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A Voyage Round the World Onboard the Ship Columbia Rediviva and Sloop Washington

A Voyage Round the World Onboard the Ship Columbia Rediviva and Sloop Washington
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[ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

After the launching of the American China trade, merchants sought a commodity other than ginseng, which had a limited market, to trade in China for the tea, silks, and porcelain so much in demand at home. A group of Boston entrepreneurs, inspired by tales of Captain Cook's third voyage, decided there was profit to be made in trading for sea otter furs on the Northwest Coast of North America, and thence sailing to Canton to trade the furs, highly prized in China, for tea and other goods. They financed the adventure of the ship Columbia Rediviva, commanded by Captain John Kendrick, and the sloop Lady Washington, under Robert Gray, to sail around the Horn in search of fortune. The Columbia and the Washington departed in September 1787, and the Columbia returned to Boston in August 1790, becoming the first American-flagged ship to circumnavigate the globe. This voyage was not profitable to the owners for a variety of reasons, but undaunted they immediately launched a second voyage of the Columbia, under Captain Gray, in September 1790. The first voyage marked the birth of the highly profitable triangular Boston-Northwest Coast-Canton trade. Indeed, Boston so dominated this fur trade that all traders along the coast were referred to by the Native Americans as "Boston men."1 The Northwest Coast fur trade enriched many Boston families until after the War of 1812, when other commodities replaced sea otter furs for import to Canton.2

This log, with a charming sketch of the two companion vessels, was kept by Robert Haswell, who joined the Columbia as third mate in 1787. Owing to differences with the irascible Captain Kendrick, the first mate, Simeon Woodruff, took his discharge at the Cape Verde Islands, and Haswell was promoted to the position of second officer. By the time the ship reached the Falkland Islands, however, he and Captain Kendrick were also at odds, and Haswell left the Columbia to become second officer of the sloop Washington. He remained with the sloop until July 1789 (when this log ends). Gray then took command of the Columbia, switching places with Captain Kendrick, who remained with the Washington trading for furs along the coast. With Haswell as second officer, the Columbia sailed for Canton via Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) and then homewards around the Cape of Good Hope. She arrived in Boston on 9 August 1790.3

Haswell shipped out as first mate on the Columbia for her second voyage (September 1790 to July 1793), during which Captain Gray discovered and christened the Columbia River. This discovery served as the basis for American claims to the Oregon Country.4 Thus, as historian Samuel Eliot Morison asserts, "On her first voyage, the Columbia solved the riddle to the China trade. On her second, empire followed in the wake."5

1. Samuel Eliot Morison. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860. Boston, 1921, pp.46-47.

2. Kenneth Scott Latourette. The History of Early Relations between the United States and China, 1784-1844. New Haven, 1917; New York, 1964, pp.54-55.

3. Frederic W. Howay, ed. Voyages of the “Columbia” to the Northwest Coast, 1781-1790 and 1790-1793. Massachusetts Historical Society Collections 79 (1974), pp. xvii-xviii.

4. Ibid.

5. Samuel Eliot Morison. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860. Boston, 1921, p.51.