1795-1796: Bishop’s “Ruby” journals, and an amorphous NW Coast Jargon

I recently wrote a little about how Captain Charles Bishop’s ship “Ruby” may have been the first to linger in the Pacific Northwest, and thus may have inspired Chinuk Wawa.


(Image credit: clustrmaps)

I’ve pursued my research on this interesting trading voyage further, and am very happy to have bought a copy of the book reproducing Bishop’s journals in full.

This is “The Journal and Letters of Captain Charles Bishop on the North-West Coast of America, in the Pacific and in New South Wales, 1794-1799”, edited by Michael Roe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1967). (Hakluyt Society, Second Series, No. CXXXI.)

What I’m reading in it causes me to stick with my feeling that either the “Ruby” visit or the one just slightly earlier by the “Phoenix”, remaining in Chinookan country at the mouth of the Columbia River, were the very earliest possible occasions for the formation of a distinct Chinook Jargon.

In the case of Bishop, we can demonstrate that he and his crew were trying to talk “Nootka Jargon” with the Chinooks. Their NJ can be understood as including whichever English words were successful at facilitating trade and communication with these Chinookan and Salish people.

This mixed vocabulary, it’s virtually certain, had had 3 years to take root at the Columbia estuary, ever since the first Euro-American visit (by Gray’s “Columbia Rediviva” in 1792).

What I had suspected but not known very surely before, though, was that the earliest Drifters (those Euro-American fur traders) seem to have really tried using all Pacific Northwest “Indian” words that they knew, in every location that they visited. As a result, judging from Bishop’s journal, these Whites were talking a mix of Nuuchahnulth, Haida, Tsimshian, and English — and once they finally started visiting the Chinooks, they added in some Chinookan and Salish.

To me, that’s important news, implying that what we’ve taken as a separate pidgin Nuuchahnulth (when we think of the quasi-inferred, quasi-documented “Nootka Jargon”) was actually a more linguistically mixed “NW Coast Jargon” — kind of like Fort Vancouver (and later) Chinuk Wawa.

And it looks as if the Drifters adjusted their vocabulary to what was best understood by each tribe that they visited, so for instance we see them using less Nuuchahnulth and more Haida (and Tsimshian!) when in Haida Gwaii.

The reason that this is worth pointing out is that it gives us a different picture from our previous understanding that there was a completely separate pidgin Haida / “Haida Jargon”. Such a pidgin may very likely have eventually solidified as a separate lingo of its own, as it would appear from records about half a century later. (Similarly, other research that I’ve done suggests there was a distinct pidgin Heiltsuk around Bella Bella, BC, in the 1830s.) But in the earliest days of recurring Native-White contacts, it looks like there was a single pan-NW Coast Jargon, with vaguely distinctive local versions.

Let’s look at what Bishop’s journal tells us about the state of communication between Indigenous and Drifter in 1795 and 1796. I’ll use my trademarked 🙂 “linguistic archaeology” approach — (1) excavating all cases of verbal (and potentially verbal) interactions between the two cultural groups that involve information on actions not directly witnessed by the Euro-Americans, then (2) sifting through them for a more detailed understanding of what was going on. 

Heads up:

  • I won’t track the many occasions where the ship’s guns were fired to signal local Native people to come and trade.
  • When I mention any contact with a Native ethnic group, it occurs within their home territory unless otherwise specified.
  • Captain Bishop’s unusual capitalizations and spellings are not corrected here.
  • I make bold any words that I’ll be adding comments on (in parenthesized italics).
  • I used the Sealaska Foundation’s dictionaries of Haida and Tsimshian, and John Stonham’s of Nuuchahnulth, to find the etymologies of words shown by Bishop, so I use their spelling systems.


Page 57 — May 23, 1795 — the Chinooks inform the “Ruby” crew that a Captain Moore “or Moven” had recently been here; the Whites infer that Moore wintered here in “Deception Bay” (modern Baker Bay on the lowermost Columbia River).

  • (Capt. Moore of the “Phoenix”; note the Indigenous pronunciation)

Pages 57-58 — May 24 (apparently), 1795 — the Chinooks “very frankly told us they had no more” skins to trade.

Page 59 — June 7 — Quileutes “Spoke nearly the same language as those of Deception Bay”, a comparison with Chinookans that plainly shows these Drifters had essentially no grasp of either of these very different, unrelated languages. Their above first communication with the Chinookans must have been largely nonverbal.

Page 60 — June 11 — Haidas of Haida Gwaii “promised to return next day for more Clemens as they called our Goods, and bring plenty of Nickies“.

