Howay [Haswell, Boit, Hoskins] “Voyages of the Columbia” (Part 1A of 5)

An excellent source for research on the earliest Native contacts with Newcomers on the Pacific Northwest coast is BC judge F.W. Howay’s “Voyages of the “Columbia” to the Northwest coast, 1787-1790 and 1790-1793” (Portland, OR : Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990).

[Part 1B here.]

[Part 1C here.]

This book (originally published in 1941 in Massachusetts) is a compilation of the various preserved tellings of Boston (USA) trading vessel Columbia‘s trading trips along our coasts.

I’m presenting a 5-part mini-series showing some details about communication between these mariners and the Indigenous people of the region, to evaluate whether there was any pidgin language in existence or taking shape out here so early in the history of the meeting of these cultures.

Part 1 — Haswell’s journal of the first voyage of the Columbia, 1788-1789

1A :

haswell portrait and autograph

Robert Haswell portrait and autograph (from frontispiece)

One of the first landfalls these visitors made in the Northwest is recounted on pages 32-33, in far southwest Oregon around Cape Blanco, early August of 1788 off the Alsea River, Lincoln County, Oregon (thus with Alsea-language speakers, we can presume). This is likely to have been the first contact between these tribes and English-speakers, perhaps with any Euro-Americans, and there is no indication of either side understanding the other’s words. Instead, we have this characterization, typical of countless encounters along the PNW Coast as we constantly see in these early records, where gestures communicate far more than any words:

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they came very cautiously towards us nor would they come within pistol shot untill one of them a very fine look[in]g fellow had delivered a long oration accompaneying it with actions and Jestures that would have graced a Europan oritor     the subject of his discorse was designed to inform us they had plenty of Fish and fresh water onshore at there habitations which they seemed to wish us to go and partake of      we made them understand that skins was the articles we most wanted     these as well as we could understand them they would bring the ensuing day     we could proceve there Language was entierly different from those we had first fell in with to the southward

These people did indeed bring sea otter skins the next day.

A bit to the north of this, on page 34-35-36 we hear of visits with Native people, but no mention is made of any communication. On page 36, there’s an implication of communication with these folks, though: 36

About this time the old Chief who came onboard of us on the 13[th] about 6 Leagues to the Northward he had a great number of the natives with him all armed and they had no skins with them tho’ they were well convinced it was them alone we wanted and he had promused to supply us with some     however tho’ he had not fullfilled his engagement he mett with a very polight reseption.

Page 39: to the north, at a location believed to be Tillamook Bay (thus among speakers of Hutyéyu (Tillamook Salish) ) — again with no verbal communication as far as we can tell:

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We know but little of the manours and customs of these people our stay among them was so short.     the men ware no Cloathing but the skins of animels well dressed the women wore nothing but a petticoat of straw about as long as a highlanders kilt, there hutts were very small made of boards and a neat matt on the flore     they appeared to be very indolent and were intolerably filthey, there Canoes were very well shaped for paddling and every yousefull purpus     there language we attained to knoledge of and I am of opinion it was very Hard to lern.

On page 41, on Wednesday the 20th of August, 1788, in the vicinity of Grays Harbor, Washington, thus likely with Lower Chehalis (ɬəw’ál’məš) Salish people — here too there’s no communication that had to take place in words:


…at ten AM two canoes with four people in each came alongside     we purchased several sea otter skins of them at a very reasonable rate for iron but they expressed a great desire for copper.

On Thursday the 28th of August, 1788 (page 43), at Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, BC, among Nuučaan’uɬ (“Nootka” Southern Wakashan) speakers, it’s clear from their behaviour that Euro-Americans have already been to this place:


its beyond a doubt some English Ship must have visited here this season for they plainly articulated several English names     they were very extravigant in there demands for every thing we wished to purchase in concequence of which but little commertial intercorse took place 

On page 44 in the same area, the mariners are unsure whether they are understanding the mostly gestural communication of the Nuučaan’uɬ people:


…Several canoes came of having with them maney sea otter skins     they would not come alongsid the swell was so great and our vessell had so much motion but by sines gave us to understand that a little to the Eastward there was a harbour which they called Nootka     wether this name was applied to it to delude us in or it is the name of a harbour the great number of sea otter skins they were possessed of operated strongly in a determination to go in and its enterence was by this time fare in view

On Sunday the 31st, pages 44-45, there is extremely limited verbal understanding:



the weather was exceeding pleasant     earley in the morning a great maney of the Inhabitants came of Bringing with them an abundants of Skins but greatly to our mortification there was nothing in our vessell except muskits would perchace one of them but that was an article of commurce we were not supplied with having scarce armes enough for our defence     copper was all there cry and we had none for them, the principle or superior Chief of this tribe’s name is Wickananish     he visated us accompanyed by one of his Brothers completely Dressed in a genteel sute of Cloths which he said Capt. Mears had given him. Capt. Mears’s name was not the only one they mentioned for they spoke of Capt. Barkley Capt. Hannah Capt. Dunkin and Capt. Duglas     what they said of them we now knew so little of there language we could not Comprehend.

