Establishing and Disbanding the Neah Bay Settlement, 1792

Part III of the blog series 225 Years Ago: Spanish Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the First Spanish Settlement in Washington State, Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), 1792

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Spanish naval Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo, in the Princesa, left San Blas on March 23, 1792, and headed directly to the port of Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was uncertain at this time whether the Spanish post at Nootka Sound and all lands north of the strait would be ceded to the British or not. Fidalgo’s work at Neah Bay would be in preparation for a possible relocation of Spain’s Nootka Sound post, with Viceroy Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco de Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo or Revillagigedo and Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra knowing the Spaniards could hold the country south of the strait only by actual and immediate occupation.

Fidalgo, born August 6, 1756 in Catalonia, Spain, joined the Spanish Navy as a midshipman at the naval academy in Cadiz. He graduated in 1775, and given the rank of Frigate Ensign. He was a member of a team of cartographers working during the 1780s on the first atlas of Spain’s ports and coastal waters and served on various assignments in the Mediterranean, seeing action against the British and Portuguese. In 1778, he was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the Spanish naval station at San Blas. The Princesa (also called La Princesa and Nuestra Señora del Rosario) was a 189-ton frigate built at San Blas and launched in 1778. She was a three-masted, two-deck warship, carrying 26 cannons. She was designed with storage enough to sail for a year without having to restock and built for durability rather than speed. Accompanying Fidalgo were 89 men, including his second in command, first pilot Antonio Serantes, pilot Hipolito Tono, Surgeon Juan de Dios Morelos, Father José Alejandro López de Nava, a small company of Mexican, Peruvian, and Spanish male colonists, and, thirteen soldiers, members of the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia.

While Fidalgo was sailing up the west coast from Mexico, British Captain George Vancouver’s ships, the 337-ton sloop of war Discovery and the 133-ton survey brig Chatham, on March 16, 1792, had sailed from their winter harbor in Hawaii for the North American Coast. Earlier, in April 1791, Vancouver had sailed from England as commissioner appointed to implement the Nootka Convention. His mission was two-fold. First, to assume control over the territory at Nootka Sound that had been assigned to Great Britain by the Nootka Convention. Second, was to make a detailed survey of the coast to 600 N and a search for the fabled Northwest Passage. He was to pay particular attention to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the waterway that seemed most like to give access to the great passage. On April 17, Vancouver arrived off the coast of California at Cape Mendocino.

On April 29, about noon, Vancouver reached the south entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, sailed between Tatoosh Island (which Vancouver mentions as “Tatooche’s island.”[1]) and Cape Flattery, which Vancouver noted in his journal, the natives calling Classet and Cook naming Cape Flattery. “As we proceeded along the shore,” Vancouver recorded, “we passed the village of Classet, which is situated about two miles within the Cape, and has the appearance of being extensive and populous.” “Some of the inhabitants found no difficulty in visiting us; this they did in a very civil, orderly, and friendly manner, requesting permission before they attempted to enter the ship; and on receiving some presents, with assurances of our friendship, they very politely and earnestly solicited us to stop at their village. The situation of the anchorage however being much exposed and wishing for some snug port where, with ease and convenience, the various necessary services we now required might be performed, I declined their very cordial invitation, and directed our course up the inlet…”[2] Vancouver further recorded that “the wind veering to the S.E. obliged us to turn up along shore on the southern side of the straits, which, from cape Classet, takes a direction S. 70 E. About two miles within the village we passed a small open bay [Neah Bay], with a little island [Waadah] lying off its eastern side, apparently too insignificant to answer our purpose of refitting.” [3] Rather than heading to Nootka Sound to begin negotiations, Vancouver decided to spend the summer charting the region. From May 2 to May 18, he based his expedition at Discovery Bay, just west of Port Townsend, and then moved southwards until June 5. For a month, Vancouver charted the complex inlets and islands of Puget Sound, then moved his expedition northward toward Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Meanwhile, Bodega and Santa Gertrudis arrived at Nootka Sound on April 29, 1792. The rest of Bodega’s fleet appeared over the next two weeks. The schooner Activa under Salvador Menendez arrived on May 4. Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores Bazán, who took over the Mexicana and Sutil in Acapulco on December 28, 1791, sailed on March 8, a week after Bodega had sailed north. Their instructions were to complete the exploration of Juan de Fuca Strait begun in 1790. They reached Nootka Sound on May 11.

Arriving at Nootka Sound on May 13 or 14 was the Aranzazu carrying supplies for the settlement. Its captain was Francisco de Eliza’s brother-in-law, Jacinto Caamaño Moraleja. Before James Colnett had left Nootka Sound in March 1791, he showed Eliza charts that he and Charles Duncan had produced in 1787 and 1788 of the region inside the Queen Charlotte Islands. Colnett believed that the supposed Strait of Fonte, leading to the Northwest Passage, lay just above 53° N, at the entrance between what are now termed Pitt and Princess Royal Islands. Bodega decided that Caamaño should go north to survey the region south of Bucareli Bay (southeastern part of Alaska) and look for the supposed Strait of Fonte. Bodega instructed Caamaño to sail directly to Bucareli Bay, explore its various arms, and then examine the coast between it and Nootka Sound, making every effort to discover and charge the principal channels, gulfs, and harbors. He was especially instructed to determine the actual position of the Strait of Fonte. Caamaño was assigned pilot Juan Pantoja, who had accompanied Mourelle on his 1779 survey of Bucareli Bay. He was also given pilot Juan Martinez y Zayas, naturalist Josef Maria Maldonaldo, a chaplain, a surgeon, 13 soldiers from the Catalonian Volunteers, and stores for two months.

