Document 18: John Boit Describes European-Indian Violence, 1791-1792
John Boit, A New Log of the Columbia, 1790-1792, edited by Edmond S. Meany (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1921),
p. 12-15, 25-26, 34-38.
[August] 10[, 1791]. N. Latt. 55° 0´; W. Long. 133° 0´. Light winds and pleasant . . . The Natives brought us plenty of fine Otter furs. Their Canoes are the same as at Charlotte Isles, some of them capable of carrying 30 men. They go well arm'd, with bows, arrows and spears, and appear to be a savage race. I went in the Cutter—well arm'd—to a small cove, not far distant from the Ship, and soon caught 9 large Halibut. The Ship was concealed by a point of land, [jutting] out from the NE. part of the Cove.
[August] 12. Still laying at anchor in same situation as on the 10th, the nearest land not above 1/2 mile distant, and the point of the Cove I was fishing in about 1/4 mile. Mr. Caswell this morning took a Boatswain Mate and one Seaman with him in the Jolly Boat [a rowboat], by the permission of Capt. Gray, and went to the Cove a fishing. A breeze springing up soon after, and wishing to leave this place, a six pounder was fir'd, a signal for the boat to return. She [did] not appear . . . [even] after two more Cannon was fir'd. Got the Ship under way and sent the pinnace [a longboat made for exploring in shallow waters] in search of the small boat. Soon after we see the Pinnace returning with the jolly Boat in tow, without any person in her and soon discover'd they had the Boats' Colours [flags] hoisted half mast. With this melancholy token they approach'd the Ship, when we soon discover'd our worthy friend, and brother officer, Mr. Joshua Caswell lay dead in the bottom of the boat, strip'd perfectly naked and stab'd in upwards of twenty places. They saw nothing of John Folger (the boatswain's mate) but Joseph Barnes (the Sailor) lay dead on the beach, and quite naked. Fearing the Natives lay in ambush, they did not land to take the Corps [corpse]. It is probable they were beset upon by a great superiority of natives, prompted by a desire to possess their cloaths and arms. As soon as the boats return'd we made sail for Port Tempest, and anchor'd in the evening at our former station. In Mr. Caswell I lost a firm and steady friend. He was a man of mild and gentle temper, a complete Seaman, and in short was possest of every qualification that bespoke the gentleman. [I] Observ'd that the day previous to this disastrous affair few Indians had visited the Ship.
[August] 13. N. Latt. 54° 43´; W. Long. 132° 23´. Calm and temperate weather. At 8 in the morning the 4th Officer was dispatch'd, with a party well arm'd in the Pinnace, to dig a grave for our worthy friend. At 9 the pinnace return'd. At 10 [we] left the Ship with three boats . . . with the corps[e], [while] the Ship [was] firing minute guns [in mourning]. At 11 Capt. Gray landed in a small boat, and after performing divine service, we inter'd [buried] the remains of our departed, and much beloved, friend, with all the solemnity we was capable of.
The place was gloomy, and nothing was to be heard but the bustling of an aged oak, whose lofty branches hung wavering o'er the grave, together with the meandering brook, the Cries of the Eagle, and the weeping of his friends added solemnity to the scene. . . .
[August] 15. . . . left Port Tempest, wind at NW. . . . Saw none of the Natives [today]. No doubt the Rascles wou'd have destroy'd the Jolly boat after they had massacred our unfortunate countrymen, had not the Ship's guns alarm'd them. . . .
[August] 16. This day [we] spoke [to] the Brig Hancock of Boston, Samuel Crowell, Master. They was on the same business as ourselves, and had been pretty successful. Capt. Crowell inform'd [us] that his Longboat was cruizing among the Charlotte Isles, under charge of his 2nd Officer. The Brig kept us company.
