The Mediterranean Sea of the northwest — Washington State Quarter Coin

Today, the Washington State Quarter Coin remembers the centennial celebrations on May 7, 1892 and the discoveries of Captain Vancouver 100 years earlier.

From The Seattle post-intelligencer, May 08, 1892:


Day of Centennials.

Celebrations at Port Townsend and Gray’s Harbor.

Honor to Vancouver and Gray

Port Townsend, May 7. [Special.]—

Today has been the gayest and liveliest ever known in the history of Port Townsend. Thousands of visitors thronged the city and participated in the amusements of the centennial celebration of the discovery of Paget sound.

Exercises were resumed at Morrison’s park, on the seaside, facing the straits of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver island, at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.

Then Hon. J. B. Metcalfe, of Seattle, the orator of the day, was introduced.

Mr. Metcalfe said in part:

Captain Vancouver, whose name is inseparably connected with almost every cape, bar, inlet, island and sound from Cook’s inlet to Cape Mendocino, was a midshipman under Cook in this his list voyage, and stands scarcely second to the great navigator in the wealth of his geographical discoveries. His work on the west and northwest coast of America was of so systematic and accurate a character that it forms to this day the basis of all subsequent surveys.

Captain Vancouver was 33 years of age when in April, 1791, he sailed from Falmouth, England, in the sloop of war Discovery, Cook’s old ship, and was accompanied throughout the voyage by the armed tender Chatham, in command of lieutenant Broughton, upon a mission which was, in fact, triple in its object, the principal being to take over from the Spaniards the country on the northwest coast claimed by them, and which bad been ceded to England. The other two were to explore the coast from 30 decrees north latitude to Cook’s inlet, and to determine whether the strait of Juan de Fuca really was a strait.

He sailed from the Hawaiian islands in the spring of 1791 and arrived off the straits of Juan de Fuca the latter part of April of that year, having on the 29th day of that month spoken the American ship Columbia, of Boston, about ten miles south of the entrance.

The Columbia was in command of Captain Robert Gray, for whom the beautiful harbor into which the Chehalis river empties is named. He is informed at this time by Captain Gray that the latter had at one time sailed about fifty miles into yon peerless marine roadway, which had since the sixteenth century borne the name of its discoverer, the great pilot, Juan de Fuca.

He seems at this particular time to fret like a high-mettled steed under the curbing rein, as his anxiety was great to explore the “promised expansive Mediterranean ocean” as he terms it, for at this time his “voyage was rendered excessively irksome by the want of wind.”

To read his comments at this period of his voyage might induce the good city of Portland, Or., to criticize the gallant captain as he is approaching the achievement of the grand discoveries which have surrounded his name with imperishable renown.

He is disposed to have want confidence in the geographical theorists of his time, and calls them “closet philosophers.” He sincerely doubts the existence of the Columbia river as coursing its way to sea anywhere between the promontories of Mendocino and Flattery.

Having passed the entrance of that mighty stream on the 27th of April, and fixing its locality by the change of the water from its oceanic hue and strong outset, and remarking, if a river existed at that point, “it must be a very intricate one, and inaccessible to vessels of our burthen, owing to reefs and broken water which then appeared in the neighborhood,” he says: “We could not possibly have passed any safe navigable opening, harbor or place of security for shipping on this coast from Cape Mendocino to the promontory of Ciasset (Cape Flattery).

He further says that Captain Gray informed his officers who were aboard of the Colombia that he was nine days trying to enter this supposed river south of Cape Disappointment, but could not for the strong outset or reflux, and then speaks of the broken water he saw in its neighborhood, and says: “Nor had we any reason to alter our opinions, notwithstanding that theoretical geographers have thought proper to assert, in that space, the existence of arms of the ocean, communicating with a Mediterranean sea, and extensive rivers with safe and convenient ports. These ideas, not delivered from any source of substantial information, have, it is much to be feared, been adopted for the sole purpose of giving unlimited credit to the traditionary exploits of ancient foreigners and to undervalue the laborious and enterprising exertions of our countrymen in the noble science of discovery.”

