Manuscript ship's log of the Boston Clipper Ship Triton on a circumnavigation trading voyage to the Northwest Coast of America, by way of the Sandwich Islands and Canton, China
1828·At sea (including the coasts off Hawaii, Alaska and Canton)
by PACIFIC NORTHWEST
At sea (including the coasts off Hawaii, Alaska and Canton), 1828. Tall 4to. (12 x 7 1/2 inches). Written recto and verso on 41 unnumbered leaves. 1p. list of Northwest Coast native vocabulary and 1p. list of vessels on the Northwest Coast and Sandwich Islands, in the rear. (One leaf clipped along fore-edge with loss to text; at least one leaf lacking covering the period December 6, 1826 to January 20, 1827 while at sea near Cape Horn; newspaper clippings previously mounted within the journal removed but with some resulting residue; several leaves detached). Period calf-backed marbled paper covered boards ledger-style binding. Provenance: Anderson Galleries, December 3, 1923, lot 678 (selling for $325) An extraordinary, newly re-discovered log of an American ship on the Alaskan Northwest Coast in the 1820s: a primary source on the maritime fur trade. In the eighteenth century, Russian merchants dominated the maritime fur trade on the Northwest coast of America, trading goods to the native tribes in exchange for furs (predominantly otter skins), which in turn were sold in China for silks, porcelain, tea, spices and other valuable commodities. Following Captain Cook's voyages, British and American ships began entering the trade, largely on the coast between the Columbia River and Sitka. Of the American ships operating in those waters, the trade was largely based out of Boston, and the wealth accumulated by the owners of such trading vessels contributed greatly to the industrialization of the New England economy. Between 1788 and 1826, American merchant ships made over one hundred voyages between the United States, the Northwest Coast and China. However, very few primary sources relating to those voyages, such as the present log, have survived. Owned by the trading firm founded by John Bryant and William Sturgis, the Clipper Ship Triton, captained by the owner's son William Bryant, departed Boston on 25 August 1826, en route to the Sandwich Islands. The present log of that voyage, written by an unnamed officer on board, includes almost daily entries while at sea, recording weather, bird, ship and land sightings, and describing the status of the sails and rigging. Rounding Cape Horn in December of that year, the Triton reaches the Sandwich Islands on 23 January 1827, sighting Mauna Kea: "It is one of the grandest and noblest sights I had ever seen. The immense height and size of this mountain struck every one with astonishment." Reaching Woahoo [O'ahu] two days later, a pilot brings the ship into the harbor: "No idea can be found of the great number of canoes that are filled with natives, paddling in every direction. They are of strange model and the natives are perfectly harmless. Their huts are made of straw and of strange model." The ship stays in port at O'ahu until March 1, when the journal resumes with the voyage to the Northwest Coast. On March 29th, the Triton reaches the northwest coast [at Sitka? Fort Ross?]: "A pilot soon came off in a skin canoe, also two Russian boats, the latter to assisting us in towing our ship into the harbor. At 4 o'clock came to anchor in a river, well defended from every wind by mountains of great height and filled with trees and bushes. The tops of the mountains are covered with snow. This river is not more than 400 feet wide and is filled with fish and fowl of all description ... From all appearances it is one of the finest places in the world for fish & fowl. The river is filled with small fish and they are caught in great numbers by the savages who use a long pole filled with nails by which the fish are hooked. Their canoes are of strange model and they will paddle them with great swiftness through the water ... The Russians have a settlement here. They have a strong fort, also 9 or 10 armed brigs anchored in the river to defend the place. They have a place of public worship. Also a boat building and a lumber sawing establishment, a light house..." The Triton spends the next five months traveling among the islands of the Alexander Archipelago on the southeast panhandle of Alaska, visiting Queen Charlotte Island, Tumgass Harbor [i.e. Port Tongass], French Harbor [on Prince of Wales Island], Hannegar Harbor, "Cue You" harbor [Coyah's Harbor?], Dominus Harbor, and Norfolk [Sitka] Sound. The log carefully notes the other ships sighted, and often travels with other American ships, presumably for safety. An April 18 entry at Queen Charlotte Islands notes: "It is death for a white man to be found on shore. We had no communication with the shore, kept our boarding netting up all the time we lay here and kept a sharp lookout for savages, who appear to be a stout, strong gang of wretches in human form..." A May 5 entry describes friendlier natives at French Harbor: "30 or 40 canoes filled with savages in sight and coming to us. They have their canoes filled with every thing, viz. dogs, cats, women, children, men, skins, guns, pistols, knives, casks of powder, the frames of their huts ... they paint their faces all manner of colors and the females have wooden lips." The following day is spent trading with the natives: "Captain B. retailing out rum, rice & mollases by the quart and cloth by the yard and piece, also guns, blankets, powder, shot and every other little trifling article." By mid-September, the Triton departs the coast to return to the Sandwich Islands, anchoring at Owhyee on October 4. The journal begins again on December 17, with the ship departing the Sandwich Islands for Canton, China. Reaching the Whampoa River in mid-January, the log describes the numerous ships and long waits for pilots, reaching as far up river as they are allowed on January 24, 1828. The final part of the log resumes on March 17 with the ship's departure from Canton en route home to Boston. Travelling across the Indian Ocean, the ship passes the Cape of Good Hope on June 2 and finally reaches Boston on July 28, 1828: "So ends a 23 month voyage & we are once more free from Ship Triton. I have once doubled the Noted & Blustering Cape Horn. I have once doubled the Cape of Good Hope and I have four times crossed the Line and so ends my journal, so ends, so ends." The penultimate page of the journal lists approximately 25 Northwest coast native words with their English equivalents, as well as five Hawaiian words. The final page lists seven Boston ships, including the Triton, operating on the Northwest coast, as well as eleven ships seen at O'ahu. The rarity of such logs from this period of American commercial activity on the Northwest coast cannot be overstated. Bancroft cites only 14 such ships reaching the Northwest coast between 1819 and 1827. The present log last appeared on the market at auction at Anderson Galleries on 3 December 1923, selling for $325. Coupled with Lewis and Clark's expedition and the inland fur trade then developing, the maritime fur trade on the northwest coast in this early period proved an influential force in American westward expansion. cf. James R. Gibson, Otter Skins, Boston Ships and China Goods (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992).
(Inventory #: 29983)
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