[August] 18. Pleasant weather. Came to anchor in a River, which Capt. Crowell had named Hancocks, situated on the NW part of the Queen Charlotte Isles, in company with the Brig. . . . The Brig's Longboat we found at this place, [with a] vast many of the Natives along side the Ship, and a few furs was purchased. Capt. Crowell had, upon some trifling offence, fir'd upon these Indians, by which a number of them fell, (such wanton cruelty throws him upon a levell with the savage), and perhaps this same fray was the means of our losing our worthy 2nd Officer as the places are not 20 leagues distant and mayhap they reck'd their Vengeance upon us, thinking us all of one tribe. If it was so, bad luck to Crowell. Amen.
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[August] 29. N. Latt. 49° 5´; W. Long. 126° 0´. At Noon the entrance of Clioquot [Clayoquot Sound]. . . . [T]owards evening [we] anchor'd in our former station, [and saw a] vast many of the Natives along side, and [they] seem'd glad to see us again. Found riding here the Brig Lady Washington of Boston, John Kendrick, master. He had made up his Voyage and [was] bound for Canton [a city in China where merchants paid a high price for sea otter furs]. He appear'd happy in meeting with his friends. . . . Captain Kendrick inform'd us that he had had a skirmish with the Natives at Barrells sound in Queen Charlotte Isles, and was oblidg'd to kill upwards of 50 of them before they wou'd desist from the attack. It appear'd to me, from what I cou'd collect that the Indians was the aggressors.
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[January] 25[, 1792]. Pleasant weather, wind at SE. In the morning got the Remainder of our affairs from the shore, and unmoor'd. . . . [We sailed down Clayoquot Sound and] Anchor'd abreast the Village of Opitsatah, but found it entirely deserted. [Boit described the expedition's first visit to this village in his entry of June 5, 1791.] Observ'd very few Canoes moving. . . .
[January] 27. I am sorry to be under the necessity of remarking that this day I was sent, with three boats all well man'd and arm'd, to destroy the village of Opitsatah. It was a Command I was no ways tenacious of, and am grieved to think Capt. Gray shou'd let his passions go so far. [In an earlier entry, Boit claimed that Captain Gray mistakenly believed that the inhabitants of this village were planning to attack the ship.] This village was about half a mile in diameter, and contained upwards of 200 Houses, generally well built for Indians; every door that you enter'd was in resemblance to a human and Beast's head, the passage being through the mouth. Besides which there was much more carved work about the dwellings some of which was by no means inelegant. This fine village, the work of Ages, was in a short time totally destroy'd.
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[May] 28. N. Latt. 50° 30´; W. Long. 129° 30´ . . . left this harbour, which we named St. Patrick's. The Indians [there] were much the same as the Nootka tribes. Standing towards Woody point, which was in sight. Towards evening, [we] anchor'd in Columbia's Cove, in our former berth [where they had stopped the previous year], pass'd many natives along side, and [they] seem'd much pleased at our visiting them again.
[May] 29. N. Latt. 50° 0´; W. Long. 128° 12´. [There was a] vast concourse of Indians off [the coast], among whom was Necklar, chief of the sound. They brought many more furs than they did the last season we visited them. Found these Natives so chearful and oblidging that we did not apprehend any danger in sending parties on shore after Wood and Water. However, they soon discover'd our Crew was diminished, and was very inquisitive to know what had become of the rest of us. [Captain Gray's men had built a sloop while they spent the winter in Nootka Sound; when they resumed exploring in April, Captain Gray transferred several men from the Columbia to the sloop.] We thought prudent to tell them that they was asleep below decks. I [think] . . . that the Indians did not believe us, but probably supposed our Shipmates had been kill'd. At 10 in the evening, a number of large canoes full of people came into the Cove. They halted near some rocks about Pistol shot from the Ship, and there waited about ten minutes, during which time all hands was brought to arms, upon deck in readiness to receive them. Soon after a large War Canoe, with above 25 Indians, paddled off the Ship. We hail'd them, but they still persisted, and [another] one was seen following, upon which Capt. Gray order'd us to fire. . . . [We fired] so effectually as to kill or wound every soul in the canoe. She [the canoe] drifted along side, but we push'd her clear, and she drove to the North side of the Cove, under the shade of the trees. It was bright moon light and the woods echoed with the dying groans of these unfortunate Savages. We observ'd many canoes passing and repassing the Cove, at a small distance, in all probability they was after the poor dead Indians. They soon after ceas'd groaning, and we neither saw nor heard any thing of them after.