Caamaño left Nootka Sound on June 13, and on June 24 reached Bucareli Bay, where he anchored near the entrance of Port San Antonio on Baker Island. Satisfied that Fonte’s passage could not be reached through Bucareli Bay, Caamaño sailed down the west coast of Dall Island to Cape Muzon at its southern tip. From there, he crossed Dixon Entrance to the Queen Charlotte Islands. He found nothing to fit the description of Fonte’s passage. He charted the area and carried out the possession ceremony and then sailed back across Dixon Entrance to Cape Muzon, where found a large bay. Pressed for time he did not explore Cordova Bay. Instead he crossed its entrance and eventually went to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Sailing east past the southern points of Prince of Wales Islands, Caamaño crossed, on July 23, the entrance to a very large inlet that he named Entrada de Nuestra Senora del Carmen (Clarence Strait). He then sailed east before turning south and entering a large passage, the Hecate Strait, on July 27. The Aranzazu kept close to the eastern side of Hecate Strait and continued, as they sailed southward, looking for the Fonte Strait and the channels that Colnett had suggested might lead to a Northwest Passage. After a month of explorations, the Aranzazu re-entered open water on August 31, and headed southwest to miss the Scott Islands off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Caamaño sailed round the islands before passing the Brooks Peninsula and proceeding on to Nootka Sound where he anchored on September 8, 1792.

While Vancouver was on his voyage of exploration and Bodega was settling in at Nootka Sound, Fidalgo and the Princesa arrived at Neah Bay on the morning of May 29. The ship anchored as close inshore as the shallow bay permitted. For his settlement, Fidalgo selected a spot close to the beach in the southwest corner where the stream (today Village Creek at the west end of Neah Bay) noted by Quimper flowed into the bay, thereby assuring a fresh water supply. The bay, it may be recalled, Quimper had named Bahía de Nuñez Gaona.

Map of Cape Flattery and Neeah Harbor.
Cape Flattery and Neeah Harbor, Washington Territory. Record Group 37, Manuscript Hydrographic Charts, File #382.71, Series NAID 305450, HMS R. E.: CR- 00676. Click on the image for a larger view.


Fidalgo sent a party ashore to begin the colonization of the area, near the mouth of the stream. Very quickly he set his people to work clearing a circular field with a radius of one musket shot. Trees were felled and logs were used to build a barracks for his men, a blacksmith’s shop, a bakery, place of worship, storehouse, and, an infirmary. They also built an oven and a kiln. The roofs were made from grass. A palisade was erected and four, perhaps six, cannon mounted for defense. A vegetable garden was begun with seedlings transported and carefully nurtured in containers ready for planting. The garden consisted of tomatoes, onions, garlic, turnips, radishes, corn, and cabbage. Also constructed was a livestock enclosure with a number of cows, sheep, hogs, and goats they had brought with them. Fidalgo named the settlement Fort Núñez Gaona and it was reported that a Cross was erected on the beach, signifying Spanish possession.[4]

The Makah immediately began trading fowl, fish, and berries with the Spaniards for copper sheeting. The settlers appeared to be off to a good beginning with the Makah. But Fidalgo was cautious and prudent. As the Princesa had to anchor some distance from the shore, a longboat was kept on the beach for emergency purposes in case an Indian attack made it necessary to flee to the Princesa. Fidalgo issued strict orders that no one was to go any distance beyond the enclosure and that a cannon shot was to be fired every evening at sunset as a signal to the Makah, that lived relatively close by, not to approach the settlement or the ship until dawn.

Before they continued on their expedition, Bodega asked Galiano and Valdés to inform Vancouver, should they encounter him, that he was awaiting him at Nootka Sound. He also asked them to check on the suitability of Nuñez Gaona as a harbor and for an establishment. He was considering it as a replacement for Nootka Sound, if, as expected, that establishment was abandoned as a result of negotiations with the British. Galiano and Valdés left Nootka Sound in the Sutil and Mexicana at dawn on June 5 and headed for Núñez Gaona. They later reported to the viceroy that they had anchored on June 6 and found that Fidalgo “had set up a provisional establishment preserving good relations with the Indians.” They also recorded that he had achieved much to prepare for wintering, but he was still awaiting orders from Bodega, either for the formation of a permanent establishment or the abandonment of the Neah Bay. The Sutil and the Mexicana departed for Esquimault on June 8. They later informed the viceroy that they took “with us the chief Tetacu, who had voluntarily offered to go in the Mexicana. The conduct of this Indian during the crossing and the stay in Cordova [Esquimault harbor], where we anchored on the 9th at 11 in the morning, caused us to draw very different inferences about these Indians from what up to the present time voyagers have said about them. What they call ferocious treachery only seemed to us to be bold manliness.” From Tetacu, they learned about previous European visitors, including two ships that had sailed up the strait only a few weeks before (this was Vancouver’s expedition).[5]

Galiano and Valdés eventually crossed to the south end of Lopez Island (named for Lopez de Haro) and turned into Rosario Strait. They sailed on into Bellingham Bay. As they moved northward, they sighted on June 13, the Discovery and the Chatham, the ships of Vancouver’s expedition, anchored in Birch Bay, about 20 miles northwest of Bellingham. As Vancouver was away on a survey trip, William Robert Broughton, the commander of the Chatham greeted Galiano [who spoke English] and Valdés, and friendly relations were soon established between the two parties.

