Slide Show

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fight for the Strait

In last week's episode Spain and England were poised for war over who owned the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 
While Spain had initially sailed north from Mexico claiming to look for the fabled Northwest Passage, they were also on the trail the Seven Cities of Gold rumored to lie between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.  
These were the Conquistadores who colonized a vast area of the globe from the Far East to the Western Hemisphere. 
When Spain began claiming the Northwest Coast things did not go smoothly.  In 1775 Captain Quadra of the” Sonora” landed near Point Grenville to take possession of the land by planting a large cross. 
This was observed by the native inhabitants who must have understood the implications of the ceremony.  A Spanish shore party was later ambushed and massacred near the “Isla de Delores”.  
In 1787 Captain Barkley called it “Destruction Island” for the same reason.
Vancouver Island might have been colonized before the Olympic Peninsula because of the warlike nature of the natives. 
The Spanish and the English preferred to land at Friendly Cove on Vancouver Island. There the natives traded bits of metal, beads and blankets for sea otter skins worth a fortune in Canton. This lucrative trade attracted ships from Europe and the United States and lured the Russians south.
In 1789 the English captains John Meares and William Douglas were arrested at Nootka for violating Spain's Territory. They had been trading sea-otter pelts under a Portuguese flag as part of a global tax dodge. 
England had a claim to the Northwest Coast based upon Drakes voyage of 1579 and the discoveries of Captain Cook in 1778.  This was the basis for what was called the Nootka Crisis.
England had just won the Seven Year's War with France. Then as now war was good for business. English Prime Minister Pitt and the English Press campaigned for a war with Spain over the Nootka Crisis. 
This was a war Spain could not afford no matter how high the crown raised taxes. 
The Nootka Convention of 1790 established a joint occupation between Spain and England where sovereignty would be determined by occupation. 
In 1791 Manuel Quimper planted another cross at Neah Bay to claim possession for Spain. In May of 1792  Captain Salvador Fidalgo arrived at Neah Bay, called Nunez Gaona to build a fort that was supposed to include a battery of cannons, palisades, and an oven large enough to bake bread for the Spanish fleet. This would bolster Spain's land claims and monitor shipping on the Strait. 
It was the first European settlement in what would become the American Pacific Northwest.
Predictably, the Makah were hostile. They killed a first officer who, tradition says, had abused their women. Fidalgo retaliated by blasting an innocent Makah canoe out of the water with his cannon. 
Given these hostilities, Nunez Gaona could not survive without the protection of a warship. Neah Bay had a rocky bottom and rough swells that made it a poor anchorage.
The Spanish “Fort” never amounted to much more than a few huts and a garden. 
It didn't take long for the Spanish to observe the sea otter trade would die once the otters were extinct. The land was covered with an impenetrable forest that could not be farmed or grazed. 
As a Northwest Passage, the Strait of Juan de Fuca was a dead end road to nowhere since there was no gold to be found in the region. 
Nunez Gaona was abandoned on Sept. 29, 1791, leaving the British, Russians and Americans to fight over who owned the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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