Battle of Woody Point

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Battle of Woody Point
Part of The Maritime Fur Trade
Tonquin (1807).png
The Tonquin being boarded by Tla-o-qui-aht.
Date June 15–16, 1811
206 years ago
Location off Woody Point, Vancouver Island,
Clayoquot Sound, Pacific Ocean
Result Ship destroyed
Pacific Fur Company Nuu-chah-nulth
Commanders and leaders
US Naval Jack 15 stars.svg Jonathan Thorn unknown
1 barque 2 war-canoes
Casualties and losses
22 killed
1 bark scuttled
~200 killed or wounded

The Battle of Woody Point was an incident in 1811 in western Canada involving the Tla-o-qui-aht natives of the Pacific Northwest and the Tonquin (1807), a merchant ship of the Astor Expedition. The vessel had arrived in Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Island to trade for furs. the Tla-o-qui-aht captured the vessel and massacred most of the crew; the one remaining sailor scuttled her.


Further information: Pacific Fur Company

On March 22, 1811, the Tonquin, a 290-ton barque commanded by Lieutenant Jonathan Thorn, 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 coast. The Tonquin had departed New York the previous September, with brief stops in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic and the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands in the mid-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, and 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, 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.


A map of Vancouver Island
with an inset of Clayoquot Sound

On June 14, 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 waved 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. Since 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 (a small open boat) under the cover of darkness and try to make it back to Fort Astoria along the coast.

The wounded man, possibly James Lewis, stayed aboard the Tonquin. The Nuu-chah-nulth returned the next morning to plunder the ship. 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, killing Lewis and many of the natives. The Nuu-chah-nulth acknowledged at least 100 dead and many more wounded, although other accounts say from sixty-one to over 200 natives were killed.

The four sailors 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. Of the crew of the Tonquin, only one man survived, a half Chinook pilot and interpreter, named Lemazee by Washington Irving, by others named George Ramsey, and more recently identified as Joseachal. During the initial battle he gave himself over to a Nuu-chah-nulth woman begging to be made a slave.[1][2][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Astoria (book), an 1836 account of the founding of Astoria, Oregon by Washington Irving
  2. ^ The Identity of the Tonquin's Interpreter, by Robert F. Jones. Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 98, No. 3, Aspects of Old Oregon (Fall, 1997), pp. 296-314
  3. ^ Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival (2014), by Peter Stark, published by Ecco Press
  • Eddins, O. Ned. "John Jacob Astor - Pacific Fur Company: Astorians - Tonquin - Fort Astoria". Mountain Man Plains Indian Canadian Fur Trade. 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. 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. 

External links[edit]