Before Puget Sound was Found

I was recently down in Astoria, Oregon, where I visited the fabulous Columbia River Maritime Museum. In addition, to great displays on the mouth of the Columbia, the legendary “Graveyard of the Pacific,” the museum has a fine collection of early maps of the Pacific Coast, showing the river and further north. Several were quite fascinating, particularly one from 1794, which depicts James Cook’s third and final voyage along the coast. It was drawn by William Faden.

Chart of the N. W. Coast of America and the N. E. Coast of Asia. (1794)
Chart of the N. W. Coast of America and the N. E. Coast of Asia. (1794)

Not only does it show the dates of when Cook sailed but it also illustrates some of the great stories associated with early exploration.
1. Puget Sound does not exist as no European had yet to sail into the inland sea, though by the time of the publication of the map George Vancouver had made it down into what he called Puget’s Sound.
2. The North Sea of Valerianos Apostolos – He is the Greek pilot who may or may not have sailed into what became known as the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1592. In 1596, Valerianos (most historians switch the order of his names) told English entrepreneur Michael Lok about sailing for many days into a strait at about 47 degrees north latitude. Ever since then, people have debated whether the Greek did so.
3. Fucas Pillar – One key feature that Valerianos mentioned was a pillar at the mouth of the strait. In 1788, British fur trader Charles Duncan described the pillar, which was then put onto maps.

Alexander Dalrymple map of 1790, showing the pillar seen by Duncan
Alexander Dalrymple map of 1790, showing the pillar seen by Duncan

4. No Vancouver Island – Spanish explorers were the first to sail around the island, which was initially known as Quadra and Vancouver’s Island. Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra sailed into what is now Nootka Sound in 1792.
5. What isn’t shown is that when Cook sailed by the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 1778, he wrote in his journal “It is in the very latitude we were now in where geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca but we saw nothing like it; nor is there the least probability that iver any such thing exhisted.” Obviously, this map reflects the findings of Duncan.

Vancouver Naming Puget Sound

In my research for my book about Puget Sound, I often come across fine images of the region. Here’s one that struck me as interesting. It comes from one of a series of books, known as the Zig Zag Journeys. Each was written by Hezekiah Butterworth, who had been inspired by a French book that wove narrative and historic stories for school children. Mr. Butterworth decided to do the same. His first book was Zigzag Journeys in Europe. According to his biography in the book, Mr. Butterworth “is a delightful man to meet.” Plus, “his handshake is cordial and his welcome warm and hearty.” What more do you really need to know about the man?

In Zigzag Journeys in the Great Northwest, which is based on a journey on the Canadian Pacific Railroad to Vancouver, with visits to Puget Sound and the Columbia River, Mr. Butterworth, extols George Vancouver’s discovery of Puget Sound. “Vancouver seems to have had a heart formed for friendship, and he named many of the places of the sublimely picturesque region that he visited under the blue spring sky and in the burning noons and long crimson morning and evening twilights of the June days of 1792 for the honor of his faithful officers and best loved friends.”

Mr. Butterworth, like so many others, fails to mention that Puget Sound had already been discovered by the Native people who had inhabited the place for at least the past 12,500 years or so. Nor does he note that all of the places named by Vancouver already had names.

The image is curious. Where are these deciduous trees, where Vancouver supposedly stopped to name the place? Vancouver may have had friendly heart but nowhere in his or his crew’s journals is there any indication that he discussed place names with his men? The clothes are wonderful though.

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