  • (Haida hlamál ‘elkhide’ (note the [l~n] variation with Bishop’s form);
  • Haida náak’aay ‘sea otter skin (Definite form)’;
  • Note, doubtful whether the Haidas were using English noun plural suffix -s!)

Page 62 — June 15 — Haidas of Haida Gwaii “promised us Plenty of Nickies if we would go into their Sound.

Pages 62-63 — June 16 — among the Haidas of Haida Gwaii “the Eannas are Kings, and Govern the men throughout these Islands…”

  • (likely Haida janáas ‘women belonging to a particular group (NOTE: This word does not get used on its own in Haida. It only occurs in compounds that describe particular groups of women’ [in fluent native Haida]; also note that it seems to be taken by Bishop as containing the English noun plural suffix -s;
  • perhaps compare Haida jaadáa ‘women, girls, female (plural)’; note the [dž~y] variation with Bishop’s form and his anomalous independent use of this word)

Page 64 — June 20, 21 — Haidas of Haida Gwaii call Chief Comswa’s (Cumshewa’s) island Lenna Huen. The Drifters try to push them to trade skins at a better price by threatening “that we Should Sail before the Morning”, but to no effect. “…here we learned that a Ship had preceeded us and had gone on the the Northward but a little time since.”

  • (Haida, cf. perhaps the first element in hlan-gwáay ‘the world, the earth’ but again this is a word that we only seem to find in compounds in native speakers’ Haida (gwáay is ‘island’) ;
  • Haida í’waan ‘large, big (singular)’
  • Note however, this is native Haida syntax, with a Noun-Attributive Adjective word order)

Pages 65-66 — June 22 — Haidas of Haida Gwaii: “They made Signs that there was a good Harbour inside the Small Islands which we were within a mile of … We under stood from the Natives that they had 30 or 40 Skins … Having Expressed our intention [of seeing how many furs they had], the Indians very Frankly met us half way … We now expressed our desire the see the Sea otter skins when to our mortification we found they had only two … The Indian pointed to the dead seals and made signs that they were the skins he meant … the Natives telling us that they would have the Skins dressed ready for Sale by Sun Rise the next morning we resolved to wait…”

Pages 67-68 — June 23 — Tsimshians apparently visiting in Haida Gwaii; the Whites are “Intending to Proceed round the South End and examine the East shore having had information from the natives of a Tribe whose chiefs name is Shakes, living somewhere in the Sound…who the Indians said had plenty of Nickees.”

Page 69 — June 25 — Bishop and crew are searching for the Tsimshians of “Smokett Shake’s Tribe”.

  • (Sm’algyack Tsimshian shm’oygit ‘chief’.)

Pages 69-70 — June 26 — Tsimshians of that tribe tell Bishop’s people “that they had Quan Nuckee’s (Plenty of Otter Skins) and would be down alongside tomorrow.”

  • (Haida kwáan ‘lots of’
  • Note, this is non-native Haida word order; native speakers’s syntax is Noun-Quantifier, however Quantifier-Noun word order is native to Tsimshian)

Pages 70-71 — June 27 — A Tsimshian chief named Eskinnia “was dressed in a Cottsack composed of 24 beautiful small Skins…He came avowedly to Examine the Ship, her Crew and the Articles of trade, sent by the Great Smokett, (Shakes). After Breakfasting with us he Asked my Name, then throwing off his dress at my Feet Said Tinkasta, (I give you) Smokett!…They took their departure highly Gratified Promising to bring the Huen Smokett (Great Chief) down to the Ship–…[Shakes and his party arrive] …they lay on their paddles some time viewing the Hu’en Clue, (GREAT SHIP)…it was dark before we got more than 20 Skins when the Cannoes left us Promising to return next day.”

  • (Nuuchahnulth k̓ʷaƛ-aq ‘sea otter skin/hide/fur’;
  • cf. maybe Haida dángg hl isdáasaang ‘I’ll give [it] to you’…..;
  • Haid tlúu ‘boat, ship, canoe’;
  • Note, Huen Smokett mixes Haida & Tsimshian;
  • Note, both Huen Smokett & Huen Clue again use non-native Haida syntax, but Atrributive Adjective-Noun order is used in Tsimshian)

Page 72 — June 28 — Tsimshians have not been visited by Euro-Americans very much.

Page 72-74 — July 9 — Tsimshians — “Shakes and his People where not a little Glad when we made them sensible that we should return in 2 months … From what we could understand from the Natives no Ship had ever been there before us, but they knew a Captain Ingream [Ingraham] who had traded in 1791-2 on this Coast, from Boston…[some Tsimshian sea otter hunters offered some skins] but the skins being raw, we made signs to them to take them up to their women and let them dress them, and bring these together with their other Furs in the morning & we would purchase them all…We should now have Sailed if there had been any wind and the natives seeing this, made signs very fervently not to go, and Paddled away with great haste promising to bring down (Quan Nickees) Plenty of skins.

