Page images

sion of their hunting-grounds, and attempting, by every means in their power, to subject them to the most abject slavery, roused the indignation of that tribe, and they resolved to destroy their oppressors, or perish in the attempt. Having by an appearance of submission lulled the suspicions of the Russians, they determined in the summer of 1802 to make the attack. At that time there resided at the Russian settlement, six American seamen, who had deserted from the ship Jenny, of Boston, and been secreted by the Russians till after her departure. These seamen were invited by the Indians to visit the village of Sitka, and, on arriving there, were informed of the meditated attack and their assistance solicited. This was possitively refused. They were then assured that no injury should be done to them, whatever might be the event, but that they must remain at the village, under guard, till the event was known. The Indians, succeeded in surprising and destroying the fort, and under the excitement of the moment, put to death every Russian whom they found. The Aleutian women, and some children, who were living with the Russians, were made prisoners. A few days afterwards, two American vessels and one English, entered Norfolk sound. The Indians immediately brought the six Americans on board in safety, but refused to comply with a demand, made by the commanders of these vessels, for the Aleutian women and other captives, taken in the fort; and coercive measures were finally resorted to, and hostilities commenced, by these · foreign adventurers, to obtain the release of Russian subjects! This was accomplished, and upwards of thirty individuals were received on board, and carried in one of the vessels, to the Russian settlement at Kodiac. The writer was at that time, in the vicinity of Norfolk sound and received this account from the Sitka Indians, and from the officers of the American vessels; some of whom are now living in Boston. · But had the conduct of the Americans been otherwise, we cannot admit that any transactions in Norfolk sound would support the charge of exciting revolt in the Russian possessions ;' for the whole of her possessions there are limited to the range of the cannon-shot of her fort. The whole extent of coast, from latitude 58° to the straits of Juan De Fuca, in 489, is inhabited by numerous powerful and warlike tribes, perfectly free and independent of Russian authority. Possessing in a high degree, the nobler traits of savage character, and devotedly attached to

[ocr errors]

liberty; they prize personal freedom more highly than life itself.

The courage and constancy of the Sitka Indians, when attacked by the Russians in 1804, is a striking instance of their intrepidity, and deep rooted love of independence; and warrants the conclusion, that to secure the peaceable possession' of that country to Russia, something more will be requisite than the be it accordingly' of her Emperor, or the arguments of her envoy. The following is from the account of that transaction, by Lisiansky, who commanded the Neva, a Russian ship of war, engaged in the expedition.

• In the afternoon of the 26th, a canoe, with three young men in it, came alongside the American ship.* Being informed that one of these youths was the son of our greatest enemy, I could not resist ihe desire I felt to have him in my power; and the moment the canoe left the O'Cain, I despatched a jolly boat in pursuit of it; but the natives rowed so lustily, that they outstripped the boat; and when our party fired upon them, they intrepidly returned the fire, shewing us thereby, with what sort of persons we should have to deal.' Again, he (the ambassador) was then sent back with the same answer as before, that we required, as a necessary preliminary to pacification, that the chiefs themselves should come to us. At noon we saw thirty men approaching, all having fire-arms. They stopped when at the distance of musket-shot from the fort, and commenced their parley ; which, however, was quickly terminated, as they would not agree to a proposal made by M. Baranoff, that we should be permitted to keep perpetual possession of the place at present occupied by us, and that two respectable persons should be given as hostages ! On the conclusion of this interview, the savages, who were sitting, rose up, and after singing out three several times 00, 00, 00! meaning end, end, end ! retired in military order. However, they were given to understand by our interpreters, that we should instantly move our ships close to their fort, (for their settlement was fortified by a wooden fence,) and they would have no one but themselves to reproach for any consequences that might ensue.'

. On the 1st of October we carried this menace into execution, by forming a line with four of our ships before the settlement. I then ordered a white Aag to be hoisted on board the Neva, and presently we saw a similar one on the fort of the enemy. From this circumstance, I was not without hope that something might yet occur to prevent bloodshed; but finding no advances on their part, I ordered the several ships to fire into the fort. A launch and a jolly-boat, armed with a four pounder, under the command of lieutenant Arboosoff, were then sent to destroy the canoes on the beach, some of which were of sufficient burthen to carry sixty men each, and to set fire to a large barn, not far from the shore, which I supposed to contain stores. Lieutenant Arboosofi finding he could do but little execution from the boats, landed, and taking with him the four pounder, advanced towards the fort. M. Baranoff, who was then on board the Nerva, seeing this, ordered some field pieces to be landed, and with about one hundred and fifty men, went himself on shore to aid the lieutenant. The savages kept perfectly quiet till dark, except that now and then a musket was fired off. This stillness was mistaken by M. Baranoff; and encouraged by it, he ordered the fort to be stormed; a proceeding, however, that had nearly proved fatal to the expedition, for as soon as the enemy perceived our people close to their walls, they collected in a body, and fired upon them with an order and execution that surprised us. The Aleutians, who with the aid of some of the company's servants, were drawing the guns along, terrified at so unexpected a reception, took to their heels; while the commanders, left with a mere handful of men belonging to my ship, judged it prudent to retire, and endeavor to save the guns. The natives seeing this, rushed out in pursuit of them, but our sailors behaved so gallantly, that though almost all wounded, they brought off the field-pieces in safety. In this affair, out of my own ship alone, a lieutenant, a master's mate, a surgeon's mate, a quarter master, and ten sailors of the sixteen who accompanied them, were wounded, and two killed ; and if I had not covered this unfortunate retreat with my cannon, not a man would probably would have been saved.' The Russians finally prevailed, by the superiority of their artillery, and this was the closing scene.

