Fixing History: a contemporary examination of an Arctic journal from the 1850s




 Nancy Fogel-Chance


[Reprinted with permission from Ethnohistory, vol 49, no.4 [2002], Duke University Press] 


Abstract: Early records of Western encounters with Native peoples have fixed history within the conventional views of their time. This article examines such a perspective inscribed in a journal written by a British Naval commander during an Arctic assignment in the mid-19th century. Over a two year period he chronicled daily interactions between the crew of his ship and members of a nearby Iñupiaq Eskimo village on the Arctic Slope of Alaska. His categorization of native aggression and gender differences are examined within the context of contemporary knowledge about Iñupiaq ethnohistory. Additionally, his entries expose another dimension of this encounter—the dependency of this British enclave upon local people for resources, knowledge and other forms of assistance. The Admiralty’s restriction on the use of force during this mission makes their need all the more apparent. I propose that British dependency was a critical element in the dynamics of power between the two groups and has implications for other early encounters as well.      


"…the world of humankind constitutes a manifold, a totality of interconnected processes…[I]nquiries that disassemble this totality into bits and then fail to reassemble it falsify reality. Concepts like ‘nation,’ ‘society,’ and ‘culture' name bits and threaten to turn names into things. Only by understanding these names as bundles of relationships, and by placing them back into the field from which they were abstracted, can we hope to avoid misleading inferences and increase our share of understanding." (Wolf, p.3)



On September 3rd, 1852 Her Majesty's Ship the Plover sailed along the Arctic coast past Point Barrow in what was then Russian Alaska and into Elson Lagoon. The ship and its men were to remain for most of two years, anchored three miles from the Iñupiaq1 Eskimo village of Nuvuk2 (Point Barrow). They were but a small appendage to the search for survivors of or information about the disappearance of Sir John Franklin and the two vessels that set out from England under Admiralty orders to find a Northwest Passage to Asia through Arctic waters.  A valuable legacy of the Plover’s part in the search is The journal of Rochfort Maguire, the ship's commander.3 Ably edited by John Bockstoce, it provides a richly detailed chronicle of the first extended encounter between Westerners and the 309 Iñupiat living nearby. Another group of about 200 Iñupiat living at Cape Smyth seven miles away had more limited contact with the ship.


Contained within the journal of Rochfort Maguire is a unique story of the first prolonged contact between representatives of a global colonial power and a local Alaskan subsistence-based society. However, it is an account told from one side. Hence, the title of this article is used to suggest that ‘fixing history’ has several meanings that can be applied to an analysis of the journal. First, it relates to how this chronicle is fixed, or set, in its time. Such a viewpoint is evident in Maguire’s use of the historic convention that naturalizes the distinction between the more noble characteristics of a ‘civilized’ people and the generally more inferior ones of ‘savage’ people. This view is possible because such a historical narrative disassembles this encounter from the larger social and political field of which it was part. Hence, a broad historical context, and Iñupiaq perspectives and rationality arising from their own society and history became extraneous. Secondly, I fix my examination on these missing dimensions by means of three interlinked themes inscribed in the narrative: aggression, dependency, and interpersonal relations.  Finally, I suggest ways that this account can be amended, or fixed, to incorporate the significance of historical and local Iñupiaq perspectives.


Toward this end, I will begin with a short discussion of the journal, followed by a description of life on board the Plover and of Iñupiaq society in the mid-1800s. Then, I will turn to an in depth examination of the above mentioned themes. First, aggression was an issue for both groups, but primary attention in this article is on an analysis of individual and collective aggression on the part of Iñupiat, the forms it took and major areas of conflict. What can be learned about Iñupiaq perspectives on the British presence from these conflicts? Secondly, the section on dependency focuses on the vulnerability of these forty-two Westerners on their ice-bound ship. In what ways were the men of the Plover dependent upon Iñupiat? How were the categories of civilized and savage compromised or reinforced by British dependency? Thirdly, I explore the content of interactions between the two groups where more intense interpersonal relations prevailed including gender and sexual relations. What effect did this more intimate aspect of life have? How was gender embedded in inter-group relationships? In assessing these three aspects of life during the Plovers tenure, I suggest that although dependency on Iñupiat is a less obvious dimension of those years, it penetrated all aspects of life aboard ship and was a key element in shaping events.


The Journal


As a major ethnohistorical resource on Iñupiat in the mid-1800s the journal is an invaluable document for Native people generally and Iñupiat in particular, as well as for the academic community and a general readership interested in the Arctic. It presents an absorbing account of life aboard ship and responsibilities of its captain and crew, in addition to some brief meteorological and geographical information along with the natural history of the area.


Before turning to an examination of the journal, the story of the Plover needs to be situated within the overall historic mission of which it was but a small part. It has its origins in Britain's epic search for a sea route through Arctic waters to Asia. Sir John Barrow of the Admiralty was the driving force behind this effort. He skillfully rallied national impulses to support the project fully aware that, however impractical, the discovery of a Northwest Passage would stand as another emblem of Britain's maritime supremacy. Sir John Franklin was chosen to lead the expedition and has remained the most renowned explorer in this epic. He left England in 1845 with two ships. In the absence of any reports from his expedition, the Admiralty organized the first of many searches in 1848, including the Plover in the group of vessels searching the Western Arctic. The fervor to find explanations for the mystery surrounding Franklin, his ships and crew lasted for decades and testify to the intensity of national absorption over this project. Ironically, Franklin became a famous historical figure not because he found the Passage, but through the mystery and final tragedy of his loss.4 Although Maguire was a minor figure in this part of English history, he has given us a vivid chronicle of his Arctic years.


Although Maguire makes use of authorial imperatives to present a favorable picture of this service to his superiors, his entries are filled with accounts of his efforts to forge friendly relations with villagers while carrying out his mission in the Franklin search as well as protecting the security of his ship and men. Maguire’s admirable personal qualities illuminate the journal as do his leadership as commander and, concomitantly, his role as historic agent. His own astute observations fill the pages of the journal. As strangers to Arctic life and captives of the ice for eleven months of each year, these forty-two men were minimally prepared to deal with the rigors of climate, terrain and isolation. In these circumstances, the acceptance and aid of the 309 local Iñupiat whose society was well-adapted to Arctic living was vital. However, this was not an easy relationship, local Iñupiat treated the ship’s crew with a mix of curiosity, friendly assistance, suspicion and outright hostility.


Fortunately, Maguire was able to draw liberally upon the knowledge of and writings on Iñupiaq    society gathered by Dr. John Simpson, the ship's surgeon and natural historian gained from his study of Iñupiaq    society at Nuvuk. Much of this ethnographic material is incorporated into the journal and enhances its enduring contribution to early contact literature.5 Furthermore, Simpson was not new to research on Eskimos. In addition to the two years at Nuvuk, he had previously spent three years studying Eskimos in the western Arctic and learning the Inuqiaq language. His command of Iñupiaq    proved invaluable to Maguire in interactions with the people at Nuvuk.6 Moreover, the time Simpson spent with the local people in their homes and as visitors to the ship, his genuine interest in recording their culture and his occasional medical assistance placed him in high regard among them. Significantly there is a notable difference in representations of Iñupiat in the writings of the two men. Where Simpson's descriptions of their life is static and encapsulates Iñupiaq    society in a timeless present which enables him to abstract his observations from the complexities of this engagement, Maguire's account is dynamic and full of urgency.