Page 76 — July 13 — different (Nass River) Tsimshians — “It is a doubt with us, wither these People had ever seen a vessel before…the Place they came from was called by them Nash”

Page 76 — July 14 — Nass Tsimshians “left us with a Promise to return the next day or more.”

Pages 76-77 — July 16 — Tlingits? “From the chief we learned that they where in a State of Hostility with these [Nass] People and that they Eat their Captives. This was spoken with such an air of detestation…These People appeared to have seldom seen a Ship by their curiosity and suprize at the various movements Exibited. They however understood the use of Powder and Arms. These articles formed the Principal medium of our Barter.”

Pages 80-81 — July 27 — Alaskan Haidas; one man, “taking me by the Hand Said ‘How do you do Sir.’ ‘Cluto (ship) be England King George Cluto.’ ‘He be Boston Cluto.’ [I.e. he’s asking whether it’s an English or American ship.] When answer’d it was an English ship He expressed great Satisfaction. He now told us his Name, Illtadza, said He was chief, Equal to Kowe ‘and lived at the same place at a nother village’. He also informed us of Captain Moore’s having been there: but had Sailed a good while ago: he also mentioned another Captain. He promised us a Large Quantity of Furs…Illadza knows Captain Adamson of Mr Teast[‘s] Ship the Jenny, and Counted 12 moons since he was at Port Mears, where he got ‘Quan Nuckees‘.”

  • (Note the pidgin-style English;
  • Haida tlúu ‘boat, ship, canoe’ + perhaps Haida taw ‘friend; clan member’ (which is seemingly only used in native Haida in compound words as (as first member there), as we’ve seen with a couple words above); perhaps with influence from Nuuchahnulth ƛatw’a ‘paddle steadily’;
  • Chinuk Wawa later had kʰinchóch ‘British’;
  • CW later bástən ‘American’ — both terms surely were in wide use before the known earliest existence of CW (1805).)

Page 81 — July 28 — More Alaskan Haidas — “The Chief was the person mentioned in Mears voyages to the N West America who Exchanged names with Captain Douglas when he first discovered this Large Tribe. Upon his approaching the ship he called out ‘Douglas Con nee ha’, ‘what’s YOUR name’. Upon being answered he said he had no skins to sell but that he was going to Shakes upon a trading Expidaton … Illtadza told us Douglas Con nee ha was chief of the whole district, and that himself and Kowe where the next but where all united under the command of the ‘Huen Smokett‘ Douglas Con nee ha … Kowe and his family came off in a Jolly boat which a Captain ‘Hubbuts‘ (Roberts) had given him … Said Captain ‘Moore’ and Captain ‘Lukwanny‘ (Lewberry) [Newbury] had been there before us and he had Sold most of his nuckees, but nevertheless, when we had bought all that was at ‘Cye Ganny’ as he called his Town, he would conduct the Ship to where we should get Plenty of Trade … He also informed us that Comswa…had Cutt off a Brig beloning to Boston the Captain’s name Paulin or ‘Pullen‘ (Berleig) [Burley/Burleigh] and Killed all the Crew but one man, a Sailor, which he keeps at his house, that as soon as they see a ship apper they Put him in a cave in Irons.”

  • (Note the Native-style pronunciation of ‘Newbury’, where the original /b/ becomes /kw/, more in the style of Tlingit speakers, who had until recently been the inhabitants of what became Alaskan Haida territory;
  • however, ‘Roberts’ is quite recognizable, and the original /b/ in ‘Burley’ doesn’t undergo such a change.)

Pages 82-84 — July 30 — Alaskan Haidas — Bishop relays a good deal of information on local social structure and how it varies seasonally. He goes on, “I am Informed that several Families uniting look out for a Small Island near the Main where they build their houses on Stages formed by the fell’d Trees. This is their Strong hold. They here defy the Attack of their Enemies.” Chief Kowe has been living on board and sleeping in Bishop’s cabin, so the latter has been learning a lot about Haida life from him; “It appears that when a Chief dies his children do not inherit the fathers office, but his brother and so on till they are all Dead. It then takes its right through the Male Issue of the Eldest sister and on in Succession through the Family, and in Case of default an Election takes Place in another Family. They mostly have but one wife, however the Chiefs tread out of the Common road and Kowe has his Trio. The women seldom have more than four children, scarcely ever five and Six is a Prodigy. When told that the Queen [Charlotte Sophia] had borne 16 [actually 15] they would hardly credit the assertion, and being informed that myself was one of eleven they surveyed me with great attention repeating the account to each other for some time … [Bishop discusses] the small Pox which raged here a few years since, and by Kowes Account, swept off two thirds of the People, scarcely any that where affected Survived — They understand the use of Fire Arms well and Kowe himself is reckoned the Best Marksman among them … Kowe informed us that as soon as Trade was over and the ‘Huen Clews‘ great ships where all gone and they had Provided their winters Store of Fish, that the whole tribe united where going to attack Comswa in a fleet of Thirty War Cannoes and requested if we should touch there not to Sell them Powder Musketts and Ball.” [Further details of intra-Haida warfare follow.]

