“Their Britannic and Catholic Majesties being desirous of terminating, by a speedy and valid agreement, the differences which have lately arisen between the two Crowns, have considered that the best way of attaining this salutary object would be that of an amicable arrangement which …”
“… setting aside all retrospective discussions of the rights and pretensions of the two parties, should regulate their respective positions for the future on the bases which would be conformable to their true interests …”
“… as well as to the mutual desires with which Their said Majesties are animated, of establishing with each other, in everything and in all places, the most perfect friendship, harmony, and good correspondence.” (Nootka Sound Convention)
Let’s look back …
Spain claimed the Pacific as its exclusive territory by right of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Britain argued that navigation was open to any nation, and territorial claims had to be backed by effective occupation.
British and Spanish claims to the Pacific Northwest had overlapped since the 16th century, though conflict developed only after voyages to the region by Cook, Dixon, Meares and others. (Boston Rare Maps)
In July 1789 Esteban Martínez, Spanish commandant at Nootka Sound, seized several British merchant ships. John Meares, part owner of these ships, reported the seizure to his government in his Memorial of 30 April 1790.
Britain demanded compensation and threatened war, but Spain declined to pay compensation and prepared for war, hoping its long-standing Bourbon ally, France, would provide assistance. (Historica Canada)
The resulting crisis brought the two nations close to war, but the Spanish backed off after realizing that without the help of France—distracted by the Revolution—they could not hope to match British naval power.
The result was the first Nootka Convention (signed October 28, 1790), in which the Spanish acknowledged the British right to maintain outposts in Nootka Sound and engage in whaling outside a “Ten-League Line” off the Northwest coast. (Boston Rare Maps)
Under the terms of 3 conventions Spain was obliged to accede to British requests and compensate the British for their losses. Under the third Nootka Convention (January 11, 1794) Spain and Britain recognized each other’s rights of trade at Nootka Sound and in other Pacific coast areas not already controlled by Spain.
Subjects of either nation could erect temporary buildings at Nootka, but not permanent garrisons or factories. Neither nation could claim exclusive sovereignty.
Nootka Sound was to be maintained as a free port by Spain and Britain, and to be open to other nations. On March 28, 1795 both countries completed their withdrawal from Nootka Sound. The controversy ended in symbolic victory for British mercantile and political interests. (Historica Canada)
Peace in the Pacific allowed for commerce to the Hawaiian Islands to expand, as well as expand the roles of a new player, the US.
In those days, European and East Coast continental commerce needed to round Cape Horn of South America to get to the Pacific (although the Arctic northern route was shorter and sometimes used, it could mean passage in cold and stormy seas, and in many cases the shorter distance might take longer and cost more than the southern route.)
The traders and whalers found ‘The Islands,’ as they called the Hawaiian group, an ideal place to procure fresh provisions, in the course of their three-year voyages.
“… the Sandwich Islands offer a station for intermediate repose, where health animates the gales, and every species of refreshment is to be found on the shores.” (Meares)
Of the ships that visited the islands, all but a small fraction were American. “The commerce of the United States, which resorts to the Sandwich islands, may be classed under five heads, viz.:”
“First, Those vessels which trade direct from the United States to these islands, for sandal-wood, and from hence to China and Manilla, and return to America.” (Annually, the number may be estimated at six.)
“Second, Those vessels which are bound to the north-west coast, on trading voyages for furs, and touch here on their outward-bound passage, generally winter at these islands, and always stop on their return to the United States, by the way of China.” (The number may be estimated at five.)
“Third, Those vessels which, on their passage from Chili, Peru, Mexico, or California, to China, Manilla, or the East Indies, stop at these islands for refreshments or repairs, to obtain freight, or dispose of what small cargoes they may have left.” (The number may be estimated at eight.)
“Fourth, Those vessels which are owned by Americans resident at these islands, and employed by them in trading to the northwest coast, to California and Mexico, to Canton and Manilla.” (The number may be estimated at six.)
“Fifth, Those vessels which are employed in the whale-fishery on the coast of Japan, which visit semi-annually.” (The number may be estimated at one hundred.).” (John Coffin Jones Jr, US Consulate, Sandwich Islands, October 30th, 1829)