Slide Show

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Strait history

The history of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is as fog shrouded as the weather.  
Native Americans would have been the first to discover this body of water shortly after the most recent continental ice sheet melted. A spear point in a mastodon rib excavated near Sequim indicates the southern shore of the Strait was inhabited 14,000 years before the present. 
It is probable that the earliest foreign visitors to the Strait of Juan de Fuca came from China or Japan. They may have been swept across the ocean by the Japanese current. There is evidence that the Japanese were in the Americas 5,000 years ago. In 1833 a Japanese ship, one of many known Oriental shipwrecks, washed ashore just south of Cape Flattery.
The Clatsop Indian term for stranger is, “those who drift ashore.”  
Another theory suggests the Chinese sent expeditions of trade and discovery to the New World. Chinese tradition from 219 BC tells of a mysterious foreign land to the east of Japan they called “Fousang.” In 1285 Marco Polo called this new land “Anian.” The fabled Straits of Anian were said to reach across the continent. Renaissance explorers were sure this was a shortcut to Asia, a land rich in gold, spices and souls waiting to be converted to Christianity.
In 1513 Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean and claimed all of the lands that it washed for the king of Spain. 
In 1579 Sir Francis Drake was raiding Spanish ships full of treasure they had looted from the New World. To avoid pursuit, Drake sailed round the tip of South America and up the West Coast  looking for the “Northwest Passage,” a shortcut home to England. 
Along the way Drake landed at a place he named “New Albion” to claim the land for the Queen of England, repair his ship and bury 17 tons of treasure.  The debate has raged since then whether Drake's “Port Albion,” was the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 
No one knows for sure but around 1700 AD, an Ozette village was buried in a mudslide. An archaeological dig at the site in the 1970s found a European bead and some brass tacks that could have come from Drake's ship. 
These artifacts might also have come from the ship of Juan de Fuca himself. He was a Greek who claimed to have discovered the Straits that bear his name while on an expedition for the Viceroy of Mexico in 1592. 
Few believed this claim since there were no records. 
Juan De Fuca did mention a stone pillar at the entrance of the Strait. 
When the great navigator Captain Cook passed by in 1778 it was so foggy he named Cape Flattery for the “pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca”.  The Straits remained to be discovered by the English Captain Charles Barkely in 1787.  De Fuca's stone pillar was subsequently observed by the English fur trader Captain John Meares in 1788.  
In 1789 the American Captain Robert Gray, who discovered the Columbia River, entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca as far as Clallam Bay. While these explorers claimed to be looking for the Northwest Passage, the discovery of the value of a sea otter pelt in China set off the treachery and slaughter that historians refer to as, the fur trade. 
By 1790 Spain became alarmed at these incursions into what they had long considered a “Spanish Lake.” 
The stage was set for a war between the super powers Spain and England over who owned the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Next: The Nootka crisis.  

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