A few early journal entries provide an introduction to some of the issues testing Maguire’s ability as commander. Unable to establish firm control of the situation, Maguire tried to regulate Native behavior regarding basic issues such as acceptance of their presence, trade and cooperation by means of gifts, favors, sanctions and threats. On September 5th, 1852 he wrote:


I landed with a party of the officers, on the spit to see some natives who appeared to be watching the Ship. Anxiously, not Knowing whether to be afraid of us or not. A few trifling presents brought them all round us, and seeing our Men collecting driftwood, they all set off to assist them, returning after each trip to the boat for a reward…(Bockstoce 1988:72)


 But issues were not always so easily settled. On September 9th Maguire sent some officers to get a supply of water near Nuvuk.


…I sent Lieut Vernon in the launch this morning to the village to try whether the Natives would be troublesome or not. Two of the officers walked up carrying their guns, to shoot small birds…The guns had a very good effect on the Natives who are very troublesome to our parties away from the Ship…"(Bockstoce 1988:73-74)


Hospitality was both necessary and often trying. On September 17th of 1852, as large numbers of Iñupiat were returning home in their boats after a summer of hunting and trading, an umialik (whaling captain) and his party insisted on coming on board the ship. Maguire took the man and his wife to his cabin where he offered them food and tobacco. In all, about 70 Iñupiat were admitted on deck. Uneasy about the intent of their visitors, Maguire had the crew secretly arm selves in case of trouble. Although the majority left after a few hours, the umialik and about twenty others remained roaming about the deck for 12 hours.


When he was gone, I was so thoroughly tired and provoked and knowing that every person on the ship must be suffering in the same way, that it became necessary to adopt a different system, the number of small articles stolen during the day, notwithstanding all our vigilance, affording sufficient pretext for the change. (Bockstoce 1988:83-84)


 Maguire placed a high priority on knowledge about Iñupiaq life for the success of his mission. A statement in late November of 1852 points this out. He had stopped visits by crew members to Nuvuk after an attack at a dance there.


…we all ceased going to the village for upwards of two months; when…I found if we pursued the system of holding back, a valuable opportunity would be lost of acquiring a knowledge of their habits…and for this purpose the officers again went occasionally to the settlement taking care to go with some influential man, who kept away those inclined to be troublesome (Maguire:379-380).


From this overview of the journal I now turn to a description of life on the Plover and in Nuvuk.


The Plover


There were few commonalities in the organization of the two societies. Life on the Plover constituted a microcosm of British society that included their historic role in this colonial period. Even though the men on the Plover resided in a remote Arctic outpost, they were part of a mission that deeply stirred national pride—Franklin and other heroes of his expedition missing during arduous combat with nature while in service to their country. On board the ship the hierarchical structure of their society was manifested in the ranking of officers and crew under the command of Maguire, the official representative of Admiralty and Crown. In addition to the vertical structure of life, British nationalism was imagined as ”a deep horizontal comradeship" (Anderson 16). This unified the crew as part of the imagined communal solidarity embedded within this notion. If, as Anderson proposes, national identity, like gender, is a fundamental aspect of personal identity (73), then it was a significant element in the formation of a collective identity on board the Plover. As such it defined membership in community, both in its local and international sense, in exclusionary terms. Both hierarchy and national identity are themes in the journal that had an impact on the categorization and treatment of Iñupiat.


British society was reproduced not only in the command structure, uniforms and daily routines, but also in the traditional British foods and libations that were regular fare. Religious and secular holidays such as Christmas, the New Year, St. Patrick's Day, Guy Fawkes Day and the sovereign's birthday provided opportunities for celebrations. On special occasions the ship's flags rippled in the Arctic winds and arms were fired in salute. The crew held masked balls, wrote and staged plays and entertained themselves and their visitors with instrumental music, songs, and dancing. Iñupiat were drawn into British sociality as guests at these special events. However, they were excluded from religious services. Conversion would wait until missionaries arrived in the late 1800s. Finally, confined as they were by the Arctic ice near people who regularly contested their presence, these circumstances must also have reduced conflicts and strengthened bonds among crew members.


Iñupiat at Nuvuk


            By the first half of the 1800s Nuvuk was one of about two dozen Iñupiaq speaking “villages” stretching across the coast of North Alaska from the Colville River, to the Seward Peninsula. These were a semi-nomadic people scattered along the coast where the waters provided them with an abundance of sea mammals— walrus several varieties of seals and  whales. A few extended families lived further inland where caribou were their main resource. Burch (1998:29-33) makes a persuasive argument for not viewing smaller sites as isolated cells, but for grouping villages into eight regional ‘nations’ each containing one large village such as Nuvuk7 villages varied in size from those consisting of a few extended families, to several large settlements that incorporated many family groupings. Nuvuk was one such center. Iñupiat shared a fluid form of social organization based on kin ties. Marriage was usually regionally endogamous. Wealthier men might have two or even three wives. Sub-dialects and other markers such as distinctive variations in clothing and rituals defined territorial affiliation (Burch 1998:96; Rainey:236)


For much of the year suspicion and hostile relations prevailed between territories and strangers who arrived at a village were likely to be killed or at least badly beaten unless they could claim kin or a trading partnership there. Sometimes feuds developed over personal grievances. Then kin might be drawn into opposing sides of the conflict. On rare occasions limited warfare occurred usually in the form of an all-out surprise attack on another village (Burch 1980:274; Rainey:240; Spencer 1984:333). A young Iñupiaq man reported to Maguire on a  battle between Nuvuk and Cape Smyth about 15 years earlier where eighteen people were killed--only three of them from Nuvuk (Bockstoce 1988:188). Still, hostility and suspicion between groups  were mixed with more harmonious relations founded on trade  and intermarriage as well as co-marriage (this last is discussed below in the section on interpersonal relations).


Trading partnerships were an active aspect of Iñupiaq life. These were long-term relationships between two people of either sex, but usually men who often had more than one partner, that crossed territorial and ecological boundaries. Partnerships were characterized by personal warmth between participants. They were initiated and maintained through the exchange of gifts. Although trading partners may have only met once or twice a year at trade fairs, they were an important source of a broader form of solidarity which included access to desired goods and information (Burch 1970:252; Spencer 1959:167-172). Trade which took place outside kin relations or trading partnerships was conducted on the basis of what Burch (1988:103) calls “let the buyer beware.” Early on Europeans trading for goods in the region often found themselves at a disadvantage because of this mind-set (Beechey, 1831, in Bockstoce 1977:107,109-110; Bockstoce 1988:131,166-167, 286; Rainey:239).


