Search sponsored by Coast Marketplace
Home Life In One Ear

In One Ear: A thorny demise

Greed does in Astor’s ship Tonquin
By Elleda Wilson

The Daily Astorian

Published on June 16, 2017 12:01AM

June 15 and 16 mark the 206th anniversary of when John Jacob Astor’s ship, the Tonquin, which brought settlers to establish Fort Astoria in March 1811, met her doom.

In an account on (, here’s what happened, according to a Chehalis Indian named Lamanse, the Tonquin’s translator, who wandered into Astoria to tell the tale:

After leaving Astoria, the Tonquin headed north to buy furs for trade. Eventually they anchored off a large Nootka Indian village, known to be hostile. A previous American ship’s captain had insulted a native chieftain, and the ship was attacked and burned. The only two survivors were enslaved.

After that, ships entering their harbor traded with care. Then a second American ship’s captain took 12 Nootka hunters, saying he’d bring them back. He abandoned them on a barren island, instead. The Nootkas swore revenge on the next ship to come in — the Tonquin.

It didn’t help that the Tonquin’s captain, Jonathan Thorn, was, to put it bluntly, a nitwit. Things started off well with the Nootkas, but then Thorn thought the chief wanted too much money for his furs. Thorn insulted the chief, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and booted him off the ship.

The next day, dozens of seemingly unarmed Nootkas boarded the Tonquin with furs to trade, wanting hunting and butcher knives in exchange. Thorne’s greed overcame his common sense, and soon the newly armed Nootkas — plus several who had hidden war clubs and tomahawks in the furs — were swarming the ship and killing everyone in sight. Including Thorn.

Lamanse dove overboard and escaped. Five sailors, up in the rigging during the melee, came down and drove off the attackers with guns; four left in a boat, and were later captured and killed. The one sailor left, mortally wounded, stayed aboard the Tonquin and enticed the Nootkas to return and take whatever they wanted. When they did, he blew them, himself and the ship to smithereens. And so the Tonquin’s story ends with a bang. Literally.


Share and Discuss


User Comments