We always found these Natives very friendly but they soon discover'd how thin the Ship's Company was now [compared] to what it was when we visited them before. I believe it is impossible to keep friends with savages any longer than they stand in fear of you. But I cannot think they had any intention of boarding the Ship, but [they] were [probably] after a small anchor, which they in the course of the day saw placed on some rocks (above water) to steady the Ship. . . . [T]hey was daring fellows to think they cou'd steal the anchor on a moon light night, within pistol shot of the Ship. Capt. Gray did not wish to fire upon them, for we cou'd easily have blown them to pieces while they was holding a conference abreast the Rocks. They stopt [coming toward the ship after we fired] a cannon or two among them, and the reason we suffer'd them to approach so near before firing was that we were in hopes they wou'd miss the Anchor and then leave the Cove. We wish'd much to keep friendly with these Indians [because] . . . this was the appointed Rendezvous for [us] to meet the Sloop.
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[June] 7. [Along the coast of Vancouver Island,] I went on shore abreast the Ship, with two boats [looking for] . . . wood, took the Carpenter with me to cut a . . . topmast. We had not been long at work in the Woods before above 200 Indians [all] of a sudden rush'd out upon us. The carpenter, being some way from the rest of the party, got nearly surrounded, and was oblidged to fly, leaving his Broad Axe behind. I immediately rallied my people together and retreated slowly, at the same time fir'd a few Musketts over their heads which kept them in check. At length they advanced so near as to throw their Spears. We then discharg'd our Musketts and killd several. However, they still persisted, and I believe if we had not got to the beach (clear from the woods) that we shou'd have been overpow'd. They heard the reports of the Musketts on board [the Columbia], but never dreamt that we [were being] attack'd by Indians, as none had been seen before. As soon as we made our appearance, the Ship cover'd us with the Cannon and the grape and round shot [small pellets fired from a cannon]. They must have done considerable damage to our pursuers, as they fell just into the brink of the wood, where the thickest [greatest number] of the Indians was. This soon dispers'd them, and we got all safe on board. Some of these fellows afterwards came down abreast the Ship and brandished their Weapons at us, bidding defiance.
[June] 9. N. Latt. 51° 30´; W. Long. 129° 30´; or thereabouts. . . . [We saw] many canoes this day, and plenty of fine Otter Skins was purchas'd. About Noon, 20 large War Canoes came in sight, with above 30 Men in each and we soon discern'd with our Glasses [telescopes] that they was all arm'd with Spears and Arrows. The friendly Indians that was trading along side told us these people had come to fight and belong'd to the tribe we had fir'd at two days before, when attack'd upon the beach. Capt. Gray thought it not safe to admit them along side at once, and therefore order'd them, when within hail, to keep off, and not but one canoe come along side at a time. They obey'd the command, and one canoe with 42 men came alongside, but [it] had only a fur or two. We soon discover'd that the main body of canoes was paddling towards us, singing a War Song. We fir'd a cannon and some Muskets over their heads. At this they mov'd off about 100 yds. and again halted. A Small Canoe, with a Chief, (paddled by two Indians) kept constantly plying between the Ship and the main body of the Canoes, counting our men, and talking earnestly to the Natives along side, encouraging them to begin the attack. He [the chief] was suffer'd to proceed in this manner some time, until Capt. Gray told him to come near the Ship no more, but he still persisted and was shot dead for his temerity [foolhardiness]. Also the Chief Warrior of the Canoe along side was shot for throwing his Spear into the Ship. They then made a precipitate retreat, and the trading Indians, who had kept at a small distance viewing the transactions, again recommenced their trade with us. They inform'd us these Indians, who meant to attack us, was of another tribe from them. Canoes with Indians came along side and traded their Otter Skins, but not without Manifest signs of fear.
[June] 12. The friendly Natives kept bringing furs, which we purchas'd for Copper and Cloth.