From freeze-up until the spring thaw, people lived in semi-subterranean houses of wood and sod. These were clustered together so that kin could visit easily. Connecting tunnels often simplified this sociability. In warmer weather people moved into tents, since houses became wet and uncomfortable as the snow melted. Some camped in the village or at a duck hunting site; others went inland to fish and hunt caribou. Summer trading expeditions and trade fairs were a big event during this season with groups traveling hundreds of miles to barter with others for items not available in their region in exchange for their own surpluses. In practice then, between all regions, conflicts were set aside during the warmer sun-filled months when large groups of people moved out along the coast to trading sites.8


The division of labor was based on kin and kin-like relationships. Iñupiat expressed disbelief that a group of men, like those on the Plover, who were not related, would be working together. Responsibilities among Iñupiat were gender and age related, though gendered work was not exclusively defined. Some women hunted and served on whaling crews. Reciprocity, rights to “shares” of meat based on a person’s contribution to the hunting of small animals as well as informal “sharing” of foods and other resources reinforced social bonds (see Bodenhorn 1990:60-61). Households consisted of 8-10 people living together who were related lineally and/or collaterally (Burch 1975:235-38). Kinship was the relationship through which the rights and obligations between people were activated. The flexibility of these relations involved arrangements where non-kin could become kin or kin could be dropped because of a breach in meeting obligations (Bodenhorn:1990:59, Burch 1975:250).  Marriage was unceremonious, but usually stable once children were born. The marital pair formed a core unit where complementary skills constituted a relationship in which the work of each was done for the other. This is the reason why Guemple (1986:14) states that for Inuit in the Belcher Islands an adult could not survive outside of marriage. Bodenhorn (1990:59-60) supports that same conclusion for Iñupiat in the1800s. Household membership was flexible which helped to diffuse tensions and distribute rights and responsibilities more evenly among its constituents.


The most important sea mammal for Iñupiat was the bowhead whale. In the village each of the large kin groupings had a qargi, or community house, headed by a whaling captain and organized around a crew. There, men and boys worked, told stories and engaged in ceremonial activities related to all aspects of hunting. Women and girls brought food to the qargi and joined in the dancing and ritual activities. Although whaling was central nutritionally and culturally for coastal Eskimos, the diet included other sea mammals, caribou, fish, ducks and geese as well. While most food was shared with extended kin, the whale was distributed on a community-wide basis. Bodenhorn (1990:67) defines this as the communal sphere. She also emphasizes the centrality of the maintenance of proper relations between the human and animal worlds or societies as part of preparations for the hunt, the harvest and distribution of the meat. Especially in whaling, the ritual obligations for the whaling captain and his wife had a pivotal role in ensuring a successful outcome. Continuity of good relations between human and animal societies were crucial to assuring that animals would give themselves to hunters.


Authority was dispersed among them, as Maguire noted, despite his plan to make chiefs of a few prestigious men at Nuvuk:


The title of "chief" given here is merely nominal, as, in a community where every man has to provide for his own wants, the most industrious, bold and successful hunter becomes, from the property he possesses of more consideration than those not possessing those qualities; but this does not extend beyond his own boat's crew or hunting party…(Maguire 380).


Respected for his judgment, competency and  interpersonal skills, an umialiit9  whaling captain, headed each qargi. Shamans were also influential leaders. There was often competition between umialiit and between umialiit and angtatkut (shamans) for wealth and prestige. Each successful umialik and his wife hosted a celebration for the whole community known as a Nalukataq.10 or blanket toss. People gathered on the beach to eat, dance and participate in the blanket toss. In mid-winter Messenger Feasts were another social event. These were held in a qargi and involved rivalrous giving, feasting, storytelling, dancing and athletic competition between an umialik and members of the host qargi and an invited umialik and his group from another village. Prestige was a significant aspect of the Messenger Feast. The group with the best competitors and that showed the most generosity achieved the greater status. Such prestige usually accrued to the umialik able to accumulate the most resources through his kin network for distribution to members of the visiting group. Messenger Feasts and trade fairs strengthened kin and kin-like arrangements as well as trading partnerships between villages. All of these activities affirmed a mutual membership in a shared culture (Spencer 1959).


 With the above information we can now turn to an examination of the "bundles of relationships" between the men of the Plover and the people of Nuvuk through the themes of aggression, dependency and interpersonal relations.




Frustration over native aggression pervades Maguire’s writings. A Narrative he wrote of his first year at Nuvuk states that "[f]rom the time of our arrival…we found this people, contrary to our preconceived opinion, very troublesome and unfriendly” (Maguire 358). Such a preconception is perplexing in light of Maguire’s earlier assertion in a report of a July 1852 reconnaisance trip with two boats to Nuvuk that “the character of the Esquimaux here having been generally hostile (Bockstoce l988:473 emphasis added) and then “our first impressions of the natives were anything but favourable” (474).11 Perhaps Maguire’s hope reflects the desire for more friendly and passive natives over the more complex and often aggressive interactions that permeated day-to-day relations.


Maguire quickly, had to deal with what he referred to as Iñupiaq    “savage tendencies.” Iñupiaq aggression was expressed in collective action in the form of warfare and in individual actions. They used collective aggression or the threat of it against the Plover's men throughout their stay. Also, stealing by Iñupiat was common and triggered deep frustration aboard the Plover. It deserves inclusion as another dimension of challenges to British efforts to assert their authority and Iñupiaq defense of their own rights. More pronounced contestations by Iñupiat and sharper responses on the part of the British occurred in the first year. By the second year a kind of détente prevailed. With a more general understanding of prerogatives and limits on both sides, confrontations were reduced. Furthermore, it is likely that Iñupiaq suspicions were relieved when the British had made no effort to take over any of their territory. Significantly, the second year was beset by some bad luck and harsh climatological conditions such as unusually cold temperatures and strong winds which regularly made the water too rough for boats, packed ice solidly into the shore and caused problems for the opening of leads in the ice for spring and fall whaling. This brought severe hardship to Nuvuk and Cape Smyth. The hunger that stalked the region made the search for food a constant preoccupation for Iñupiat.


Regarding the Plover’s anchorage in the lagoon, previous experience with Westerners who came to the area may have led the people of Nuvuk to believe that the Plover was making a brief stop on a longer journey. At any rate they had no basis for expecting that the Plover was bringing long-term settlers to their territory. From the British side, neither the overall commander of the Western search expedition who assigned the Plover to Point Barrow nor Maguire expressed doubts about their right to select this anchorage. It was simply the most convenient harbor for the Plover. Iñupiat saw it otherwise. They initially assumed that this ship had come on a trading expedition. Indeed Maguire was hard put to persuade them it was not their purpose (Maguire:377). As the men of the Plover began to gather up a winter's wood supply and build a storehouse and observatory on a nearby spit while their boat was becoming firmly iced in, Iñupiat realized they were faced with an occupying group that would be there for many months. They took to challenging their visitors by dismantling the Plover’s stack of driftwood, setting fire to some of it and tearing down surveying markers. Whenever crew members on shore were outnumbered by Iñupiat, they were grabbed, had their pockets searched and their brightly colored buttons cut off (Maguire:366-67). At other times they drew their knives on sailors who tried to keep them from climbing over the sides of the ship, in some cases slicing the fabric of their heavy pants (Maguire:363).


An early confrontation occurred when one umialik tried to stop the crew's onshore efforts to fill barrels with fresh water for the ship. He charged them with stealing the water. He argued that denial of admission to the ship for bartering (on the gangway, his wife had received a sharp blow to the head from a crew member as he turned them away) merited denying the British fresh water. Maguire conversed with them and gave them some small gifts. With the promise of a more favorable reception at the ship, the encounter ended on agreeable terms (Bockstoce l988:74). Later on, with the urgent need for protection of the ship, Maguire had his men encircle it with a post and chain boundary nine yards out. Then, they added another barrier around the storehouse and observatory. With these in place, visiting hours were set and the number of villagers on the ship at any one time limited. Still, it did not protect the sails in the storehouse from theft. But even more serious aggression lay ahead.


