Lady Washington and Gray never sail together again

May 06, 2007 11:00 pm

By Robert Lynch

Special to the Triplicate

When John Kendrick changed commands, he indicated to Robert Gray that he would remain on the coast and would continue to trade during the next season so that there would be a full cargo of sea otter skins for the Columbia to take to China, assuming that Joseph Barrell and his partners were satisfied with the results of the first .

Kendrick tied Gray's hands with the instructions he gave in the matter of trade agents and what he was to trade for in Canton. Samuael Shaw was the principal trade agent for American shipping in Canton and Macao. Shaw had been the supercargo in the New York ship, Empress of China, the first American ship to get to Canton.

The half-cargo of tea that Gray was able to trade for was hardly worth enough to pay for the expenses of the voyage, let alone pay for the ships or return a profit. Two of Barrell's partners dropped out, but Gray bought in using the profit from his private venture in sandalwood. Barrell and his new partners were convinced that with the right leader, one with his own money invested, the trade would be profitable.

Kendrick assumes control

Gray was selected to captain the Columbia on a second voyage.

Upon her arrival in Nootka Sound, he found no trace of Kendrick or the Lady Washington. Kendrick, contrary to his statement to Gray when the commands were exchanged, had sailed the Lady Washington to Hawaii and on to Canton.

However, she met with a storm on the way and was seriously damaged in her rigging. Kendrick decided that she would be a safer ship if he re-rigged her as a brigantine.

Sometime in this time frame there was a "sale" of the vessel, but Kendrick continued to be her captain, and also appeared to be the owner. Kendrick and the Lady Washington wandered about the North Pacific for several years. She turned up in Hawaii and on the Northwest Coast, but she apparently never returned to Boston.

What is definite is that Kendrick never made an accounting of his trade ventures to the owners and backers of the voyage(s). No money ever reached Joseph Barrell and his partners for the vessel. There was no correspondence between the owners and Kendrick after Gray returned from his second voyage. As far as the Boston backers were concerned, Kendrick and the Lady Washington had just disappeared.

An excellent replica

Lady Washington, as we know her now, is an excellent replica of a late 18th century trading brigantine. Her tonnage is almost the same as the original. Her length is probably much the same, depending upon the dimensions used. Builders used the lenth "between perpendiculars."

Most people today use the length of the longest deck. A few today would even include the bowsprit in measuring the length. Her breadth is proportional to accepted late 18th century practice, and her draft is also proportional.

Most of the known nautical exploration was done in ships the size of the Columbia or Lady Washington – from the Viking knorrs to the caravals of Columbus, the Susan Constant of the Jamestown settlement. The Golden Hind wasn't more than 90 feet long and all four of the other vessels in that expedition were smaller.

A real privilege

Having this replica in Crescent City Harbor is an opportunity for all to see a relatively little-known piece of our maritime history. The Columbia River, discovery by Robert Gray in Columbia, and crossing the bar and sailing upstream gave the United States its first claim to land beyond its borders. The monies made by and the taxes paid by the early merchants of the United States were what made the Loiusiana Purchase possible.