Battle of Woody Point

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Battle of Woody Point
Part of The Maritime Fur Trade
Tonquin in 1811.jpg
The Tonquin, passing the Columbia River bar in 1811.
Date June 15–16, 1811
Location off Woody Point, Vancouver Island, Clayoquot Sound, Pacific Ocean
Result Ship destroyed
Belligerents
American Fur Company Nuu-chah-nulth
Commanders and leaders
US Naval Jack 15 stars.svg Jonathan Thorn unknown
Strength
1 bark 2 war-canoes
Casualties and losses
22 killed
1 bark scuttled
~200 killed or wounded

The Battle of Woody Point was an incident involving the Tla-o-qui-aht natives of the Pacific Northwest and a United States-registered merchant ship. After trading in the region for furs in June 1811, the American vessel was massacred by the natives and scuttled by her crew off Vancouver Island, in Clayoquot Sound.

Background[edit]

On March 22, 1811, the Tonquin, a 290 ton bark, reached the Columbia River with the intention of trading with the natives of the northern Pacific coast. To do this a trading post was necessary, after sailing around the Columbia River's mouth for a while, the traders established Fort Astoria, the first American claim on the Pacific. Now after establishing a base of operations, the traders were free to explore the region in pursuit of fine furs.

The Tonquin was crewed by twenty-three men during the time of battle, she also carried ten cannons. Though the vessel was American-flagged and commanded by a United States Navy officer, most of her crew were British subjects. On June 5, 1811 the Tonquin left Fort Astoria and sailed north to trade with the Nuu-chah-nulth around Nootka Sound. About two weeks later, off Vancouver Island, at a place named Woody Point, the Tonquin began trading with the Tla-o-qui-aht Nuu-chah-nulth.

Battle[edit]

A map of Vancouver Island with an inset of Clayoquot Sound.

On June 14, 1811, a chief came aboard the Tonquin. Lieutenant Thorn hoped to purchase sea otter pelts which were offered by the natives. Unsatisfied with price of the pelts, the lieutenant waived or tossed the pelt he was inspecting back at the chief. Apparently insulted, the chief left the vessel and later that night, a native woman came aboard the ship and warned the lieutenant that the Nuu-chah-nulth were planning to attack the ship the following day. Thorn failed to believe the woman until the next day when large numbers of native warriors were spotted on the coast. Still Thorn was unconvinced the Nuu-chah-nulth were hostile, a large canoe with over twenty native men was allowed to come to the ship to trade, and another canoe of some twenty men followed behind. The first twenty boarded with their weapons concealed under their clothing, pretending to trade furs and selling them cheaply.

Lieutenant Thorn, happy with the prices he was getting for the furs, realized too late the danger the ship was in and gave the orders to hoist the anchor and sails. At this moment the Nuu-chah-nulth chief gave a signal to attack. Thorn and most of the crew were killed quickly since they were generally unarmed, Thorn kept the guns below deck. The Nuu-chah-nulth were armed with clubs and knives. A few surviving Tonquin crew began to resist from below deck where the store of rifles and powder was located. The Nuu-chah-nulth withdrew to shore as night fell. Five men remained alive, one seriously injured. They debated the options but saw no possibility of sailing the ship with so few hands. They decided that four would leave in one of the ship's skiffs under the cover of darkness and try to make it back to Astoria along the coast.

The wounded man stayed aboard the Tonquin, possibly James Lewis. The Nuu-chah-nulth returned the next morning to plunder the Tonquin. Lewis feigned surrender inviting them to come aboard unmolested. Once they were busy plundering, Lewis lit the ship's large black powder magazine. The massive explosion obliterated the ship, killed Lewis, and many of the natives. The Nuu-chah-nulth acknowledged at least 100 dead and many more wounded, although other accounts say sixty-one to 200 natives were killed.

The four in the skiff were pushed ashore by a storm further down the coast and captured by the Nuu-chah-nulth. In revenge for the explosion they were slowly tortured to death. Only one of the crew, a half Chinook pilot named George Ramsay, or Lemazee, survived. During the initial battle he gave himself over to a Nuu-chah-nulth woman begging to be made a slave.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Eddins, O. Ned. "John Jacob Astor - Pacific Fur Company: Astorians - Tonquin - Fort Astoria". Mountain Man Plains Indian Canadian Fur Trade. TheFurTrapper.com. http://www.thefurtrapper.com/astorians.htm. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  • Franchère, Gabriel (1851). "Narrative of a voyage to the Northwest coast of America, in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814, or, The first American settlement on the Pacific". Early Canadiana Online. http://www.canadiana.org/ECO/mtq?id=526827c58b&doc=35175. Retrieved 2010-04-11.
  • Stark, Peter (2014). Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival. Ecco. ISBN 978-0062218292.