On the morning of October 12th, sitings through the ship's spy glasses revealed considerable activity in Nuvuk. They saw all of the Nuvuk women and children move from the village to Cape Smyth. Next, about eighty armed Nuvuk men advanced toward the Plover. This was a full scale assault. Those in the lead shot their arrows upward and forward, to indicate their intentions, then retrieved them as they reached the spot where they had fallen. As they came within firing range Maguire instructed that the ship's guns and then muskets be fired above the aggressors' heads. In his Narrative (373), however, Maguire reports that some of the crew aimed directly at one umialik who led the charge. The battle was short-lived, brought no loss of life and ended with the hurried retreat of Iñupiaq    warriors. To Maguire's dismay more than one umialik whose friendship he had cultivated was among the combatants.


By October 15th one or two of the umialiit returned the stolen items. Some of them recovered by an umialik at knife-point. The sails which had been cut up for their whaling boats had been restitched and delivered to the ship. As a reward, Maguire returned the treasured musket owned by one umialik (although he had no ammunition) that had been held as ransom against the thefts. From this point on the recovery of stolen items became easier.


Apparently both sides wanted a reconciliation. On the 25th Iñupiat congregated around the ship.


They got up a dance opposite the entry port [to the ship] on the Ice, and seem very anxious to bring about a more cordial reconciliation, than at present exists between our people, but they attracted no interest from our people. (Bockstoce 1988:112, Maguire:374).


On October 28th a dance took place on the Plover.


… The Natives have in some way anticipated my intentions…of a dance, I intended giving them on board…With the view of showing that we bore no ill will towards them and wished to continue a friendly intercourse and as it was to be the commencement of our winter festivities, and headed "Great Novelty," it had the desired effect of producing amusement amongst the crew" (Bockstoce 1988:112, Maguire:374)

The party lasted from four until ten with "the whole company seemingly satisfied with their evening’s enjoyment" (Bockstoce 1988:113). However, at its conclusion it was discovered that the guests had cut handsful of fabric from the ship's colorful flags.


After the October 12th war individual rather than collective aggression prevailed. Thieving remained the most consistent way of contesting British views of their rights. Iñupiat coveted anything made of metal: instruments, tools, fixtures and boat sheathing they might use for projectile points or for trade. Maguire strove to bring some stability to the situation. He responded to troublemakers by withholding trading opportunities, forbidding entry to the ship for offenders and administering physical punishment. Frequently, he was able to get one or more umialiit to cooperate in the return of items. Indeed, his core strategy for control involved intervening into Iñupiaq    social arrangements to elevate whaling captains to the status of chiefs as his representatives to the village. Nonetheless, the continuation of thieving indicated that neither Maguire nor his favored umialiit could contain the treatment of British as outsiders. In the second year, during the time of critical food shortages for Iñupiat, most of the items stolen were food. Then, even one or two of the ship's dogs made a meal for hungry Iñupiat.


Historically indigenous responses to external intrusion by Westerners have involved resistance, accommodation and/or withdrawal. They might launch an attack as Maoris did against part of Captain Cook’s expedition (Lloyd:231-236) or reject contact with them as did Australian Aborigines by leaving their villages and hiding further inland until he departed (Lloyd:248-255). Any gifts left in the empty aboriginal villages remained untouched as an indication of their refusal to enter into any relationship with Cook and his company. In North America the examples of the Plymouth and Virginia colonies stand out. The traditional American Thanksgiving feast commemorates Squanto’s and Pequot assistance to early Pilgrims which enabled them to survive in this new land. As Pilgrims attained self-sufficiency and expanded their claims, Pequot resistance to their incursions increased. Finally, the English waged a war that brought the near extinction of the Pequots less than two decades later (Calloway:2). In the Virginia Colony, the Powhatan were initially helpful. They used gifting, other friendly gestures and ritual actions to draw the colonists into their confederation. As conflict escalated, they finally launched a full scale war against the settlers—a conflict which ended with the Massacre of 1622 in which 347 colonists were killed (Jennings 1993:181; 1973:40-41; Williamson:393).12


John Bodley (23-29) argues that contrary to historically situated Western ideas. Indigenous groups, when coming face-to-face with people from "civilized" societies, are not necessarily overly impressed by or eager to become like them. He points out that most indigenous groups resist outside interference and are certain that their own society is best for them. A re-reading of the journal in light of Iñupiat ethnohistory then introduces a different rationality motivating Iñupiaq behavior which treats them as historical agents. From this standpoint, Iñupiaq actions were consistent with those of a people who wanted to protect their long-held rights to a region and who were satisfied with their subsistence way of life. Although there was interest in adapting some things from the British to their own society, such as tobacco and guns, this was not enough to qualify them as enthusiastic volunteers for a 'civilized' society. Maguire saw the situation more narrowly from his historically generated ideas about indigenous behavior. Hence, for Iñupiat it was not savage tendencies that motivated their aggression, but their own self-interest in protecting their territorial claims and other rights in the region while remaining selective in their choices about what they might gain from the British that would benefit their society.


Finally, within colonial history, this Arctic example has some unique aspects that constrained Maguire's actions. His mission had neither commercial nor territorial ambitions. The Plover was stationed in Elson Lagoon as a supply depot for other search vessels and expedition survivors. Its purpose was strictly diplomatic and scientific. Unlike most other colonial engagements, the ship's weapons might be displayed to demonstrate their potential, but they were not to be used to coerce Iñupiaq compliance. This restriction helped to alter the relations of power commonly found between British colonial settlements and indigenous people elsewhere. Often unreceptive and hostile, the people at Nuvuk were not the docile Natives Maguire and crew hoped to find. Since force could not be used to recruit Iñupiaq    labor, tap Iñupiaq knowledge and achieve a measure of acquiescence, the British were relegated to a position of negotiating and persuading rather than commanding.



            Despite the impressive technological expertise brought by the British to the Arctic, the success of this mission would have been in jeopardy had they not been able to depend upon Iñupiat for a range of services and their extensive knowledge. Under these circumstances, British dependency had the effect of disrupting the certainty of assumptions about superiority and inferiority that infused their notions of civilized and savage.11 Most importantly, fresh meat was essential to preventing scurvy and none of the crew proved good hunters, except with bird-shot during the spring migration of ducks and geese in the second year. Caribou, seal and food for the ship’s dogs was regularly provided by Iñupiat, until the severity of food shortages in the village ended that. Although the crew had skin clothing to wear when away from the ship, it needed constant repair. The sewing skills of the sailors were not equal to repairing or making the skin clothing that was expertly done by the women. Additionally, Maguire often preferred using Iñupiaq sleds for land travel, since they were much better adapted to Arctic conditions than the more cumbersome models supplied by the Admiralty. Also, they depended upon Iñupiat men and women for information about the movement of sea ice, indications of possible changes in wind and weather, and coastal geography.


As defined by Memmi, dependency is a "trinitarian project" involving a relationship between a provider and a needy recipient around specific objectives (17). Additionally, dependency is a reminder to both provider and recipient of the recipient’s inability to produce the resources necessary for subsistence. As such it brings both relief and anguish to the recipients (73). This was at the center of Maguire's dilemma. He and his crew were representatives of a modern global society who had to rely on a “primitive” one where people were sometimes fierce and sometimes friendly. The terms of this encounter made it obvious to both groups just what the benefits and costs of dependency were.


