Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

[American Voyages of the Eighteenth Century]

page 63

American Voyages of the Eighteenth Century

The United States had not developed sufficiently in the eighteenth century to engage in Pacific expeditions in the cause of pure science. However, their interest in commercial enterprise and the development of the fur trade on the northwest American coast led to trade with Canton and, hence, to some interesting crossings of the Pacific.

The first American ships to enter the trade were evidently the Columbia Rediviva and the Lady Washington owned in Boston and sent out in 1788. Boston practically monopolized American trade, but many of the fur traders went out from Stonington, Connecticut. The New England merchants obtained furs, as exchange material to purchase Chinese goods in Canton for sale in New England.

The three most interesting voyages of the early American traders, as regards Polynesia, were the following:

Date Leader Ship Islands Visited
1790-1791 Joseph Ingraham Hope Marquesas (Washington group)
1792-1793 Josiah Roberts Jefferson Marquesas
1797-1799 Edmund Fanning Betsey Marquesas, Equatorial Islands

Joseph Ingraham

1790 to 1791

Joseph Ingraham was the master of the 70 ton American brigantine Hope, owned by Thomas H. Perkins and James Magee of Boston. The ship was equipped to make a trip round Cape Horn to the northwest coast of North America, thence to China and back to Boston, making a circuit of the globe.

The Hope sailed from Boston on September 17, 1790, and after obtaining refreshments at the Falkland Islands, sailed round Cape Horn on January 24, 1791. The Marquesas of Mendaña were sighted on April 14, and the Hope anchored in Madre de Dios Bay. Trade was established with the people, and the ship procured a supply of wood, water, fruit, and pigs. Sailing in, Ingraham had seen all five islands of the Mendaña group, namely Magdalena, San Pedro, Santa Christina, Dominica, and Hoods Island. On April 19 he sailed north northwest from Dominica and was greatly surprised to see two new islands at 4 P.M. He named one Washington Island (Uahuka) after the President of the United States and the other Adams Island (Uapou) after the vice-president. At 5 P.M. two more islands were seen. One, between Washington and Adams Islands, Ingraham named Federal Island (Nukuhiva); and the other, a small island near the south end of Adams Island, he named Lincoln Island (Motuoa) in honor of His Excellency, General Lincoln. He stood off Washington Island all night, intending to land on it next day and take possession. However, he saw no favorable place for landing, so he mustered the crew and page 64told them that the islands were new discoveries and belonged to the United States. The men gave three cheers and confirmed the name of Washington Island. Thus, the discovery of the northern group of the Marquesas Islands was officially credited to the United States. On the same day, April 20, a small island was seen west and north of Federal Island and named Franklin Island (Motuiti) in memory of His Excellency, Doctor Benjamin Franklin. On April 21 two more islands were seen to the west and northwest and, at 2 P.M., the ship sailed between them. One was named Hancock Island (Hatutu) in honor of His Excellency, the Governor of Massachusetts, and the other was named Knox Island (Eiao) after His Excellency, General Knox.

The subsequent proceedings of Captain Ingraham are of no interest insofar as Polynesian discovery is concerned. He did, however, make three trips to the Hawaiian Islands, where he acquired some feather work about which he cared little, as is evident by the following quotation:

  • I shew everything which I thought would induce them to trade among them were some feather'd caps and cloaks I had rec'd as presents at the Sandwich Islands with which they seem'd enamour'd I sold a Cap and 2 Cloaks for 5 excellent skins. Skatzi prais'd them highly which induced Skeetkis [the high chief] to buy them but after posessing them a little while he repented his bargain and ask'd for his skins again, but as sea otter skins were to me much better curiosities than caps and cloaks I chose to adhere to the bargain…

Josiah Roberts

1792 to 1793

Josiah Roberts was the master of the Boston ship, Jefferson, 153 tons, owned by J. and T. Lamb and associates. She sailed from Boston in November 1791 and carried with her the material to build a schooner at the Marquesas. Captain Roberts lay in Resolution Bay, Santa Christina (Tahuata), from November 11, 1792, to February 24, 1793. Having become intimately acquainted with the natives, Roberts asked how many islands they knew in the neighborhood. They described ten and produced an elderly native who was an inhabitant of the largest island, Nooheeva (Nukuhiva). They also stated that an island could be seen from the tops of the mountains on a clear day; and one day when the horizon was clear Roberts, from the deck of his ship, did see high land bearing northwest by west. This the natives said was Wooapo (Uapou).