The Mexicana and Sutil left the British ships and crossed the Gulf of Georgia to its southwest side and examined some inlets. After recrossing the gulf and anchoring off Point Grey, at the entrance to what is now Vancouver Harbor, they met on June 22, Vancouver and his party, returning in small boats from a survey trip to Burrard Inlet, Howe Sound and Jervis Inlet. Galiano and Valdés informed him that Bodega was awaiting him at Nootka Sound.

Both sides were under orders to co-operate and to share information and this they quickly did. Galiano showed Vancouver the chart drawn by Narváez the previous year and Vancouver showed Galiano the sketch maps of his current trip and mentioned that they had not seen all of Burrard Inlet. The two parties separated, promising to meet up again in a few days. Vancouver returned to his ships and the Spanish proceeded up Burrard Inlet. When they regained the Gulf of Georgia they met the two British ships and the four sailed on northwest together. The four ships anchored off Kinghorn Island in Desolation Sound on June 25. Over the next few weeks the Spanish and British worked together to chart the network of channels and islands in the vicinity of Desolation Sound. On July 13, they decided to separate. Vancouver set off to follow one recently discovered route to the ocean in the west. Galiano and Valdés decided to follow another route and check some of the inlets that Vancouver’s crew had charted.

Meanwhile, on July 2, Fidalgo received English fur trader Henry Shepherd out of Bengal enroute to Nootka Sound in the 110-ton brigantine Venus. Seeing her entering the bay and believing her to be the Activa bringing instructions, Fidalgo went out to the vessel. Returning to his own ship after the Venus had anchored, Fidalgo learned that Serantes had gone ashore and not returned. He immediately went ashore, where he learned that Serantes had left with his musket and an Indian to go hunting. Fearing the worst, the next day Fidalgo sent out a party of twenty armed men with dogs to search the thick woods. When they returned empty-handed, he sent them out again. Back on board, he learned that an Indian had come to say that Tutusi’s people had killed a Spanish sailor with his own gun and carried his body away. Taking no chances, Fidalgo kept his men under arms “awaiting the moment Tutusi attacks me on shore with his people.” He could do nothing more; the shallowness of the bay made it impossible for him to bring his ship within gunshot range of the beach. Fidalgo reported to Bodega in a letter delivered by Shepherd, that the barrack house “is well fortified, well provided with men, cannon, flintlocks, and ammunition, and in an advantageous position, connected with the sea by a river which passes through [the settlement] A boat is kept there permanently so that if not able to resist an attack, we could board it while firing, leaving the land and abandoning everything.”[6]

A few days later, seeing two canoes full of Makah approaching, Fidalgo assumed he was being attacked. He ordered the gunners to open fire. Six Makah men and women were killed. A boy and girl were pulled from the water and questioned by Fidalgo about Serantes. The boy confirmed the death and the next day Serantes’s body was found in a thicket near the outer wall of the fort and it was buried within the compound. The event marked the end of the good relations between the Makah and the Spanish. By the end of the summer, the colonists’ relations with the Makah turned most unfriendly.

The news travelled quickly to Nootka Sound. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Bodega quickly wrote a letter to Fidalgo to calm him down. First, expressing his sorrow at Serantes’s death and his concern for Fidalgo’s own plight, he pointedly wrote that he was anxious to avoid Tutusi’s death and the shedding of any blood for a deed whose cause was not known. “It does not seem right to me,” he continued, “that you should have taken vengeance on persons who might have been quite innocent and when the assassin is not known.” He told Fidalgo to follow his official instructions to maintain good relations with the Makah.[7]

In the meantime, Bodega set about refurbishing and enlarging the Spanish settlement at Friendly Cove in order to receive the English more fittingly. He also spent time interviewing people who had been present in 1788 and 1789 regarding events at Nootka Sound involving Martinez, Meares and Colnett. Bodega desired information about the true nationality of Colnett’s ships and the real extent of Meares’s losses, so as to be on firmer negotiating grounds when Vancouver arrived. On June 11, Francisco Jose Viana, the former Portuguese captain aboard the Iphigenia Nubiana, arrived at Nootka Sound, on the Feliz Adventureina (formerly the Felice Adventure). He was followed on July 22 by Robert Gray (who on May 11 had named the Columbia River after his ship) aboard the Columbia. On August 1, Joseph Ingraham, who had been aboard the Columbia in 1789, arrived as captain of the 70-ton American brig Hope. Bodega questioned them and they did not support Meares’s claims.  Bodega obtained a signed statement from Gray and Ingraham that supported Spanish claims and undermined the evidence provided by Meares.

Meanwhile, the Sutil and the Mexicana, after separating from Vancouver, eventually reached the area northwest of the San Juan Islands and sailed north up the Strait of Georgia to Quadra Island. The ships’ pilots, Vernaci and Salamanca, led survey trips in small boats up side channels to examine them and prepare charts. They sailed through the Johnstone Strait along which Vancouver had sailed ten days earlier on his way to reach the ocean. They anchored opposite Port Neville on July 29 while the pilots charted the inlet. From here, they sailed on to anchor in Port Harvey at the eastern end of Cracroft Island. They stayed here a week while Vernaci made a reconnaissance of various channels and sounds. On Vernaci’s return, the Sutil and Mexicana continued to the west. On August 8, they passed Beaver Cove and sailed along the Broughton Strait to anchor off the village of Sisiaquis (Cheslakees). The ships reached Port Hardy on August 10 and they stayed here for nearly two weeks. Vancouver, who had been sailing ahead of them, had chosen not to follow this coast and had sailed through another channel, Queen Charlotte Sound, to reach Smith Sound.