I suggest that one indication of this dependency relationship was that Iñupiaq, not English, was the primary language of communication. In addition to Simpson's mastery of Iñupiaq, at least one of the officers had previously acquired some proficiency in it. He was put in charge of the weekly bartering sessions. Maguire, also, developed sufficient competency to understand and speak it.


Shortages of fresh meat began in the winter of 1853 and continued into the next year. This was due to of poor conditions for sealing and whaling in both spring and fall of 1853 as well as winter seal hunting (Bockstoce 1988:319). Relief came with improved conditions in the spring of 1854. Foods scarcity brought hardship to both British and Iñupiat. However, for villagers who relied upon having large quantities of harvested meat stored in their ice cellars by fall, the future looked especially grim. Adding to these dire conditions, winter sealing and caribou hunting yielded poor results. On the Plover fresh supplies of meat that had helped sustain a healthy supplement to the crew's rations became a rarity that exposed their dependency. The effects of scurvy soon began to be detected among them.


Although Maguire was concerned that the ice might not melt sufficiently to sail out in August of 1853 for a brief rendezvous with the rest of the Western expedition. By early 1854, Maguire worried that the ship's supplies of canned, salted and dried foods might run out if they were iced in and had to remain for a third year. Fresh foods might remain scarce as well. The alternative--the hardship of an overland journey with a weakened crew--required substantial rations. Maguire decided to put the seamen on two-thirds of their usual food allowance in January 1854. He stopped the rationing after a month, over worries about their deteriorating condition due to scurvy. Then he resumed the practice for the month of March. Faced with renewed anxieties about the health of his crew, he again returned to full rations in April. There is no indication in the journal that Maguire and his officers, who had more resources to trade with Iñupiat for meat, were troubled by the disease. It appears that the ordinary seamen were the ones who suffered the consequences of reduced rations. Given the hierarchical ordering of personnel, this seems a reasonable assumption.


For Iñupiat the situation was far more serious. By March of 1854 Simpson reported to Maguire that 23 people had died at Cape Smyth and 17 at Nuvuk (Bockstoce 1988:349). By June, the total at Cape Smyth rose to 40 (354), but there is no further mention of deaths at Nuvuk. During this long hardship people suffered the double burden of shortages of food--especially seal oil and blubber--for nutrition as well as a source for cooking, heat and light for their households during the fiercely cold dark months. People still traveled out onto the ice and inland in search of seals and caribou. At Cape Smyth they survived mostly on fish. All conversation by visitors to the Plover was about the need for food and the poor hunting. Such conversation has long been a means among Iñupiat of making a need known without a direct request that could bring the embarrassment of refusal to either side. If Maguire did give food to Iñupiaq visitors, he did not share that information with his superiors. Ironically, the same people who regularly begged for tobacco never begged for food.


Harsh conditions led to harsh responses in Nuvuk. With so little to go around, households became secretive about their supplies. An older woman and then a young girl, both from Cape Smyth, tried to steal from Nuvuk households. Without relatives to protect them, each was driven away to freeze on the ice. Weather conditions were obviously a source of the problem, but several people expressed another opinion shared by some in Nuvuk--that new conditions in the form of the earlier uninterrupted trading of meat with the Plover exacerbated the shortage of winter reserves (Bockstoce:319,323).


In addition to the need for fresh food, skills and knowledge, dependency on amicable relations is a regular theme in the journal. A striking example of the fragility of such relations between ship and shore took on dramatic proportions on the morning of June 8th, 1853. Five Iñupiaq    men, three women and a child tried to gain entry to the Plover much earlier than the scheduled visiting time. When they persisted the quartermaster of the watch picked up an officer's rifle using it to push them away. However, it went off, instantly killing one of the men. Extremely upset by this event Maguire wrote in his journal…"it seemed like undoing in one moment what it had taken ten months of forbearance to establish…"(Bockstoce 1988:225). Careful explanations of the event and expressions of deep regret to the umialiit and their wives as well as the wife and household members of the dead man, were repeated in detail by Maguire. Hospitality was most solicitously extended to these people in his cabin and accompanied by generous amounts of food and other gifts. In addition, access to the boat was opened to all to demonstrate British good will. This even included a few who had been banned for months.


The issue continued to fester, however. Among Iñupiat, the question of whether this was an accident or murder was debated. In Iñupiaq society, murder would have drawn kin into the conflict, whereas an accident was an issue that could be settled at the personal level (Spencer 1959:71). Fortunately for all, there seemed to be a majority consensus that it was an accident. Still, in spite of the intense involvement in whaling during most of this time, threats of attacks arose from the more suspicious, first from Nuvuk and then Cape Smyth, where relatives of the dead man lived. Tensions continued until the end of June when most people left for trade fairs and inland hunting. At one point, Maguire stated unequivocally that any attacks would be dealt with harshly and "a great many would be killed, as I explained we should fire at them, and not over their heads…" (Bockstoce 1988:235-236). For the rest of June the crew was not allowed to go to the village. Even an invitation to a much anticipated Nalukataq had to be refused. However, by the end of June many of the people in both villages occupied themselves making preparations for going eastward to hunt and trade. Hence, tensions dissipated--except for Maguire's exasperation at continued requests for tobacco which people wanted to take along for trade (Bockstoce 1988:407).


British dependence on friendship with Iñupiat lacked the usual informal equality between friends in Western countries. First, national identity and civilized status set the official social boundaries between ship and shore. Within this context, two arenas of sociability held a prominent place in elevating British opinions of their position. One was that the ship was the primary center of sociability. Of course safety and control were important considerations in this choice, but higher status accrued to the hosts. Also, gifting by Maguire and others, as described in the journal, indicates that it reinforced their own sense of their better natures. Hence, efforts to achieve friendly relations with Iñupiat had a strong opportunistic quality. Finally, hospitality had an additional significance. It also downplayed a continuing dependence on Iñupiat. Although they were recipients of aid from villagers, their shipboard hospitality may have helped to diminish British feelings of anxiety that accompanied the transparency of their needs and their inability to be self-sufficient.


Interpersonal relations


Journal entries attempted to prescribe appropriate British attitudes and behaviors by naturalizing the differences between themselves and Iñupiat. Maguire's descriptions of the character of his crew praise their superior qualities in terms of their "general kind heartedness" (98), "kindness and forbearance" (105), remark on their "natural civility" and give an example of how they upheld the reputation of British seamen for being friendly and generous (167). Upon their departure in 1854, he commented again on the crew's "characteristic generosity" (432). Nonetheless, a more anxious side loomed. Maguire also worried about the general hostility of his crew toward the natives (98), observing that he and the officers recognized that their seamen had a "natural dislike" for Iñupiaq men (167).