  • (Note again the possible use of English noun plural -s.)

Pages 84-85 — July 31 — Alaskan Haidas “think when they die they cease to be, or to express it in their own words they are ‘Illewe‘, ALL gone. Yet they believe there is a God which is Called by them Eds-wee, that He is very good, lives in a Great House and that he never dies … as Kowe is an intelligent Fellow I took some Pains to inform him what our conceptions where in this respect. He seem’d much delighted and heard me with Great Attention when I said that If He was good and died and I was also and died, that we should meet and talk and live in Gods House, but if we where ‘Pee shae‘ bad, God would throw us in fire where we should be ‘Illewe‘.”

  • (Nuuchahnulth p’išaq ‘bad, wicked, harmful, evil’, which later became Chinuk Wawa pʰishak ‘bad’; 
  • Haida híiluu ‘to vanish, pass out of existence, become all gone, used up, depleted’, which later became CW hílu ‘no; none; all gone/used up’)

Page 86 — August 9 — Alaskan Haidas — “Kowe has been as good as is Word. We have Procured a nother lot of very fine Furs … [as the “Ruby” is about to leave, a local stowaway is found,] “Being Questioned with respect to his intent he said he wanted to go and see ‘King Georges England‘ … I had before told Illtadza that we should not leave the Coast his season and when to Expect to see me here again.”

  • (Note that ‘England’ and ‘King George’ seem to keep occurring together as a phrase…)

Page 87 — August 12 — Alaskan Haidas report that the Russians who still control Alaska are not as generous or as friendly as the British, so the locals don’t sell any furs to them, and in fact would like to just attack the Russians.

  • (I can’t help taking this eyewitness observation as tending to back up the idea that the Russians would never have had a pidgin language in use with Native people, because they treated their contacts with Indigenous folks as a less valuable resource than did the Western Europeans and Americans.)

Pages 88-89 — August 18 — Alaskan Haidas? seemingly farther north from Kaigani? — “These People told us that the tribes where at this Season of the year, divided into distinct Families and resided in seperate branches of the Sound for procuring their winters stock of Salmon and other Food. Kowe had before told us we should get little trade to the Northward [in Tlingit country]…”

Page 89 — August 21 — Alaska Haidas tell Bishop “that Douglas Con nee ha had returned from his voyage to Shakes. One of his people informed me that they did not get a single Fur from Shakes, that chief reserving them for us. He, also, said, he had a large Quantity.

Page 91 — August 25 — Tsimshians — Shakes wants to buy the jolly boat that Bishop was given by the Alaskan Haidas; “I demanded ten which after some debate and shewing him the use of her Sails he agree’d to bring tomorrow … [the Englishmen don’t understand they’re being teased with a cannibalism joke;] on Mr Williams the chief officer asking some of them for Salmon which lay in their Cannoes, saying ‘Lux Tekeeda’ (good food) they Said ‘Come, Esskie Lux Tekeeda‘ (no, this is good food) taking hold of his hand and making a sign of eating it.

  • (Compare Haida ‘láa ‘good’, táaw k’anáa ‘raw food’ and/or táwhlk’ada ‘to take O[bject] food along as on a trip’, again a Tsimshian/English syntax is used contra native Haida’s Noun-Attributive Adjective syntax táaw ‘láa ‘good food’; 
  • Haida gáa’anuu ‘no!’; Haida asgáay ‘this, these’
  • Native Tsimshian & Haida syntax both are apparently unlike the English-style Demonstrative Copular Subject-Copular Complement style seen her, instead using the reverse word order from this.)

Page 92 — August 26 — Tsimshians — “Shakes having requested me to fire a shotted Great Gun”, Bishop did so, and “Shakes immediately requested I would give him one to shew the Women. The hint struck us, directly, that the Eannas had been urging them to attack the Ship…We also learned that these People knew of Comswas success”

Pages 92-93 — August 30 — Tsimshians — “We have however been visited by a Single scout Cannoe every day, and each day with different People in her. They… always said that the Huen Smokett would be with us the following day, with Plenty of Skins…From the cannoe that has visited us lately, we have learned that Douglas Con nee ha is expected by Shakes and that Hydee, the chief of a Tribe to the Souhtward of this is now at Shake’s House.–“

Page 93 — August 31 — Tsimshians — “the scout cannoe as usual with Promises that he [Shakes] would come tomorrow, — TOMORROW (Peeshae).”