Apparently sometime in June, Bodega received a communication from the viceroy regarding Neah Bay. Conde de Revillagigedo had second thoughts about even a temporary settlement, and he wrote Bodega after he sailed, that no settlement should be established “except in case of grave necessity or a very obvious advantage obliges you to undertake it.” [8] Revillagigedo also wrote Fidalgo that he was to “occupy the Strait as ordered and not attempt to establish yourself formally, but to survey the entrance [to the strait], select a good shelter and there await.” It is not known whether Fidalgo received this letter.[9] By the time Bodega received the letter, Fidalgo had already begun construction of the new fort, he never ventured out to find another possible site, and the Neah Bay settlement was more than provisional. Bodega replied, reminding the viceroy that he himself had instructed Fidalgo to go directly to Neah Bay and that it was the only harbor in the area of which the Spanish had any practical knowledge. Bodega thought it best, before searching elsewhere, to find out whether Neah Bay was suitable for settlement. Thus, it was for this reason, he informed the viceroy, that he had asked Galiano and Valdés to stop at Neah Bay and to report to him about its advantages or shortcomings as a site for a permanent establishment.

It should be noted that on leaving San Blas for Nootka Sound, Bodega had accepted the Viceroy’s opinion that Nootka Sound need not be retained; nor did he question his instructions, which directed him to abandon Nootka Sound for a harbor in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Bodega had every intention of giving up the establishment after obtaining Vancouver’s acceptance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca as the boundary between the two nations. Thus, with the knowledge that Neah Bay might serve as the Spanish alternative to Nootka Sound, prior to Vancouver’s arrival, Bodega, took steps to reduce the Spanish presence at Nootka Sound. He ordered Eliza to depart with the Concepcion, and her large crew. Alonso Torres y Guerra was given back command of the Santa Gertrudis to deliver Bodega’s dispatches to Monterey for transmission to Mexico City. He was to take Alberni and a substantial number of the Catalonian Volunteers[10] (and stores that would have sustained them) along with six of the eight cannon from Fort San Miguel. Two were left for saluting.

On July 4, Vancouver’s 350-ton stores ship Daedalus, under the command of Thomas New, arrived with supplies for Vancouver. Bodega at this time was tired of waiting for Vancouver, and wrote a letter to the viceroy and to the Minister of State Floridablanca, informing them of his intention of abandoning Nootka Sound and turning it over to New should Vancouver be further delayed.

On the way to San Blas in the Santa Gertrudis, Bodega ordered Torres to stop at Neah Bay, where he was to examine carefully the land, the harbor, the edible foods, and the availability of sea otter skins for trade and of wood for construction. He was also to observe the character of the natives and their numbers, customs, and alliances. Torres was also instructed to hold a junta at Neah Bay with all the officers, to help him ascertain Neah Bay’s suitability as an alternative to Nootka Sound. After completing his duties at Neah Bay, Torres was to explore the coast from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca south to Cape Mendocino. To assist him in making charts, Bodega assigned him his adjutant Felix Cepeda and another well-qualified person. Torres left Nootka Sound on July 19, followed five days later by Eliza in the Concepcion.

Bodega hoped that a report from Torres, as well as the report expected from Galiano and Valdés, regarding Neah Bay’s suitability for a permanent settlement, would help him decide the future of the Neah Bay post before he met Vancouver. At Neah Bay, as the senior officer, Torres presided over the junta. Fidalgo, speaking first, pointed out the advantages of the harbor, the bay, and the land, and added that the site fulfilled the requirements regarding water, wood, and good soil. Furthermore, the bay was well located for keeping track of traffic entering and leaving the strait. Neah Bay had some drawbacks, however; the rocky bottom made it impossible for ships to anchor closer than “one cannon shot” from the settlement, nor could any ship remain there during the winter months because there was no shelter from the northeast and northwest winds. Torres agreed, also noting the disadvantages Fidalgo had pointed out. The only one who commented on the natives, he wrote that “heathen populations are difficult to civilize and [the settlement] could never be without the presence of a ship that would command respect.” He concluded by saying that a decision to develop a more permanent settlement would have to be made by civil authorities. Cepeda also stressed the disadvantages, yet he suggested that a longer stay might lead to a more definite opinion. Meanwhile, he was prepared to accept Fidalgo’s judgment that the site would have to be abandoned in the winter months. The junta’s report was forwarded to the viceroy without any recommendation.[11]

On August 23, the Sutil and the Mexicana departed from Port Hardy and eventually reached the western end of Hope Island, where Galiano realized he had come to the Pacific Ocean. The ships rounded Cape Scott and sailed down the coast to anchor in Nootka Sound on August 31. They had showed that the land against which Nootka Sound lay was, in fact, an island. On their arrival at Nootka Sound they found Vancouver and his ships already at anchor, having arrived three days earlier. The Spanish and Vancouver compared and shared the results of their journey around Vancouver Island.

Painting of the ships Discovery and Chatham.
Painting of Captain George Vancouver’s ships, the Discovery and Chatham. Source:


Galiano and Valdés only stayed at Nootka Sound long enough to restock and to report to Bodega. They informed him about the unsuitability of Nuñez Gaona, confirming other reports of its weaknesses as a shallow and poorly sheltered bay surrounded by unfriendly natives. Their report caused Bodega to rethink what he was prepared to concede to the British. Partly as a result of this, Bodega decided that Spain should keep her presence at Nootka Sound, at least for the time being. After two days the Sutil and the Mexicana were on their way south to Mexico, returning to Acapulco in the fall.