Such characterizations of themselves are used in opposition to comments on the savage nature of Iñupiat. These opinions legitimized British opinions of their own stature while ignoring the abridgement of Iñupiaq rights. In contrast to the more honorable qualities of the crew, Iñupiat were regularly referred to in the journal as having "an utter want of gratitude and honesty” (97) and of "feeling" (105). They are described as "a difficult and unsatisfactory people to deal with" (75). In general they were viewed as "ingrates and thieves" (105, 179). Still, among the ill-reputed and contentious were some of the umialiit whom Maguire also tried to develop as friends and supporters. Maguire's exasperation surfaces in remarks about Iñupiaq ingratitude over gifts even as he and his officers were "making presents to & treating them with every kindness, with the hope of making friends of them in the event of requiring a Kindness in return" (105). Iñupiat appear to have accepted these offerings as tribute. These attitudes must have helped to ameliorate their discomforts as needy recipients of Iñupiaq men's and women's all-important assistance.13


Significantly, the above remarks were directed at Iñupiaq men as the major social actors. The convention of using their own standard of masculinity fostered social unity among the Plover’s men (Anderson:23). As such British perspectives also had embedded within them historical premises about hierarchies of gender and race that established Iñupiaq men as inferiors. Throughout the two years of the Plover’s stay, Iñupiaq men are the most noted source of resistance. The characterization of Iñupiaq women, on the other hand, was more favorable, constituting them within British views of domesticity, which must have been a significant element in complicating Iñupiaq reactions to this experience. As we shall see the social boundaries distancing the men of the Plover from Iñupiat, while set within the framework of relations between the men of the two societies, were blurred when it came to relations between the men of the Plover Iñupiaq women.14 This, however, did not elevate Iñupiaq women to equal status with British men.


 In the journal Maguire noted that while the officers generally found "…Native men ungrateful and useless, except as beggars" (167), there was a favorable opinion of women. They visited the ship most regularly bringing their work and small children to it for a long as 8-12 hours a day. And it was they who were looked upon as having kinder natures and were appreciated for doing the all-important skin sewing for the crew. Additionally, "they, unlike the men, express some gratitude for favors" (167). Again, "…[women] are more communicative & less inclined to steal, besides which they are well paid for their sewing which is necessary to us" (244).  In fact, to the consternation of the commander and officers who thought them more worthy, women did steal throughout the entire two year period. To Maguire’s greater surprise, occasionally the thief turned out to be the wife of an umialik whose friendship he courted. However, punishment--except for banishment from the ship for a brief period--was the extent of disciplinary action against women. In contrast, a man, in addition to being banned from the ship, might also be punched about the head, held prisoner for a day or flogged on his bare back (Bockstoce:161 and 333).


Another aspect of gendered concepts about Iñupiat appeared in the context of marital life. Maguire and crew projected British customary views about domesticity onto Iñupiaq women. This attitude emerges in remarks about women being "perfect or virtual slaves" (Bockstoce:97, 185, 244, 395) of Iñupiaq men or, again, "poor things" (97) or that "fear not affection" bound women to men. Then Maguire adds that "the women who are slaves to a great extent at home like us best as they are treated with as much civility as their husbands and even more so…" (244, emphasis added). Not only were women portrayed as victims in these entries, but male Iñupiat were denied the status of “true men” for not protecting their wives from arduous work as any civilized man would (Enloe:44). Contrary to this Eurocentric judgment, the status of both women and men in Iñupiaq society was elevated by skill and strength in the performance of a variety of tasks as well as ritual obligations. The complementarity of spousal roles is expressed by the statement ”I am not the great hunter, my wife is” (Bodenhorn l990). Because a wife carries out her ritual responsibilities along with her other work and particularly because she is the person who shares with others the meat her husband brings back, animals continue to give themselves to him as a hunter.


            At Nuvuk the abridgement of social boundaries had a great deal to do with gender. Apparently, sexual relations between Iñupiaq women and the men of the Plover had an early start, although they were a primarily unwritten aspect of this experience.15 The first entry about sexual relations between the crew and village women appears on December 6th, 1852:


…It has been [a] matter of deep regret to me of late, to find that several of our men have been afflicted with gonarea  gonorhoa [sic] from their intercourse with the Native women. I believe it to have originated in one of our seamen late of the Amphritite, who although sound on coming here, appears to have reproduced it in himself by excess…It had now spread to such an extent, that I thought it necessary to call the people together and interdict such intercourse…In considering the case, the suffering of our men, was the best consequence. I feared the contagion spreading amongst the Native population where from their pretty well known, promiscuous intercourse, the effects of it were to be the most dreaded and indeed not to be thought of except with a degree of horror--but strange to say, we have never heard of a case of it amongst them (130-131).16


If ships' captains kept sexual activities out of their journals, missionaries did not. The Moravian evangelist from Labrador, Johann Miertsching, traveled as an Eskimo interpreter on board another British search vessel, the Investigator, plying northern waters from the west to east from 1850-54. Prior to Maguire's command of the Plover and while in Kotzebue Sound on July 29, 1850 Miertsching wrote


...H.M.S. Plover, Captain Moore, met and spoken to...Captain Moore has employed a young Eskimo woman to act as interpreter among the natives; she dwells in his cabin (Neatby: 36).


On the next day, and still in Kotzebue Sound, he observes the men of the Plover again


A great number of friendly Eskimos have gathered on the shore opposite the ship...the men--and this includes high-ranking officers--behave themselves so shameless­ly that here one will soon have an Anglo-Eskimo colony (Neatby: 36)      


Although Maguire took command of the ship after this event, Miertsching's journal alerts us that, for search vessels, sexual relations between ship and shore in the Alaskan segment of the expedition had a history.


Remarks characterizing women as "loose," "promiscuous" and "unchaste" are found throughout the journal (130, 167, 175, 395). Such connotations deny any rational basis or cultural context for their behavior. Instead, cultural biases emphasize the moral weakness of Iñupiaq women. But, what about the sexuality of Iñupiaq women. Were they passive objects, or pawns of men? Or is there evidence of autonomy regarding sexual encounters?  A journal entry on February 15th, 1853 provides some insight into the women's roles in these matters. Once when some officers had an umialik, his wife and another woman visiting below decks, they later reported the women as saying


…that in March there were none but women at Noo-wook, the men being out hunting, and that they took advantage of that time to be loose in their conduct (Bockstoce 1988:175).


Although the sexual independence of Iñupiaq women was criticized, the sexual activities of British males were treated unproblematically except where there was concern about disease. The historic record, including the journal, shows that Iñupiaq women had considerable autonomy over their sexuality. While some husbands might be jealous and try to intervene, they did not consider their character bad or weak. For example:


    One trait seemed remarkable in the manner which Kus-sa…was hanging most 

    affectionately over his wife with all the interest of a tender lover watching every   

    stitch she made in a pair of moccasins, receiving every now and then a look of

    confiding affection - Yet she is no more chaste than her neighbours…(395).


Guemple (1972:20-21) points out that a husband and wife were expected to have children; thus sexuality was part of marriage. However, sexual activity was not restricted to marriage. For example, co-marriage (formerly represented by Europeans as ‘wife-lending’) was one form of alliance-building and reciprocity regularly practiced among Iñupiat since the early decades of the 1800s (Burch 1975:106-119, Burch and Correll 1972:26-28, Guemple 1972:59-62, Heinrich 1963:81-85). It was a non-residential form of marriage usually initiated at the time of Messenger Feasts or trading expeditions. In a relationship that could be inaugurated by any one of the four, two conjugal couples entered into a sexual alliance that provided a broader basis of security through access to resources across ecological boundaries and the security of kin-like ties for people traveling from one region to another. The protection extended to the next generation where all children of the two couples continued to have the rights and obligations of a sibling-like relationship.