The schooner built at the Marquesas was duly launched and named the Resolution after the bay in which it was built. The Jefferson and Resolution sailed at 3 P.M. on February 24, 1793, and at 4 A.M. the next day they discovered Uapou, which Roberts named Jefferson Island after his ship. The small island off its southern end was named Resolution Island after the schooner. At 3 P.M. they saw the large island of Nukuhiva, which was named Adams Island, and at 4 P.M. Ooahoona (Huahuna) was sighted and named Massachusetts Island. It should be mentioned that Roberts had brought an page 65old man "Tooe-no-haa" from Nukuhiva with him and that he gave Roberts the native names of the islands.

Roberts bore for Nukuhiva for supplies, and at 5 P.M. they saw an island, which the old native called Fatoo-e-tee (Motuiti) and which Roberts named Blake Island. Some days were spent at Nukuhiva in standing off and on and trading with the shore by means of the boats. Tooe-no-haa, after receiving liberal presents, left the ship. The vessels sailed north-northwest on March 2, as the old man had told them there was land in that direction. Next morning, March 3, they did discover two more islands, to which Roberts gave the names of Freeman (Eiao) and Langdon (Hatutu). Roberts thought that the islands were new discoveries and he gave them the group name of Washington Islands, which is a good name for distinguishing the northwestern group from the southeastern, or Mendaña, group. Roberts sailed on to prosecute his business on the northwestern American coast, thus ending his interest so far as Polynesia is concerned.

Edmund Fanning

1797 to 1799

Captain Edmund Fanning made a number of voyages in various ships, but his most interesting voyage, as far as Polynesia is concerned, was made on the Betsey from 1797 to 1799. Fanning entered the fur trade on the advice of Captain John Whetten, and the financing of an expedition was undertaken by Mr. Elias Nexsen of New York. The brig Betsey of less than 100 tons was fitted up and given a crew of twenty seven.

The Betsey sailed from Stonington, Connecticut, on June 13, 1797. She called at the Falkland Islands, where Fanning met Captain O. Paddock of the whaling ship Olive Branch from Nantucket, who told him that there was an abundance of fur seals at Masafuero Island. The Betsey rounded the Horn and reached Masafuero on January 19, 1798. In spite of the rough coast and the difficulties of landing boats, the ship was filled with skins. Not only the hold, but the cabin and forecastle were used for storage; and guards were left on the island to take charge of 4,000 skins which could not be shipped.

The Betsey sailed on April 5 for the Marquesas to obtain refreshments. Hoods Island was picked up May 19, and the ship anchored in Cooks Harbor (Resolution Bay) in Santa Christina (Tahuata) two days later. A canoe came out with a native and William Pascoe Crook, the missionary who had been landed there the year before by Wilson in the Duff. Crook was evidently in a depressed state of mind, for he called upon Fanning to preserve his life. He told Fanning that there was another group of four islands farther north which had been discovered by an American and named the Washington Islands. Supplies being difficult to obtain, Fanning sailed to the Washington group, taking Crook with him. The missionary, with his knowledge of the language, was page 66able to warn Fanning that a fleet of canoes near the ship meditated an attack. The ship's guns were run out and the attack aborted by the display of armed preparedness. At Nukuhiva, Fanning established friendly relations and obtained a sufficient supply of fresh food. Crook evidently decided to continue his work at Nukuhiva, and left the ship.