  • (Of course this last word is Bishop’s evaluation of the situation as ‘bad’, not any claim by him that this word means ‘tomorrow’!)

Pages 94-96 — September 11 — Nuuchahnulths in Nootka Sound — “The Spaniards have evacuated this Place and gone to the Straits of John De Fuca where they have a Fort. This took Place by the natives Account two months ago…[Chief Maquilla/Maquinna comes aboard;] …we conclude that the Spaniards have given up this Place and that Captain Broughton is in England to settle it. We told the Chief so, and him and his People expressed much Satisfaction on hearing it, and where very Ready to ‘Peeshae’ the Spaniards, who had killed their Favourite ‘Canningham‘ or as Mears Calls him Callicum and many others. — ‘Wacush — Wacush Englies’. ‘Peeshae — Peeshae Hispannia — cocksuttle Canningham’. ‘PEESHAE HISPANNIA.’ Freinds Friends the English. Bad Bad the Spaniards. They killed Canningham. BAD THE SPANIARDS.” [Bishop now gives confirmation that Capt. Moore did spend the last winter in ‘Deception Bay’, Chinook country, but he probably didn’t get this information from Nuuchahnulth folks; knowledge, rather from the English and Spanish written communications handed to him by Maquinna. Bishop gives news of other Euro-American fur traders, from similar sources. The sailor held hostage by Haida Chief Comswa, noted above, was eventually ransomed, but he was…] “so worn down by Grief and cruelty, he had scarce strength to assend the side of the ship, and sitting down on the deck on his hams like the Natives, expressed his feelings in a broken manner with a mixture of his own and the Natives Language and it was not for some days afterwards that he was enabled to give any Account of his captivity, &c.–” [Bishop’s commentary on the sailor’s sufferings also uses a South Seas Jargon word, i.e. of Polynesian origin, maro, defined by the editor as a ‘girdle’; in modern Hawai’ian it’s malo ‘a men’s loincloth’.]

  • (In Canningham, note again the NW Coast Indigenous tendency to vary between /l~n/.
  • Nuuchahnulth waakaaš ‘bravo! ([borrowed] from Kwak’wala)’; as presented here, it would seem as if it were being used as a noun ‘friend’, with Indigenous syntax placing the intransitive (here a copular) subject ‘English’ after it, as we also see later in Chinuk Wawa; the same word order is used in Peeshae Hispannia; 
  • note the slightly Indigenized pronunciation of ‘English’ as Englies, but Hispannia is probably Bishop’s overly literary spelling of Spanish España ‘Spain’;
  • I take Bishop’s interspersed “–” to indicate pauses between distinct statements, therefore apparently Maquinna wasn’t saying *’the bad Spanish killed Callicum’; cf. Nuuchahnulth qaḥšiƛ ‘die’; here we have either a subjectless transitive word order placing verb before object, as also in later CW, or else another typical intransitive, ‘Callicum died’.)

Page 105 — September 21 — Nuuchahnulths — “We where visited to day by the 2d Brother of Wicannanish, his Name Tatootche Tatticus, ‘Thunder & lightning’. A fine bold Warlike Person, and of very agreeable manners, he speaks a little English, and on every Subject we discoursed on, was very ready to understand, and Expressed himself in such a manner as to be easily understood by us. He invited us to go to Claoquoit as soon as the weather would Permit telling us his Brother had a good many Furs at his Maghettie (House).”

  • (Nuuchahnulth maḥt’ii ‘house’.)

Pages 105-106 — September 25 — Nuuchahnulths — “…Wiccannanish…Presenting his Cottsack of two otter Skins, Ricieved in Return a Beautiful Great Coat and a Hatt, when he took his leave on our Promising to go into his Port…”

Page 106 — September 28 — Nuuchahnulths — a chief visits; “He said his Name was Hyhocus, & was Subject to Wiccannanish at Cloaquoit about 3 Leagues to Westward of this Place, but that if we would go into his Port, he had 50 skins and would sell them to us, and would also send a Cannoe to Claoquoit to inform Wiccannanish of our situation, who he said would come to his Place with Skins–“

