One of the earliest attempts to create a phonetic dictionary of Aboriginal languages for the Pacific Northwest was made by a young American sailor, William F. Sturgis, who first visited the West Coast in 1799, at age seventeen. From 1810 to 1850, much of the American fur trading along the Pacific Northwest coast was conducted under Sturgis' direction. In 1846, during a lecture in Boston, he declared that the only natural objects more attractive to him than sea otter pelts were "a beautiful woman and a lovely infant.";

William F. Sturgis was born on February 25, 1782, in Barnstable, Massachusetts, where his father William E. Sturgis was a ship master. William F. Sturgis entered into the New England counting house of his uncle Russell Sturgis in 1796. A year-and-a-half later he became connected with James and Thomas Perkins who were engaged in the booming fur trade between the Pacific Northwest coast and China. Upon the death of his father in 1797, he was forced to go to sea to support the family. In that year his employers at J. & T.H. Perkins were dispatching the Eliza. Sturgis acted as assistant trader and was so good in this position that he was chosen chief mate of the Ulysses. He then served under Captain Charles Derby in the Caroline until Derby died and Sturgis took command. In 1804 the Caroline sailed from the Columbia River to Kaigahnee, just south of Prince of Wales Island in Alaska, amassing 2,500 sea otter skins that netted $73,034.

William Sturgis returned to Boston in 1810 and with John Bryant formed the house of Bryant & Sturgis, transacting business with the Pacific Coast and China. The firm of Bryant and Sturgis would continue for more than 50 years until Sturgis' death. He was known for his fair dealings with Aboriginals, as well as his proficiency at Latin. Sturgis once brought some 5,000 ermine skins from Leipzig and traded them for sea otter skins on a five (otter)-to-one (ermine) ratio, later turning a substantial profit in Canton.

In 1810 Captain Sturgis married Elizabeth M. Davis and sired one son and five daughters. He took great interest in public affairs, especially relating to the Pacific Northwest. For almost 30 years he was a member of the Massachusetts House or Senate. He was President of the Boston Marine Society and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He died on October 21, 1863, at the age of eighty-one, leaving the Sturgis Library in Barnstable.


Sturgis, William. Memoir of the Hon. William Sturgis (Boston: John Wilson & Sons, 1864). Charles Greely Loring, ed.

Sturgis, William. The Journal of William Sturgis: The Eighteenth-Century Memoirs of a Sailor (Sono Nis, $8,95). S.W. Jackman, ed. ISBN 0-919462-54-5

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2006] "Forts and Fur" "Chinook" "American"