Vancouver, finally arrived in Friendly Cove on August 28, after the summer surveying season ended, during which time he had established that the land on which Nootka Sound was situated was an island. As well as Spanish ships, Vancouver found the Daedalus, his store ship, and a Boston fur trader, the 161-ton Margaret already at anchor. Bodega welcomed Vancouver and made space available for the British to make a small camp ashore in the cove used by Meares. Bodega and Vancouver soon established a firm friendship and Vancouver proposed that the recently identified island should carry both their names and it became known as Quadra’s and Vancouver’s Island (Isla de Quadra y Vancouver), for about a quarter of a century, when it became known simply as Vancouver Island.

The negotiations began on August 29. At that point, Bodega was determined to make a case of retaining Nootka Sound if possible, and if not, establishing the Strait of Juan de Fuca as a boundary with the Spanish presence being firmly at Neah Bay and the Spanish retaining access to the region. But just days after the negotiations began, Bodega received from Galiano and Valdés news of the unsuitably of Neah Bay. Bodega decided to make a case for Spain retaining Nootka Sound and perhaps agreeing to allow the British the actual land on which Meares had settled.

Both negotiators strongly put forth their country’s respective cases for the future of the Northwest Coast and Nootka Sound. Bodega told Vancouver that Spain desired to set the Spanish-British boundary at the Strait of Juan de Fuca. For his part, Vancouver objected to the Spanish post at Neah Bay and argued that Spain only had rights as far north as California, the region they had explored and settled by April 1789. Vancouver said that ships of all other nations should have free entry to harbors such as Nootka Sound.

After Bodega informed Vancouver what Gray and Ingraham had related regarding Nootka Sound in 1788 and 1789, Vancouver was suspicious of the role that the two Americans had played at Nootka Sound and their motives at this time. The matter was further complicated when the Portuguese ship, the 50-foot brig São Jao y Fenix arrived from the Queen Charlotte Islands on September 16, under the command of João de Barros Andrade, with Englishman Robert Duffin on board as owner and manager of the ship’s cargo and trade items. Duffin, a former member of Meares’ crew, had been at Nootka Sound with him in 1788 and again with Colnett in 1789. Duffin flatly contradicted the testimony of Gray and Ingraham, asserting that Meares had indeed purchased from Maquinna and his near relative, Callicum, the “whole of the Land that forms Friendly Cove.” Vancouver confronted Bodega with the new information. Bodega dismissed it, claiming that Duffin could not be objective on the matter. Bodega then questioned Maquinna, who vehemently denied that he had sold Meares any land. All he had sold him were “sea otter pelts at the rate of ten for each sheet of copper.” He added he had only sold a bit of land in Marvinas Bay (four miles from Friendly Cove) to the American John Kendrick and had “donated” to Eliza the site of the Spanish settlement on the condition of the land being returned to him whenever the Spanish withdrew.[12]

Bodega insisted on Spain retaining Nootka Sound, which Vancouver could not accept. Neither commissioner had the real authority to make concessions. Thus, negotiations had reached a complete deadlock. Vancouver wrote Bodega that he could not accept his proposals and he would soon put to sea, pending the arrival of further orders. Bodega replied, holding his own position. They agreed on September 20, to meet at Monterey for next negotiating sessions. Vancouver remained at Friendly Cove completing his surveys until the middle of October when he set sail to join Bodega in Monterey.

Bodega immediately prepared to sail for Monterey, stopping at Neah Bay on the way. At this time, Bodega concluded that the British might interpret a Spanish withdrawal to Neah Bay as admission of an uncertain claim to the coast, and this might jeopardize Spanish sovereignty everywhere north of San Francisco. Consequently, he decided to abandon plans for Neah Bay, and he sent word via Joseph Ingraham to Fidalgo to dismantle his structures and bring all personnel, animals, and useful items to Nootka Sound, and to prepare himself to take over command from Jacinto Caamaño, who would be left in charge there temporarily, when Bodega left Nootka Sound.

Around September 20, Ingraham sailed in the Hope for the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the vicinity of Neah Bay, as he passed a village, the Makah “set up a most hideous yelling accompanied with signs and gestures highly inimical.” Fearing they might attack him, he fired over their heads, and this quieted the disturbance. He thought that they were anxious for revenge for the people Fidalgo killed, something he must have heard about at Nootka Sound. When he sailed into the bay, he described the settlement as consisting “only of a few huts and a tolerable good garden.”[13]

Bodega sailed on the Activa on September 22, heading for Neah Bay. Shortly after leaving, Bodega sighted Robert Gray in the Columbia with the sloop Adventure (under command of Robert Haswell) in company. Bodega had by then explored with Gray the idea of purchasing the sloop, and when they spoke they agreed to discuss it further at Neah Bay. The short journey was uneventful until the three vessels reached Tatoosh Island. There the strong current flowing out of the strait and the variable winds made it dangerous to attempt an entry in the dark. Bodega tacked off the island for two days, until the elements moderated sufficiently to allow him to enter the bay.

Bodega anchored the Activa at Neah Bay on September 26. He and Fidalgo met aboard the Activa, at which time Bodega instructed him to proceed to Nootka Sound to relieve Caamaño of the command of the establishment-which he noted would remain Spanish “for the moment.”[14] Fidalgo was to ensure good treatment and harmony with the British and all foreigners who might arrive at Nootka Sound, granting them free entry, use, and right to trade with the natives, as well as granting whatever assistance he could.