On page 45 Haswell reports that the tribes of Barkley Sound “who have intercourse with the European traiders” dominate trade with the Euro-Americans by getting furs from the inland/more distant tribes, who are thus deprived of direct contact with the Drifters. This pattern, we know from our voluminous reading, is replicated in other major PNW Coast trading centres, such as Chinook and Lingít (Tlingit) territory.

If you think about it, this is one reason why the early PNW maritime trade met the conditions for the development of a pidgin language: contact was pretty sustained (in that it kept recurring) and intense, being focused on commerce involving a small number of Indigenous nations.

Of related note, the Columbia crew happens to meet the Iphigenia Nubiana and the Felice Adventurer, whose captains strive to frighten them away from the supposedly hostile Natives while also assuring them there are almost no furs to be gotten locally! Trade competition was fierce all around.

Page 49, Wednesday September 17th, 1788, a statement of intent to “converse with” the Native people:


Disapointed at not finding the Columbia in the sound and at our geting no intercorse with the Natives not even to obtain the suplies of Fish and vegetables that were nesecery for the vessells youse Captain Gray in the long boat maned and armed went over to the other side of the sound in surch of some of there villages and by conversing with the inhabitants convince them of the friendly intention of our visate to the sound but they saw not one of the Natives     

Page 55, same area, December 12th, 1788, a very basic expression of innocence of a theft:


…on the morning of the 12th we found the natives had landed and carried of 5 small cannon given to Capt. Kendrick by Captain Douglass, 15 water casks besides several things of less importants     the water casks were a heavy loss nor knew we aney method to retrieve     the indions habitations were far distant from us     of course there chiefs and people of consequence were out of reach, the next natives that visated us told us the people of the oposite side of the sound with hoom they were at war were the agressers    

Page 56, January 28th, 1789, an expression of Native preferences in trade merchandise:

the 28th

the 28th a large canoe with the chief of Hancocks harbour his brother and several persons of distinction with upwards 30 excellant sea otter skins but they sold us but fue as they wanted Copper and muskits

Page 57, January 22, 1789, “inteligence” about this theft:


I accompaneyed the Captains Kendrick and Gray in two armed boats with an intention to Recover the stolen cannon having had inteligence at what village they were, but the place being much further distant than we at first had supposed we returned without success.

Also on page 57, March 5, 1789 — a crewman who seems to be learning words of one or more Indigenous languages particularly well is seen as a valuable recruit, even though he’s just led a mutiny on another vessel:


When we arrived in the sloop at this Cove we were informed by Captain Mears that he had had a very serious Mutiney onboard his ship and its ringleader was his Boatswane     Thursday 5. these people  where in confinement but supposing as we were week handed we would give shelter to one of them John Green the Boatswane broke out from the house where they were confined and the evening we first hauled on the ground to repair and clean our bottom he made his case known to Mr. Coolidg adding that he was well acquainted with the Coast and the languages Spoke on it. such a man as this as we ware all ignorent both of coast and languages it naturaly struck us might be servisable but Captain Gray had given captain Mears his word he would not take him on board while the snow [a kind of sailing ship] was in the port.

Page 58, March 10th, 1789, a threat is successfully conveyed:


The 10[th] Captain Kendrick having been informed that shelter was given by the natives to Monk threttened Culecum one of the greatest Chiefs with his most severe displeasure if the man was not delivered to him before long and in the evening we landed with two boats maned and armed and took him prisoner from one of the indion houses.

Also on page 58, a claim that the Columbia expeditioners have learned a great deal of Nuuchahnulth language; the accompanying word list will be valuable to examine:


Our constant converce with the Natives enabled us to gain a considerable knoledge of their Language Manours and customs I have here insurted a vocabulary which enabled us to converce on allmost aney Subject with facillity.

Page 59, also March of 1789 — the mariners get what they take as the fascinating information from the Nuučaan’uɬ that some Euro-American ship actually arrived here before Captain Cook’s supposed 1778 discovery of Nootka Sound:


but from the natives we lern their was a Ship anchored at the enterence of the Sound forty months before Captain Cooks arrival     from the description they must have been Spaniards but the natives say their boats weir not out duering their tarey…

Page 60 (more or less March 1789, but it’s general information about Nootka Sound area,  probably not closely tied to a single date):


…the natives tell me their is oak at Matchlat a village far up the Sound

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?