Thomas Lowe, Summer 1845


Fur trade building at Fort Langley

Fur trade warehouse at Fort Langley, the same as found in any fur trade fort including Fort Vancouver.

And so we come to July, 1845, when clerk Thomas Lowe continued to write in his journal on what happened at the Pacific Coast headquarters of Fort Vancouver, in modern-day Washington State. His journals are a valuable resource for historians and others, who want to know more about what happened at that historic fur trade post over the years. He was there from 1844 to 1849, and when he finally retired from the Company he forged a new life in the business world of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains.

So, what happened in early July, 1845? First, a man named Gobin, a crew-member on the Cadboro, arrived at Fort Vancouver with the letters from the northwest Coast, and the expectation that Douglas would visit the Cadboro while it was anchored off Fort Nisqually. Douglas, however, could not leave Fort Vancouver until the harvest was complete, and Gobin returned to Fort Nisqually. It is hard to know what Gobin’s actual name was: there is no one with a name that even resembled that in Bruce Watson’s Lives Lived West of the Divide. 

In fact, there was someone at Fort Vancouver who used the name, Gobin. His real name was Antoine Petit. This is the same as my ancestor, Hudon dit Beaulieu, who although he used the Beaulieu name was actually a Hudon, from Beaulieu, in France. Antoine Petit probably came from a place that resembled the name of Gobin. There is in fact a part of Paris that is called Sainte Gobain, and that might be where he came from. Just so you know…. 

On the ninth of July, the Cowlitz sailed up to the sawmill where she took on lumber for the Sandwich Islands, “having a good number of spars on board from this place.” Lumber and spars were an important export for Fort Vancouver, because the world’s sailing ships sailed into Hawaiian harbours, with many needing repairs. The ship returned to anchor off Fort Vancouver a few days later, and then on July 18 “the Cowelitz weighed anchor after dinner to proceed on her voyage to Woahoo. The Fort fired a salute, which she returned. She is to return to [Fort] Victoria, and from thence sail for England. She has now on board a full cargo of Lumber, Spars, Flour, Salmon and Shingles. Rainy day.” All of this would go to the HBC business on the Sandwich Islands, now called Hawaii.

The Swedish ship, Bull, arrived at Fort Vancouver on July 24, and the Fort Vancouver men were kept busy discharging its cargo. Thomas Lowe mentions a few other ships on the river, and that I think these must be American ships. The Chinamus was one of them; the Callepoaiah, another. The Columbia boat that had gone upriver with the New Caledonia Brigade returned home with the boutes and Kanakas [Hawaiians] from Fort Vancouver. At about the same time the Fort Vancouver men began to harvest the wheat that had grown on the Mill Plain over the summer, and it is likely that harvest will keep them busy for some time.

Thomas Lowe also visited Dr. John McLoughlin’s Saw and Grist Mill at Willamette Falls, and said that the Grist Mill was “a splendid building, and has the finest machinery of any in the Country.” If you want to know what a grist mills does: it grinds grain into flour. The building is also called a grist mill, and grist mills were generally water-powered. They were common, worldwide, by the 1840s, when Thomas Lowe visited Dr. McLoughlin’s grist mill. In fact, there is a historic grist mill in Keremeos, in British Columbia.

Thomas Lowe was on a visit to the Willamette valley, and he visited many of the Americans or Canadiens who now lived there. On Thursday, August 5, he wrote: “This being the day on which the Oregon Legislature met, I took advantage of my being at the Falls to attend, and listened the whole day to their angry debates.”  

For the first time in his journals, Thomas Lowe has mentioned the Oregon Legislature. On July 4, 1844, John McLoughlin reported to the Governor and Committee, that “the American citizens called on the Canadians to join them, and organize a Government for themselves, and though the Canadians refused last year [1844], yet seeing the increasing number of the Americans and that it would be impossible to maintain peace and order in the Country without organizing themselves, the Canadians consented…” [McLoughlin’s Fort Vancouver letters, 1839-44, p. 199, HBRS]. The meeting that Thomas Lowe attended in August 1845, may have been one of the first meetings that the Provisional Government held in Oregon, and that might be why he was visiting in the Willamette Valley. 

