“In December, 1777, Captain James Cook, who had been sent into the Pacific on a voyage of exploration by the King of England, discovered several islands which he named in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, He later sailed northward and in March of the next year sighted the American coast in the neighborhood of the present Yaquina Bay.”
“He thus became the first to make a contact between the Oregon country and Hawaii. Cook was followed within a few years by vessels that engaged in trading furs from the Indians along the northwest coast of America which they sold in China.”
“The captains of such ships were quick to learn the value of the Hawaiian Islands as a resting place and provisioning station. Their custom was to stop there on the northward voyage, spend a season in trade, return to the islands for the winter, and afterwards sail back to the American coast to complete their cargo of furs before going to Canton.” (Clark)
“On June 23, 1810, Pacific Fur Company partners sign articles of agreement in New York City. This new enterprise aims to monopolize the American fur trade from coast to coast.”
“The wealthy New York merchant John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) is president, prime mover, and principal stockholder of the fledgling organization, and he will soon dispatch two expeditions to found a transcontinental trading network headquartered on the Columbia River, ‘the first American commercial undertaking west of the mountains.’” (Nisbet)
“To serve as his chief agent, Astor approached Wilson Price Hunt (1783-1842), a St. Louis merchant who hired several Missouri River traders and frontiersmen of his acquaintance as assistants. Because no American furmen possessed the expertise needed to organize a new trading network in the Far West, Astor recruited experienced Canadian traders for his remaining leadership.”
“The first party would sail from New York on the ship Tonquin with the supplies and equipment necessary ‘to establish a fur trading post at, or in the vicinity of the Columbia River’. Partners Alexander McKay, Duncan McDougall, David Stuart (1765-1853) and Robert Stuart (1785-1848) would superintend the establishment of the trade in the Columbia region upon their arrival.”
“The second group, commanded by Wilson Price Hunt and Donald Mackenzie, would depart St. Louis in late October and travel west along Lewis and Clark’s route, selecting appropriate locations for trading posts and establishing friendly rapport with Indian tribes along the way.”
“Astor, who watched the Tonquin set sail on September 8, 1810, would later muse, ‘Was there ever an undertaking of more merit, of more hazard, and more enterprising?’” (Nisbet)
“Commanded by Captain Jonathan Thorn (1779-1811), a 32-year-old lieutenant on leave from the US Navy, the Tonqin was 94 feet long with a burden of 269 tons, and was known as a ‘first-rate ship’”.
“[W]hile planning a post on the Columbia River [Astor] also had in mind to establish friendly relations with the Hawaiian Islands in the hope of securing special commercial privileges there.”
“When the Tonquin which carried his men and goods to the Columbia stopped at those islands, its captain endeavored without success to make a commercial treaty with King Kamehameha.”
“He did, however, succeed in securing needed supplies of food and in enlisting 24 Hawaiians for service as sailors and as laborers at the prospective post [twelve for the crew and twelve for the new settlement]. The agreement was that they were to receive food, clothing and $100 in merchandise for three years service.” (Nisbet) Then they sailed to the Northwest coast.
“When the crew sighted land about three miles away on the morning of March 22,  the captain felt certain they had reached the Columbia. With a fresh gale blowing from the northwest, Thorn thought it would be prudent to examine the notoriously treacherous bar before venturing any closer in the Tonquin.”
“In the early afternoon he ordered his first mate, JC Fox (d. 1811), and four of his crewmen to launch a longboat and sound the channel. According to three eyewitness accounts, the first mate objected to setting out in such stormy weather and rough seas, to which Captain Thorn replied, ‘Mr. Fox, if you are afraid of water, you should have remained at Boston’”.
“Mr. Fox had been well-liked aboard the Tonquin, and his friends watched anxiously from deck as his little boat was tossed about by the boisterous sea, but they soon lost sight of it among the expanse of breaking waves.”
“The following day the Tonquin stood off and on the bar all day ‘with anxious solicitude’, but there was no sign of the longboat. As evening approached, the crew of necessity steered the ship a safe distance from shore, ‘all with long faces, even the Captain looking worried’”.
“The morning of March 24 proved clear, and the Tonquin anchored in a calm area to the north of Cape Disappointment. … Soon thereafter, a fine breeze sprung up, and Captain Thorn decided to weigh anchor and stand in for the entrance to the river.”
“According to his charts, the deepest and most reliable channel lay close in to Cape Disappointment, on the north edge of the shifting sandbars that rendered the river’s mouth so perilous.”
“This channel was narrow, intricate, and constantly changing, and Thorn ‘became so alarmed at the appearance of the breakers that he hove to’. He ordered second mate Mumford to re-launch the pinnace and sound the waters ahead. Mumford succeeded in locating five fathoms of water, but with the surf breaking all around him, he retreated to the ship.”
“Captain Thorn again weighed anchor and stood in for the channel under an easy sail. … ‘We came within pistol range of the long-boat and made a signal to them to come aboard, which they were unable to do, the suction of the ebbing tide carrying them away with incredible speed’”.
“Tonquin began to drift fast to the southward … ‘the mind of the captain was so absorbed in apprehension, and perplexed with anxiety at the danger which stared him in the face, and which he was about to encounter, that he could not be brought to give a thought to anything else but the safety of the ship.’”
“Indeed, the safety of the Tonquin was soon imperiled, for as she made her way across the bar in the face of the outgoing tide, she struck repeatedly on reefs and shoals. Waves broke over the deck. ‘Everyone who could, sprang aloft, and clung for life to the rigging … she struck again and again, and, regardless of her helm, was tossed and whirled in every direction’”.
“The wind suddenly died, leaving the ship at the mercy of the surf, in danger of being dashed against the rocks at the foot of Cape Disappointment. Thorn threw out two anchors to counter the pull of the tide. But ‘darkness soon fell to add to the horrors of our predicament’”.
“When the tide eventually turned, the ship was still intact, and an ocean breeze sprang up to usher her away from the cape’s rocky shore, across the rest of the bar, and into the shelter of Baker’s Bay in the lee of the Cape, where the weary sailors dropped anchor just before midnight.”
“Despite extensive searches over the next several days, Stephen Weeks and Harry [one of the Hawaiians] were the only survivors of either of the small boats ever found. ‘The loss of eight of us [including one Hawaiian] within two days was deeply felt,’ wrote Franchere.”
“‘In the course of such a long voyage, among men who see one another every day, live in the same quarters, share the same dangers, ties form which make such a sudden and unforeseen separation doubly painful.’” (Nisbet) Some of the Hawaiians remained at the Columbia River to build the trading post.
After a few days, fur company officials found a site for the trading post and named it Astoria. This was the base of operations for Astor’s northwest fur trade. (Kittelson)
“The 12 Hawaiians who remained on board were murdered with the other members of the crew when the Tonquin was surprised by Indians while in Clayoquot Sound [at Vancouver Island] a few weeks later.” (Clark)