Today, the Fort Vancouver Commemorative Silver Half-Dollar Coin tells the story of another fur trading company and its fort at the mouth of the Columbia River started more than a decade before the Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Vancouver.
German by birth, John Jacob Astor immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 with $25 and seven flutes as his financial worth.
His ship arrived in Chesapeake Bay in late January and languished beyond the harbor for several weeks waiting for the harbor ice to break apart.
During this time, a fellow traveler –a fur trader and a fellow German– intrigued Astor with talk of the fur trade and the money to be made.
In the mid-1780s, Astor married and opened a store in New York City selling musical instruments and furs.
Astor began learning more of the fur trade and traders.
By the early 1800s, Astor began looking at the fur trade in the Pacific northwest.
In 1808, he established the American Fur Company in the Upper Missouri River Country, however he still had his sights set further west on the Pacific.
He solicited support from the Governor of New York and from former President Thomas Jefferson.
Both supported his plans for a fur trade in the Oregon Territory.
Around 1810, Astor began his Pacific Fur Company at first in New York. Its objective was to monopolize the Pacific northwest fur trade with Russia and China.
But, Astor did not have the leadership in Washington’s approval. They did not agree with his plans for a monopoly fur trade.
Though Astor funded much of the initial cost of the Pacific Fur Company, he also took on partners, many of whom were British citizens and had at least some allegiance to the British fur companies in the area.
They established Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River to ply their fur trade.
The tense competition lasted for a couple of years at which time the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain began.
During those two years of operation, the Pacific Fur Company encountered setbacks. One, the loss of one of their primary ships, the Tonquin, and the men aboard her, occurred in 1811.
President Madison, with issues closer to home, chose not to provide support to Astor and Fort Astoria.
On October 23, 1813, four of the partners that were physically located at the fort “sold” Fort Astoria and the Pacific Fur Company to the British-owned North West Company.
Days later when the British soldiers arrived to take over the fort, they found it was already British-owned.
The soldiers hoisted a British flag, and Fort Astoria became Fort George. The fort remained under British control for 33 years.
In 1821, the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company with Fort George under the ownership of the newly formed company.
Just a few years later, the Hudson’s Bay Company decided they needed a trading fort further inland from Fort George and built Fort Vancouver on the northern side of the Columbia River.
The Fort Vancouver Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows against a background of fur.