During that day and the next, Bodega investigated the circumstances of Serante’s death. He called a number of local chiefs, including Tutusi and Tatlacu, to a gathering. All agreed that the murder had been committed by the Indians of a neighboring village. Bodega was not persuaded by their protestations. Nevertheless he gave them the gardens and the buildings that Fidalgo had not had time to dismantle. Then Bodega reviewed the decision reached by the junta convened by Torres. The junta had judged that the strait contained no other harbor or bay suitable for an establishment; however, Bodega added in his report to the viceroy the observation that Discovery Bay near the entrance to Puget Sound was an excellent harbor even though it was too far from the ocean for the surveillance of shipping proceeding along the Pacific coast.

On September 27, Fidalgo and the Princesa sailed for Nootka Sound, abandoning the place to the “warlike, treacherous, and thievish natives.”[15] Fidalgo took with him everything, including animals, stores, feed, and crops, that could be removed in the very short time he had been given. Also leaving at that time was Ingraham and the Hope.[16] They sailed north to Nootka Sound. That same day, John Boit on the Columbia recorded in his log that the Princesa left and that the “Natives constantly visit us, but they do not like the Spaniards.” [17]

Bodega finally concluded the purchase of the Adventure on September 28, for the price of “72 Prime Sea Otter Skins.”[18] He renamed the ship the Orcacitas, one of the viceroy’s family names, and placed it under the command of Lopez de Haro.

On the morning of September 29, the Activa and Orcacitas sailed out of Neah Bay and headed to Monterey, where Bodega was to meet Vancouver. On September 30, Gray in the Columbia left for Vancouver Island, from which he left for Canton, China on October 3. Once the Spanish and Americans departed, the Makah dismantled the outpost, burned what they could not use and threw the bricks into a nearby creek, and transformed the site into a refuse heap.[19]

The Sao Jose o Fenix on October 1, sailed from Nootka Sound to Macao, with about 700 sea otter pelts that had been acquired during the summer in the Queen Charlotte Islands. On board was one of Vancouver’s officers, Lieutenant Zachary Mudge. Vancouver entrusted him with dispatches, botanical samples, copies of journals, charts, and logs, as well as reports to the British government regarding the diplomatic impasse that had developed and a request for further orders. After reaching China, Mudge proceeded to Great Britain on an East Indiaman.

Meanwhile, Vancouver was still at Nootka Sound, when Fidalgo returned from Neah Bay on September 29, and took command on October 2. Caamaño, who had shared charts and information with Vancouver, sailed in the Aranzazu for San Blas on October 4. Vancouver would use Caamaño’s information on his own charts and maintain Caamaño’s nomenclature. Vancouver left Nootka Sound on October 12, with his ships, the Discovery, the Chatham and the Daedalus. He would sail to Monterey, before heading to the Hawaiian Islands for the winter.

Bodega reached Monterey on October 9 or 10. Caamaño in the slower Aranzazu arrived on October 22. The Santa Gertrudis, Sutil and Mexicana were already anchored in the bay. Having sailed from San Blas, the Santa Saturnina, commanded by Juan Carrasco, was in San Francisco. Carrasco hastened to join Bodega in Monterey to hand him a Royal Order, dated February 29, 1792, which informed him that the king had not approved the viceroy’s instruction to Bodega to turn Nootka Sound over to Vancouver. The Spanish court wanted to wait until Great Britain’s intentions became more fully known. The Royal Order also informed him that as the Nootka Convention did not give equal rights to any other country unless agreed to by Spain, and, ships of a third country (e.g. United States) were to be warned not to return to Nootka Sound. Bodega dispatched Lopez de Haro and the Orcasites on October 21, back to Nootka Sound with instructions to Fidalgo that he was to exclude all non-Spanish and British ships from Nootka Sound. Bodega forwarded news to Revillagigedo via the Santa Gertrudis, which sailed on to San Blas. Haro returned from Nootka Sound on December 23.

In the meantime, on November 27, 1792, Vancouver arrived in Monterey with Discovery and Chatham, and resumed his friendship with Bodega. By the beginning of January 1793, Vancouver still had not received any fresh instructions from London, so he decided to resume his voyage. At the end of the second week of January, Vancouver sailed for Hawaii while Bodega sailed south to San Blas. William Broughton, the captain of the Chatham, went with Bodega so that he could proceed to Europe via Mexico with news of Nootka Sound.

Early in 1793, Spain and Great Britain were now allies against the French, who declared war on the British on February 1 and Spain on March 7. The issues surrounding the Nootka Sound Crisis were no longer a matter of contention between the two allies. Thus, on February 12, 1793, the Nootka Claims Convention was signed by Spain and Great Britain. It acknowledged Spain had restored the Argonaut and agreed to pay as indemnity to the parties interested in it the amount of two hundred and ten thousand hard dollars in specie, it being understood that this sum was to serve as compensation and complete indemnification for all their losses, whatever they may be, without any exception.

Fidalgo, who was in charge of the small Spanish contingent at Nootka Sound at the beginning of 1793, had strengthened the battery at Fort San Miguel at the entrance to the sound and made some improvements to the barracks and other houses. During his time at Nootka Sound, he also maintained good relations with the Nootkan people. When Peter Puget, who had taken over as captain of the Chatham, arrived back in Nootka Sound on April 15, he found the Spanish in a terrible state. Several men had already died and most others had symptoms of scurvy. Puget shared his food and repaired his ship before moving on. Vancouver arrived on May 20, and soon was headed off to join Puget.

Viceroy Revillagigedo consulted many of his officers who had spent time in Nootka Sound in order to help decide what Spain should do next. Valdés and Galiano, who had explored in the Strait of Georgia in 1792, gave conflicting recommendations. Valdés was against Spain expending further effort exploring the region while Galiano was in favor of doing so. Bodega’s assistant, Felix de Cepeda, advocated that Spain should not maintain settlements north of California. Revillagigedo sent a long report to Madrid in which he set out the reasons for Spain to abandon the Northwest Coast and concentrate on California.

