Document 27: John Jewitt's Journal of His Captivity at Nootka, 1804-1805

John Jewitt, A Journal, Kept at Nootka Sound by John Rodgers Jewitt, One of the Surviving Crew of the Ship Boston, of Boston, John Salter, Commander, Who Was Massacred on the 22d of March, 1803; Interspersed with Some Account of the Natives, Their Manners and Customs . . . (Boston: Printed for the author, 1807), p. 22-27, 44-48.

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It was now past midsummer, and the hopes we had indulged of our release became daily more faint, for though we had heard of no less than seven vessels on the coast, yet none appeared inclined to venture to Nootka.

The destruction of the Boston, the largest, strongest, and best equipped ship, with the most valuable cargo of any that had ever been fitted for the North-West trade, had inspired the commanders of others with a general dread of coming thither, lest they should share the same fate. . . . [On] the morning of the 19th of July, a day that will be ever held by me in grateful remembrance of the mercies of God, while I was employed with Thompson in forging daggers for the king, my ears were saluted with the joyful sound of three cannon, and the cries of the inhabitants, exclaiming, "Weena, weena—Mamethlee!"—that is, "Strangers—White men!"

Soon after[ward], several of our people came running into the house to inform me that a vessel under full sail was coming into the harbour. Though my heart bounded with joy, I repressed my feelings, and, affecting to pay no attention to what was said, told Thompson to be on his guard and not betray any joy. Our release, and perhaps our lives, depended on our conducting ourselves so as to induce the natives to suppose we were not very anxious to leave them. We continued our work as if nothing had happened, when, in a few minutes after, Maquina came in, and, seeing us at work, appeared much surprised, and asked me if I did not know that a vessel had come.

I answered in a careless manner, that it was nothing to me. "How, John," said he, "you no glad go board?" I replied that I cared very little about it, as I had become reconciled to their manner of living and had no wish to go away. He then told me that he had called a council of his people respecting us, and that we must leave off work and be present at it.

The men having assembled at Maquina's house, he asked them what was their opinion [about what] should be done with Thompson and myself, now a vessel had arrived, and whether he had not better go on board himself to make a trade and procure such articles as were wanted. Each one of the tribe who wished gave his opinion. Some were for putting us to death and pretending to the strangers that a different nation had cut off the Boston, while others, less barbarous, were for sending us fifteen or twenty miles back into the country until the departure of the vessel.

These, however, were the sentiments of the common people, the chiefs opposing our being put to death, or injured, and several of them . . . were for immediately releasing us; but this by no means appeared to accord with Maquina's wishes. . . .

With regard, however, to Maquina's going on board the vessel, which he [felt] a strong inclination to do, there was but one opinion—all remonstrating against it, telling him that the captain would kill him or keep him prisoner, in consequence of his having destroyed our ship. When Maquina had heard their opinions, he told them that he was not afraid [and] that he would, however, be guided by John, whom he had always found true. He then turned to me and asked me if I thought there would be any danger in his going on board. I answered that I was not surprised at the advice his people had given him, unacquainted as they were with the manners of the white men, and judging them by their own; but if they had been with them as much as I had, or even himself, they would think very different. That he had almost always experienced good and civil treatment from them, nor had he any reason to fear the contrary now, as they never attempted to harm those who did not injure them; and if he wished to go on board, he might do it, in my opinion, with security.

After reflecting a few moments, he said, with much apparent satisfaction, that if I would write a letter to the captain—telling him good of him, that he had treated Thompson and myself kindly since we had been with him, and to [treat] him well—he would go.

It may easily be supposed that I felt much joy at this [decision], but, knowing that the least incaution might annihilate all my hopes of escape, I was careful not to manifest it, and to treat his going or staying as a matter perfectly indifferent to me. I told him that, if he wished me to write such a letter, I had no objection. . . .

I then proceeded to write the recommendatory letter, which the reader will naturally imagine was of a somewhat different tenor from the one he had required; for if deception is in any case warrantable, it was certainly so in a situation like ours, where the only chance of regaining that freedom of which we had been so unjustly deprived, depended upon it; and I trust that few, even of the most rigid, will condemn me with severity for making use of [deception] on an occasion which afforded me the only hope of ever more beholding a Christian country, and preserving myself, if not from death, at least from a life of continued suffering.

