Noted regional author Jo Ann Roe has written the definitive biography of Ranald MacDonald (1824-94), an Old Oregon Country resident who entered forbidden Japan in 1848 at great risk of death and certain imprisonment. MacDonald was the son of a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) official and his Indian wife from the Chinook tribe. In the 1830s, as a youngster at the HBC’s Ft. Vancouver and Red River schools, MacDonald became fascinated with stories about the little-known Japanese. This interest, no doubt, was stimulated by reports in 1833-34 of storm-swept Japanese sailors shipwrecked on the Olympic Peninsula and captured by Indians, but later released to HBC officials.
Consequently, in 1848, 24-year-old MacDonald arranged with the captain of an American whaling ship to be cast off in a rowboat on the northern Japanese coast. Interned but escaping execution, MacDonald was ordered to teach English to Japanese students. After nearly a year in captivity, he received permission to leave Japan in 1849 with other American sailors stranded on the forbidden coast. Later, several of MacDonald’s Japanese students interpreted for Commodore Perry when the U.S. Navy forced a not entirely unwilling Japan to open its doors to outsiders in the 1850s.
MacDonald next traveled over much of Asia, Europe, and Canada, before returning to the Pacific Northwest in 1858, where he resided for the rest of his life, but not without adventure. MacDonald joined a daring exploration of Vancouver Island, and became involved in other developments in the Pacific Northwest region. Today, his grave in northeast Washington is recognized as a state park heritage site. In Japan on Rishiri Island, Japanese historical enthusiasts have erected a monument and interpretive marker to commemorate the site where the brave Oregonian landed.
Illustrations / photographs / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 272 pages (1997)