While some sexual activity between ship and shore may have been recreational, the concept of alliance and reciprocity embedded in such an arrangement as co-marriage must have influenced the way in which sexual liaisons between Iñupiaq women and British men developed.17 Hence, in these relationships as in most others, it is likely there would have been a social and economic dimension involving rights and obligations in on-going exchanges of various goods and services.17 While mutual attraction certainly must have had a place in individual choices, on a social and political level sexual liaisons served to weaken the boundaries between the two groups. However, they also had the potential to increase tensions as well as sociability because of possible conflicts between men. Hence, Maguire would have had to anticipate and ameliorate offenses to Iñupiaq men or jealousies among his crew.


            Maguire's most time and energy consuming work entailed diplomatic responsibilities that included long, tiring hours of visiting above decks by Iñupiat. There were invitations to dances and other entertainment as well as extended visits to Maguire's cabin for his favored umialiit and their wives where food and gifts were offered.18 Officers also hosted Iñupiat in their quarters. Occasionally, a trusted Iñupiaq man would be invited to spend the night on board ship to demonstrate to villagers how safe life was among the Plover's men. However, the crew was ever watchful for theft. These responsibilities tested Maguire's acumen in spreading good will and minimizing animosity, an ability to negotiate and to diffuse conflict in conditions where constraints pressed the crew on a daily basis.


Proximity and the regular flow of daily interactions appear to have had a positive effect. Gradually there was more acceptance of British movement on the land for mapping and surveying expeditions. Of course, officers always had their pistols or rifles with them for defense. Even so, Iñupiaq threats occasionally forced them to end a trip early. Yet an easing of suspicion and ethnocentrism on both sides is evident. In the spring of the final year, as the days lengthened and the ice retreated, relations had improved to the point that several officers joined whaling crews where they were treated in a "friendly and helpful manner." Duck hunting out on the spit also brought Iñupiat and British together. Additionally, in contrast to earlier frustrations, Maguire began to look more favorably on Iñupiat. He noted the protective care families gave to elderly blind or crippled kin as they settled them on boat or sled for summer hunting and trading trips (Bockstoce 1988:408). On the other hand, for Iñupiat, the Plover and its occupants provided a major topic of entertainment. During a summer trading expedition, the favored umialik, Erksinera, entertained another group for five days and nights out of ten with all the stories he had to tell about their experiences with these Westerners in Elson Lagoon (Bockstoce 1988:275).


A regular form of interaction that brought both groups together was bartering.19 Maguire put this most fluent officer in charge of these trading sessions. Tobacco was the main British currency for trade and gifts. Maguire observes that


The time of issuing tobacco in these regions of Esquimaux might be compared to pay day, in civilized countries. As I find we have a very increased attendance of Natives on these occasions (148).


Iñupiat developed a craving for it and when supplies were low would scavenge for tobacco stems in the ship's trash. They also became traders in tobacco taking large quantities of it along for summer barter. On the other hand, congeniality could be submerged in contentiousness and trickery. In the first weeks, Iñupiat tried to trip up isolated sailors for which they received numerous "English blows" to the face. Another Iñupiaq tried to disguise walrus meat and trade it as venison. British tricks involved "the scramble"--where beads and other small items were thrown onto the deck at the end of a trading session for Iñupiat to competed against one another on their hands and knees for the entertainment of the crew (Bockstoce 1988:388, 390).20 On another occasion, some crew members threw a large empty meat tin to be given to an Iñupiaq man into a hole in the ice. The only way he could get it was to jump in after it, which greatly amused the crew. However, Maguire, in his role of mediator, softened the insult. After the soaking wet man had retrieved the tin, Maguire presented him with some tobacco and sent him on his way consoled (Bockstoce 1988:152-153).


Maguire valued his friendship with the umialiit, Erksinera, the sole Iñupiat to become well respected among the ship's company. However genuine the bond between the two men, it still reflected a vast social distance between those on the Plover and the majority of residents of Nuvuk and Cape Smyth. Rather than being a symbol of equality, Erksinera's high status stands as a testament to the distance between these Iñupiat and Westerners. Such a relationship is reminiscent of the affection for the ”noble savage” in American history where Squanto, Pocahontas, and Sacajawea are popularized as models of "good Indians."  According to Maguire, "Natives of the higher grade" are those who are "friendly" and "obedient" and "willing to do as they are told" (Bockstoce 1988:143, 246). Still, although Iñupiat succeeded in defending their sovereignty, and congeniality grew, a significant gap remained.


On the Plover's final departure from Elson Lagoon when most villagers were still away on their summer hunting and trading trips, Maguire writes


…Our deck was soon crowded as it had been the same month two years before by the same people, but who now entertained very different feelings. Then our visitors were insolent & this visit they were now quiet and obedient, having been so long accustomed to the appearance of everything on the Ship, their  cupidity was no longer excited by what met their eyes -- As I put off weighing our Anchor for an hour to allow time for taking leave of our friends, the scene was one of considerable bustle and an extensive trade was carried on, the crew on the one hand being…anxious to procure specimens of native manufacture, and the Esquimaux on the other, eager to make the most of their last chance of procuring a stock of tobacco. The usual restrictions on bartering being removed and free trade proclaimed, large stores of goods provided for a winter [by the crew], soon made their appearance…Many enquiries were made for parties who had not yet arrived, as it so happened that some of the most friendly were still absent. Amongst them Erk-sin-ra, so frequently mentioned in this journal, a man of considerable influence at the settlement who had borne a uniformly good character throughout the two years of our intercourse, and who by the steadiness of his conduct and friendly disposition had the good fortune to acquire the favourable opinion of every one on board the Ship.

Whilst observing the seamen literally heaping their presents with characteristic generosity on the Natives round them, I would not but participate in the regrets I heard expressed for the absence of Erk-sin-ra and others who had been our best and most constant friends so highly was this man esteemed above his fellows, it is perhaps not too much to say that had he been present he would probably have received gifts equal in value to one half given to all the others (Bockstoce 1988:431-432).




            The journal of Rochfort Maguire fixes this encounter within the British colonial historical framework of its time. My analysis draws upon Iñupiaq ethnohistory to uncover some of the silenced and hidden dimensions the Plover’s stay in Elson Lagoon. The colonial convention of setting such encounters in terms of civilized and savage was a power-laden way of establishing a divide at Nuvuk between British and Iñupiaq societies.21 However, this dynamic was often reversed by the limitation placed on Maguire and his men regarding the use of arms. Without the ability to enforce Iñupiat compliance, colonial categories served more often as a rhetorical tool to unite the crew around cultural and racial markers based on hierarchy. Ridicule was regularly used for enhancing British stature, especially the scramble as well as frequent commentaries about Iñupiaq deficiencies. Unable to clearly assert their separateness, the cleavage between British and Iñupiat was only partially maintained. Hence, Iñupiat were able to give fuller expression to their own responses to the Plover's presence.


Cultural and racial markers are not the only divisions evident in the journal. British perspectives on gender enabled different sets of relations for Iñupiaq    men and women in interactions between ship and shore. First, Iñupiaq men were the most troublesome and aggressive toward the Plover and its crew. This behavior, rather than being recognized within its societal context defined them in British eyes as inferiors. Women were viewed more favorably for being helpful, grateful and reportedly liking crew members more than Iñupiaq men. Women’s sexual liaisons were most likely a means of extending social ties and benefits. Even though Maguire and his men had a more favorable opinion of Iñupiaq women than Iñupiaq men, women still did not qualify for equal rank with the British. First, they did not conform to British conventions of 'true womanhood' based on monogamy and dependency on a male provider. Maguire believed that the hard work shared by women in the Iñupiaq division of labor made “virtual slaves” of them. This was in opposition to Iñupiaq views of marital choice based on capabilities demonstrated through the value placed on work in their own society. Second, women as well as men had considerable latitude in independent decision making. This included women’s choices about sexual partners outside of marriage. Such independence was interpreted as 'loose' behavior, a perspective that degraded their position in British eyes.