The letter which I wrote was nearly in the following terms:


July 19, 1805.

SIR, The bearer of this letter is the Indian king by the name of Maquina. He was the instigator of the capture of the ship Boston, of Boston, in North America, John Salter, captain. [Maquinna instigated] the murder of twenty-five men of her crew, the two only survivors being now on shore. Wherefore I hope you will take care to confine him according to his merits, and keep so good a watch over him, that he cannot escape from you. By so doing, we shall be able to obtain our release in the course of a few hours.
JOHN R. JEWITT, Armourer of the "Boston," for himself, and
JOHN THOMPSON, Sail-maker of the said ship.

I have been asked how I dared to write in this manner: my answer is, that from my long residence among these people, I knew that I had little to apprehend [fear] from their anger on hearing of their king being confined. While they knew his life depended upon my release, they would sooner have given up five hundred white men than have bad him injured. This will serve to explain the little apprehension I felt at their menaces afterwards, for otherwise, sweet as liberty was to me, I should hardly have ventured on so hazardous an experiment.

On my giving the letter to Maquina, he asked me to explain it to him. This I did line by line, as he pointed them out with his finger, but in a sense very different from the real, giving him to understand that I had written to the captain that, as he had been kind to me since I had been taken by him, that it was my wish that the captain should treat him accordingly, and give him what molasses, biscuit, and rum he wanted.

When I had finished, placing his finger in a significant manner on my name at the bottom, and eyeing me with a look that seemed to read my inmost thoughts, he said to me, "John, you no lie?" Never did I undergo such a scrutiny, or ever experience greater apprehensions than I felt at that moment, when my destiny was suspended on the slightest thread, and the least mark of embarrassment on [my face], or suspicion of treachery on his part, would probably have rendered my life the sacrifice.

Fortunately I was able to preserve my composure, and my being painted in the Indian manner, which Maquina had . . . required of me, prevented any change in my countenance from being noticed, and I replied with considerable promptitude, looking at him in my turn with all the confidence I could muster, "Why do you ask me such a question, Tyee [Chief]? Have you ever known me to lie?"


"Then how can you suppose I should tell you a lie now, since I have never done it?" As I was speaking, he still continued looking at me with the same piercing eye, but, observing nothing to excite his suspicion, he told me that he believed what I said was true, and that he would go on board, and gave orders to get ready his canoe. His chiefs again attempted to dissuade him, using every argument for that purpose, while his wives crowded around him, begging him on their knees not to trust himself with the white men. Fortunately for my companion and myself, so strong was his wish of going on board the vessel, that he was deaf to their solicitations, and, making no other reply to them than "John no lie," left the house, taking four prime skins with him as a present to the captain.

Scarcely had the canoe put off, when he ordered his men to stop, and, calling to me, asked me if I did not want to go on board with him. Suspecting this as a question merely intended to ensnare me, I replied that I had no wish to do it, not having any desire to leave them.

On going on board the brig, Maquina immediately gave his present of skins and my letter to the captain, who, on reading it, asked him into the cabin, where he gave him some biscuit and a glass of rum, at the same time privately directing his mate to go forward, and return with five or six of the men armed. When they appeared, the captain told Maquina that he was his prisoner, and should continue so, until the two men, whom he knew to be on shore, were released. At the same time, he ordered him [Maquinna] to be put in irons, and the windows secured, and a couple of men placed as a guard over him. Maquina was greatly surprised and terrified at this reception; he, however, made no attempt to resist. . . .

[When] the inhabitants, who had all collected upon the beach, . . . were told that the captain had made [Maquinna] a prisoner, and that John had spoke bad about him in the letter, they all, both men and women, set up a loud howl, and ran backwards and forwards upon the shore like so many lunatics, scratching their faces, and tearing the hair in handfuls from their heads.

After they had beat about in this manner for some time, the men ran to their huts for their weapons, as if preparing to attack an invading enemy; while Maquina's wives and the rest of the women came around me, and, throwing themselves on their knees, begged me with tears to spare his life. . . . I told them not to afflict themselves, that Maquina's life was in no danger, nor would the least harm be done to him.

The men were, however, extremely exasperated with me, more particularly the common people, who came running in the most furious manner towards me, brandishing their weapons, and threatening to cut me in pieces no bigger than their thumb-nails, while others declared they would burn me alive over a slow fire suspended by my heels. All this fury, however, caused me but little alarm, as I felt convinced they would not dare to execute their threats while the king was on board the brig.

