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MUQUINNA (Macuina, Maquilla, Maquinna), Nootka chief on the west coast of what is now Vancouver Island, B.C.; the name, written mukwina in a proper native orthography, means possessor of pebbles; he apparently was active from 1786 into the second decade of the 19th century.

During the early years of European contact on the northwest coast of America there was a succession of leaders named Muquinna among the group of Indians living in Nootka Sound (B.C.) who had a summer village at Yuquot (called Friendly Cove by white visitors). There is some evidence that one Muquinna* died and another individual assumed both the name and the position of leadership in 1795. The fur trader Charles Bishop was at Nootka Sound that year and he observed that Muquinna the elder was very ill. A few weeks later when he was at Clayoquot Sound, Bishop noted in his journal that Wikinanish, chief there, had informed him of the death of Muquinna. This statement is not corroborated by any other known source. In 1786 Alexander Walker* had visited Nootka Sound with the expedition of James Charles Stuart Strange* and he noted that Muquinna the elder was “blind with age” and that Muquinna the younger had already assumed leadership. Walker described this Muquinna as “a Stout handsome young Man, with a fine manly countenance” and added that “he was the most intelligent Person we met with” at Nootka Sound. Although his birth and death dates are unknown, there can be no doubt that an Indian named Muquinna was an important leader and trading chief at Nootka Sound during the last years of the 18th century and into the 19th. His activities are recorded by Camille de Roquefeuil who was at Nootka Sound in 1817. The name Muquinna was mentioned again in 1837, although clearly with reference to a different individual, and it has been used by leaders of the Moachat group of Nootka Indians to the present day.

By the time Roquefeuil arrived at Nootka Sound in 1817 the Indians there had declined from their former pre-eminence in the area. During the peak years in the late 1780s and early 1790s they had controlled the maritime fur trade to their advantage and had become both wealthy and powerful. The provisions of the Nootka Convention, had resulted in the withdrawal of the Spanish establishment from Friendly Cove in 1795. Muquinna’s people reasserted their control over the site by removing whatever remained of the Spanish buildings and rebuilding their summer houses. For a few years fur traders continued to come to the cove, but the maritime fur trade was soon to pass by Nootka Sound and the Indians of Yuquot became poorer and weaker as a consequence. There must, therefore, have been considerable tension among them as they experienced a period of declining wealth, and, since northwest coast Indian leaders were expected to provide for their people, Muquinna would have been under particular pressure.

It was this pressure perhaps, along with a desire to revenge past insults by Europeans, that lay behind the attack on the fur-trading vessel Boston in March 1803. The Boston had been in Nootka Sound for several days when a quarrel broke out between the captain, John Salter, and Muquinna over a defective gun. The Indians launched a successful attack and destroyed the vessel. The only crew members who were not killed were the armourer, John Rodgers Jewitt*, and the sailmaker, John Thompson, who was spared when Jewitt interceded on his behalf. Jewitt possessed skills that were valuable to Muquinna, particularly in a period of declining power, and so for the next two years he lived as the chief’s slave, making articles such as daggers for him. His Journal kept at Nootka Sound, published in Boston, Mass., in 1807, is a unique document which provides significant insights into the Nootkan way of life. He described the daily round of food gathering as well as the annual moves between the summer village at Yuquot and the winter village at Tahsis. In some ways the life of the Nootka Indians continued as it always had, but clearly new stresses were developing for them and for Muquinna.

In 1803 Muquinna was still a wealthy and powerful leader: Jewitt records that he held a potlatch at which he distributed a considerable amount of property, including 200 muskets and 7 barrels of gunpowder. But Jewitt also tells how Muquinna’s life was threatened by Indians who resented the fact that fur traders no longer came to Nootka Sound. Muquinna was also concerned about the possibility of retribution by the Europeans for the attack on the Boston. When Wikinanish made an offer to purchase Jewitt, Muquinna refused, apparently on the ground that Jewitt would act as an intermediary when another trading vessel came to Nootka Sound. The crew of the next ship, the Lydia, which finally did arrive in 1805, took Muquinna hostage for Jewitt and Thompson, and this temporary capture further damaged his prestige. The Indians were in great confusion, “saying that their chief was a slave to the whites.” Later visitors concluded that the Indians had taken the passing of the maritime fur trade from their territory as an insult. The affront would have reflected particularly on their chief, and so Muquinna the younger probably found his later years of leadership at Nootka Sound to be fraught with tension and difficulty.

Robin A. Fisher

National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh), Dept. of mss, ms 13780 [a copy prepared for publication of Alexander Walker’s account]. Edward Belcher, Narrative of a voyage round the world, performed in her majestys ship Sulphur, during the years 1836–42 . . . (2v., London, 1843; repr. Folkestone, Eng., 1970). [Charles Bishop], The journal and letters of Captain Charles Bishop on the north-west coast of America, in the Pacific and in New South Wales, 1794–99, ed. Michael Roe (Cambridge, Eng., 1967). J. R. Jewitt, A journal, kept at Nootka Sound . . . (Boston, 1807; repr. New York, 1976). [Samuel Patterson], Narrative of the adventures and sufferings of Samuel Patterson . . . (Palmer, Mass., 1817; repr. Fairfield, Wash., 1967). Camille de Roquefeuil, A voyage round the world, between the years 1816–1819 (London, 1823). Cook, Flood tide of empire. Philip Drucker, The northern and central Nootkan tribes (Washington, 1951). R. [A.] Fisher, Contact and conflict: Indian-European relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890 (Vancouver, 1977). Jean Braithwaite and W. J. Folan, “The taking of the ship Boston: an ethnohistoric study of Nootkan-European conflict,” Syesis (Victoria), 5 (1972): 259–66.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Robin A. Fisher, “MUQUINNA (fl. 1786-1817),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/muquinna_1786_1817_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/muquinna_1786_1817_5E.html
Author of Article:   Robin A. Fisher
Title of Article:   MUQUINNA (fl. 1786-1817)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   April 21, 2024