Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fort Vancouver Online


            If you are reading this you are already hooked up to the Internet, which means you have access to an immense amount of information about Fort Vancouver and its history. If you're looking for a quick orientation to the blacksmith and carpenter shops in context, go HERE. But for much more, including details about the various buildings inside the stockade, when and how they were built and how they were furnished, lists of the tools and other items used there in the Hudson’s Bay Co. era, links to many sources are imbedded in the official website of Fort VancouverNational Historic Site, which you can find by typing that name into a search engine like Google, or simply clicking on the blue link. (In the description that follows, any text in blue is already a link.)
On left side of the Park’s main page is a list of topics under the heading “Explore This Park.” It’s not the same as exploring the real park in person--you won't see the imposing stockade or hear the wild geese squawking as you approach or smell the coal fires of the Blacksmith Shop or feel the soft underfur of the beaver pelt on the counter of the Indian Trade Shop. Tabbing through the website is more like a digital version of exploring a mineshaft with several branches that then branch into other branches. If you get lost you can always use the “back” button to turn around, or start again at the entrance (the Park’s main page) and click your way into other topics.
Below the “Explore This Park” tab the fourth item down is “History and Culture.” Clicking your cursor on that tab reveals three subheadings: People, Places, and Collections. Clicking on the “Collections” tab reveals several other topics, one of which is “Research.” Clicking on the “Research” tab reveals several other topics, including “Online Publications.” At this point shift your attention to the main box in the middle of the screen, where there are three items in a bulleted list. Click on the middle item. “Historical Studies.” You will see a photo of the Grant House from an old postcard, so now you need to scroll down to show the titles of the many individual documents available for viewing or downloading. You’re almost there!
You should also be able to go directly to the page with the Grant House image by typing Fort Vancouver Historical Studies (without any quotation marks) in Google's search box. Scroll down and dig in.
            Feel free to browse in the documents listed. If you click on a colored tab the book or article listed will appear on your screen (you might have to wait a while for some of the larger documents to download). You can read online, but most if not all of these items are in PDF-Portable Document Format, so by using your Internet browser’s menus you should be able to use the “Save As” command to save the loaded document to your own hard drive. Once you have saved it you can open and read it at any time without being connected to the Internet. You can also send any saved PDF document to other people  as an attachment to an email message, or save it to a memory stick (aka flash drive) or burn it onto a CD and share it with others that way, or to store it off your computer if you want to free up space on your hard drive. You can even print it out if you want to use the paper and ink to do so, or print selected pages to avoid having to take detailed notes on specific topics.
            You now have access to a mini-library of research reports and interpretive material related to Fort Vancouver. To go a little further, let’s say you’re interested in information about the blacksmith shop. Beginning in the 1950s NPS Historian John Hussey did a lot of research on the site, and in the 1970s he produced two lengthy volumes called the “Historic Structures Report.” The purpose of these studies was to help the NPS in reconstructing and furnishing the historic buildings now at Fort Vancouver NHS, as they appeared in the mid-1840s. Scroll down to Volume II of this series:
Hussey, John A. Historic Structures Report: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site,Volume II. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1976. Chapter V is on the blacksmith shop. But load this link only if you want to see what the original pre-computer 1976 typescript looks like. Unlike Vol. 1, this version of Vol. II cannot be searched by the computer. You need to scan the pages onscreen with your own eyes. 
There is a better way:
          There is another online version of both volumes of Hussey’s Historic Structures Report. This one is searchable by any text string, and the volumes are divided up into separate documents for each chapter. Click on the Table of Contents. The chapter headings should show up as links (blue font). The chapters in Volume II are helpfully outlined. Clicking on each heading will bring up that chapter as a separate document. Chapter V is on the blacksmith shop and its Appendix has a named list of blacksmiths at Fort Vancouver,1828-1854. The Carpenter Shop is discussed in Chapter XVII. Go back to the Table of Contents for other chapters. There is also a list of illustrations including the Vavasour diagram of the stockade layout in 1845, the Covington map of 1846 showing the riverfront installations and the Village, and many other images. His bibliography lists many of the print and archival sources available as of the mid-1970s.
          Hussey's work is not the end-all, but it is the essential foundation for any further reading and research on Fort Vancouver in the Hudson's Bay Co. era.

