Thomas Lowe’s journal is the only source of information that I have at the moment, on what was happening at Fort Vancouver in Spring and early Summer of 1845. He is our guide to the history of the two headquarters, at least before 1846.
We ended the last blogpost in this series at the end of March, 1845. So what happened at Fort Vancouver after that date? On April 1st, 1845, a seaman who was working on the rigging of the London ship, Vancouver, fell from the rigging into the river and was drowned. “The water was dragged with the sieve,” Lowe reported, “but his body could not be found.” The seaman’s body would be found by the Indians on March 22nd, “washed ashore abreast of the lower plain,” and he was buried in the afternoon — probably in one of the Fort Vancouver graveyards.
On April 5, the “after Express” was sent off from Fort Vancouver, catching up with the main party of the York Factory Express at Fort Colvile. There was always a boat that went upriver a few days after the York Factory Express left Fort Vancouver, but I had not known it had a name until Thomas Lowe called it the “after express” in his journals.
On April 12, “Mr. Ross’s clothes were sold by auction this evening in the Fort, and sold high.” I presume that these were Charles Ross’s garments, although he died in 1844 at Fort Victoria. To me, it seems that to wait a year to sell his clothing was quite a long wait. Dr. John McLoughlin, who is spending much of his time at the Wallamette Falls, returns to Fort Vancouver. On the 17th of April, 1845, Lowe writes: “Mr. Lewis left the Service today to settle at the Cattle-pootle, and is succeeded in the charge of the men by Mr. [William] McBean [later of Fort Nez Perces], who has returned from the Mill Plains.” Mr. Lewis is, of course, Adolphus Lee Lewes [son of John Lee Lewes], who left the HBC’s service to settle at Cathlapotle, on the Columbia River somewhere west of Fort Vancouver.
This had been and continued to be a cold spring with lots of rain, and according to Lowe’s journal it rained almost every day in April, 1845. The early potatoes were ruined by the wet, but the Fort Nisqually sheep (which for some reason were at Fort Vancouver) began to lamb, and as there were some 750 ewes, the men would have had quite a collection of playful lambs to look after. On the 19th April the ship, Cadboro, which had been hauled up on the river bank for repairs in the fall, was once again floated, “the river having risen sufficiently high for that purpose,” Lowe reported. “She has been throughly repaired.” The little ship sailed on May 3rd, with ladings for Forts Victoria, Langley, and Nisqually. She was “to proceed first to Nisqually with the goods for that place, and take in Beef to be Shipped on board the Vancouver at [Fort] Victoria for Sitka. The Fort and Vancouver saluted her each with 7 guns, which the Cadboro returned.”
May started out “oppressively warm,” and the London Ship, Vancouver, departed the anchorage and dropped down the Columbia River to begin her journey to Sitka (stopping at Fort Victoria, I presume, to pick up the beef the Cadboro was delivering there.) On the 21st of May — “heavy showers of hail in the afternoon. and rainy most of the day…. The water in the River is rising higher and higher every day and it is feared that we will have a year of very high water.” Two days later the water was 10 feet above the low water mark, and rising another six inches every day. “A few musquitoes made their appearance for the first time this summer.” Baron, who is often mentioned by Thomas Lowe, was (with a few other men) employed “taking down the old gallery in front of the Big House, in order to erect a new one.” Oddly, Baron is not in Bruce Watson’s Lives Lived West of the Divide, and so I have no idea who he is. Do any of you know??? See the comment below for the answer to this question.
On June 1st, Lowe reported that “The water from the River broke into the Plain yesterday and is rising about nine inches daily.” Fort Vancouver itself would not be inundated as it was built on [slightly] higher ground, but in some years the lands and plains that surrounded the fort could lie under the flood-waters of the spring freshets. In fact, on the 4th of June the Plain was completely inundated, and Lowe borrowed a canoe to paddle around through the shallow water. On the 9th the cattle were driven to Cathlapotl [where Augustus Lee Lewes lived] to keep them safe from the high water of the river. And on the 11th of June, “the river appears to be falling a little the last 3 days. When high it was within 75 yards of the Fort Gate.”
The New Caledonia and Fort Colvile Brigades arrived at Fort Vancouver, in charge of Donald Manson and John Tod (two men who absolutely loathed each other. I think this was the year when they had a fist fight on the journey home, in front of all their men). “There were 9 boats and 54 men. Mr. [Duncan] Cameron and Mr Peter Ogden [son of Peter Skene Ogden], passengers, the one from New Caledonia [Cameron] to retire from the service, and the other from the East side of the Mountains [Ogden] to take Mr. Cameron’s place. The family of Mr. McIntosh were brought down to be left here.” See this old post for that story: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/john-mcintosh/
On Sunday, June 15th, came the “melancholy intelligence of of Chief Trader [William Glen] Rae’s death at San Francisco, in California. The barque, Cowlitz, has arrived at Fort Victoria and from California and Woahoo, and Mr. W[illiam] Sinclair, Mr. Rae’s assistant, had been despatched from thence to this place via Nisqually, and is now on his way hither, having sent on the Indians ahead in order to break the news in some degree before he arrived. The business at California is closed.” Sinclair arrived at Fort Vancouver from Fort Nisqually in the forenoon of June 18th, and Lowe says that “it appears that in a fit of temporary insanity he [Rae] shot himself, having previously instructed Mr. [James Alexander] Forbes to wind up the business.” William Sinclair’s story is here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/william-sinclair-jr/
Thomas Lowe also speaks of the food they ate at the Fort Vancouver table: on June 19th he mentions the early potatoes that the HBC men have enjoyed for the last few days; and on June 23rd he tells us that “we had green peas at table today, for the first time this season.” Clearly, the HBC diet at Fort Vancouver was quite limited over winter time (meat and winter vegetables), and so when the gardens began to produce fresh, green vegetables in the early summer, everyone celebrated the delicious change in their diet.
The HBC Brigades from Fort Colvile and New Caledonia departed Fort Vancouver at the end of June this year. On June 28th, Lowe writes that “about 9 o’clock in the evening the interior Brigades, consisting of nine boats in charge of Messrs. Tod and Manson, started from here, accompanied by the Rev. Fathers [Antonio] Ravalli and [Michael] Accolti. The Barque Cowelitz saluted with 7 guns. Much thunder and lightning in course of the night, and a little rain.” Thomas Lowe always wrote the name of the Cowlitz, as Cowelitz, and so do I when I am writing his journal.
One more thing of interest to me occurs at the very end of this month: that is, June 1845. Henry Peers “left in the forenoon for Fort George, where he is to succeed Mr. [James] Birnie in the charge of that place, when he retires from the Service.” James Birnie is my great-great grandfather, of course, and he is planning to retire in June 1846. Birnie had been a good and loyal employee at Fort Vancouver and Fort George, but Governor George Simpson hated him, and as a result Birnie always remained a clerk in the HBC. Dr. McLoughlin liked Birnie, however, and I think supported him any way he could. At the same time, Birnie was also busy building his new house and store at Cathlamet (which I know he built while still employed at Fort George). I have the feeling that McLoughlin ensured that Birnie could set up his new home and business without interference from the Company: as we know, Dr. McLoughlin himself was not too happy with Governor George Simpson either.
So we have come up to the end of June (and early July) of 1845, and when we continue Thomas Lowe’s journals, we will begin again from there. When published the post will appear here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/whatever-i-call-it/
To return to the beginning of this series — or at least to go to the beginning of his journal of life at Fort Vancouver — go here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/thomas-lowe-12/
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved.`
- Captain Wilkes at Fort Nisqually
- Fort St. James