New Graphic Novel Tells Capture and Survival Story of Pacific Northwest

Captive of Friendly Cove tells the true story of young British metalworker, John Rodgers Jewitt, who accepts a job on the American trading ship, Boston, in 1802. What follows is an exciting adventure story about exploration, indigenous people and the clash between white traders and the local people.

Rebecca Goldfield, an award-winning writer and producer of documentary films, spearheaded the team to tell the story as a graphic novel. Mike Short worked with her to plot out the action scenes and provide the pencil work; Matt Dembicki did inking and lettering, and Evan Keeling was the colorist.

Jewitt's Story
John Jewitt (1783-1821) joined the crew of the Boston as it left Hull, England in 1802, bound for the Pacific Northwest via Cape Horn. Jewitt was only 19 and was eager for adventure; his job on board was to craft weapons and equipment.

The mission for the men on the Boston was to obtain furs in the Pacific Northwest and then continue west to China where the pelts would fetch a premium price.

When the ship reached Vancouver Island, they stopped near Nootka Sound to obtain fresh water and wood at a place they called Friendly Cove. The ship was visited by some native men who seemed peaceful. The ship's captain gave the chief, Maquinna, a shotgun as a present.

A few days later, the native men came back, ostensibly to trade with the white men, but a plot was afoot. The shotgun appeared to be faulty, and Maquinna felt slighted. The experience revived memories of all the times white traders had taken advantage of them, so Maquinna plotted a way to separate the white men and attack them.

In the melee that ensued, all but John Jewitt and the sailmaker, John Thompson, were slaughtered. Jewitt was saved because Maquinna recognized the benefits of having a metalworker to make weapons. Thompson was discovered the next day hiding on the ship, and Jewitt pled for his life. Ultimately, both men were saved but were to be enslaved.

The story that follows tells of Jewitt's and Thompson's three years of captivity by the Mowachaht people where they had to learn to live alongside, and fight alongside, the people of Friendly Cove.

Because the fate of the Boston became known among white traders, many avoided the area. Those who dared to stop kept their distance from the local people. But after three long years of living with the Mowachaht people, enduring times of famine as well as plenty, Jewitt was finally successful at his attempt to get a written message to the captain of a trading vessel, and they were rescued.

John Jewitt eventually returned to New England where he published his journal in 1807, and later had his story co-authored by a professional writer. He also developed the story into a theatrical production.

Why a Graphic Novel?

"A young appealing protagonist just starting out in life and then caught up in larger forces ... and his subsequent fight for survival, struck me as something a YA graphic audience might find of great interest," said author Rebecca Goldfield in an email. She noted that there was a lot of action, too -- a massacre, whales being hunted, dramatic native rituals, even a hostage negotiation, so the story was propelled by much more than just dialogue.

Goldfield, who has written and produced film documentaries, bases her story on two documents in which Jewitt had a hand. During his captivity, he maintained a journal, and his documentation of the yearly movements and rituals of the Mowachaht people of British Columbia, provides an uncommon view of exactly how the native people cooked, practiced religious rituals, and how they moved their homes based on season and food availability.

The other document she relied upon was written by Richard Alsop, a contemporary of Jewitt's, who felt the journal was too dry and decided that by interviewing Jewitt, he could provide valuable detail. The full title of Alsop's book explains it all: A Narrative of the Adventure and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt: Only Survivor of the Crew of the Ship Boston During a Captivity of Nearly Three Years Among the Savages of Nootka Sound: with an Account of the Manners, Mode of Living, and Religious Opinions of the Natives.

As Goldfield notes, Alsop's material is very helpful in understanding the story but some of the details may have been embellished.

Neither Alsop nor Jewitt left illustrations with their documents, so to accurately research the lifestyle and rituals described in the books, Goldfield turned to navigator James Cook who traveled the South Pacific with an artist, documenting life at approximately the same time. She also found a few Spanish sea captains who had artists with them. In addition, she visited museums to research weaponry and consulted curators who know the field in order to provide the utmost in accuracy.

While young adults have been early adopters of graphic novels, the story is an excellent read for people of all ages. We hear so much about the settlement of the east coast of America as well as stories of the California missions, but far too little is written about the settling of the Northwest. The fur source there was a rich one, and the British, the Spanish, and the Americans all saw the importance of staking out territory. Goldfield's book tells a story that is important to understanding the settlement of North America.

For more information on the book, click here. It is also available on Amazon.

To read more stories of America's past, visit www.americacomesalive.com