First contacts, 1741-1794

The earliest known encounter between European and Tlingit people was probably in 1741, when Chirikov sent a party ashore–some say at Xaayta.aan, inside the yellow-cedar village (Surge Bay) on outer Yakobi Island. They never returned, and much has been written and speculated about that event.

Closer to home, the first encounter was almost surely in 1794, when Joseph Whidbey led 3 small rowing craft through Áak’w Tá, little-lake bay (Auke Bay). This too was a tragic first meeting, in which one or more Tlingit warriors were apparently killed by musket fire.

The Whidbey surveys were well documented in several journals kept by the crew. The 2 most valuable records are George Vancouver’s, edited and published by W.K. Lamb in 1984, and those of Archibald Menzies, surgeon/botanist of the voyage, edited by Wally Olson in 1993. But nobody has tried to compare the various reports, enter them into GIS, and determine exactly what happened in the area now called the City and Borough of Juneau. Figuring this out requires familiarity with local topography, and an understanding of how waterways and habitats differed at the peak of the Little Ice Age. In 2010 I (Richard Carstensen) began to piece this story together, and I hope soon to link here to a narrated slide show detailing the events.

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