Ear: Astoria

Did you know April 12 is significant in Astoria's history? When John Jacob Astor decided to establish an outpost at the mouth of the Columbia River, he sent out one group by land and one by sea.

The Tonquin, captained by Jonathan Thorn, set sail Sept. 8, 1810, with a crew of 21 and 33 passengers. After an "uneventful voyage" rounding Cape Horn, the Tonquin arrived at the mouth of the Columbia, in a howling storm, on March 22, 1811.

Capt. Thorn "now exhibited his real character as a heartless wretch and unmitigated brute," one account recalls. He ordered his first mate, Fox (whom he disliked), and a small crew to get into a leaking boat during the storm to make depth soundings of the Columbia bar.

Fox plead for their lives to no avail; they set out in the boat and were never seen again. Two others were lost in similar attempts.

On March 24, 1811, the ship drifted over the bar into Baker Bay. A party was sent out to find a good spot to build on, but after five days ashore, no one could agree on a location.

Fur traders Duncan McDougal and David Stuart wanted to try the south side of the river. Thorn objected, calling it a "sporting excursion."

The traders left anyway, and their boat capsized in a squall. Luckily, Chinook tribal members rescued the dauntless duo, who went on to find the perfect spot for the post/fort at Point George.

And so, on April 12, 1811, thanks to McDougal and Stuart, 12 men from the Tonquin landed at Point George and started building the fort that eventually became Astoria. And that's why April 12 is so important — it's Astoria's birthday. (tinyurl.com/tonquin1)

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.