Once you have clicked through the sequence of links described above you will have hints about what else is available via the official NPS website, by clicking along other branches of the groups of links that appear at every step. One of the other shafts in this digital mine that appears under the “Research” tab is the list of “Links to Other Online Resources,” managed by Chief Ranger and Historian Greg Shine. There you will find links to several archives and libraries that have made digitized material available online.
          Other sources on the NPS website include a Cultural landscape Report compiled in 2005, which has a summary overview of the HBC era on pages 14-22. An earlier and much more detailed 2-volume Cultural Landscape Report done in 1992 includes a chapter on the 1824-28 period, when Fort Vancouver was located at the present site of the Washington State School for the Deaf, and another chapter with an extensive treatment of the 1829-46 period, when the main fort grew in the location of the presently existing reconstruction. This 1992 study quotes at length from HBC correspondence and eyewitness accounts by many of the visitors who spent time here in the HBC era. The discussion of the sawmill is of considerable interest to volunteers in the reconstructed carpenter shop. The endnotes to the 1992 CLR provide extensive bibliographic information on the many sources used.

Another important source is Bruce Watson,  Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858 (Vancouver, B.C.: Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice, 2010). This is a comprehensive 1200+ page compilation of individual biographical and employment information on HBC personnel and activities in the Columbia District, including any available information on their wives and children. It also includes a life history of HBC’s supply and trading ships, and a history of the various regional trading posts throughout the Columbia District (and beyond, in Alaska, California, and Hawaii), and related material. Anyone interested in the people, not only the British, Canadian, First Nations, and Hawaiians, but also USAmericans and Native American leaders, who were active in the fur trade west of the Rockies during the period covered in the title, should have this source saved on their hard drive.
The quickest way to find this book online is click on this link: “Lives Lived West of the Divide” or type that title into Google or your favorite search engine, and see what comes up. It is available in two formats. If you prefer to have a paper book in your hand and on your shelf, you can buy it in three volumes, each of which runs more than 400 pages, for $13.50 each, or $40.50 plus shipping. Or you can download the entire 1,200+ page book and save it to your hard drive—for free. That’s right, complete, legal, at no cost, and searchable. For example, if you want to find anyone who worked as a blacksmith or carpenter, type that keyword into the search box and your computer will find them for you.
Many books on aspects of Fort Vancouver’s history have been scanned and can be retrieved via Google’s “Books” feature. If the copyright has expired, which is the case for most titles published in the 1800s, you can often download the entire book for free and save it to your hard drive for later reading. To get into Google Books go to the Google main search page. There should be a list of services across the top of the window, the last one being “more,” with a tiny triangle indicating that there is a menu attached. Open the menu, go down to “Books” and select it. A window should appear asking if you are “Researching a topic?” Enter your keyword(s) into the box and enter Google’s virtual library. (This has all been translated to work on the iPad and probably other tablet computers, via Google Books or Google Play.)
Start with authors and titles if you have them, but you don’t need exact titles to start searching. Such keywords as Fort Vancouver, fur trade, Columbia District, Oregon, Hudson’s Bay Company, or the names of individuals like John McLoughlin or Peter Skene Ogden will yield interesting results. If "read" appears after the publication date you can usually download the whole thing for free. If "preview" appears you can read many pages, but not all, online. If "snippet" appears you can find most of the places in the text where your keyword appears, with a couple of lines before or after, but not the whole text of the book.
One of my favorite free titles from Google Books is by John Dunn, History of the Oregon Territory and British North-American Fur Trade; with an Account of the Habits and Customs of the Principal Native Tribes on the Northern Continent (London: Edwards and Hughes, 1844). Dunn was an HBC clerk and Postmaster (labor foreman, nothing to do with mailing letters) for several years, and lived at Fort Vancouver in the late 1830s to early 1840s. Chapter XI of this book, starting on p. 141, is one of the most detailed descriptions we have of daily life at Fort Vancouver in the HBC era, with many social, economic, and cultural details. (If you've ever wondered how salmon was pickled in brine and packed in barrels for long-term preservation, this is for you.)
         From 1838 to 1842 US Navy officer Charles Wilkes sailed around the world, and his exhaustive and detailed report was published in 5 volumes as Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition (London: Wiley and Putnam, 1845). Volume IV includes Wilkes's description and commentary on the trip during 1841 from Hawaii to Nisqually at the base of Puget Sound then up the Columbia to Fort Vancouver, up the Willamette to Champoeg, and on up the Columbia to Walla Walla. All 5 volumes are available free from Google Books, but you will need to look at the title page of each one to identify Vol. IV--or click on the linked text above. (There is a discussion of Wilkes's map of Oregon Country/Columbia District HERE.)
Another important traveler's account is Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon Through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again (London: Longman, 1859). Kane’s party crossed the continent following the route of the HBC Express Brigades from Montreal, descending the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. Chapter XII, on p. 171, begins Kane’s detailed discription of the site in late 1846, by which time John McLoughlin had resigned and moved to Oregon City, James Douglas and Peter S. Ogden were the Chief Factors in charge, and the HMS “Modeste” was lying at anchor in the Columbia River in case push came to shove with the Americans over the boundary question that was coming to a head.

