I. The Approach by Sea
1. Spanish Voyages
The Spanish discoverers of the northwest coast of America left no record that would indicate that they had seen Mount Rainier. It is quite probable, however, that those who penetrated into the Straits of Juan de Fuca did observe the mountain from a distance. The gradual advance of the Spaniards up the coast covered a period of over 250 years.
The first of these sea voyages to reach what is now Washington was that of Juan Perez, who in 1774 discovered Nootka Sound (in British Columbia), naming it San Lorenzo. The first-known landing made by white men took place the following year on Destruction Island, when the expedition led by Bruno Heceta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra sent a small boat ashore in search of water. The crew was attacked and massacred by Indians.
Little was done to follow up the work of Perez and Bodega until after the publication of Captain Cook's journals in 1784. James Cook had touched upon the region in 1778, and his memories of the voyage, published in England, aroused the Spanish Government to renewed activity. Estevan Martinez and Gonzalo Haro were sent north to occupy Nootka Sound. During the next decade a contest with England over the rights of possession drove the Spanish to the actual occupation of Nootka. This was in 1790, when Francisco Eliza, Salvador Fidalgo, and Manuel Quimper made settlements and explored the Straits of Juan de Fuca as far inland as Admiralty Inlet. Quimper, discoverer of the inlet, must have seen Mount Rainier at this time, but he left no record of the fact.
During the period of international rivalry between England and Spain, only one attempt was made by Spain to settle on territory now within the State of Washington. This was at Neah Bay under the leadership of Fidalgo. Building materials were actually landed there in the spring of 1792, but before anything of a lasting nature could be accomplished, the project was abandoned. By 1795 the Spanish Government had renounced all claim to the Northwest Coast, and today only a few place names remain as momentoes of the brief occupation of the Spaniards.
2. English Traders
The landing of Sir Francis Drake on the shores of Alta California, in 1579, led the English to lay claim to the entire northwest coast of North America, and British geographers designated the region as New Albion. No further effort to extend English interests in the Pacific Northwest was made until 1778, when Captain James Cook cruised along the coasts of present Washington and British Columbia. Missing the Straits of Juan de Fuca, he sighted and named various capes and bays.
The result of Cooks' explorations was to stimulate British trade in the Northern Pacific. The most important of the subsequent English trading expeditions were: James Hanna (1785 and 1786); Captains Lowrie and Guise (1786-7); Captains Meares and Tupping (1786-7); Captains Nathaniel Portlock and George Dixon (1786-7); Captain Duncan and Colnett (1787-8); Captain Barkley (1787), the discovered of the entrance to the Straits of Juan de Fuca; John Meares and William Douglas (1788); William Douglas and Robert Funter (1789); and Captains Colnett and Hudson (1789). Although the chief purpose of the above voyages was to engage in the fur trade, the incidental discoveries made strengthened the claims of England to the region.
3. Other European Nations
Aside from the English and the Spanish, other maritime nations of Europe did little to make known the shores of the Pacific Northwest. The Dutch did nothing at all, and the French very little. La Perouse, in 1785, sailed along the coast of Merely, noting the existence of Nootka Sound to the Southward. Russia explored and occupied the Alaskan coast, but scarcely touched the shores of British Columbia and Washington. The presence of the Russians in Alaska helped to bring Yankee traders to the region and was a factor in arousing the interest of Americans in the Oregon country.
4. The Boston Men
"John Ledyard of Connecticut had been with Cook on his voyage to Nootka. Boston shipping men learned of the profitable fur trade on the Northwest Coat. In 1787 . . . six men of Boston . . . organized a company and arranged to send to the northwest coast the ship Columbia Rediviva . . . and the sloop Lady Washington." Captain Robert Gray was master of the former, and Captain John Kendrick of the later. Active trading operations were carried on in the vicinity of Nootka during the spring and summer of 1789, when Gray returned to Boston by way of China. He was back on the Oregon coast in 1791. On May 7, 1792, Gray found the bay which now bears his name. ". . . On May 11 he sailed over the bar into the river which he at once named the Columbia, in honor of his ship. These two discoveries by Gray were of prime importance to the Americans in the subsequent negotiations over the possession of the northwest coast." (Meany, 1909, 40-43).
