DuPont, Washington, is fortunate to have many historic sites within its boundaries, including several places associated with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). This British corporation, originally chartered in 1670, had established trading posts throughout what is now Canada and the Pacific Northwest by the early 19th century. Over time the HBC constructed a sequence of stations in the present-day DuPont area. All bore the name of Nisqually, named after the nearby Nisqually River.
In the spring of 1833 the HBC first set up a temporary post, called Nisqually House, near the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek in Southern Puget Sound. Later that year the Company moved operations to a more permanent station, inland to the east of Nisqually House. Historians have identified the second post as the 1833 Fort Nisqually. Then in 1843 the Nisqually station relocated a mile further inland to a site on the south bank of Sequalitchew Creek.
The third Nisqually post of the HBC has been called the 1843 Fort Nisqually by historians. From 1843 to 1870 this outpost on the frontier was a place full of life and activity. Indeed, it can be seen as a business, a multicultural community, and a meeting place for various peoples.
Fort Nisqually in the mid-19th century was clearly a business center run by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It initially served as a trading post where the HBC employees exchanged Euro-American goods for Native American procured items such as furs. Both sides benefited from the transactions.
Over the years the importance of fur trading declined, and the significance of farming increased. The Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company (PSAC), an HBC subsidiary, officially oversaw the raising of crops and livestock at the Fort and a system of outstations. Farm products were shipped internationally to Great Britain, Russian Alaska, Mexican (later American) California, and the Hawaiian Kingdom.
At the same time Fort Nisqually was always a multicultural community. People from different ethnic groups worked for the HBC and PSAC. These companies had definite hierarchies with ranks ranging from officers (chief factors, chief traders, and clerks) to “servants” (or fulltime skilled working class employees), to part-time workers who helped with labor intensive tasks such as planting or harvesting crops.
It is interesting to look back at the kaleidoscope of personalities which formed the multi-ethnic society of Fort Nisqually. The post’s workforce included Englishmen, French Canadians, Hawaiians, Irishmen, Native Americans (both local Nisqually Indians and other tribes), Scots, American settlers, and people of mixed race. Associated with the station at one time or another were such strong individuals as Edward Huggins, Pierre Lagace, Leschi, Thomas Linklater, and William Fraser Tolmie.
Fort Nisqually served as a meeting place for Hudson’s Bay Company employees, Native Americans, and American settlers. The post proved to be a key link in the network of HBC stations that stretched across the Pacific Northwest. Strong economic and social ties also connected the post workers with Native Americans of the region, especially the local Sequalitchew Nisqually band.
In addition, Fort Nisqually in the mid-19th century provided crucial material assistance to incoming American settlers. Livestock, food, and equipment were all available at the Nisqually station. These supplies saved many settlers from extreme hardship, perhaps even death. Michael Simmons, pioneer founder of Tumwater, later remarked that “without the assistance of the [Hudson’s Bay] Company, I hardly know what we who came north of the Columbia [River] would have done.”
An 1846 treaty between Great Britain and the United States divided the Northwest between the two countries. The area south of the 49th degree parallel (including Southern Puget Sound) officially went to the Americans. HBC/PSAC operations continued until the U.S. Government purchased the rights of the British companies in 1869. Fort Nisqually closed the next year, but the last officer in charge of the station (Edward Huggins) and his family stayed and homesteaded the post site.
The Huggins farm was sold in 1906 to the DuPont Company. By then almost all of the old Fort Nisqually structures had disappeared. In 1934 the two surviving buildings (“Factor’s House” and “New Granary”) were moved to Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. The original site remains protected and honored in DuPont. It was transferred to the non-profit Archaeological Conservancy in 1993, and is occasionally opened to the public for educational programs and events.
Drew W. Crooks graduated from the University of Washington with a Masters degree in museum studies. For over twenty-five years he has worked with various museums in Southern Puget Sound, and written extensively on the region’s heritage. Drew is especially interested in the history of DuPont, and the Nisqually Valley and its inhabitants over time, including Native Americans, Hudson's Bay Company employees, and American settlers.
Further Information on Fort Nisqually (1843-1870)
Anderson, Steven A., The Physical Structure of Fort Nisqually: A Preliminary Study on the Structural Development of a Hudson’s Bay Company Site, 1843-1859. (Tacoma, WA: Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma, 1988).
Carpenter, Cecelia Svinth, Fort Nisqually: A Documented History of Indian and British Interaction. (Tacoma, WA: Tahoma Research Service, 1986).
Crooks, Drew W., Past Reflections: Essays on the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Southern Puget Sound Region. (Tacoma, WA: Fort Nisqually Foundation, 2001).