Nootka History

Nootka Sound history begins with habitation by First Nations peoples for thousands of years. There is evidence to suggest that human presence at Yuquot at Friendly Cove dates back at least 4,000 years.

nootka sound historyThe area’s inhabitants were first called Nootka by James Cook in 1778. As was the case when cultures with different languages met, communication was reduced to gestures and drawings, which were often misinterpreted. Although there is some debate over the origin of the term “nootka”, the best guess is that it comes from “nootk-sitl” meaning to go around or make a circuit. It probably was used by the inhabitants to indicate that Nootka was an island, and not to their name.

The people who claim Nootka Island and who maintain a presence at Yuquot are the Mowachaht (“place where the deer come from”).

Nootka Sound was drawn into the struggle between Spain and Britain, for political and economic control of the Pacific Northwest. The first known expedition into the region was by Juan Jose Perez Hernandez during the summer of 1774. His mission was to claim all coast lands for Spain. There was some minor contact between the cultures that resulted in the trading of goods.

The next recorded expedition to the area was by James Cook, with several hundred men aboard two vessels, the Resolution and the Discovery, in 1778. Cook’s mission was to claim lands for Britain and to make detailed maps and records of the wildlife, landscape and cultures that he came into contact with. The need to make repairs to the Resolution caused him to spend a month in Nootka Sound. The impact of Cook’s visit was to prove immense. The interest that his published accounts generated, along with the high prices that his crew received for traded otter skins in Asia, resulted in the region being opened up to American, British and Spanish traders.

nootka sound historyThe struggle between Spain and England was resolved in 1792 when George Vancouver was sent to Nootka to negotiate some agreement with the commander, Bodega y Quadra. Although discussions were cordial, no agreement was had. Then in January, 1794, the Nootka Convention was signed in Madrid. Spain ceded its claims to the Pacific Northwest and the Nootka Sound area.

* Cook’s visit to Nootka was during his third voyage of discovery. The primary purpose of the voyage was to find the northwest passage. Cook sailed as far north as the Bering Sea. It was also during this voyage that Cook was killed by natives in present day Hawaii as he began his return to England.

* Cook’s meeting with the indigenous people went so well that he named the cove where he made contact with them Friendly Cove. The name continues to this day.

* Cook’s sailing master on this voyage was William Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. Cook was so impressed by his young officer that he named one of the
islands in the Spanish Group after him.

* Not all contact between indigenous peoples and Europeans went well. Nootka chief, Maquinna, took exception to a slight by the captain of the American trader “Boston” and massacred all but two of the crew in Nootka Sound. John Jewitt became Maquinna’s slave because of his value as a smith. His copious record of his capture and slavery over two years (he escaped on a visiting vessel) provide an invaluable insight into the indigenous culture of the time.