Part 2: The Columbia River Maps and Meteorological Calculations of David Douglas: An Archival Discovery

29 January 2019

Area Studies | Cultural Studies | History

This is the second in a two-part blog in which David G. Lewis, PhD, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Native Studies at Oregon State University, tells the story of discovering some previously unknown documents from Pacific Northwest explorer David Douglas within Adam Matthew Digital's collection Age of Exploration.

David Lewis uncovered these documents within a collection of documents from Edward Sabine, a military explorer and the secretary of the Linnaean Society. Sabine had helped David Douglas with his publications at the Linnaean Society and as a result, the two explorers had entered into regular correspondence.

The first part of this blog can be found here.

After uncovering the professional relationship between Sabine and Douglas, I continued to question, where did the collection of David Douglas papers come from? At first, I thought these papers were left at Fort Vancouver, and somehow transferred to Great Britain after Douglas’ demise in 1834. However, I found a report by Sabine, from the Kew collections, that detailed a collection of documents which came from Hawaii; the remainder of his possessions in Hawaii after Douglas’ demise in a pit trap. The documents and other effects had been packed up in Hawaii, and shipped to John Douglas, David’s brother. Later, John sent the scientific papers to Edward Sabine, likely so he could make some sense of them. Sabine organized and published some data out of the Douglas papers. He included Douglas’ locations in his comprehensive charts of world magnetic readings.

Sabine had the collection until his death. Later, they were given to the National Archives as part of the Sir Edward Sabine collections. Collections such as this, when they arrive in archives, can be somewhat disorganized, so it is understandable that no one has thought to analyze the collection further than a simple archival organization.

Further research in the Report of Canadian Archives, where a copy of a British correspondence collection was sent, has revealed a timeline for the transfer of the collection.

March 23, 1834 – Report of death of D. Douglas, who fell into a pit for capturing wild bullocks.

June 11, 1834 – Three cases containing objects left by D. Douglas have arrived, John Douglas, his brother, is to attend and open the cases.

June 21, 1834 – Edward Sabine – He shall be happy to receive Douglas’s papers.

June 30, 1834 – Edward Sabine – Box received containing books and papers of the late David Douglas

Later Sabine detailed in letters that among the papers sent to him were one volume of field sketches, three papers of magnetic dip observations, and seven papers of meteorological observations. I believe that the collection included in Adam Matthew Digital’s Age of Exploration are the field sketches and meteorological observations from Douglas. There remains to be found in the collections additional Douglas observations, some 13 volumes which have yet to be identified.

Map section at the, bottom to right side of “45” in red ink. Reads “F” in red ink marks, “Steep rocks on both sides” northside of river, “mountains 900 feet above the level of the river” the drawn mountains could be these, “Rapid” “March 27th campsite marker, “44” and “E” in red ink. Drawing of mountains: the nearly illegible script could be “over the river”. A prominent butte today, Hat Rock, is in the right vicinity of the map and is visible from the river. Douglas skips this section of the river in the journal, so the map contains the only details, which will enhance his overall description. Image © The National Archives, UK. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The overall significance of the discovery of the maps drawn by Douglas has yet to be determined. They add significantly to the information already detailed in his journals. The maps are from Douglas’ 1826 journey up the Columbia River. The maps begin at Fort Vancouver and on each map page Douglas notes camp sites and sometimes descriptions of the land and vegetation with drawings of landforms. He created a system of organizing the maps so that they line up perfectly. Some pages are full of writing, and the script is recognizable as that of David Douglas. The notation is at times difficult to read as the pencil has smudged.

By capturing images of the pages from the Adam Matthew Digital collection, I was able to realign them in the correct order, and digitally fix two pages which had been cut in half. I also undertook a project to align each map to Douglas’ journal entries. The languages used on the maps and the journal match perfectly. The dates of the campsites, in the journal and on the map, also matched perfectly. A few maps suggest areas of the river which are not well detailed in his journals, the maps then being the only records.

These final confirmations prove that the maps and the geolocation pages are without a doubt from David Douglas. This discovery, once fully published, will significantly add to the history of regional explorations. My discovery of the collection, while living in Salem, Oregon, some 5000 miles away from the British Isles, also points to the need for scholars of diverse research backgrounds to gain access to worldwide collections.

Read part one in this two-part blog series here.

Age of Exploration is available now. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

David G. Lewis

David G. Lewis

David G. Lewis, PhD is an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Native Studies at Oregon State University. He researches regional tribal histories and is an expert in accessing government archives related to the federal administration of tribes. David has numerous articles published on tribal histories from the 19th and 20th centuries and writes original ethnohistorical articles on his blog ndnhistoryresearch.com. David is a member of the Confederated tribes of Grand Ronde of Oregon, a descendant of the Chinook, Santiam Kalapuya, and Takelma peoples of Western Oregon.

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