Why was the Northwest Coast of North America the last portion of the world's temperate zones to be brought within the orbit of emerging European-based empires? I attempt to answer this question in this volume. Separated from eastern North America by the immense Rocky Mountain cordillera and from the Atlantic Ocean by long, tenuous sea lanes, the Northwest Coast stood apart from the civilized world until late in the eighteenth century. From time immemorial the Northwest Coast Indians, secure and unmolested, had inhabited these shores. By the 1770's, however, forces were at work that ended forever the comparative isolation of the Pacific littoral that now includes Alaska, British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, and northern California. In the last thirty years of the eighteenth century and the first ten years of the next, several nations vied for control of this distant dominion. Britain, Russia, Spain, France, and the United States extended national interests in an attempt to secure trade, sovereignty, or both. Britain's involvement in this rivalry, which forms the substance of this book, was by sea and land and laid the foundations for territorial claims to the North‐ west Coast between Russian-held Alaska and American-held Oregon—in other words, the present Canadian province of British Columbia.
This book is a predecessor in terms of the period covered, 1579-1809 (though not in terms of the order of publication) to my Royal Navy and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1810-1914: A Study of British Maritime Ascendancy. Taken together, these volumes complete a task begun over fifteen years ago: to explain the role of the sea, oceanic commerce, and sea power in the history of the Northwest Coast in general and British Columbia in particular. As a native of Canada's most western province I confess a strong personal involvement in this undertaking. I was born near the sea in Victoria, British Columbia, sailed inshore waters of the coast in my youth and, in recent years, have examined as many harbours from Drakes Bay, California, north to Cook Inlet, Alaska, as time and money would permit. In many ways the preparation of this volume and its predecessor has been a labour of love and I am grateful for some rather intangible environmental and human considerations that have sustained me during the course of research and writing.
I have incurred numerous debts in writing this book, and I cannot begin to name all the institutions and persons who have helped me. I must pay special thanks to the staffs of the Public Archives of Canada; the Provincial Archives of British Columbia; the Hudson's Bay Company Archives; the National Maritime Museum; the Maritime Museum of British Columbia; the Public Record Office; the British Library; the India Office Library; the Oregon Historical Society; the Wilfrid Laurier University Library; the Special Collections Library at the University of British Columbia; the Beineke Library, Yale University; and the Perkins Library, Duke University . . .