Page 106 — October 2 — Nuuchahnulths — Wiccannanish visits, “and beged we would Anchor again, and trade with him, and that moreover he would visit us again in two days if we would stay…we where Suprized by his demanding to know if we would sell the Ship, and for which he offered to Procure a Cago of Furs, obseving that the American Snow [vessel] would carry us together with the Skins to China…However he was of course answered in the Negative: but not without a Promise that when the ship returned I would bring one out agreeable to his Wishes…The agreement was made for a very ample Quantity of the best Skins — Hyhocus has sold but two of the Fifty skins he Promised us and to day frankly acknoledged that he had before dispos’d of htem to his Sovereign, Wiccannanish…That he is a liar we have experienced…[after allegedly murdering a canoeful of people,] He had however the modesty to tell us, that he had only riffled them, and then let them go. Of this we had our doubts and observing a matt containing something that was Curiously rapped up, we desired to see the contents but could not Prevail…We however learned the whole affair from one of Wiccannanish’s People the next day.”

Page 107-108 — October 5 — Nuuchahnulths — “Wiccannanish is one of the most easy People to deal with I ever knew; He Prides himself in having but one Word in a Barter: he Throws the Skins before you, these are the Furs, I want such an Article: if you object, they are taken back into the Cannoe and not offered again. A Stranger not knowing this Whim of his, would loose many skins — …Wiccannanish took his leave of us with a Promise if the weather would Permit to visit us again in a few days…”

Page 108 — October 10 — Nuuchahnulths — two chiefs visit “their names where Yapasuet & Annathat. They made some trade with us, and Promised to return again in two days — I believe these People are independant of Wiccannanish, but speak the same language and are of the same Manners and Persons…”

Page 114 — October 25 — Chinooks — “…we learn…that Taucum who resided up Chinnook [Columbia] river when we where here before, is gone with his tribe a good way to the Northward up Woolquet [Wallacut] River…there is…a Small River to Eastward called by the Natives Ellemechs [Chinook River]…”

Pages 116-118 — December 1 — Chinooks — “Shelathwell, chief next to Taucum, has a Child by one of his Women Slaves, which he ascribes to Mr Williams, the 1st: officer, who was here four years ago in Mr Teasts ship the Jenny. We have not been able hitherto to Prevail upon him to bring it onboard, Perhaps fearful that the Father would claim his right to have it…But tho’ I write thus [approvingly] of these People now, I am sensible had I acted so [trusting of the Chinooks] when we where here before, they would have eagerly snatched the advantage which the absence of half the crew gives them. The Buisness is I was then a Stranger, and a Stranger with them is always accounted an Enemy, till known by time or a 2d visit, in fact ’till they have confidance in him[.] The chiefs tell me of three Masters of vessels that they are war With, if ever they come there again. These, for we can only hear a lame account from them, as to the cause, was Induced to fire on the Natives no doubt in their Defence of Lives & Ship…Several of the Chinnook people where wounded but they say none where killed…Shelathwell and Comcomally the two chiefs next to Taucum…are going on a trading Expidition tomorrow for 10 days and Promise to Bring good trade.”

  • (The point that strangers are considered enemies is highly compatible with the consistent anthropological observation that PNW Coast tribal societies operated as a network of intermarried neighbors. Thus a newcomer arriving at some village and unable to speak the language of anyone there was obviously not an ally. By contrast, members of the trading web of in-laws had by definition someone who could do their interpreting for them — all without any need for a pidgin or trading language. That’s a situation that changed suddenly upon the arrival of the totally alien Drifters.)

Pages 118-119 — December 7 — Chinooks — “Their mode of trade is somewhat curious, and afforded us an hearty laugh has [as] he [Comcomally] more curiously distribed it. They go up the River Chinnook two or three hundred miles and come to Strange villages, where they land and offer trade with some trifling pieces of Copper or Iron. The Strangers naturally demand more. The chief then gives the Signal and they all discharge their Pieces laden with Powder, into the Air. These People never having heard or seen such a Strange Phenomena throw off their Skins and Leather War Dresses and fly into the woods, while the others Pick them up, and leave on the Spott the articles first offered. Then they Proceed to other Places in like manner…but we suppose this mode cannot last long, as they will naturally be aware of a Second visit of the kind.”

