Howay [Haswell, Boit, Hoskins] “Voyages of the Columbia” (Part 3 of 5)

Venturing farther into the published collection of reports on the journeys of the ship that the Columbia River is named for…

Part 3:

Captain Robert Haswell’s journal of the 2nd voyage of the Columbia on the Pacific Northwest coast:


Haswell’s drawing of the Columbia and the Hancock in the Pacific Northwest, from his journals (image credit: Wikipedia)

We see on page 294 the ship arriving at Masset in Haida Gwaii on Thursday, August 18th, 1791. Other Euro-American traders are nearby, telling misleading tales in this stretch of pages about their successes or failures in trading with the Natives, which are put to the lie by Haswell & company’s finding the Haida villages depleted of sea otter skins. E.g. on page 296, “we soon found Ingraham was in the neighborhood”, evidently being told so by the Haidas.

As I consistently do, I ask you, does that — or anything else you’re about to read — show the existence of a pidgin / trading language on these coasts so early? At this point I’m afraid you’ll have real work to convince me that Chinook Jargon or even Nootka Jargon was yet a coherent medium of communication.

October 12th, 1791 (page 305) — The Nuuchahnulth chief Wickananish visits the ship with “one or two of his brothers. They gazed with much admiration at our house and vessel and expressed much wonder.” This same wording is used on the next page: “I am daily visited by some one or other of the Chiefs, who express great admiration at our artisans.”

Haswell has very little to report about what was supposedly said by Native people to him and his crew. He refers far more often to their actions and comportment, e.g. on page 309 at the Clayoquot village of Opitsaht, “Parties were frequently out shooting game and generally visited the village where they met with very civil treatment.”

So, most of the reported communication between the two cultures in this particular journal is secondhand. An example comes on page 310 (February 18, 1792):

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The fellow had gone but a little time before Ottoo our Sandwich Island lad informed Capt. Gray of a plot that was laid by the natives to capture the ship.

He told him Totoocheatecose had promised to make him a great Chief if he would wet our fire arms, and a sea-otter skin for each musket ball he would give him, telling him he meant to come through the woods and board the ship from the bank, and kill every person on board except him, and he must come to him as soon as the affray commenced.

Ottoo asked him when he would come. He at first said that night, but afterwards said the other tribes that were confederate with him were not ready and it would be two or three days first. It was not till supper that I knew anything of the matter…

More about this on page 312, February 20, 1792, in which a counterfactual proposition is expressed across the language divide:

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About 11 o’clock Toteescosettle a most notorious villain in the plot and who had intended to have murdered us the other night, came alongside with his father to sell his skins asking the gentlemen if they would not come down to the village or go shooting, perhaps imagining we did not hear them shout, or knew nothing of the matter.

However, Capt. Gray took the skins from him and ordered him immediately to leave the ship. He was also told that if his father had not been with him he would have been instantly shot. He immediately paddled off with an aspect deeply tinged with terror.

Haswell remarks that “had not Tatoocheatecose imparted the secret to Ottoo, in all probability they would have been successful.” (Pp. 312-313.) On page 313, continuing the entry for the same date:

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They had a long story to hide their intentinos, that they were going to attack a village called Highshakt and had purchased many muskets and some ammunition for that purpose, and even been very anxious that I should allow the smiths to make daggers to kill the Highshakt people with. This name possibly applied to us, or was fictitious, to delude us. They even told me when one of the Chiefs saw a number of the sloop’s blocks hanging in the house, that they should have the Highshakt people’s heads hanging in their houses in the same manner in a little while.

A footnote to this tell us,

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Highshakt may be, as Haswell suggests, a fictitious name. No village or band bearing that name is mentioned by any contemporary authority; nor is it to be found in the Report of the Commission on Indian Affairs (1916). But see the note on Hichaht, page 317, below.

Now up in Haida Gwaii, April 27, 1792:

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The natives frequently tell us that one Jones, a person belonging to Captain Crowel’s brig stayed among the natives of Tadents, and was now at Legonee. Whether this is a device of their own brain to amuse [ ~ tease us] or the fact, I know not.

[Footnote:] This plan, though frequently tried, was always a failure. The sailor soon tired of the life and shipped on the first vessel that would take him. Ingraham, writing of this incident in his MS. journal, July 2, 1792, says that Captain Crowell had left one of his seamen and had taken a native to Macao as a hostage. He continues: “The native was now returned, but it seems the man left the port in the first vessel that came the present season, which was a Portuguese brigantine belonging to Macao.” Legonee is Kaigahnee, on Dall Island, Alaska.

A chief of Masset, “Cattar“, “cannnot at present be identified”, says the footnote on page 324. Could this be another misunderstood occurrence of the Haida (pidgin?) word for ‘eat!’?

May 7, 1792 (page 328), still in Haida Gwaii:

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I had been informed by some of Coyah’s tribe that there was a ship laying at Barrel’s Inlet, and I had little reason to doubt them, as one of the natives had a jacket and trowsers they had purchased of them, on the buttons of which was printed, long live the President G[eorge]. W[ashington].

Pages 341-342 (July 9, 1792) in the vicinity of Masset, Haida Gwaii, news of the French sip La Flavie:

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I find that there has been a ship here commanded by one Ugon, whom I suppose to be the French gentleman we carried passenger from Macao to Canton in the Columbia last voyage. His chief mate it seems is Vianna, Capt. Douglass’ Portuguese captain in the Ephagene. Capt. Magee has been at Tadent’s Village.

Page 342, July 12, 1792:

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The 12th in the morning a canoe arrived from Tadents with information that Adamson was at that place in a ship. That Rogers was there in a brig, and they also speak of Barnett and Douglas, speaking highly of their generosity as is usual among them. Thus I find the northern coast is thronged with people well provided with cargoes, there is no doubt. They say Newbury and Treet are with Capt. Rogers.

July 11, 1792, pages 342-343, in the area of Dadens, Haida Gwaii:

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At about 10 AM the tide ebbing with the wind to the westward, we weighed and beat out and were followed by several of the natives vociferating strongly in my praise, wishing me well (for I had told them I should come there no more) saying others come, kill us, and take our property by force. You came, bartered with us, and hurt not a man. You are good.

Page 343, on July 12, 1792, same area:

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The morning was thick, unpleasant weather. Saw a sloop t the westward. At 11 a native came off who had been off to China with Capt. Crowell. He informed me he returned with Capt. Crowell and that Capt. Ingraham and Capt. Coolidge were both on the coast. 

In all of the preceding, I find it impressive how much communication was achieved between two cultural groups so recently brought into contact.

But I don’t find much that forces an explanation for this in some widely-used, established pidgin language.

Verbal exchange of information seems to have routinely been accomplished by an improvised blend of bodily gestures & scattered words that one hoped the other guy might catch on to.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?