The chiefs took no part in this violent conduct, but came to me and inquired the reason why Maquina had been thus treated, and if the captain intended to kill him. I told them that if they would silence the people so that I could be heard, I would explain all to them. They immediately put a stop to the noise, when I informed them that the captain, in confining Maquina, had done it only in order to make them release Thompson and myself, as he knew we were with them; and if they would do that, their king would receive no injury, but be well treated, otherwise he would be kept a prisoner.

Many of them did not appear to be satisfied with this, and began to repeat their murderous threats. "Kill me," said I to them, "if it is your wish," throwing open the bearskin which I wore. "Here is my breast. I am only one among so many, and can make no resistance; but unless you wish to see your king hanging by his neck to that pole," pointing to the yard-arm of the brig, "and the sailors firing at him with bullets, you will not do it."

"Oh no," was the general cry, "that must never be; but what must we do?" I told them that their best plan would be to send Thompson on board, to [tell] the captain to [treat] Maquina well till I was released, which would be soon. This they were perfectly willing to do, and I directed Thompson to go on board. But he objected, saying that he would not leave me alone with the savages. I told him not to be under any fear for . . . I was in no danger while Maquina [was a prisoner].

When I saw Thompson off, I asked the natives what they intended to do with me. They said I must talk to the captain again, in another letter, and tell him to let his longboat come on shore with Maquina, and that I should be ready to jump into the boat at the same time Maquina should jump on shore. I told them that the captain, who knew that they had killed my shipmates, would never trust his men so near the shore, for fear they could kill them too, as they were so much more numerous. But if they would select any three of their number to go with me in a canoe, when we came within hail I would [ask] the captain to send his boat with Maquina to receive me in exchange for him.

This appeared to please them, and after some whispering among the chiefs, who, from what words I overheard, concluded that if the captain should refuse to send his boat with Maquina, the three men would have no difficulty in bringing me back with them, they agreed to my proposal, and selected three of their stoutest men to convey me. Fortunately, having been for some time accustomed to see me armed, and suspecting no design on my part, they paid no attention to the pistols that I had about me. . . .

On entering the canoe, I seated myself in the prow facing the three men, having determined, if it was practicable, to get on board the vessel before [Maquinna] was released, hoping by that means to be enabled to obtain the restoration of what property belonging to the Boston still remained in the possession of the savages, which I thought [was] a duty that I owed to the owners. With feelings of joy impossible to be described did I quit the savage shore, confident now that nothing could thwart my escape, or prevent the execution of the plan that I had formed, as the men appointed to convey and guard me were armed with nothing but their paddles.

As we came within hail of the brig, they at once ceased paddling, when, presenting my pistols at them, I ordered them instantly to go on, or I would shoot the whole of them. A proceeding so wholly unexpected threw them into great consternation, and, resuming their paddles, in a few moments, to my inexpressible delight, I once more found myself alongside of a Christian ship, a happiness which I had almost despaired of ever again enjoying. All the crew crowded to the side to see me as the canoe came up, and manifested much joy at my safety. I immediately leaped on board, where I was welcomed by the captain, Samuel Hill, of the brig Lydia of Boston, who congratulated me an my escape. . . . I returned him my thanks in the best manner I could for his humanity, though I hardly knew what I said, such was the agitated state of my feelings at that moment, with joy for my escape, thankfulness to the Supreme Being who had so mercifully preserved me, and gratitude to those whom He had rendered instrumental in my delivery. I have no doubt that, what with my strange dress—being painted with red and black from head to foot, having a bearskin wrapped around me, and my long hair, which I was not allowed to cut, fastened on the top of my head in a large bunch, with a sprig of green spruce—I must have appeared more like one deranged than a rational creature. Captain Hill afterwards told me that he never saw anything in the form of man look so wild as I did when I first came on board.

