The wind remaining southerly, we continued to tide it down the river; and on the 5th, in the morning, coming to the place where we had lost our kedge-anchor, made an attempt to recover it, but without success. Before we left this place, six canoes came off from the east shore; some conducted by one, and others by two men. They remained at a little distance from the ships, viewing them with a kind of silent surprise, at least half an hour, without exchanging a single word with us, or with one another. At length they took courage, and came alongside; began to barter with our people; and did not leave us till they had parted with every thing they brought with them, consisting of a few skins and some salmon. And here it may not be improper to remark, that all the people we had met with, in this river, seemed, by every striking instance of resemblance, to be of the same nation with those who inhabit Prince William’s Sound, but differing essentially from those of Nootka, or King George’s Sound, both in their persons and language. The language of these is rather more guttural; but, like the others, they speak strongly and distinct, in words which seem sentences.
I have before observed, that they are in possession of iron; that is, they have the points of their spears and knives of this metal; and some of the former are also made of copper. Their spears are like our spontoons; and their knives, which they keep in sheaths, are of a considerable length. These, with a few glass beads, are the only things we saw amongst them that were not of their own manufacture. I have already offered my conjectures from whence they derive their foreign articles; and shall only add here, that if it were probable that they found their way to them from such of their neighbours with whom the Russians may have established a trade, I will be bold to say, the Russians themselves have never been amongst them; for if that had been the case, we should hardly have found them clothed in such valuable skins as those of the sea-otter.
There is not the least doubt, that a very beneficial fur-trade might be carried on with the inhabitants of this vast coast. But unless a northern passage should be found practicable, it seems rather too remote for Great Britain to receive any emolument from it. It must, however, be observed, that the most valuable, or rather the only valuable skins I saw on this west side of America, were those of the sea-otter. All their other skins seemed to be of an inferior quality; particularly those of their foxes and martins. It must also be observed, that most of the skins which we purchased were made up into garments. However, some of these were in good condition; but others were old and ragged enough; and all of them very lousy. But as these poor people make no other use of skins but for clothing themselves, it cannot be supposed that they are at the trouble of dressing more of them than are necessary for this purpose. And, perhaps,