Pages 119-120 — December 8 — Chinooks — a visiting chief “said his Name was Bucquoinuc and lived at Queenhythe [Quinault], adding that the Queenhythe People where good, very good…Being charged with the fact [of the massacre of the “Imperial Eagle’s” boat crew] with all the severity my imperfect knoledge of the language would admit, he Said that he knew of the Fate of Mr Millar, whose name he Pronuonced with great Propriety, as the chief, but said it was not done at Queenhythe, but at Queen-en-uett [Quileute], a villige a little to the Northward of the Former. He told us that Mr Millar, having been invited, had landed on the beach with the boats crew and began to trade with them for Skins, and the the Queen:en:uett People suddenly seized them, and cutt them to Pieces which was sent all over the country, to the differant tribes that where at Peace with them…both the Chinnook Peoples Testimony and our own knoledge of this Maloncholly event Proved him a liar…being told that we intended to carry him, as a Present to Mr Millars Father and Wife, he exprssed but little uneasyness, and seemed quite reconsciled to be putt to death. His cannoe Paddled away with great haste and in about an hour brought Shelathwell and comcomallys wives with several of the Chinnook People on board. These People acknoledged the fact to have happened at Queenhythe and said that Parts of these Poor Fellows with their apparel had been sent to them who not being cannibals had refused accepting any thing but their Cloaths or Arms, with some of their hair as curiosities. They told us that this Man was but a Small chief, and that at that time he did not live at Queenhythe…Shelathwells wife was very urgent to have him set at liberty, telling me he was come on a Marrige treaty with one of her Daughters, and considering the matter altogether, that we had thus an opportunity of shewing these People how we would act if Driven to desperate measures, I became glad of this excuse of letting him go, making him Promise, which I am Pretty shure he never will Perform, to come on board when Shelathwell returns…In the Evening, Comcomally returned…having left Shelathwell…up the River Chinook. In their Passage from thence an heavy sea upset the Cannoe and he lost two Guns, two Leather dresses and a Moose Deer…The Women ascribed the late Bad weather to us, Several of the Chinnook People being on board, when the New moon was first seen and Pointed at with our Fingers, these People immediately caught hold of our hands, saying it was ‘Peeshae’ that we should offend her, and we should be punnished with Bad Weather. This led to an Enquirey if they Worshipped this Lunar Goddess, and we find they do as well as the Sun — but we could not learn if they used any Particular ceremony towards these Objects[.]” [The editor footnotes this, “This would seem to be a case of informants answering ‘yes’ to whatever they were asked.’]

  • (Here we have one of the earliest examples of the confusion among non-Native people between the Quileutes and Quinaults, two unrelated ethnic groups.
  • The occurrence of the phrase ‘a small chief’ is remarkably parallel to the known Vancouver Island-area expression in later Chinuk Wawa, tənəs-táyí ‘little chief, minor chief’. 
  • The ‘Peeshae’ above is the earliest known instance I know of where Chinookans use a Nuuchahnulth word.)

Pages 121-122 — December 21 — Chinooks — “…I am sorry to add that two of them [clemens] where obtained at the Expense of the lives of the wearers…they fell in with a Cannoe with two men which they took and upsetting her killed the Poor Fellows in the Water. This Discovery was made After we had bought their Leather War Dresses…and which unknown to the chiefs ws related to us by a Brother of Comcomally[.]”


Pages 122-123 — January 14 — Chinooks — “Comcomally…had recieved a blow in the Mouth…I laughing told him, it was our manner of Play and where nothing ill was meant, with us, nothing ill was taken…this morning his wives came off telling me he was ill and desired I would go on Shore to him, which, our being very busy, was objected to.”

Page 123 — January 17 — Chinooks — “Comcomally came on board Friday Morning. Said he fired the Ball [3 days prior] at the Ducks and did not intend it near the ship…he is going tomorrow in his cannoe up the River to kill Wild Geese and Procure Some Fresh fish for us previous to our Sailing — and Shelathwell is going away to get ‘Wapatoes’ (wild potatoes) as his Parting gift–“

  • (Cf. the probably Upper Chinookan wáptʰu ‘wapato, Sagittaria bulb’, which ultimately seems to be borrowed from K’alapuyan; this occurrence of the word seems to be the earliest known written record of it.)

Pages 123-124 — January 22 — Chinooks — “The Surgeon lent him [Shelathwell] an excellent great Coat simply on his Promise of returning it in 4 days…They all express sorrow at our going away, and very anxious to know the time when they may Expect our returning to them again. We learned from Shelathwell that Bucquoi nuc the chief from Queenhythe…was sitting by a Fire where Powder was laid to dry, which going off, Blew him to Pieces.”

Pages 124-129 — January 23 & following — Chinooks — “…the Natives crouded round the ship With Expressions of Friendship and sorrow…Bucquoinuc was one who came on this treaty [i.e. the exhibiting of one of Shelathwell’s daughters to neighboring chiefs for potential marriage], and the mother told me it was expected he would Pay the Price demanded and obtain her. I jocusely asked ‘Sitelnayoe’ for that is her Name to accompany me in the ship, and was told to ask her Father. The old man Damanded fifty Sheets of Copper and twenty fathems of Cloth and that the Chief officer should Stay with him as a Pledge for her Safty. These people have as many Wives as they can Purchase or Provide for, thus Taucum has ten…About six years ago, the Chinnook tribes united, went with 100 large War Cannoes, and near 100 Smaller ones, twenty days travel up that River, when they came to some great Water fall, up which they Dragged their Cannoes into a lake, over which they Paddled ten days more and in the night came unawares on a large tribe inhabiting the farther shores of this lake. The men where totally distroyed, and the Women and Children made Slaves and brought to Chinnook in Triumph. The cause of this destructive Expidition, I never could rightly understand, and wither they where urged on, or By Avirice or Revenge remains unknown to us…As none of us are acquainted with Bottoney, I can offer nothing on that head…Except the Wild Potatoe called by the Natives ‘Wapatoe’ which we have seen nowhere else.”