On sailing northeast from Nukuhiva on May 30, Fanning saw the other two islands of the Washington group; but as he had already seen four, the number described by Crook, he thought the two extra islands were new discoveries. He named the first, New York Island (Eiao) and the other Nexsen (Hatutu), after the owner of the ship.

The Betsey sailed on its voyage to Canton, and on June 11 a new island was discovered in latitude 30° 51′ 30? N. and longtitude 159° 12′ 30? W. Fanning landed and procured a good supply of coconuts, but the island proved to be uninhabited. He named it Fanning Island. On the following day, June 12, another new island was discovered and named Washington Island, after the President of the United States. On the night of June 14, a curious thing happened. After Fanning had retired, he walked in his sleep three times, going onto the deck, to the amazement of the officer of the watch. The third time, he found himself fully dressed. The ship was sailing under full sail at five to six: miles an hour, and Fanning, feeling that the occurrences were in the nature of a warning, ordered some of the sails to be taken in and the ship to make short tacks to retard her forward course. In the early morning of June 15, when breakers ahead were observed, the ship was able to avoid them. Had the ship continued her course during the night, she would no doubt have been wrecked. A long coral reef or shoal was observed, and after the ship got to the north of it, Fanning observed with glasses from the masthead that there was land to the south of the shoal. Fanning did not give a name to the land, but on November 7, 1802, it was discovered by Captain Sawle of the American ship Palmyra, whose name he gave to the island. As the island is on the direct course followed by Fanning and there is no other land in the vicinity, there can be no doubt that Fanning first discovered Palmyra.

After his fright, Fanning made north for the track of the Spanish galleons and, on July 14, reached Tinian in the Marianas where he was able to take off a shipwrecked crew. He reached Macao roads on August 13, disposed of his cargo, and loaded up with tea, silk, nankeen, and chinaware. On the voyage home, he successfully repulsed an attack by Malay pirates off the coast of Sumatra. He doubled the Cape of Good Hope on January 30, 1799, and anchored at New York on April 26, thus completing his first voyage round the world. The net profit of the expedition was $52,300.

page 67


The credit of finding the important northwestern group of the Marquesas goes, without doubt, to Ingraham. However, the French voyager Du Petit-Thouars, as late as 1840, held that they were discovered by Marchand because nothing had been published to prove that they had been previously discovered by Ingraham. Inasmuch as the Bishop Museum possesses a photostat copy of Ingraham's journal of the voyage of the Hope in which the dates of discovery are clearly written, the Literary and Historical Society of New England has been strangely neglectful in not publishing the journal and so making available the definite published proof that was due Joseph Ingraham. It is also remarkable that three other voyagers should have discovered these islands which had eluded discovery so long within two years of the original discovery. Confident of being first, each explorer naturally gave his own set of names to the islands. Even Fanning, as late as 1798, thought the two most northerly islands were new discoveries and gave them a fifth set of names. To clear up the confusion, the following table gives the names applied by the various voyagers in the order of their contact with the islands. Fanning accepted the native names of the islands he did not name.

Though Fanning came in last in the Marquesas, he discovered the uninhabited equatorial islands of Fanning (June 11, 1798) and Washington (June 12, 1798). He also seems, on his own evidence, to have discovered Palmyra on June 15, 1798, though it was left to a fellow American to name it.

Northwest, or Washington, group of Marquesas
Native Name Ingraham (April 1791) Marchand (June 1791) Hergest (March 1792) Roberts (Feb. 1793) Fanning (May 1798)
Huapu, Uapou Adams Marchand Trevenens Jefferson
Motuoa Lincoln Plate (Flat) not named Resolution
Nukuhiva Federal Baux Sir Henry Martins Adams
Huahuna, Uahuka Washington not seen Rious Massachusetts
Motuiti Franklin Two Brothers Hergests Rocks Blake
Eiao Knox Masse Roberts Freeman New York
Hatutu Hancock Chanal Roberts Langdon Nexsen