On August 6 the HBC men “commenced building a new Office in front of the belfry,” and Dr. McLoughlin left Fort Vancouver for the Willamette Falls once again. John McLeod, “who (according to Thomas Lowe) was subject to fits of insanity, was found this morning dead in bed.” On August 11, Lowe learned that almost the entire crew of the Swedish ship, Bull, had deserted… and that the Chinamus has likewise lost many of her men.” I thought that desertions only happened during the California gold rush years, but I guess I am incorrect about that! Because the Bull was carrying goods for the HBC men at the Sandwich Islands, Fort Vancouver lent it some of their men to help them on their way to Hawaii. William McBean (later of Fort Nez Perces) fell off his horse and was off work for a day afterward. And Thomas Lowe was “busy arranging the old books and papers in the office, and getting the Book Press repaired.” I presume the old books and papers were Fort Vancouver records and journals, which are now all lost — but I must say, the book press does sound interesting. 

Once more, the man named “Barron” is mentioned in Thomas Lowe’s journals. On August 22, “Barron and his men having finished preparing the wood for the New Office, he laid the foundation of it today — 38 feet long x 32 broad, not far from the old one, and in a line with the Priests’ house.” Thanks to someone who has a ton of information about Fort Vancouver, I now know who this Barron is — he is Charles Diamare (Barron),  born in Quebec and died at the Willamette Falls, in Oregon. He joined the HBC in 1841, and was a carpenter who obviously had plenty of work to do at Fort Vancouver. 

It is a very quiet summer at Fort Vancouver, it seems. For me, the most interesting thing that happened was that on August 26:

about 7 o’clock this morning we were agreeably surprised by the arrival of Chief Factor [Peter Skene] Ogden, Mr. [Richard] Lane, and two English Officers. The Party left Red River on the 15th June, came on horseback as far as [Fort] Colvile, and from thence down the Columbia in a River Boat, having been 70 days on the trip. Mr. Ogden, who was formerly in charge of New Caledonia, and went across the Mountains in the spring of 1844, has since then been to Europe, and again returned to this Department. Mr. [Richard] Lane, who was Accountant at Red River, comes to [Fort] Vancouver to act in the same capacity, Mr. McTavish [Dugald Mactavish?] being appointed by the Governor and Council to the charge of Fort Victoria. [Really? This is news to me. It didn’t happen, of course.] Mr. Lane says he has been promised by Sir George Simpson to go out in charge of the [York Factory] Express next Spring, being betrothed to a Miss McDermot at Red River, whom he wishes to bring into the Columbia with him. The two Officers are on leave of absence from their regiments, stationed in Canada, and have come, it seems, principally on a pleasure trip, although they are also furnished with instruments for making geographical surveys. One named [Mervin] Vavasour is a Lieutenant, and the Lieutenant [Henry James] Warre belongs to the 54th Regiment, and is aide de Camp to Sir Richard Jackson, Commander of the Forces in Canada. They both intend to recross the Mountains with the Express next Spring, making Vancouver their headquarters for the winter. 

If you want to learn more about Warre and Vavasour’s visit to Forts Vancouver and Victoria, then go here:

Only six new men had come into the district with the incoming Express, Lowe said. He also tells us that there was no important news from Canada, and that “the Oregon question is in exactly the same state as before.”

It is now the end of August 1845, and September looks quiet. It begins with the news that a large number of immigrants are on their way to the Columbia by the Oregon Trail, “having as many as 500 waggons. We will soon ascertain the truth of their statements,” Thomas Lowe wrote. Later it was determined that 3,300 men women, and children came west in 600 wagons, but that 100 wagons had left the train for California. On September 6, James Douglas and Dr. John McLoughlin “entered into a compact (on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company,) with the members of the Oregon Legislature, for the purpose of mutual protection, and have agreed to pay taxes on their Sales to the Settlers as well as on Live Stock and other assessable property. The country on the north side of the Columbia, comprising [Forts] Vancouver, Cowelitz, and Nisqually, has been incorporated with the Oregon territory, under the name of “Vancouver County,” and is to return one member to the Legislature.” Those taxes would soon prove to be a heavy burden for the Hudson’s Bay Company (at least according to Alexander Caulfield Anderson, who was later at Fort Colvile, which post was by that time also subject to those taxes).

Two other British officers are also now in the Columbia, from the 50-gun Frigate, America. They were Lieutenant William Peel (younger son of Sir Robert Peel), and Captain Parke, of the Marines [no one seems to know his first name]. So, with Vavasour and Warre, Lieutenant Peel and Captain Parke, we have quite a few English spies running around the Columbia District, all meeting up with each other and discussing the Oregon Territory’s strengths and weaknesses behind the HBC men’s backs. Douglas, McLoughlin, and Ogden must have felt as if they were surrounded by enemies. And they were, in a sense. 

To go to the beginning of the thread, go here:

When the next blogpost is written, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved.

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