Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Kendrick, 1 March 1793

From John Kendrick

Port Independence, on the Island
of Heong-Kong, March 1st. 1793.


I have the honour of enclosing to you the Copies of several Deeds, by which the tracts of Land therein described, situated on Islands on the North West Coast of America, have been conveyed to me, and my heirs forever, by the resident Chiefs of those districts, who, I presume, were the only just proprietors thereof. I know not what measures are necessary to be taken, to secure the property of these purchases to me, and the government thereof to the United States; but it cannot be amiss to transmit them to you, to remain in the office of the Department of State. My claim to those territories has been allowed by the Spanish Crown: for the purchases I made at Nootka, were expressly excepted in a deed of conveyance, of the Lands adjacent to, and surrounding Nootka Sound, executed in September last, to El Señor Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega, y Quadra, on behalf of His Catholic Majesty, by Macquinnah and the other Chiefs of his tribe, to whom those lands belonged.

When I made these purchases, I did it under an impression, that it would receive the sanction of the United States; and, that should an act of the Legislature be necessary to secure them to me, I should find no difficulty in obtaining it. The future commercial advantages which may arise from the Fur Trade, besides many other branches which are daily opening to the view of those who visit the North West American Coast, may perhaps render a settlement there, worthy the attention of some associated Company, under the protection of Government. Should this be the case, the possession of Lands, previously and so fairly acquired, would much assist the carrying the plan into effect. Many good purposes may be effected by the Union having possessions on that Coast, which I shall not presume, Sir, to point out to you; and the benefits which have accrued to Individuals, by similar purchases to those I have made, in our own States, are too well known to need a remark. I have the honour to be, With the utmost respect & esteem, Sir, Your very hble servt

John Kendrick

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); at foot of text: “The Hon: Thomas Jefferson, Secretary for the Department of State”; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Oct. 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: Five deeds, by which Kendrick purchased large tracts of land on Vancouver Island from various Indians in exchange for such considerations as muskets and gunpowder, executed between 20 July and 11 Aug. 1791 (Trs in same; printed in Historical Magazine, 2d ser., viii [1870], 168–71).

John Kendrick (ca. 1740–94) was a Massachusetts sea captain who in 1787 led the Columbia Rediviva and the Lady Washington from Boston in the first American trading expedition to the Pacific northwest coast. Reaching Nootka Sound in September 1788, he made two voyages to China in the Washington between 1789 and 1793 and was en route to China a third time when he was killed in an accident at Oahu in the Hawaiian islands. The venture proved to be nearly a total loss to his backers, partly because after he sent the Columbia home in February 1790 Kendrick ignored the owners’ interests and treated the Washington and its capital as his own. Kendrick’s purchase in his own name of five tracts of land from Indians on Vancouver Island in 1791 violated express orders from his owners to buy land only in their name. Partly as a result of the disappearance of the original and notarized copies of the enclosed deeds, Kendrick’s backers and heirs failed to secure title to this land, and Kendrick’s action was rarely mentioned in later American claims to Oregon (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; F. W. Howay, “John Kendrick and His Sons,” Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, xxiii [1922], 277–95; same, “An Early Colonization Scheme in British Columbia,” British Columbia Historical Quarterly, iii [1939], 51–63; Warren L. Cook, Flood Tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, 1543–1819 [New Haven and London, 1973], 419n; Hubert H. Bancroft, History of the Pacific States of North America, 34 vols. [San Francisco, 1882–91], xxiii, 323).

On 2 Nov. 1793 TJ sent Kendrick’s letter to the President, who returned it without comment the same day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 242–4).

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