This weekend marks the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Woody Point, near Vancouver Island, British Columbia, when John Jacob Astor’s ship, the Tonquin, met her fate. Local history buffs will recall the Tonquin brought settlers to establish Fort Astoria in March 1811, then sailed north to trade.
The accounts of the Tonquin’s demise are many, according to a 1922 article by F.W. Howay in the Washington Historical Quarterly (https://tinyurl.com/howayTonq). First told by the Tonquin’s interpreter, Lamayzie, the sole survivor, the already bloody tale took on some wild embellishments in the retelling. Howay, however, constructed what he believes is a true narrative of what happened, summarized below.
The Tonquin went to Woody Point to barter with the Wickananish tribe. Trading aboard the ship went well the first day, but that evening Lamayzie reported the tribe planned to attack the next day.
Capt. Jonathan Thorne didn’t heed the warning, but when a suspiciously large crowd showed up in canoes the next day, he ordered seven men into the rigging to set sail. Meanwhile, as the brisk trading continued on deck, the Wickananish were hiding their knives and strategically positioning themselves. The attack, once launched, was a slaughter.
The surviving men in the rigging descended, but two were lost coming down. Four uninjured crewmen and one other, mortally wounded, headed for the cabin, found weapons, and managed to roust the invaders. Before dawn the next morning, the four boarded a longboat and left. Eventually driven ashore by foul weather, they were caught and murdered.
The wounded man stayed behind, professing he wanted to die on the Tonquin. After the others left, he leaned over the side, and gestured he needed help. The Wickananish boarded, and while they were engrossed opening the hatches, he set fire to a 9,000 round magazine, blowing everyone, and the Tonquin, to smithereens.
It took Lamayzie, who was already ashore when the ship exploded, 14 months to get back to Astoria to report the Tonquin’s unhappy ending. And the rest is history.