The Coveted Pacific Coast

Enter Cook and the British

Cook Reaches Nootka Sound

Ships of Cook's expedition at Nootka in 1778

Caption: Ships of Cook's expedition at Nootka in 1778

In March 1778 Cook reached the northwest coast of America and undertook to sail along it. On March 29 his two ships dropped anchor in Nootka Sound, opposite the village of Yuquot. Europeans had already approached the village, but Cook and his men were the first to disembark. They were received amicably by the chief, Muquinna. Relations were excellent at first, and there were exchanges that were deemed very productive for both parties. The English noted that the Amerindians had a number of steel tools and two silver spoons, proof that there had already been contact, whether direct or otherwise, with Europeans.

These good relations did not last, however, since some members of the expedition accused the Amerindians of theft. Cook then had a temporary observatory built. He ordered his men to work armed, but the Amerindians explained that they were rarely armed and did not want to attack. To show the Amerindians what they might expect if they were to become hostile, Lieutenant James Williamson gave them a shooting demonstration, firing on an otter-skin coat from 20 metres away and making several small holes in it. The power of the musket had the desired effect, for "the Indians gazed at one another for some time with fright & silent astonishment." 52 Cook carried out accurate surveys of his position. On April 28, after having repaired his ships and refreshed his men, he took to the sea again, sailing northward.

Additional Images

Captain James Cook meeting Nootka leaders at Nootka Sound, 1778