The Pacific Northwest: An Interpretive History

By Carlos Arnaldo Schwantes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2 The First Pacific Northwesterners

As has been said of Columbus on the eastern shore of the Americas, Cook in the west "did not discover a new world; he established contact between two worlds, both already old."--Robin Fisher quoted in Captain James Cook and His Times ( 1979)

Captain James Cook's third expedition had its main encounter with native peoples of the North Pacific at Nootka Sound. During a month's layover in April 1778 to repair their ships, Cook and his officers prepared detailed reports of the Nootkas' physical appearance, customs, material culture, and trading preferences.

It was apparent to Europeans that the Nootka Indians physically resembled Asians or Polynesians. They were short and stocky, with round and full faces and high cheekbones. Long black hair hung down over their shoulders. "The women are nearly of the same size, colour, and form, with the men, from whom it is not easy to distinguish them, as they possess no natural delicacies sufficient to render their persons agreeable," penned one European, revealing his cultural biases. This, however, did not keep the crewmen from making wistful remarks about the sexual reticence of native women. Some women eventually did spend their nights aboard ship with the men, though probably not on the Resolution commanded by Cook. Being anxious to avoid the spread of venereal disease from Europeans to native populations, he had forbidden such contacts. Those women were probably slaves. Indian men likely had arranged their services in exchange for items of trade.

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