Discovering the Region: Texts

8. Captain Robert Gray, "Official Log of the Columbia"

“REMNANT OF the Official Log of the ‘Columbia,’” in Voyages of the “Columbia” to the Northwest Coast: 1787-1790 and 1790-1793, ed. Frederic W. Howay (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1941), 435-38.

Extract from the Second Volume of the Log-Book of the Ship Columbia, of Boston, commanded by Robert Gray, conditioning the Account of her Entrance into the Columbia River, in May, 1792. [1]

May 7th, 1792, A.M.

Being within six miles of the land, saw an entrance in the same, which had a very good appearance of a harbor; lowered away the jolly-boat, and went in search of an anchoring-place, the ship standing to and fro, with a very strong weather current. At one, p.m., the boat returned, having found no place where the ship could anchor with safety;[2] made sail on the ship; stood in for the shore. We soon saw, from our mast-head, a passage in between the sand-bars. At half past three, bore away, and ran in north-east by east, having from four to eight fathoms, sandy bottom; and, as we drew in nearer between the bars, had from ten to thirteen fathoms, having a very strong tide of ebb to stem. Many canoes came alongside. At five, p.m., came to in five fathoms water, sandy bottom, in a safe harbor, well sheltered from the sea by long sand-bars and spits. Our latitude observed this day was 46 degrees 58 minutes north.

May 10th. Fresh breezes and pleasant weather; many natives alongside; at noon all the canoes left us. At one, p.m., began to un-moor, took up the best bower-anchor, and hove short on the small bower-anchor. At half past four, (being high water,) hove up the anchor, and came to sail and a beating down the harbor.[3]

1. The text of this extract is that given in Robert Greenhow, The History of Oregon and California (Boston, 1844), 434-436. “The original extract was made in 1816 by Mr. [Charles] Bulfinch of Boston, one of the owners of the Columbia, from the second volume of the log-book, which was then in the possession of Captain Gray’s heirs but has since disappeared.” The footnotes, prepared by T. C. Elliott and used here by the kind permission of the Oregon Historical Society, accompanied a reprint of the extract in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, XXII. 352-356.

2. This log makes no mention of the sending of a small boat ahead of the ship, either here or at the mouth of the Columbia River, a precaution which is mentioned by Boit in his journal. Neither does Gray mention any observations for longitude, as Boit does. For more extensive comments see the Boit journal.

3. This entry indicates that Gray’s anchorage was not far inside the entrance, but any attempt to designate it would be mere speculation. The presumption is in favor of the bay behind one of the capes.

- page 435 –

May 11th. At half past seven, we were out clear of the bars, and directed our course to the southward, along shore.[1] At eight, p.m., the entrance of Bulfinch’s Harbor bore north, distance four miles; the southern extremity of the land bore south-south-east half east, and the northern north-north-west; sent up the main-top-gallant-yard and set all sail. At four, a.m., saw the entrance of our desired port bearing east-south-east, distance six leagues; in steering sails, and hauled our wind in shore. At eight, a.m., being a little to wind-ward of the entrance of the Harbor, bore away, and run in east-north-east between the breakers, having from five to seven fathoms of water. When we were over the bar, we found this to be a largeriver of fresh water, up which we steered. Many canoes came along-side. At one, p.m., came to with the small bower, in ten fathoms, black and white sand.[2] The entrance between the bars bore west-south-west, distant ten miles; the north side of the river a half mile distant from the ship; the south side of the same two and a half miles’ distance; a village on the north side of the river west by north, distant three quarters of a mile. Vast numbers of natives came along-side; people employed in pumping the salt water out of our water-casks, in order to fill with fresh, while the ship floated in. So ends.

May 12th. Many natives alongside; noon, fresh wind; let go the best bower-anchor, and veered out on both cables; sent down the main-top-gallant-yard; filled up all the water-casks in the hold. The latter part, heavy gales, and rainy, dirty weather.

May 13th. Fresh winds and rainy weather; many natives along-side; hove up the best bower-anchor; seamen and tradesmen at their various department.

May 14th. Fresh gales and cloudy; many natives alongside; at noon, weighed and came to sail, standing up the river north-east by east; we found the channel very narrow. At four, p.m., we had sailed upwards of twelve or fifteen miles, when the channel was so very narrow that it was almost impossible to keep in it, having

1. This entry, written at evening on the eleventh, clearly states that the ship left Gray’s Harbor on the evening of the tenth. Boit erroneously puts the date as the eleventh. See, however, page 397, note 3, above [not transcribed here; T. C. Elliott explains that the writing of Boit’s journal was not diurnal and also explains the divergence of one day between the dates given by Captain Gray and Boit.]

