Letter hints at Fort Vancouvers steamy history
A letter written here in 1842 just sold for $930.The document from Dr. John McLoughlin does not offer much insight into the history that was part of Fort Vancouver’s transition from British fur-trading bastion to a U.S. Army outpost.It’s literally an example of nuts-and-bolts business correspondence, detailing freight that had been damaged on the way here from England. It talks about rusted pins, nuts and steel springs, plus wire, cement and other industrial-grade materials damaged in transit.While it isn’t exactly riveting subject matter (unless you appreciate a good rivet), the 176-year-old letter actually reflects one of the 19th century’s biggest technological advances. Those materials had been shipped from England to repair and maintain the Beaver, a steamship operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company.It was the first steamship in Pacific waters, and its first steam-powered voyage was launched from Fort Vancouver. The Beaver wasn’t built here, though. The 101-foot-long vessel was built in England in 1835, and 150,000 people reportedly cheered its launching on the Thames River. Then a crew of 13 men delivered the Beaver, which was built with two masts, under sail power to the Pacific Northwest. Company officials didn’t want to risk using the steam-powered technology on the 7½-month voyage, said Bob Cromwell, chief of interpretation at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.