Tag Archives: ethnohistory

Images of Nootka Island People, 1787

Nootka Sound girl, 1787.  by de Saint-Sauveur, source: LACMA.

Nootka island girl, 1787. by de Saint-Sauveur, source: LACMA.

I found some interesting images at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These come from a book published in 1787: Costumes civils actuels de tous les peuples, volume 4: Americas by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur (1757-1810).  Needless to say, it’s one of the earliest publications with NW Coast content, comprising four plates and 14 pages of “customs” of Nootka Island (Nuu-chah-nulth territory). I’m not entirely sure where Grasset de Saint-Sauveur would have got his inspiration from – Cook’s journals most likely?  You can see all the plates from the four volumes at the LACMA (great images from around the world), or you can read and download the entire book here.  But why bother, when I extract the information for you below.

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Historic Maps and Dioramas of Victoria and Environs

Detail of Capt. Vancouver's 1792 chart showing the "supposed strait of Juan de Fuca". Source: viHistory

vihistory is a web site designed to aid in historical research of Vancouver Island, at which it succeeds admirably.  You should poke around and have fun with their census data and the other worthy, if dreary, pursuits it affords the serious scholar.

One feature which is not immediately clear on first glance, perhaps deliberately as has entertainment potential, is a large selection of very high-resolution maps and images which you can download from this page. The file sizes are large, of course, but increasingly that is less of an obstacle in the past.  The maps are mostly of historic Victoria, but there are some regional maps such as telegraph and lighthouse maps of British Columbia, and a couple of maps of Nanaimo.  As usual, I have surfed through the maps so you don’t have to – and some of them are remarkably fun, and informative.

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D’Suq’Wub: Old Man House – a Poster

Old Man House: computer reconstruction of one end. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

“Old Man House” is on the Kitsap Peninsula just north of Bainbridge island, across Puget Sound from modern downtown Seattle.  The “house” was the subject of one of the earlier excavations on the NW Coast by Warren Snyder and team from the University of Washington.  The house formed the locus of a major village of the Suquamish Tribe, and its most famous historic resident was Chief Sealth, also known as Chief Seattle.  The Suquamish Tribe has a very nice poster on the history and archaeology of Old Man House which can be downloaded from their website – clicking here will start a moderately sized JPG file.

Interpretive sketch of Old Man House. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

It is a bit of misnomer to call this structure a “house” though.

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Webber’s Village in Nootka Sound: Original Watercolour

Painting of a village in Nootka Sound, 1778, by John Webber. Source: State Library of New South Wales. Click for larger original.

Yesterday I linked to the original watercolour of a 1778 Nootka Sound house interior by John Webber, which is the basis for the widely reproduced engraving.  Today we can take a look at Webber’s original painting of a Nootka Sound village, presumably Yuquot but not so labelled, as found at the State Library of New South Wales (though yesterday’s post brought forth questions as to whether these are watercolours or coloured engravings – see the comments).  The first and most important point is, see that lumpy, dissected landform in front of the houses?  That, my friends, is what an active shell midden looks like.  No wonder they can be such stratigraphic nightmares.

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Webber’s House Interior: Original Watercolour

1778 Watercolour by John Webber of the interior of a house in Nootka Sound. Source: State Library of New South Wales. Click for original.

A few days ago I posted a beautiful watercolour of Nootka Sound by John Webber, artist on Cook’s third voyage.  In the ensuing discussion, it was brought up how nice it would be to see the original watercolours of more of his paintings, which often formed the basis for the  numerous engraved reproductions which are what one normally sees.  The loss of information in moving from the original to the engraving is something of an unknown quantity, and I for one had never seen the watercolours.  Until yesterday!

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Ucluelet, 1859

"Euclueliat village, Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, N.W. Coast. H.M.S. Satellite" pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, click through for large size.

The above is a rendering of Ucluelet Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, made in 1859.  You can clearly see the aboriginal village to the right. Artfully, the artist has caught a whale hunt at the exact moment of harpooning in the foreground.   I’ve zoomed in on the village below.

Detail of Ucluelet Inlet village.

Interestingly, the next picture in this folio from Yale University is labelled as a “Songhee” Village (below), yet rather than a Victoria area settlement, it fairly clearly shows what I think is another Ucluelet-area village, with the distinctive saddle-shaped hill to the east side of the inlet.  (The trees are different which makes me think it is a different one than above) Anyway, nothing earth-shaking but I had never seen these historic drawings before.

Songhee? Village. North West Coast Vancouver Island. Barclay Sound. H.M.S. Satellite." pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, then click through for large size.

Swan Down

Watercolour by James Gilchrist Swan (1818-1900) of the Klallam people of chief Chetzemoka (nicknamed 'the Duke of York'), with one of Chetzemoka's wives (nicknamed 'Jenny Lind') distributing potlatch at Port Townsend, Washington, USA. Source: Yale, via Wikipedia.

James Gilchrist Swan

lived one of the most varied and colorful lives in the early history of Washington Territory. He was variously an oysterman, customs inspector, secretary to Congressional delegate Isaac Stevens, journalist, reservation schoolteacher, lawyer, judge, school superintendent, railroad promoter, natural historian, and ethnographer. Above all, Swan was a chronicler. He wrote one of the earliest books describing life in Washington Territory, two Smithsonian monographs, many newspaper articles and technical publications, and more than 60 volumes of still-unpublished diaries. These works document not just pioneer society but also the Northwest Indian cultures that pre-dated white settlement and existed along-side it. Swan’s appreciation of and efforts to record Indian art, technology, history, legends, and language made him a rarity among early Washington settlers.

No doubt Swan wrote some of the most important and interesting accounts of early aboriginal life on the Northwest Coast and you would be lucky to own any of them as hardcopy editions. They are informative and vivid.  While they contain some of the biases of the day, there is absolutely no doubt that Swan was a sincere friend and companion of the Makah, Klallam and other Olympic Peninsula Tribes and he set out to tell their story fully in a way of which many anthropologists of the day would be proud.  Consider for example, this account of a Makah method of catching flatfish: Continue reading