Before abandoning the Northwest Coast though, Revillagigedo sent the Activa, under Francisco de Eliza, and the Mexicana, under Juan Martinez y Zayas, north to investigate the Oregon coast and the Columbia River. The ships left San Blas on April 30. Eliza reached the Oregon coast before turning back having achieved very little. Zayas reached Neah Bay, where he waited in vain until August for Eliza. He then sailed south investigating Grays Harbor (located on the Southwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, 45 miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River) and managing to get 15 miles up the Columbia River before running aground.

Meanwhile, Ramon Saavedra was sent north in the San Carlos to replace Fidalgo in charge at Nootka Sound. He sailed from San Blas on March 23, 1793, and arrived at Nootka Sound on May 9. Fidalgo would turn over command to Saavedra on June 7, and took the Princesa south on June 9. Saavedra was still at Nootka when Vancouver brought his two ships back on October 5. No senior Spanish was present with whom Vancouver could continue negotiations and, unfortunately, there had been no messages from either Europe or Mexico with further instructions. Vancouver left for Monterey.

A new Governor of Alta California, Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, had taken over at Monterey and he was not predisposed to be friendly toward the British. He even sent orders to all Spanish ports that they should not entertain Vancouver. Vancouver, after receiving an unwelcome reception at San Francisco, quickly moved on to Monterey. There, Arrillaga gave Vancouver such an unwelcoming reception on November 1, that Vancouver left four days later.

Meanwhile, as the war with France continued, Spain and Great Britain on January 11, 1794, signed the Convention for the Mutual Abandonment of Nootka. It provided that within the shortest time that may be possible after the arrival of British and Spanish representatives “at Nootka they shall meet in the place, or near, where the buildings stood which were formerly occupied by the subjects of His Britannic Majesty, at which time and in which place they shall exchange mutually” a declaration and counter declaration. The Declaration, to be signed by the Spanish representative, indicated that he was to restore “the buildings and districts of land situated on the Northwest Coast of the continent of North America, or the islands adjacent to that continent, of which the subjects of His Britannic Majesty were dispossessed by a Spanish officer toward the month of April, 1789.” The British representative was to sign the Counter Declaration that acknowledged that the restoration had been made. Further the Convention provided:

That then the British official shall unfurl the British flag over the land so restored in sign of possession. And that after these formalities the officials of the two Crowns shall withdraw, respectively, their people from the said port of Nootka.

Further, Their said Majesties have agreed that the subjects of both nations shall have the liberty of frequenting the said port whenever they wish and of constructing there temporary buildings to accommodate them during their residence on such occasions. But neither of the said parties shall form any permanent establishment in the said port or claim any right of sovereignty or territorial dominion there to the exclusion of the other. And Their said Majesties will mutually aid each other to maintain for their subjects free access to the port of Nootka against any other nation which may attempt to establish there any sovereignty or dominion.

The winter of 1793-1794, was a hard one, where Saavedra and his men suffered. Fortunately, during 1794, Jose Tobar y Tamariz made two trips north in the Aranzazu with supplies for the small garrison. Also that year, while awaiting Alava and Vancouver, the remaining Catalonian Volunteers in garrison at Nootka Sound were relieved by some 20 soldiers of the Compania Fija de San Blas.[20]

In Mexico, after Bodega had died on March 26, 1794, he was replaced as Commandant of San Blas and Commissioner for Nootka Sound by Jose Manual de Alava. Alava, who also spoke fluent English, sailed north with Fidalgo in the Princesa on June 16, and arrived at Nootka Sound on August 31. Vancouver who had gone directly to Alaska at the start of his 1794 explorations did not reach Nootka Sound until September 1. Here he found the recently arrived Alava in charge and that there were no instructions for him. Vancouver decided to wait. But after a month, when no further instructions arrived both parties decided to leave Nootka Sound, intending to meet again in Monterey. Vancouver sailed October 15, and Alava, sailed the following day. Saavedra stayed on in charge of the small contingent based there.

When the ships arrived in Monterey, there was finally news of the Third Nootka Convention. Alava would return north for a final ceremony but another British officer was on his way to represent Great Britain. This was Marine Lieutenant Thomas Pearce, who travelled on a Spanish ship from Cadiz to Veracruz, before crossing Mexico to San Blas. Here, he joined the brigantine Activo (the reconfigured schooner Activa), which sailed on January 13, 1795. Calling at Monterey, Alava was received on board and they all sailed up to Nootka Sound. The Activo arrived on March 16, and Alava gave Saavedra instructions to start dismantling the fort. By March 28, everything that the Spanish could carry was removed and stowed on their ships. A ceremony was held in Meares Cove with the declaration and counter-declaration signed by Alava and Pearce. The Spanish flag was lowered and Pearce hoisted the Union Jack as a token of possession. Maquinna, who was present, was given flags and written testimonials that he could present them to future visitors. On April 2, the Activo and the San Carlos departed from Nootka Sound. Friendly Cove became neutral territory, thus ending Span’s reign on the northwest coast.

