Welcome to Fort Nisqually

Welcome to Fort Nisqually…Note the School Bus…photobystevenpavlov

Fort Nisqually is seen by thousands of visitors every year.  Are you one of them?  Many ask the above question of : What is Fort Nisqually?  Where is it located and how can it’s history affect me today in this twenty first century?  Located south of Seattle, in the city of Tacoma.

Many young people have been introduced to Fort Nisqually at an early age.  Quite often it’s through their school outings.  So if you choose to visit the Fort located at Point Defiance Park,  you may see many children all in an orderly fashion, listening and learning the history of this unique Fort.

Be prepared to see an “old western” type of Fort surrounded with upright logs.

As you approach Fort Nisqually

As you approach Fort Nisqually

Fort Nisqually is not really an actual fort for military operations. It  was used as a base for fur trading by the Hudson Bay Company.    Hudson Bay Company has a long history dating back to it’s beginnings in 1670 as :

The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay

Yikes!  What a name!  No wonder most folks simply called it  “The Bay.”

Seeing that there were tremendous amounts of money to be made in the fur trade, especially by trading British goods with the local Indians, the Hudson Bay Company (aka The Bay or HBC) expanded it’s interests from eastern Canada, to the Pacific Northwest, where Archibald McDonald  established what is now known as, Fort Nisqually.

The Fort served as  headquarters for HBC employees along with traders and local native Indians.  Very quickly the Fort was expanded to not only include the fur trade (which soon began to die down) but also a cattle and sheep ranch.

When word of this addition to the Fort got around, it became a highly prosperous enterprise catering to the Russian settlements in Alaska.

The Fort Is Moved

The first Fort was a 15 foot by 20 foot storehouse that was located on the beach so ships coming into the area, could easily be reached from shore.  Loaded with goods, these same ships headed  to the  eastern U.S. and European markets.

Fort Nisqually early days 1870... U of W archive photo

Fort Nisqually early days
1870… U of W archive photo

Francis Heron arrived at the “Fort” in 1833 and immediately disliked it, and it’s location.  Choosing a plot of land more suitable, plus being higher up away from the beach onto the prairie, he orchestrated his men to work together to construct a fort that actually looked like a frontier type fort.

New Location And The Fort’s Demise…1843

In order to have easy access to fresh water supplies, the Fort was moved once more, about one mile eastward. Five years later it was fortified with a completely enclosed stockade type logged wall.  The year was 1843.

A treaty between the U.S. and England created a border separating the two countries claim of land, which was located at the 49th parallel.   Fort Nisqually was now on U.S. soil.  Years later the U.S. paid England some $600 thousand dollars for the land along with new ownership of Fort Nisqually.

The U.S. was now the legal owner of Fort Nisqually.  However, that same year is considered to be the official end of the Fort.

Point Defiance Fort Nisqually…Resurrected

By 1934, the abandoned remains of the Fort were moved to what is now it’s permanent home. Currently, Point Defiance Park is owned and maintained by the City of Tacoma.  To this date, reconstructing of the Fort continues.

If you’ve had the opportunity to visit Point Defiance, then you must take the time to visit the Fort.  It takes most folks back to a time when life seemed to be much easier.

Fort Nisqually Drawing 1840...Courtesy UW Special Collections

Fort Nisqually Drawing 1840…Courtesy UW Special Collections

Fort Nisqually Blockhouse circa 1885 photo UW Special Collections

Fort Nisqually Blockhouse circa 1885 photo UW Special Collections

Fort Nisqually Today John Lynch photo

Fort Nisqually 

A well maintained Fort and it’s surroundings is what you will find today.  Clean, open, pleasant grounds with a view to the water, is what will greet you.

One of the best ways to see not only the Fort, but also the entire Point Defiance Park is by bicycle.

Parking is above the open water with the Fort directly behind you.  Usually no parking problems occur as many  who come to visit the Fort are on their way to the Point Defiance Zoo and it’s famous Aquarium.  But don’t hurry.  Take the tour’s that are available.  They are brief.

The Factor's House as in 1855...and today

The Factor’s House as in 1855…and today

Japan At The Fort…Seattle/Tacoma

For centuries, Japan was a closed nation.  However, in 1834, an accidental event took the first Japanese sailors to the Washington coast and eventually to Fort Nisqually.

In the year of 1834, three Japanese sailors were blown off their original course of only a few hundred miles down the coast of Japan to the city of modern day Tokyo (then known as Edo).

Caught in a typhoon along with a now, broken rudder, they were carried out to sea with their cargo of rice and precious porcelain products.  Not being able to steer their craft back to land, they were at the mercy of the open ocean for some 14 months.

Surviving quite well though, on the huge supply of rice along with plenty of freshwater that each Japanese ship was required to have onboard before setting sail.

Finally running aground near Cape Flattery (where the old time movie family of Ma & Pa Kettle lived) or Cape Alava near the Makah (ma-kaw) fishing village.

Coming in contact with strange newcomers, each group had no idea that the other existed.    The native Indians quickly took control of the three beached sailors.  The Makah quickly transported  the three strangers to one of their villages, keeping them for a number of months as slaves.

Japanese sailors rescued at Fort Vancouver 1834 depicted By Walter Enright

Japanese sailors rescued at Fort Vancouver 1834 depicted

As news traveled to Fort Vancouver,  John McLoughlin, in charge at Fort Vancouver,  sent William McNeill, captain of one of Britain’s many navy brig’s to bring back the three sailors.

After much trading and “threats” to the local Makah leaders, he was able to retrieve the three.  The “threats” were in the way of reasoning with the native tribes in such a way as to let them know that if any of their villagers were cast ashore, they (the Makah villager)  would be kindly treated.  That being the case,  it would only be reasonable for them to do the same with the three unfortunate castaways.

Free At Last…But Rejected 

Hoping to curry favor with England, McLoughlin sent the sailors to London hoping to use them  in opening up trade relations with Japan and the Hudson Bay Company.

A brief stop in Hawaii and then on to England.

However, the British Government chastised McLoughlin for not leaving the hapless sailors in Hawaii.  They wanted nothing to do with Japan as it was still a closed nation.

Homeward Bound?

In 1837, Charles King made a last ditch effort to try and return the three unfortunate sailors to their homeland, without success.  Japanese citizens were not allowed to leave the country and newcomers were not allowed to enter.

What made matters worse, was the law that stated that any Japanese citizen that left the country could never return.  That included those who left Japan even unwillingly!

The sailors were now, without a home, without a country, and without hope of ever seeing their loved ones again.  What to do now?

Charles King, being a compassionate man, took the sailors to one of China’s port cities, Macao.  There the three sailors lived out their remaining days.

Now you have a brief history of Fort Nisqually and it’s beginnings.  Did you like it?

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Written by : Tom McDaniel