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KENDRICK (Kenwick, Kenwrick), JOHN, furtrader; b. c. 1740 in Harwich, Massachusetts, son of Solomon Kenwrick and Elizabeth Atkins; m. December 1767 Huldah Pease; d. 12 Dec. 1794 at Honolulu harbour, Oahu (Hawaii).

John Kendrick went to sea at an early age, and by the time he was 20 he was engaged in the whaling industry of the St Lawrence. He served in one campaign in the Seven Years’ War but then returned to sea, entering the New England coastal trade. During the American revolution he commanded several privateers which preyed on British commerce.

The third Pacific voyage of James Cook revealed the high prices sea otter furs from the northwest coast would bring in China. As news of the trade possibilities filtered through the commercial world, merchants responded by sending expeditions to the northwest coast; James Hanna, sailing from Macao, China, in 1785, was the first to exploit the trade. In 1787 Kendrick was placed in command of a trading expedition organized by Joseph Barrell, a Boston merchant, and composed of two ships, the Columbia Rediviva and the Lady Washington, the latter under Captain Robert Gray*. The vessels bore cargoes of trade goods, chiefly items of copper and iron, special medals for the Indians, and passports and letters from the American government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The expedition left Boston in September 1787 but Kendrick, according to Gray, was not a “nimble leader.” The ships dawdled in several ports along the way. One of these stops, at the island of Juan Fernández (Isla Robinson Crusoe), off the coast of Chile, alerted Spanish authorities to their destination and caused concern about possible American encroachments on Spanish claims to the Pacific coast. Kendrick and Gray finally arrived at Nootka Sound (B.C.) in September 1788, after taking three months longer than the normal sailing time, and decided to spend the winter there. Kendrick systematically courted Muquinna, one of the principal chiefs of the Nootka Indians. In March 1789, while his partner sailed south, trading along the coast as far as Juan de Fuca Strait, Kendrick moved his ship farther up the sound to Mawinna Cove (Marvinas Bay, B.C.) and erected a house and battery, which he named Fort Washington.

On 5 May the Spanish warship Princesa, under the command of Esteban José Martínez, arrived at Nootka. Martinez had been instructed to establish a temporary post to ensure that Spanish claims to the Pacific coast would be recognized. Kendrick was able to persuade the Spaniard that his two vessels were in Nootka for repairs, not for trade. Several British vessels, however, including the Argonaut, under the command of James Colnett*, were seized by Martinez for infringing on Spanish sovereignty. The seizure of these vessels touched off the Nootka crisis, which was to bring England and Spain to the brink of war in 1790. Kendrick appears to have helped establish the Spanish presence at Nootka: he introduced Martinez to Muquinna, trained his guns on the Argonaut upon request, and ordered his armourer to make leg-irons for the British prisoners. During the stay at Nootka Kendrick’s son John embraced Catholicism and changed his name to Juan; he later served on Spanish vessels.

With two good ships and with his competitors in irons, Kendrick had a chance to make a fortune for himself and his owners. The northwest coast was then a fur-traders’ paradise; in one instance the expedition had received 200 sea otter pelts valued at $8,000 for an equal number of iron chisels worth about $100. In July 1789 Kendrick exchanged commands with Gray, and while the Columbia sailed for China, Kendrick traded in the Lady Washington along the coast from Nootka to the Queen Charlotte Islands (B.C.). There he anchored off what is now known as Anthony Island, and in the process of trading with the Haidas subjected their chief, Koyah, to intense personal humiliation by locking him to a gun-carriage until some of Kendrick’s laundry, which had been pilfered by the Indians, was returned.

On his voyage to China Kendrick visited the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands and became one of the first to see the possibility of trade with the Orient in pearls and sandalwood. He left three men to collect these commodities, but on such short notice they had no means of conducting their mission effectively. When George Vancouver saw them in March 1792 they were destitute and had failed in their task. Once in China, Kendrick spent a leisurely 14 months disposing of his cargo and rerigging the Lady Washington as a brig. In March 1791 he again sailed for the northwest coast, visiting Japan on the way.

On 13 June 1791 the Lady Washington arrived at Barrell Sound (Houston Stewart Channel, B.C.). Three days later, off Anthony Island, the Haidas, led by Koyah, attacked the vessel. Kendrick and his crew repulsed the Indians, killing many. As he had not been very successful in trade in the Queen Charlotte Islands, Kendrick turned south along the coast and on 12 July entered Nootka Sound. Uncertain of the intentions of the Spaniards, he went to his old anchorage of Mawinna, where he obtained about 800 sea otter pelts. He pleased the Indians by paying high prices for their furs; by supplying them with guns, he contributed to subsequent violence in the fur trade. Kendrick also purchased large tracts of land, obtaining deeds signed by the Nootkas and duly witnessed. John Howell, an American trader, later reported that Kendrick “one day told the Commandant at Notka Sound, that he bought his Territories, whilst other nations stole them; and that if they (the Spaniards) were impertinent he would raise the Indians and drive them from their settlements.” Sailing south to Clayoquot Sound, Kendrick obtained more furs, met with Gray, took time to repair his ships, and then left for China on 29 September.

Kendrick spent 14 months in Macao, to Gray’s exasperation, before sailing in the spring of 1793 for the northwest coast. He spent the summer trading along the coast and then wintered in the Sandwich Islands. Late in 1794, after having spent the summer in trade, he revisited the Sandwich Islands, where one faction of the natives had just won an inter-island war. While Kendrick was at anchor in Honolulu harbour witnessing a victory celebration, a fellow trader fired a broadside in salute. Unfortunately, one of his guns had not been unshotted, and its ball pierced the side of the Lady Washington, killing Kendrick and several of his crew.

Although Kendrick was noted for his enterprise and good spirits, he was also dilatory and often entertained fantastic schemes. Howell reported that two “of his favourite plans were to change the prevalence of the westerly winds in the Atlantic Ocean, and turn the Gulf Stream into the Pacific, by cutting A Canal through Mexico.” Convinced of the feasibility of colonizing the land he had purchased at Nootka, Kendrick wrote to Thomas Jefferson suggesting that it be settled under the protection of the American government. In 1795 his owners advertised in London for immigrants to the region, but none were forthcoming. Petitions later made to the United States Congress on behalf of his family for title to the land failed in 1854 for lack of documentation.

Richard A. Pierce

“Captains Gray and Kendrick; the Barrel letters,” ed. F. W. Howay, Washington Hist. Quarterly (Seattle), XII (1921), 243–71. “Later affairs of Kendrick; Barrell letters,” ed. N. B. Pipes, Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly (Eugene), XXX (1929), 95–105. “Letters relating to the second voyage of the ‘Columbia,’ ” ed. F. W. Howay, Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly, XXIV (1923), 132–52. Meares, Voyages. G. Vancouver, Voyage of discovery (J. Vancouver). Voyages of ‘Columbia’ (Howay). DAB. Howay, List of trading vessels in maritime fur trade. Walbran, B.C. coast names. Cook, Flood tide of empire. F. W. Howay, “John Kendrick and his sons,” Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly, XXIII (1922), 277–302; “Voyages of Kendrick and Gray in 1787–90,” Oreg. Hist. Soc., Quarterly, XXX (1929), 89–94.

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Cite This Article

Richard A. Pierce, “KENDRICK, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kendrick_john_4E.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/kendrick_john_4E.html
Author of Article:   Richard A. Pierce
Title of Article:   KENDRICK, JOHN
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   June 22, 2024