John R. Jewitt’s story of being captured and enslaved by Maquinna, the great chief of the Mowachaht people, is both an adventure tale of survival and an unusual perspective on the First Nations of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.
On March 22, 1803, while anchored in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Boston was attacked by a group of Mowachaht warriors. Twenty-five of her 27 crewmen were massacred, their heads “”arranged in a line”” for survivor John R. Jewitt to identify.
Jewitt and another survivor, John Thompson, became 2 of some 50 slaves owned by the chief known as Maquinna. Among other duties, they were forced to carry wood for three miles and fight for Maquinna when he slaughtered a neighbouring tribe. But their worst fear came from knowing that slaves could be killed whenever their master chose. Since most of the Mowachaht wanted the two whites dead, they never knew what would come first—freedom or death.
After Jewitt was rescued, following 28 months in captivity, he wrote a book of his experiences. It appeared in 1815 and became known as Jewitt’s Narrative. It proved so popular that it is still being reprinted today.