By Ruth Haring, WRS President
I simply love reading history books, particularly ones about our own area. So, in preparation for last year’s Tokeland Retreat, I indulged my passion for history and prepared a talk about what that area was like during the Regency Period. I had read previously about the Astor Expedition, and the Lewis and Clark as well, but I was amazed by just what a bustling place the West Coast, particularly around the Columbia River was. The reason was our adorable sea otters. This was a lucrative trade and several nations were vying to control this trade route with China, in particular Britain and the United States.
Now, I had always heard that there were no white women in this area that early. The men who stayed tended to marry or cohabitate with the Native women. Imagine my surprise when reading a small book by Ross Cox (he was on the Astor Expedition) called Adventures on the River, An Overland Journey in the Fur-Trade Country. Ross Cox sailed in 1811 at age eighteen from New York to Fort Astoria as a clerk for the Pacific Fur Company. He stayed on after the fort came under the control of the British and was renamed Fort George. Shortly after this change occurred, on April 22, 1814, the ship Isaac Todd arrived carrying much needed supplies, and “a blue-eyed beauty” named Jane Barnes who became the first white woman on the Columbia River.
So how did a single white woman end up here in the Pacific Northwest? Well, it turns out that Jane Barnes had been a barmaid in Portsmouth England. Prior to embarking on his voyage, Captain McTavish had made her acquaintance and proposed that Jane join him. And she did. She endured the months long sea voyage which included rounding the Horn, and immediately caused a sensation upon her arrival at Fort George. The local Chinook tribe had never before encountered a white woman, and were full of curiosity. Every day, they were crowded around hoping to get a glimpse of her. And she did not disappoint, for she took a stroll along the river every evening, each day wearing a different bonnet, hairstyle or dress. Here is Ross Cox description of her:
“ She had rather an extravagant wardrobe, and each day exhibited her in a new dress, which she always managed in a manner to display her figure to the best advantage. One day, her head, decorated with feathers and flowers produced the greatest surprise; the next, her hair, braided and unconcealed by any covering, excited equal wonder and admiration. The young women felt almost afraid to approach her, and the old were highly gratified at being permitted to touch her person.”
The local chief of the Chinook tribe, Comcomly, had a son who decided that he wanted Jane for his wife. He arrived at the fort in his richest clothes, his face painted red and his body smeared in whale oil and proposed that to Jane that she become his fifth wife. He promised to send one hundred sea otter pelts to her relations, and he promised that she would never have to carry wood, draw water, dig for roots, or hunt for provisions. She would rule over the other wives, never have to lift a finger, and could wear her own clothes. He also promised that she would have all the salmon, anchovies, and elk meat that she desired, and could smoke as many pipes of tobacco as she pleased. Jane turned him down and it must have been politely for he repeated his offer several times. Finally, when he realized that she would not accept him, he decided to kidnap her instead while she was taking one of her walks. But the attempt failed, but that was the end of her walks. She also created quite a buzz in the Fort as well. Several men vied for her attentions, and it is believed that two of them drowned in the Columbia after getting into a fight over her while out in a boat.
It was decided that Jane Barnes was just too much of a distraction in the area, so she was given the choice of taking the overland route across the continent or taking the longer way by ship. Jane chose to go by ship. The route that the trade ships took was not a voyage directly back to England, however, the trading route was to go North up to Alaska, then out to Hawaii to restock provisions, and then to China to offload the pelts and pick up Chinese trade goods. THEN they sailed back to England, much richer than they started. Well, Jane took this route, upon which she fell in love with the Captain of the ship, married him and had several children. She returned to the Columbia River several years later aboard her husband’s ship along with her children.
I think that Jane Barnes was a very plucky young lady. She saw a chance for a better life and she took it. I’m amazed that her story isn’t more widely known, or that Hollywood hasn’t picked up on this. And I love the fact that she was able to take her “extensive wardrobe” along with her.
Hardcore bibliography meets Antiques Roadshow in an illustrated exploration of the role that cheap reprints played in Jane Austen’s literary celebrity―and in changing the larger book world itself.
In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people.
Packed with nearly 100 full-color photographs of dazzling, sometimes gaudy, sometimes tasteless covers, The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes. Such shoddy editions, Janine Barchas argues, were instrumental in bringing Austen’s work and reputation before the general public. Only by examining them can we grasp the chaotic range of Austen’s popular reach among working-class readers.
Informed by the author’s years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author’s steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.