* The American ship O'Cain, of Boston, was then lying in Norfolk sound.

• When morning came, I observed a great number of crows hovering about the settlement. I sent on shore to ascertain the cause of this, and the messenger returned with news that the natives had quitted the fort during the night, leaving in it alive, only two old women and a little boy. It appears that judging of us by themselves, they imagined that we were capable of the

same perfidiousness and cruelty ; and that if they had come out openly in their boats, as had been proposed, we should have fallen on them in revenge for their past behavior. They had therefore preferred running into the woods, leaving many things behind, which from their haste, they had been unable to take away.

" It was on the 8th that the fate of Sitka fort was decided. After

every thing that could be of use was removed out of it, it was burned to the ground. Upon my entering it before it was set on fire, what anguish did I feel, when I saw, like a second massacre of innocents, numbers of young

children lying together murdered, lest their cries, if they had been borne away with their cruel parents, should have led to a discovery of the retreat to which they were flying!

O man, man ! of what cruelties is not thy nature, civilized or uncivilized, capable ?

Whether M. Lisiansky means this exclamation for the invaders or their victims does not appear.

Lisiansky adds we have reason to believe, from information we obtained, that the chief cause of their flight was the want of powder and ball; and that if these had not failed them, they would have defended themselves to the last extremity.' Such we know to have been the fact, and but for this, they would with a heroism worthy a better fate, have perished in defending their invaded rights.

The writer was, at that time, near the scene of these transactions, and received from the Indians, daily accounts of passing events. They were in substance much the same as those given by Lisiansky, with this addition, that having so often experienced the perfidy and cruelty of the Russians, they placed no confidence in any promises made by them, and well knew that slavery must follow submission. Finding themselves without means of defence, they determined to abandon their country ; retreat into the interior, and thus preserve their independence by the sacrifice of their possessions! Those who were too old, or too young to support the fatigues and sufferings of the contemplated journey, were despatched on the spot; and,' added the chief, who gave this account,' their innocent blood be on the heads of those who caused the deed.' We shall offer no apology for introducing the following anecdote as a further illustration of the character of these people.

In the summer of 1804, several tribes collected at Nass,

where a sort of fair is annually held. At this time an affray took place, between individuals of the Cockalane tribe, who reside on the Main, near the entrance of Observatory inlet, and of the Skettageets tribe, who inhabit the opposite shores of Queen Charlotte's islands ; in which Cockalane, the great chief of his nation, was unfortunately killed. In the course of the following winter, when the inclemency of the season prevented all intercourse between the Indians of the main and those of the islands, the writer visited Sketlageets. Inquiry being made by the chiefs respecting the intentions of the Cockalane tribe, they were told, that early in the spring the friends of the deceased chief were determined to attack them with an irresistible force, and destroy the whole Skettageets nation. Elsworsh, a distinguished young chief, heard this account with great calmness, and expressed doubts of the ability of their enemies to execute these threats. Being assured that they were highly exasperated, and resolved on vengeance, he replied with a countenance and manner that expressed his feelings more forcibly than language ; it is well, let them come-let them attack- let them destroy us—it is well-we are but passing clouds,' and added, pointing to the sun, where is the man, like yonder sun, who never dies ?**

Let us not be suspected of representing these people in too favorable a light. They share of course the passions and vices that usually prevail in the savage state. Implacable hatred and thirst for revenge, engendered by real or supposed injuries, too often excite them to deeds, at which humanity shudders. We have known in their intercourse with foreigners, instances of unprovoked outrage and violence. But we have more frequently met with ex-parte accounts of their treachery and ferocity, where circumstances have been known to us that gave a very different coloring to their conduct. They are a people more sinned against than “sinning.' We should rejoice if the dark shades of their character could be dispelled by the mild influence of christianity, without endangering that independence which is the ground work of every virtue they possess; but our knowledge of their habits and feelings give us little hope of its accomplishment; and our fears that any change, encouraging white people to settle among them, would lead to their destruction, leave us no wish that it should be attemped.

* Keetlānnu Keeset, tsué cootcanõng, come howeēne cardie.

« PreviousContinue »