Sharksville, Oregon, or a place to stay dry
Name: Sharksville, Oregon
46.179546, -123.906167 (approximate)
Directions: Located at what is now Astoria’s docks near Pier 3.
Sharksville was named after the USS Shark, one of many ships that sunk at the Columbia River Bar. Part of the wreck, with three cannons attached, floated down the coast and gave Cannon Beach it’s name.
The United States Navy Schooner, USS Shark was dispatched to Honolulu Hawaii on April 1st 1846 for repairs and preparation to travel to the Coast of the Pacific Northwest. It’s mission was to map the mouth of the Columbia River, explore the Columbia River area further, show the American Flag to ascertain the attitudes of settlers along the Willamette River, and if necessary, provide arms to American Settlers in the area. She was ordered to return early September of that year.
Under command of Lt. Neil M. Howison, a promising young Naval Officer who had been given command of the already famous ship by his command officer. They arrived at the Columbia River on July 15th, 1846 and were able to successfully pass over the bar on July 18th, despite a minor grounding that seemed to have caused no damage.
She unexpectedly arrived six days later at Fort Vancouver, surprising the Hudson Bay Company who had not expected the visit, and the officers of the HMS Modeste which had been dispatched by the British just in case a war with the United States over the Oregon Country broke out. Along with the Modeste, the HBC had three vessels docked at Fort Vancouver.
Lt. Howison, no doubt in an effort to not spark a war during fragile peace talks, encouraged American Citizens in the area to await a peaceful resolution to the question of who the Oregon Country belonged too. This put him in the good graces of all involved, from settlers and local Newspapers, to the officers of the Hudson Bay Company and the Officers of the HMS Modeste.
He explored the area, met Provisional Governor George Abernethy, and spent a significant amount of time in the Willamette and Tualatin Valleys documenting agricultural, political, nautical and mercantile information. He sent his officers to gather information also, while much of the crew and the Shark stayed at Fort Vancouver.
During their visit, everyone seemed to be on cordial terms. The HMS Modeste helped unground the USS Shark when she found some shoals at the mouth of the Willamette River. The crews helped put out a fire at the Fort, and games were organized and participated in by all involved.
But not all was rosy, US Naval Regulations confined sailors to the ship. But the lure of good wages and land made at least four desert the ship. One of the earliest printed pamphlets in the Oregon Country was an advertisement of reward for their return.
The USS Shark left Fort Vancouver on August 23, 1846. Lt. Howison was apprehensive as though as another American Ship had hired the only pilot, a Native, a few days before. This ship, the Toulon, was found to be grounded itself just below Fort Vancouver. The USS Shark spent three days helping it get off the bar.
Finally, they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on September 8th. Despite his reservations, he attempted to cross the bar on September 10th. Almost immediately the tide forced the ship towards the breakers and the sand bars. Despite his best efforts the ship hit the bar and began to break up in the tide.
The first boat away was lost, along with the ships gold and it’s papers as the crew tried to abandon ship. Luckily all were saved due to ropes dangled overboard. They managed to wait out the tide and were able to successfully abandon ship the next morning, with no crew lost. They found shelter in a small shack that had been built by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition forty years later, and firewood was gathered from the Sloop of War, USN Peacock that had wrecked there earlier.
Over the next several weeks, the crew built a larger house on Point George while Lt. Howison attempted to charter another ship. The two buildings were dubbed “Sharksville” by the crew. He and the crew also further explored the area and were furnished with supplies by the Hudson Bay Company. They also worked to scavenge anything they could from the wreck of the Shark.
Native Americans reported that a portion of the hull had grounded south of Tillamook Head. Howison sent Midshipman Simes to visit, but he found that two of the guns were inaccessible. He did manage to get the third one above the high water line but the weight was such that it was not worth dragging over the mountains between what is now Cannon Beach and Astoria.
Two more crew members deserted, but the Toulon returned in October. This time with news that the boundary question had been settled at the forty-ninth parallel. Lt. Howison was able to secure passage on a schooner owned by the Hudson Bay Company, the Cadboro, in November 1846.
In all, members of the crew spent ten months here before being rescued by another naval vessel.
Oregon History Quarterly Vol 109, No. 4