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Subject > Armed Forces > Naval Forces and Merchant Navy

Date > 1700 > 1790-1799

Natives going to meet the Spanish navy schooners Sutil and Mexicana in 1792

Type: Image

This painting shows an encounter on 11 June 1792 between native canoes and the Spanish navy schooners Sutil and Mexicana. Mount Baker can be seen in the background. On this date in Guemes Channel (near present day Anacortes, Washington), a Spanish expedition paused to make astronomical observations that would correctly fix their longitude. Their mission was to chart the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and search for the Northwest Passage. The painting is the work of José Cardero, the expedition's official artist. (Museo Naval, Madrid)

Site: National Defence

The Military Art of the American Northwest

Type: Document

War in the Pacific Northwest centred around the canoe, which could be up to 20 metres long. Flotillas of canoes would attack enemy villages, hoping to capture prisoners to keep as slaves. Coastal forts of cedar logs were to be found, used to help control and tax maritime trade.

Site: National Defence

A Series of Amerindian Nations

Type: Document

During the eighteenth century, the northwest Pacific coast was home to a series of Amerindian nations, including the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Nootka and Salish. These were maritime cultures - excellent sailors and fishermen who depended on the sea's resources

Site: National Defence

HMS Asia in Halifax harbour, 1797

Type: Image

This watercolour of the 64-gun ship of the line HMS Asia in Halifax harbour is the work of Royal Navy lieutenant George Gustavus Lennock. Britain always maintained a strong naval presence in the American side of the North Atlantic. Warships based in Halifax insured the security of sea lanes and protected fishing fleets against mostly American and French privateers and the occasional pirate. In wartime, they would also be deployed in raids on the American coast or as far as the French West Indies. (Library and Archives Canada, C-151103)

Site: National Defence

Trouble, and a First European Settlement

Type: Document

In 1789, a Nootka chief was killed while arguing with the Spanish about being allowed to trade with British ships in the region. Despite this and previous troubles, a decision was made to create a permanent base at Nootka, and a presidio, or Spanish frontier fort, was built and garrisoned.

Site: National Defence

During their expeditions the Spanish sometimes had to use their muskets and cannons to keep the Amerindian at bay

Type: Image

This 1792 drawing shows an incident during the Spanish expedition sent to map Vancouver Island. The Europeans are using their muskets and cannon fire from their ship to keep the Natives at bay. (Museo Naval, Madrid)

Site: National Defence

Newfoundland Threatened

Type: Document

In 1796 a French fleet appeared in the waters off Newfoundland. It caused a panic, but the British authorities were sceptical that any invasion was planned. After disrupting the fisheries for a few weeks, the French returned home before the Royal Navy could appear in strength.

Site: National Defence

Britain and Spain on the Brink of War

Type: Document

Spain mobilized its fleet in 1790, responding to the diplomatic crisis with Britain over events at Nootka on the northwest coast of America. Soon British and Spanish squadrons were at sea, sailing to intimidate the enemy. Fortunately, the opposing forces did not meet on the high seas.

Site: National Defence

A Relatively Peaceful Decade

Type: Document

The decade 1783-1793 was almost peaceful in North America, compared to the previous American Revolutionary War. Both Britain and the United States disbanded the majority of their armies. Only a small British garrison stayed in North America, backed by the Royal Navy at Halifax.

Site: National Defence

The Royal Navy

Type: Document

As an island state, Britain gave priority to its navy. The Admiralty (the appointed committee of admirals which made all strategic decisions) governed hundreds of ships worldwide. The Royal Navy used its bases in Canada to help control the Northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Site: National Defence