Empires In The Northwest


Interrupting contemptuously, Martínez ordered Douglas and his officers imprisoned.

A few days later the Spaniards abruptly switched. Admitting that perhaps the translation had been inaccurate, he freed the English officers, entertained Douglas at a sumptuous banquet aboard the Spanish flagship, then escorted the Iphigenia out of the harbor, and politely told the English captain to go straight to China. Douglas agreed, but as soon as darkness cloaked his movements, he turned north to trade.

Later Martínez stated that he had not held the Iphigenia because he lacked crew enough to man her. The truth may be, however, that he devised the maneuver as one whereby he could retain the fruits of the seizure without the worry of countermoves by the imprisoned English. In any event, no Iphigenia was on hand to interfere on June 8 when Robert Funter sailed the tiny North West America back into the sound with 215 skins aboard. Promptly Martínez pounced on her, rechristened her Gertrúdis, and then tried to inveigle the outraged English into continuing their trading trip under Spanish colors! When they refused, Martinez turned to the Americans. Blandly agreeing to go into a trading partnership with the Spaniard, Kendrick sent over the first mate of the Washington , David Coolidge, to take charge of the appropriated ship.

Martínez’s next moves were devoted to nailing down his country’s claims to Nootka. With Kendrick sitting in as witness, the natives were asked to describe the clothing and flag of the first Europeans they had seen. Spanish! And what about the passage in Cook’s Voyages —an English account—that described an Indian wearing two spoons on a cord around his neck? Those spoons had been stolen from Martínez himself, years before any Englishman had come within hundreds of miles of Nootka.

Besides all that, had not Alexander VI’s papal bull of 1493 awarded the entire western world to Spain?

These points made, Martínez staged a triumphant pageant of possession. While his soldiers and sailors knelt with him on the beach, the friars sang Te Deum Laudamus . After this Martínez announced in a loud voice, “I take, and I have taken, I seize, and I have seized, possession of this soil … for all time to come.” As he spoke he pointed his sword at various trees, distributed stones, then hoisted a cross on his shoulders and led a chanting procession along the sandy shore. Afterwards, he served a great banquet aboard his ship (attended by the Americans Gray and Kendrick, and a somewhat bewildered Captain Hudson of the Princess Royal ) and closed the day with a 21-gun salute from the fort.

What the Indians thought of all this to-do over land rights is not on record.

A few days later an English ship, the Argonaut , arrived under command of Captain Colnett. According to Colnett’s subsequent accusations he was lured into Friendly Cove by Martmez’s solemn promises of immunity and then was refused permission to depart. Be that as it may, a violent quarrel soon developed in Martínez’s cabin aboard the Spanish frigate. During the altercation Colnett perhaps drew his sword, as is charged, and threatened Martínez. Colnett later denied it, and said he was struck unconscious to the cabin floor by men slipping secretly up behind him. Martínez denied this charge. Whatever happened, it left Colnett in such a passion that he went temporarily insane. Imprisoned, he jumped from his cabin window into the sea and was saved from drowning only after considerable difficulty. The Argonaut and the Princess Royal were seized and sent to Mexico as prizes.

The drama of Nootka so fascinated John Kendrick that he could not tear himself away. Gray, however, grew restive. At last he must have gotten on Kendrick’s nerves, for abruptly the superior officer ordered that they switch vessels. Such supplies as remained were placed aboard the Washington ; the furs were loaded on the Columbia . Gray was ordered to sail the latter ship to Canton, sell the pelts, buy tea, and continue to Boston. He must have been surprised. The management of the business in Canton and the eventual accounting with the owners at home would seem the duty, even the privilege, of the senior officer. But evidently John Kendrick, who was his own man out here in the middle of nowhere, did not want to go home, although a wife was waiting for him in New England.

On July 30 Gray sailed the Columbia out of Nootka. Four weeks later, in Hawaii, he picked up two young natives eager to see the world, Opie and Attoo, the latter of whom would be called by the Boston newspapers “the crown prince of the islands.” Reaching Macao in November, Gray went on up the river to Whampoa, fantastic anchorage of foreign ships. Robert Gray was a green hand in the devious ways of the China trade. Though he sold his skins and pieces of skins for $21,404.71, he had to pay out nearly half the sum for fees, bribes, and repairs to his ship. The $11,241.51 remaining to him he invested in 21,462 pounds of bohea tea. Unfortunately 12,000 pounds of this would be damaged on the way home.