Fort Nisqually

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Fort Nisqually (1833-1869) - Established in 1833 by Chief Trader Archibald McDonald as a trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) near present day Tacoma in Pierce County, Washington. It was the first European settlement and a principal port for domestic and foreign trade on Puget Sound. Moved twice to new locations. Sold to the U.S. Government in 1869.

Fort Nisqually Bastion as it appeared in 1855
Fort Nisqually early structure, circa 1870 (University of Washington Archive)
Fort Nisqually Factor's House as it appeared in 1855


The fort was established by Chief Trader Archibald McDonald on 30 May 1833 to facilitate trade with the Indians and any others who might have goods to trade. The primary motivation was the fur trade and the main suppliers were the local Indian tribes. The Indians sought wool blankets, guns, and other manufactured goods available at the fort in return for their fur pelts.

Fort Nisqually Trade Goods in the Store. The blankets on the shelf and counter were a favorite

Initially, the fort was a simple structure on the beach. McDonald had left behind a small party of men in April 1832 after building a 15' by 20' storehouse on the beach. On his return, on 30 May 1833, he began the Fort Nisqually Journal of Occurrences and this marks the beginning of Fort Nisqually. The fort was not a military installation at any time although it was occasionally visited by American and British military personnel.

The initial cadre totaled 11 men plus Dr. William Fraser Tolmie who was actually on his way to Fort Langley further up the coast. Dr. Tolmie's long relationship with the fort began when he remained at the fort to care for an HBC employee who severely cut his foot with an axe.

Trading actually began in earnest when the supply ship Vancouver arrived in June 1833. Trading on the first day netted about 90 beaver pelts and many other animal furs. Each prime condition adult beaver skin was worth one 2-1/2 point blanket, the most popular item among the Indians. McDonald left on 20 Jun 1833 for Fort Vancouver with about 380 skins, his successor Chief Trader Francis Heron arrived on 27 Jun 1833.

The 1833 Location

Chief Trader Francis Heron disliked his new assignment and the beach location of the fort so he moved the location to a spot on the Sequalitchew prairie above the beach and began construction of an actual fort. By December 1833 work had begun on two bastions and the fort began to look like a frontier fort.

Fort Nisqually Blacksmith Shop

On 3 Sep 1833 Dr. William Tolmie became the first white person to climb Mt. Rainier (Mt. Tahoma). He departed Fort Nisqually for another post on 12 Dec 1833 and returned in 1843 as Chief Trader of Fort Nisqually and the Puget Sound Agricultural Company (formed in 1839 as a subsidiary of the HBC). He was advanced from Chief Trader to Chief Factor on 26 Nov 1855. He remained at Fort Nisqually until 29 Jul 1859 when he moved to Fort Victoria (1) with his family.

The 1843 Location

Fort Nisqually Factor's House (University of Washington Archive)

The Fort was again moved in 1843 to be closer to fresh water. The site was about one mile east of the 1833 location, on a prairie, on the south bank of Sequalitchew Creek. The relocated fort was not re-fortified until 1848 when it was enclosed in a stockade and two sturdy bastions were built.

The 1846 Treaty

The 1846 treaty between the United States and Great Britain established the boundary between the two country's claims at the 49th parallel. This treaty left Fort Nisqually on American soil. Twenty-three years later on 10 Sep 1869 the United States government agreed to pay the HBC $650,000 for the Puget Sound Agriculture Company lands, including Fort Nisqually. This date is used as the official end of Fort Nisqually.

Current Status

The original site was near the present town of DuPont, Pierce County, Washington now in the middle of a golf course.

The second site is in the city limits of Dupont, Washington along Center Drive at Sequalitchew Creek. A trail along the south bank of Sequalitchew Creek from Center Dive leads to a marker for the fort that identifies the location and describes the post. The site itself is nearby, identified by a low black chain link fence with a number of tall locust trees in the center of the enclosure. No visible remains of the fort at this site, only the locust trees mark the spot.

Fort Nisqually II Site Marked by the Tall Locust Trees
Fort Nisqually II Interpretive Historical Marker

In 1934 the ruins were moved to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Pierce County, Washington, and restoration/reconstruction was begun by the WPA. The site is owned and operated by the City of Tacoma and reconstruction continues. This is a Must See site! A fine reproduction of an HBC trading post and fort.

1934 Location Maps & Images

Lat: 47.303083 Long: -122.532964

1843 Location Maps & Images

Lat: 47.105695 Long: -122.643399

1833 Location Maps & Images

Lat: 47.1092 Long: -122.6632

  • Multi Maps from ACME
  • Maps from Bing
  • Maps from Google
  • Elevation: Varies

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Visited: 30 Apr 2014, 24 Sep 2005

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