Radio Sketch: The Tonquin and despair at the mouth of the Columbia River

Mar 22, 2023, 8:34 AM | Updated: 12:07 pm


Engraving of Tonquin crossing Columbia River bar, March 25, 1811. (Courtesy Oregon Historical Society Research Library, ba006960)

(Courtesy Oregon Historical Society Research Library, ba006960)

On March 22, 1811, the American barque “Tonquin” – 96 feet long, built in New York in 1807 – sailed into view of the mouth of the great River of the West . . . the mighty Columbia!

On board was a group of fur traders known as the Pacific Fur Company, financed by American entrepreneur John Jacob Astor. Their objective was to establish a post (which they called “Astoria”) and begin trading with Indigenous people to collect furs to export to the Far East and compete against British interests attempting the same.

The man in charge of the ship was a strict disciplinarian. His name was Captain Jonathan Thorn, and his character had become clear not long after the Tonquin left New York the previous September.

The arrival of the Tonquin, just five years after Lewis & Clark, at the mouth of the Columbia with its treacherous Columbia Bar was the subject of a live historical radio sketch performed on Seattle’s Morning News to mark the 212th anniversary Wednesday morning.

The sketch, which is based on the many written accounts of the Tonquin’s arrival, stars Chris Sullivan as Captain Jonathan Thorn; Colleen O’Brien as fur trader Ross Cox; Nick Creasia as crooning fur trader Gabriel Franchère; and Dave Ross as Chief Mate Fox.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Radio Sketch: The Tonquin and despair at the mouth of the Columbia River