Today, the Fort Vancouver Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers when the fort’s namesake explored the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed a meal with the natives 225 years ago.
From Mount Rainier a Record of Explorations, edited by Edmond Stephen Meany and published in 1916:
Captain George Vancouver, the great English navigator and explorer, lived but forty years, from 1758 to 1798. He entered the British navy on the Resolution under Captain James Cook in 1771 and was with that even more famous explorer during his second and third voyages, from 1772 to 1780.
He was placed in command of the Discovery and Chatham in 1791 and sent to the northwest coast of America. On this voyage he discovered and named Puget Sound and many other geographic features on the western coast of America.
The portions of his Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, giving the record of his discovery, naming, and exploration in the vicinity of Mount Rainier, are taken from Volume II of the second edition, published in London in 1801:
[Saturday, May 26, 1792.] Towards noon we landed on a point on the eastern shore, whose latitude I observed to be 47⁰ 21′, round which we flattered ourselves we should find the inlet take an extensive eastwardly course.
This conjecture was supported by the appearance of a very abrupt division in the snowy range of mountains immediately to the south of mount Rainier, which was very conspicuous from the ship, and the main arm of the inlet appearing to stretch in that direction from the point we were then upon.
We here dined, and although our repast was soon concluded, the delay was irksome, as we were excessively anxious to ascertain the truth, of which we were not long held in suspense.
For having passed round the point, we found the inlet to terminate here in an extensive circular compact bay, whose waters washed the base of mount Rainier, though its elevated summit was yet at a very considerable distance from the shore, with which it was connected by several ridges of hills rising towards it with gradual ascent and much regularity.
The forest trees, and the several shades of verdure that covered the hills, gradually decreased in point of beauty, until they became invisible; when the perpetual clothing of snow commenced, which seemed to form a horizontal line from north to south along this range of rugged mountains, from whose summit mount Rainier rose conspicuously, and seemed as much elevated above them as they were above the level of the sea; the whole producing a most grand, picturesque effect.
The lower mountains, as they descended to the right and left, became gradually relieved of their frigid garment; and as they approached the fertile woodland region that binds the shores of this inlet in every direction, produced a pleasing variety.
We now proceeded to the N. W. in which direction the inlet from hence extended, and afforded us some reason to believe that it communicated with that under the survey of our other party.
This opinion was further corroborated by a few Indians, who had in a very civil manner accompanied us some time, and who gave us to understand that in the northwestern direction this inlet was very wide and extensive; this they expressed before we quitted our dinner station, by opening their arms, and making other signs that we should be led a long way by pursuing that route; whereas, by bending their arm, or spreading out their hand, and pointing to the space contained in the curve of the arm, or between the fore-finger and thumb, that we should find our progress soon stopped in the direction which led towards mount Rainier.
The little respect which most Indians bear to truth, and their readiness to assert what they think is most agreeable for the moment, or to answer their own particular wishes and inclinations, induced me to place little dependence on this information, although they could have no motive for deceiving us.
About a dozen of these friendly people had attended at our dinner, one part of which was a venison pasty.
Two of them, expressing a desire to pass the line of separation drawn between us, were permitted to do so.
They sat down by us, and ate of the bread, and fish that we gave them without the least hesitation; but on being offered some of the venison, though they saw us eat it with great relish, they could not be induced to taste it.
They received it from us with great disgust, and presented it round to the rest of the party, by whom it underwent a very strict examination.
Their conduct on this occasion left no doubt in our minds that they believed it to be human flesh, an impression which it was highly expedient should be done away.
To satisfy them that it was the flesh of the deer, we pointed to the skins of the animal they had about them.
In reply to this they pointed to each other, and made signs that could not be misunderstood, that it was the flesh of human beings, and threw it down in the dirt, with gestures of great aversion and displeasure.
At length we happily convinced them of their mistake by shewing them a haunch we had in the boat, by which means they were undeceived, and some of them ate of the remainder of the pye with a good appetite.
This behavior, whilst in some measure tending to substantiate their knowledge or suspicions that such barbarities have existence, led us to conclude, that the character given of the natives of North-West America does not attach to every tribe.
These people have been represented not only as accustomed inhumanly to devour the flesh of their conquered enemies; but also to keep certain servants, or rather slaves, of their own nation, for the sole purpose of making the principal part of the banquet, to satisfy the unnatural savage gluttony of the chiefs of this country, on their visits to each other.
Were such barbarities practiced once a month, as is stated, it would be natural to suppose these people, so inured, would not have shewn the least aversion to eating flesh of any description; on the contrary, it is not possible to conceive a greater degree of abhorrence than was manifested by these good people, until their minds were made perfectly easy that it was not human flesh we offered them to eat.
This instance must necessarily exonerate at least this particular tribe from so barbarous a practice; and, as their affinity to the inhabitants of Nootka, and of the sea-coast, to the south of that place, in their manners and customs, admits of little difference, it is but charitable to hope those also, on a more minute inquiry, may be found not altogether deserving such a character.
They are not, however, free from the general failing attendant on a savage life. One of them having taken a knife and fork to imitate our manner of eating, found means to secrete them under his garment; but, on his being detected, gave up his plunder with the utmost good humour and unconcern.
They accompanied us from three or four miserable huts, near the place where we had dined, for about four miles; during which time they exchanged the only things they had to dispose of, their bows, arrows, and spears, in the most fair and honest manner, for hawk’s bells, buttons, beads, and such useless commodities.
The Fort Vancouver Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of Captain George Vancouver, Royal Navy.