Early Settlement and Boundary Disputes

The Lewis and Clark expedition, which reached the area in 1805, and the establishment of John Jacob Astor’s settlement, Astoria, both helped to further the American claim; but in 1807 the Canadian trader David Thompson traveled the length of the Columbia, mapping the region and establishing British counterclaims. After Astoria was sold to the North West Company in the War of 1812, British interests appeared paramount, although in 1818 a treaty provided for 10 years (later extended) of joint rights for the United States and Great Britain in the Columbia River country. The Hudson’s Bay Company absorbed the North West Company in 1821 and, under the patriarchal guidance of Dr. John McLoughlin, dominated the region until challenged by the Americans in the 1840s.

Fort Vancouver, on the site of present-day Vancouver, sheltered American overland traders—particularly Jedediah Smith, Benjamin Bonneville, and Nathaniel Wyeth—and later the American missionaries, who were the first real settlers in the area north of the Columbia. Marcus Whitman established (1836) a mission at Waiilatpu (near present-day Walla Walla), which for a decade not only served Native Americans as a medical and religious center but also provided an indispensable rest stop for immigrants on the Oregon Trail. Meanwhile the British, although despairing of control over the area S of the Columbia, were still determined to retain the region to the north; the Americans, on the other hand, demanded the ouster of the British from the whole of the Columbia River country up to a lat. of 54°40’N. “Fifty-four forty or fight” became a slogan in the 1844 election campaign, and for a time war with Britain threatened. However, diplomacy prevailed, and in 1846 the boundary was set at lat. 49°N.

Tags: , , , ,