But not all freely accessible online material is found in Google Books. For the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Canadian exploration, including a lot of material related to Fort Vancouver, a major source is the Champlain Society, based in Toronto. To see what is in this collection click on “Champlain Society Digital Collection” or type that name into the search box of Google or your search engine of choice. For an overview click on the “Browse” button in the lower right corner to get a links to the 81 authors represented in this collection.
For anyone who wants to dig deeper, the letters Chief Factor John McLoughlin wrote to the HBC high command (called the Governor and Committee) are an important source. These letters amount to extensive reports and most are many pages long. They were recovered from HBC archives and published in the 1940s by the Champlain Society in three thick volumes covering 1825 to 1846. This is not summarized historical interpretation, but the raw material of historical analysis, primary documents. So it helps to be familiar with the general context of HBC and Fort Vancouver’s place in its history to be able to understand what McLoughlin is talking about and appreciate the details in these letters.
To find John McLoughlin’s letters in the Champlain Society Digital Collection, go back to its search page (via the link always in the upper right corner of the screen) and change “search in” from “full text” to “author.” Then in the “for” box type “McLoughlin” and press your Return key. Boxes should appear listing all three volumes. Click on the blue text in any of the titles, and start reading.
These Champlain Society digitized volumes cannot be downloaded onto your hard drive complete, but when you’re reading a page that contains information you want to save for future reference, you can save each page individually as a PDF. This is very useful to avoid having to copy out extensive quotations or complex statistical tables.
          You might also find previous postings on this blog of interest. As of the end of December 2012, people have looked at this site more than 4,000 times since it was launched in June. Judging from the 'hit' counter the most popular postings seem to be "How much was a beaver pelt worth?," "What was a 'Made Beaver' worth?," and "How was the northern border of California set?" I think my personal favorite is "How did Sauvie Island get its name?" Volunteer blacksmiths seem to have gotten something out of "Did Fort Vancouver blacksmiths make beaver traps?" and "Do You Do Nails?Click on the month tabs in the upper right quadrant to uncover the titles of other postings.
With these suggestions, the notes and bibliographies in many of the sources noted, and a little more internet browsing you can probably find other items to satisfy your own particular curiosity. If you find great stuff or already have favorite online sources not mentioned here, I’d like to hear about them. Email me at: tomholloway62(at)gmail.com

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