as an administrative outpost for circling "satellites" which also trapped and then reported to the Astoria fort. One of these satellites was at Okanogen, where clerk Gabriel Franchere spent much time. Others went as far east as the Snake River. From April 1811 to May 1812 Astoria reported 3500 pelts, among these the furs and hides of beaver, sea otter, squirrel and red fox.

The Okanogen Trading Post.

The men of Astoria found life at times quite monotonous and, in fact, boring. The diet of fish and the same vegetables from the garden became old after awhile. Venerial diseases were a problem due to sexual relations with the local Indian women. The same work day in and day out became too commonplace. With the exception of Captain Thorn, though, all indications reveal that in general the men semed to get along.

Thorn and his Tonquin finally left in June of 1812, destined for Russian America and then further on to Canton, China. However, the Tonquin's story would end up more disastrous than it's previous experiences. At Vancouver Island, according to the sole survivor, Thorn made trouble with the local Indians. What resulted was the destruction of not only the ship but the crew as well. The exact location of this event, however, remains a bit mysterious. The sunken hull of the Tonquin has yet to be found.

The Beaver.

In October of 1811 Astor had sent the Beaver to Astoria to resupply what he hoped to be a thriving fur fort. The Beaver arrived soon after the Tonquin left, providing much needed supplies. The Beaver's mission was to supply Astoria, sail and supply Russian America, and then take their furs to Canton in exchange for Chinese goods, which remained highely valuable in the West. Hunt left on the Beaver in August 1812 to oversee its relations with the Russians. A crucial figure in Astoria's history, Hunt's departure would change a bit of the leadership structure of the fort. Now, McDougall and Mackenzie were the superiors to be obeyed. This would prove to be fatal for Astoria, at least according to John Jacob Astor.

Although Astoria had its problems in the initial establishment of the fort, it was producing. Little did the men at the fort know what lurked on the opposite side of the continent. The War of 1812 had broken out. Astor, who had dealt extensively with the international powers of the time, would have to now, more than ever, try to save his precious western post from the rival North West Company. The conflict between the Americans and the British would certainly impact the Astorian's efforts.
 

Picture credits: Ronda, page 203. Ross, page 54. Ronda, page 241.

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