Spanish rights in the Pacific Northwest were later acquired by the United States via the Adams-Onis Treaty, signed in 1819 (8 Stat. 252). The United States would later argue that it acquired exclusive sovereignty from Spain, which became a key part of the American position during the Oregon boundary dispute. In countering the United States claim of exclusive sovereignty the British cited the Nootka Conventions. This dispute was not resolved until the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846, which set the boundary between the United States and Canada at 490 N west of the Rocky Mountains, veering around Vancouver Island and then proceeding through the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

On January 31, 1855, a treaty was signed between the United States and the Makah Nation.  The treaty, among many other things, set the boundaries of a reservation. It provided:

There is…reserved for the present use and occupation of the said tribe the following tract of land, viz: Commencing on the beach at the mouth of a small brook running into Neah Bay next to the site of the old Spanish fort; thence along the shore round Cape Classett or Flattery, to the mouth of another small stream running into the bay on the south side of said cape, a little above the Waatch village; thence following said brook to its source; thence in a straight line to the source of the first-mentioned brook, and thence following the same down to the place of beginning; which said tract shall be set apart…(12 Stat., 939)

In 1857, the Federal Government built a light house on Tatoosh Island. The light house, officially known as the Cape Flattery Lighthouse, was first exhibited on December 28, 1857.

Image of Light station and Indian canoes at Cape Flattery.
Light station and Indian canoes, Cape Flattery. National Archives Identifier: 45708183. Local Identifier: 26-LG-61-28 Creator: Department of Commerce. Bureau of Lighthouses. 1913-7/1/1939. Record Group 26: Records of the U.S. Coast Guard.

It took another 150 years for the Makah Nation and Spain to formally come to a peaceful agreement. As the result of a collaborative effort involving the Spanish government (which contributed $40,000), the state of Washington, the Makah Tribal Council, Neah Bay area veterans, and residents of Neah Bay, the Fort Núñez Gaona-Diah[21] Veterans Park, was established at the site of the Spanish fort. Standing in the park is a memorial to Neah Bay veterans who served in the U.S. military since World War I. The structure, built on waterfront property overlooking the bay, is comprised of six large cedar columns to resemble a traditional Makah longhouse. The columns were made from a tree felled on the property. The site bears the flags of the United States, Spain, the Makah Nation, Washington state, the Nuu-chah-nulth Native Peoples of Canada, and each branch of the United States military. A stone monument bears the names of nearly 300 Neah Bay area veterans. The park and memorial were dedicated in 2008. During the dedication ceremony, a treaty of welcome was signed by the Makah Nation and the Spanish Government.

For two years the author of this series of blogs lived on the Makah Reservation, at a location about 5 miles southeast of Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island, less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, and 2.5 miles from Neah Bay, where he attended school.


Most useful in writing this series of blogs were Barry M. Gough, The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade, and Discoveries to 1812 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992); Freeman M. Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (Vancouver-Toronto: UBC Press, 2008); Richard W. Blumenthal, ed., The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters: Journals and Logs from Six Expeditions, 1786-1792 (Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004); José Mariano Mozino, Noticias de Nutka: Account of Nootka Sound in 1792, translated and edited by Iris H. Wilson Engstrand (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press and Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1991); and, Joshua L. Reid, The Sea Is My Country: the Maritime World of the Makahs, an Indigenous Borderlands People (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015).

Thanks to Peter Brauer, Chief of the National Archives Cartographic Branch, for locating the maps used in this series of blogs.

[1] Blumenthal, ed., The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters, p. 113.

[2] Blumenthal, ed., The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters, p. 115.

[3] Blumenthal, ed., The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters, p. 115.

[4] John Boit, on board the Columbia, recorded on September 24, that “the Spaniards had erected a Cross upon the beach, and had about 10 Houses and several good gardens.” “John Boit’s Log of the Columbia-1790-1793,” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XXII No. 4 (December 1921), p. 330.

[5] Blumenthal, ed., The Early Exploration of Inland Washington Waters, pp. 74, 74-75, 75..

[6] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 217.

[7] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 217.

[8] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 215.

[9] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 215.

[10] Alberni and his soldiers left Nootka Sound on July 19, aboard the Santa Gertrudis. After a delay in Monterey they reached San Blas late in November. The First Company then returned to Guadalajara. In 1796, Alberni, then a Lieutenant Colonel, and his company were sent to reinforce California. Detachments of Volunteers augmented the Presidios of Monterey, San Diego, and San Francisco. Alberni was appointed Governor of California in 1800.

[11] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 218. The viceroy forwarded the report of the junta to Madrid and was told in reply to await the government’s “final decision” before issuing any further instructions. By this time, however, Neah Bay had been abandoned and Bodega was sailing for Monterey. Apparently no final decision was ever made regarding whether Neah Bay should be retained or abandoned.

[12] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, pp. 261, 262.

[13] F. W. Howay, “The Voyage of the Hope: 1790-1792,” The Washington Historical Quarterly Vol. 11, No. 1 (January 1920), p. 28.

[14] Tovell, At the Far Reaches of Empire, p. 269.

[15] Robert H. Ruby and John Arthur Brown, Indians of the Pacific Northwest: A History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), p. 5.

[16] The Hope would leave Nootka Sound on October 12, and continue on to China, via Hawaii, and then back to Boston.

[17] “John Boit’s Log of the Columbia-1790-1793,” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XXII No. 4 (December 1921), p. 330.

[18] “John Boit’s Log of the Columbia-1790-1793,” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society, Vol. XXII No. 4 (December 1921), p. 331.

[19] As late as 1909, bricks of the old Spanish settlement were still visible at the site. Albert B Reagan, “Some notes on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington,” Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Sciences, Vol. XXII (Topeka: State Printing Office, 1909), p. 134.

[20] The Compañía Fija de San Blas (or ‘fixed [i.e. garrison] company of San Blas’) was raised in Mexico in 1788 to stand guard at the Spanish naval base at San Blas.

[21] Diah is the ancestral name of part of Neah Bay.

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