Saturday, October 23, 2010

Today in History - 1813 US Fur Traders Turn Over Astoria, Oregon, to the British

John Jacob Astor, Oregon Pioneer

On this day in 1813, US citizens operating the Pacific Fur Company trading post in Astoria, Oregon, turn the post over to their rivals in the British North West Company, and for the next three decades Britons dominate the fur trade of the Pacific Northwest. The town and fur trading post at Astoria were founded in 1811 at the behest of John Jacob Astor (1763–1848), a German-born US immigrant who had hoped to beat out his British rivals and develop the Pacific Northwest fur trade for the US. Unfortunately for Astor, the outbreak of the War of 1812 between the US and Great Britain threw the fate of his enterprise into doubt, raising the threat that at any moment a British warship might arrive and seize Astoria as a spoil of war. Astor's partners in the Pacific Fur Company were mostly Canadian, and they saw little reason to risk losing their entire investment in a British takeover so they sold their interests to the British North West Company in early October 1813. Just as they had feared, within weeks of the sale a man-of-war arrived and took possession of Astoria for Great Britain. In December 1813, the Stars and Stripes came down, the Union Jack went up, and Astoria became Fort George.

Although Great Britain gave the settlement of Astoria back to the United States after the War of 1812, the British maintained control of Fort George and the Pacific Northwest fur trade, primarily through the royally chartered Hudson Bay Company. For the next 20 years the Hudson Bay Company's British representatives ruled as benevolent despots over the traders, settlers, and Indians of the Pacific Northwest. By the 1840s, the beaver population had dwindled, while US settlement in the area was on the rise. Unwilling to protect the Hudson Bay Company's claim to the region, the British agreed to accept US control of the territory below the 49th parallel in 1846 and ceded to the US the territory encompassing the future states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.