(Could Taucum by any chance be the Chinookan and Chinuk Wawa word for ’10’, táɬlam, or a confusion with Chinookan/CW/Salish táx̣am ‘6’?)

Summary observations

In Bishop’s journal, we see words of various Coastal languages being used by people outside the home territory of each of those languages, e.g. we find Nuuchahnulth vocabulary used by Haidas and Chinooks, Haida lexicon used by Tsimshians and the reverse, Kwak’wala terminology used by Nuuchahnulths, English used by Haidas and Nuuchahnulths and the reverse. In this, we find an explanation, for instance, for the previously mysterious occurrence of Haida-derived hílu in Chinook Jargon. 

Furthermore, we find bits of these languages being mixed together into a pidgin that cannot be clearly identified with any one of them.

And the syntax that we find shows clear traits of English influence, at the same time that it already displays a number of the basic traits of what we identify 10+ years later, in Lewis & Clark’s journals and many more, as Chinook Jargon. 

Certain metaphors that are characteristic, and distinctive, of later CJ are already detectable in Bishop’s information.

It’s plausible that we’re seeing English influence in changing the pronunciation of originally-Indigenous words, in line with what’s been long noted about the Nuuchahnulth-origin words in CJ. But this is hard to conclude from a single writer’s notes that are largely for his own benefit. That is, it would be much more instructive if we found some of the pronunciations implied by Bishop’s spellings occurring in other folks’ documentation of their own communications with PNW Coast people. 

We see a number of indications already in Bishop’s 1795-1796 notes that Chinookan is already becoming an influence on the moving target that appeared to be the White coast traders’ makeshift pidgin lingo.

We’re presented with a great amount of information that Bishop and crew managed to exchange with certain groups. It’s particularly clear that these Drifters developed quite intense relationships with Haidas, Tsimshians, Nuuchahnulths, and especially with the Chinooks who they exceptionally stayed among for several months. Contrast this with the much lower amount and depth of what they were able to discuss with Nass Tsimshians and (apparent) Tlingits, both of whom had had fewer contacts with Whites and among whom Bishop’s people spent very little time. 

My feeling is that it’s very useful to have a new insight that “Nootka Jargon”, “Haida Jargon”, “Chinook Jargon”, “Pidgin English” and such were by no means necessarily distinct entities — at least at such an early date. At the time of Bishop’s visit, fragments of Nuuchahnulth, Haida, Chinookan, and English etc. all were influencing each other, and being used in proportions that varied quite simply in reaction to how quickly and how well you could make yourself understood in a given location on the coast.

That calculus of course had everything to do with how much cumulative time speakers of language A had spent among those of language B — but only within the new Euro-American trading context.

Inter-Indigenous contacts prior to that would have been largely managed via the age-old tradition of marrying into tribes other than your own. Thus, for instance, we wouldn’t imagine that there would have been any such thing as a Haida/Tsimshian pidgin prior to the sudden (and sometimes literal) “arms race” of trading that was kicked off by the arrival of the Drifters out of the blue.

Note that the earliest Euro-American PNW coast traders, who as a rule made only sporadic, brief visits, did not yet marry into the Indigenous cultures. That strategy became feasible only in the next generation (especially 1811-1825, as both Fort Astoria and Fort Vancouver gathered new multiethnic settlements around themselves), when overland traders could be expected to spend a protracted amount of time in the region.

At that later point, as a result, we know that Chinuk Wawa rapidly transformed from a comparatively nebulous pidgin language into a stabilized domestic one — and thus, CW became a part of the ancient inter-ethnic “in-law” network. Correspondingly, CW was all of a sudden a language that one of your relatives could translate for you, but with the twist that you probably didn’t need that help. Virtually everyone was learning CW really fast and usually really well, up until the late 1800s time when Settlers outnumbered and out-influenced Indigenous people in the PNW. 

Bonus fact:

There’s also some Chinese Pidgin English quoted in this book, for example “How can do so, what for you make afraid” on page 172, from a Canton (Guangdong) merchant.

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?