Among the many "Boston men" who traded on the northwest coast during the next two decades were the following: Joseph Ingraham (1791-2); James McGee (1792); R. D. Coolidge (1792); and John Salter (1803). If these early American traders did enter the Straits of Juan de Fuca far enough to see Mount Rainier, they left no records to indicate it.
II. The Discovery and Naming of Mount Rainier
"Vancouver was the last of the discoverers and the first of the explorers, of our northwest coast." (Snowden, 1909, 183) "Of all the voyages . . . the one whose geographical names have endured best was that in command of Captain George Vancouver." The work was thoroughly done "in a first-class scientific manner" and the results were promptly published. The expedition had two vessels, the sloop of war, "Discovery," and the armed tender, "Chatham," which sailed from England on April 1, 1791. Passing around the Cape of Good Hope, they "wintered at the Sandwich Islands and on April 17, 1792, reached the coast of what Vancouver recognized as Drake's New Albion." By April 28 the coast of what is now the state of Washington had been reached. The most magnificent geographic monument discovered, described, and named by Vancouver, was that of Mount Rainier. It was first observed Monday, May 7, when the record states they had a fine view "of a remarkably high, round mountain covered with snow, apparently at the southern extremity of the distant range of snowy mountains before noticed." (Vancouver, 1801, II, 73).
On the 8th, the mountain was viewed from Marrowstone Point. "The weather was serene and pleasant, and the country continued to exhibit between us and the eastern snowy range the same luxuriant appearance. At is northern extremity, Mount Baker bore by compass N. 22E.; the round snowy mountain, now forming its southern extremity, and which, after my friend, Rear Admiral Rainier, I distinguish by the name of Mount Rainier, bore N(S) 42 E." (Vancouver, 1801, II, 79, quoted by Meany, 1916, 1). Mount Rainier was again mentioned on the dates of May 19 and May 26. (Vancouver, 1801, II, 118, 134-138). Under the latter entry, the following comment was made on the beauty and grandeur of its setting:
Vancouver remained in sight of Mount Rainier for the greater part of May, making a minute examination of the shores of Puget Sound and adjacent waters. By the middle of June he had started his passage around Vancouver Island via Charlotte Sound to Nootka. There, Bodega y Quadra, commander of the Spanish garrison, was awaiting him. No decision was reached in the ensuing conference. Vancouver left Nootka for the south on October 13.
Note: For a reprint of that part of Vancouver's Journal dealing with his discoveries on Puget Sound see Meany, 1915, Chaps. VI-XII, pp. 77-334. A short biographical sketch of Rear Admiral Peter Rainier is given on pp. 99-101.
Rainier's grandfather, Daniel Regnier, was a Hugenot refugee. His father was Peter Rainier of Sandwich. In 1756, at the age of fifteen, Peter Rainier, Jr., entered the British Navy. On May 26, 1768, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, at which time he seems to have been in the employ of the East India Company.
Rainier took an active part on the British side during the American Revolution. On July 8, 1778, he was severely wounded while capturing a large American privateer. "His victory met with warm approval" and he was promoted in rank. In later years Rainier rendered distinguished service in the East Indies as Commander-in-chief of a fleet, and by 1799 had attained the rank of Vice-Admiral. "In the Trafalgar promotions he was advanced to the rank of Admiral of the Blue . . . On April 7, 1808, he died at his house on Great George Street, Westminster. . . . He was a bachelor; but there have been nephews, grand-nephews, and great-grand-nephews by the name of Rainier in the British Navy from the day of Admiral Peter to the present."