The captain then asked me into the cabin, where I found Maquina in irons, with a guard over him. He looked very melancholy, but on seeing me his countenance brightened up, and he expressed his pleasure with the welcome of "Wocash, John," when, taking him by the hand, I asked the captain's permission to take off his irons assuring him that, as I was with him, there was no danger of his being in the least troublesome. He accordingly consented, and I felt a sincere pleasure in freeing from fetters a man who, though he had caused the death of my poor comrades, had nevertheless always proved my friend and protector. . . . When I had freed the king from his irons, Captain Hill wished to learn the particulars of our capture, observing that an account of the destruction of the ship and her crew had been received at Boston before he sailed, but that nothing more was known, except that two of the men were living, for whose rescue the owners had offered a liberal reward.

I gave him a correct statement of the whole proceeding, together with the manner in which my life and that of my comrade had been preserved. On hearing my story, he was greatly irritated against Maquina, and said he ought to be killed. I observed that, however ill he might have acted in taking our ship, yet that it might perhaps be wrong to judge an uninformed savage with the same severity as a civilised person who had the light of religion and the laws of society to guide him. That Maquina's conduct in taking our ship arose from an insult that he thought he had received from Captain Salter, and from the unjustifiable conduct of some masters of vessels who had robbed him, and, without provocation, killed a number of his people. Besides, [I said,] a regard for the safety of others ought to prevent his being put to death; I had lived long enough with these people to know that revenge of an injury is held sacred by them; if we should kill their king, they would not fail to retaliate on the first vessel or boat's crew that should give them an opportunity. Though he [Captain Salter] might consider executing him [Maquinna] as an act of justice, it would probably cost the lives of many Americans.

The captain appeared to be convinced from what I said of the impolicy of taking Maquina's life, and said that he would leave it wholly with me whether to spare or kill him, as he was resolved to incur no censure in either case. I replied that I most certainly should never take the life of a man who had preserved mine, had I no other reason, but as there was some of the Boston's property still remaining on shore, I considered it a duty that I owed to those who were interested in that ship, to try to save it for them, and with that view I thought it would be well to keep him on board till it was given up. He concurred in this proposal, saying, if there was any of the property left, it most certainly ought to be got.

During this conversation Maquina was in great anxiety, as, from what English he knew, he perfectly comprehended the subject of our deliberation; constantly interrupting me to inquire what we had determined to do with him, what the captain said, if his life would be spared, and if I did not think that Thompson would kill him. I pacified him as well as I was able by telling him that he had nothing to fear from the captain, that he would not be hurt, and that if Thompson wished to kill him, he would not be allowed to do it. He would then remind me that I was indebted to him for my life, and that I ought to do by him as he had done by me. I assured him that such was my intention, and I requested him to remain quiet and not alarm himself, as no harm was intended him. But I found it extremely difficult to convince him of this, as it accorded so little with the ideas of revenge entertained by them. I told him, however, that he must restore all the property still in his possession belonging to the ship. This he was perfectly ready to do, happy to escape on such terms. . . .

I then returned to Maquina, but so great were his terrors, that he . . . constantly disturb[ed] me with his questions and repeat[ed], "John, you know, when you was alone, and more than five hundred men were your enemies, I was your friend, and prevented them from putting you and Thompson to death, and now I am in the power of your friends, you ought to do the same by me." I assured him that he would be detained on board no longer than whilst the property was released, and that as soon as it was done, he would be set at liberty.

At daybreak I hailed the natives and told them that it was Maquina's order that they should bring off the cannon and anchors and whatever remained with them of the cargo of the ship. . . . In the course of two hours they delivered everything on board that I could recollect, with Thompson's and my chest, containing the papers of the ship, etc.

When everything belonging to the ship had been restored, Maquina was permitted to return in his canoe. . . . When he came to the side of the brig, he shook me cordially by the hand, and told me that he hoped I would come to see him again in a big ship, and bring much plenty of blankets, biscuit, molasses, and rum for him and his son, who loved me a great deal; and that he would keep all the furs he got for me, observing at the same time, that he should never more take a letter of recommendation from any one, or ever trust himself on board a vessel unless I was there. Then, grasping both my hands with much emotion, while the tears trickled down his cheeks, he bade me farewell, and stept into the canoe, which immediately paddled him on shore.

Notwithstanding my joy at my deliverance, and the pleasing anticipation I felt of once more beholding a civilised country, and again being permitted to offer up my devotions in a Christian church, I could not avoid experiencing a painful sensation on parting with the savage chief, who had preserved my life, and in general treated me with kindness, and, considering their ideas and manners, much better than could have been expected.

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