As stated, he passed the mouth of the Columbia river in the forenoon of April 27, 1791, for he speaks of the appearance of the sea below Cape Disappointment in the following language: “The sea had now changed from its natural to river-colored water; the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay or into the ocean north of us.”

Here the orator reviewed Vancouver’s discoveries during the summer of 1792, and, referring to the explorer’s entrance to Port Townsend, said:

The splendor of that morning’s sun bathes in its flood of glorious golden light a picture whose iridescent hues have been harmonized and delineated by the hand of an Artist Divine. The spacious inlet of Port Townsend bay stretches its emerald waters to the south-east.

The bold yellow bluffs of Admirality head on Whidby island, and Marrowstone point, fringed with the verdant plumes of the untouched forests disclose the entrance to Puget sound. Southward transfixing the gaze, and lifting his godlike crest to the very skies, haughtily reflecting back the sun’s rays from white glistening peaks, rises in supernal grandeur, old Mount Rainier, limned against the blue vault of heaven which canopies a picture faultily faultless.

On that memorable seventh of May the enterprise and daring of the great English navigator unlocked to civilization that matchless Mediterranean sea, extending from the Gulf of Georgia southward to Budd’s inlet, which to that time had been imprisoned in the uncertainties of theories and mythical traditions.

I have, at the risk of my remarks becoming tedious, circumstantially related these details, because the history of the discovery of so many of the places mentioned and of how and when they received the names which are as familiar as household words to us, has been accessible to but few.

What a lofty monument these names and places erect in honor of Vancouver. As long as man can think—as long as man may remember—will this monument exist in history, grander in its sentiment than that which surrounds a niche in Westminster Abbey and as unperishable as the pyramids of Egypt.

I cannot dismiss this part of my subject and feel that my efforts today would be complete, did I not give his Impressions of his peerless legacy to posterity in the words of prophetic import, as they come from his own lips:

“To describe the beauties of this region will on some future occasion be a grateful task to the pen of a skillful panegyrist; the serenity of the climate, the innumerable pleasing landscapes, and the abundant fertility that, unassisted, nature puts forth, requires only to be enriched by the industry of man with villages, mansions, cottages and other buildings, to render it the most lovely country that can be imagined; whilst the labor of the inhabitants would be amply rewarded in the bounties which nature seems ready to bestow on cultivation.”

Standing in the shadow of the century in which these words were uttered, witnessing today, as we do, the fullness of all they foretell, it seems as if the wand of some mighty magician had touched the unbroken stillness of an hundred years, and fulfilled the prophecy of the noble navigator.

Yet I do not believe that the wildest Imagery of this favored place which he could have conjured up would be comparable to the actualities of today. Its foretold enrichment by man’s industry with villages, mansions, cottages and other buildings are not only here, but splendid cities with their teeming thousands also.

Did he imagine then that there would be not only mansions upon the shores, but floating palaces upon the waters he had discovered, and palaces upon wheels daily rushing with the speed of an eagle’s wing past the doors of those mansions and by the villages he describes?

As he stood upon the decks of his modest little wooden ships, could he possibly have had any conception that steel-clad battle ships, with their terrible batteries, which are sources of amazement even to us, would today be floating as gracefully as swans upon the same waters which bathed the sides of the old Discovery and the Chatham?

All this was as inconceivable to him at that day as the developments of science and productions of art will exhibit at the second centennial anniversary of the discovery of Puget sound is incomprehensible to us of today.

The beautiful sea which he discovered is yet further honored, as it is embraced within the territorial limits of our own splendid commonwealth which bears the name of Washington.


The Washington State Quarter Coin shows with an image of Port Townsend and Puget Sound, circa 1878.

Washington State Quarter Coin