2. This anchorage, one half mile off shore between Point Ellice and McGowans Station, was exposed to the wind and current, a fact which partly explains the use of more than one anchor and the determination to move further up the river two days later.

- page 436 –

from three to eighteen fathoms water, sandy bottom. At half past four, the ship took ground, but she did not stay long before she came off, without any assistance. We backed her off, stern foremost, into three fathoms, and let go the small bower, and moored ship with kedge and hawser. The jolly-boat was sent to sound the channel out, but found it not navigable farther up; so, of course, we must have taken the wrong channel. So ends,[1] with rainy weather; many natives alongside.

May 15th. Light airs and pleasant weather; many natives from different tribes came alongside. At ten, a.m., unmoored and dropped down with the tide to a better anchoring-place; smiths and other tradesmen constantly employed. In the afternoon, Captain Gray and Mr. Hoskins, in the jolly-boat, went on shore to take a short view of the country.

May 16th. Light airs and cloudy. At four, a.m., hove up the anchor and towed down about three miles, with the last of the ebb-tide; came into six fathoms, sandy bottom, the jolly-boat sounding the channel. At ten, a.m., a fresh breeze came up river. With the first of the ebb-tide we got under way, and beat down river. At one, (from its being very squally,) we came to, about two miles from the village, (Chinouk,) which bore west-south-west; many natives along-side; fresh gales and squally.[2]

May 17th. Fresh winds and squally; many canoes alongside; calkers calking the pinnace; seamen paying the ship’s sides with tar; painter painting ship; smiths and carpenters at their departments.

May 18th. Pleasant weather. At four in the morning, began to heave ahead; at half past, came to sail, standing down river with the ebb-tide; at seven, (being slack water and the wind fluttering,) we came to in five fathoms, sandy bottom; the entrance between the bars bore south-west by west, distant three miles. The north point of the harbor bore north-west, distant two miles; and south bore

1. This day Gray proceeded around Point Ellice and past Cliff Point and Knappton as far as some sand bar in the shallow waters off the wide entrance to Gray’s Bay, presumably more than half the distance across the entrance to that bay. By soundings from his small boats he then discovered that the deep water channel crossed the river above him, from Harrington Point to Tongue Point, and that his ship was not in a safe place. He therefore dropped down the following morning to a better anchorage off Point Gray (Frankfort).

2. Today the ship again dropped down stream, first opposite Knappton and later to the upper or lee side of Point Ellice, where she remained until the eighteenth.

- page 437 –

south-east, distant three and a half miles. At nine, a breeze came up from the eastward; took up the anchor and came to sail, but the wind soon came fluttering again; came to with the kedge and hawser; veered out fifty fathoms. Noon, pleasant. Latitude observed, 46 degrees 17 minutes north. At one, came to sail with the first of the edd-tide, and drifted down broadside, with light airs and strong tide; at three quarters past, a fresh wind came from the northward; wore ship, and stood into the river again. At four, came to in six fathoms; good holding-ground about six or seven miles up; many canoes alongside.[1]

May 19th. Fresh wind and clear weather. Early a number of canoes came alongside; seamen and tradesmen employed in their various departments. Captain Gray gave this river the name of Columbia’s River, and the north side of the entrance Cape Hancock, the south, Adam’s Point.

May 20th. Gentle breezes and pleasant weather. At one, p.m., (being full sea,) took up the anchor, and made sail, standing down river. At two, the wind left us, we being on the bar with a very strong tide, which set on the breakers; it was now not possible to get out without a breeze to shoot her across the tide; so we were obliged to bring up in three and a half fathoms, the tide running five knots. At three quarters past two, a fresh wind came in from seaward; we immediately came to sail, and boat over the bar, having from five to seven fathoms water in the channel. At five, p.m., we were out, clear of all the bars, and in twenty fathoms water. A breeze came from the southward; we bore away to the northward; set all sail to the best advantage. At eight, Cape Hancock bore south-east, distant three leagues; the north extremity of the land in sight bore north by west. At nine, in steering and top-gallant sails. Midnight, light airs. . . .

1. This day Gray sailed down stream with the intention of crossing out, but, because of unfavorable conditions, returned up river to anchorage off Chinook Point (Fort Columbia), which was a very favorable spot for observing the capes and the entrance.

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