A vital, but ignored, part of this encounter was British dependency on Iñupiat. It was both fact, in their need for material aid and expertise, and anomaly, in the subversion of their sense of importance. Thus, it weakened their historically situated notions of superiority while simultaneously affirming Iñupiaq beliefs in their own worth. Additionally, need involved more than material aid and expertise. Not only did Maguire have to win villagers’ friendly disposition toward himself and his crew in order to ward off scurvy and hostile acts, he had to rally favorable treatment for any Franklin expedition survivors. His was not an enviable position. It involved complex inter-societal and interpersonal relations between ship and shore that had to be continuously negotiated and accommodated with a large measure of flexibility. In counteracting the taint of dependency upon people his society labeled savage, the use of colonial categories and the bond of nationalism helped to assure that he and his men understood their preeminence, the virtue of their actions and the offenses of Iñupiaq    ingratitude and aggression.


             Much of the analysis of Iñupiaq viewpoints and behavior during this encounter must be inferred. Historical accounts indicate that Iñupiat were not the 'friendly natives' Maguire hoped to find. They were suspicious and aggressive toward outsiders as recorded by earlier Western visitors. The British belief in their right to anchor permanently in Elson Lagoon challenged Iñupiaq territorial claims. They countered with personal attacks on isolated individuals, war against the Plover and its men and continuing to steal from these outsiders. Even Maguire's selection of umialiit as leaders had limited success in containing thievery. Nor is there is any evidence that British attitudes or way of life produced feelings of inferiority in Iñupiat. As Bodley (23) states "there is ample evidence that people in any autonomous, self-reliant culture would prefer to be left alone…[and that] they are unlikely to volunteer for civilization." Indeed, Iñupiat did not become dependent hanger's on who tried to imitate British life. Nor did an extended period of hunger make them abandon their village. Instead they maintained their independence through ongoing participation in their own society. They continued their annual subsistence cycle that took most of them away during the summer months and again for a month in the winter. Additionally, families regularly went inland or out on the ice to hunt. Celebrations and rituals continued. When women left their households to bring their work to the quarterdeck (making it somewhat equivalent to a village-wide qargi), it was an Iñupiaq adaptation to new conditions, not a rejection of their society.


Over time the boundaries set by both sides began to erode. Iñupiat were friendly on the one hand while remaining oppositional on the other. Threats of attack on the Plover came as late as June in the summer of 1854 and thieving, while lessened, was never successfully brought to an end. Iñupiat maintained their reputation as avid and shrewd traders. They socialized with the men of the Plover at dances and on the ship. A few officers were included on whaling crews during the final spring. Some friendships developed and sexual liaisons were formed. The four umialiit Maguire selected to be his contacts in Nuvuk were helpful in communicating his messages to their extended kin, carrying leaflets for Franklin survivors to Iñupiat further east and in the return of many stolen items. Perhaps they gained some benefits from Maguire's largesse. Yet there is no evidence that they tried to use such benefits to consolidate control over the village. Also, continued stealing indicates that the umialiit had limited influence.


            The journal of Rochfort Maguire is a valuable ethnohistorical document. However, it is incomplete. By disassembling the interconnections between British and Iñupiaq societies and reassembling them from a British perspective, Maguire has provided a compelling, but partial account. His views on aggression, hierarchy, dependency, gender and interpersonal relations rarely comprehended Iñupiaq actions as societally based. These missing dimensions are critical to reinvigorating a contemporary analysis of why and how opposition from Iñupiat strained and shaped this encounter.




Support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research for this research is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks go to Leigh Binford, Norman Chance, Julie Cruikshank, Deanna Kingston and Sydney Plum for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper as well as to three anonymous reviewers.







1Iñupiat is the name of the people and the plural noun. Iñupiaq is the singular noun, the name of their  language and the adjectival form (Okakok l989).

2 Spelled Noo-wook in the journal.

3 Bockstoce (1988). In addition, his introduction provides an excellent background to the journal. Geographic and meteorological entries have been largely deleted. Bockstoce (55) estimates that the  ethnographic materials retained through his editing constitute seventy percent of the total document. 4 See Berton p. 151. Captain Robert McClure discovered the Northwest Passage on October 26th 1850, but he never achieved the fame that has followed Franklin.

5 An earlier and much shorter version of the Plover's first year in Elson Lagoon entitled "Narrative of Commander Maguire, wintering at Point Barrow dated August 21st, 1853, Port Clarence, Bering Strait" appears as an appendix to the Discovery of the North-West Passage by H.M.S "Investigator,"  Capt. R. M'Clure 1850, 1851, 1852,1853, 1854 ed. by Commander Sherard Osborn. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Publishers, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan. 1969 Pp. 351-405. The journal of Rochfort Maguire devotes 197 pages to the same time period. Additions to the journal are primarily ethnographic and there are few deletions from the Narrative's text. Maguire seems to have drawn  extensively from the research of the ship's surgeon, John Simpson. Whether or not journal entries were written at the time of their occurrence or added at a later time is not clear.

6 Simpson's writings on his research were published by the Royal Geographic Society in 1875 under the title of “Observations on the Western Eskimaux and the Country they Inhabit; from the Notes taken during the two Years at Point Barrow, by Mr. John Simpson, Surgeon, R.N., Her Majesty's discovery Ship ‘Plover’". (Appendix Seven in The journal of Rochfort Maguire). Simpson's focus is primarily on customs and practices, viewing Iñupiaq as a discrete, timeless society separate from the "interconnected processes" and historical interlinkages of which he was part. Recently, his field notes have been discovered in the Duke University Archives. They will add significantly to knowledge of

 Iñupiaq society at the time of this first encounter.

7 Burch states that these national aggregations ended in the late 1800s as Westerners moved into official and commercial dominance.

8 During this period, the Barter Island trading site was an exception. Suspicion predominated in these sessions. People did not socialize nor did they sleep. Women and children from Nuvuk were left behind in a campsite where the men returned to sleep. Trade was carried on as each group placed trade items there for the other’s consideration (Bockstoce 1988:216).

9 The singular form is umialik. The plural form is umialiit.

10 Nalukataq means blanket toss. Skill and style are demonstrated by each individual who climbs into the center of a large 'blanket' made of walrus skins. It is held firmly by people circled around the edges who in consonance pull it taut propelling a single person high into the air and then easing the pressure slightly to cushion his or her landing before launching that person again.

11 Bockstoce refers to other expeditions that left Pt. Barrow when the people there became hostile. These were made by T.E.L. Moore, former commander of the Plover in 1850 (1988:459), Thomas Simpson in 1838 (ibid:6) and Elson in 1826 (1977:113-116). The Russian explorer Kasheverov also encountered hostile natives there in 1838 (Van Stone:1977:6), but it is not certain what Maguire knew of this expedition. W.J.S. Pullen traveled by boat along the coast in 1849 and had no  problems during a brief stop at Barrow (Bockstoce 1988:445-47). These are the only known visits to Pt. Barrow prior to the Plover’s stay.

12 Jennings (1993:181,1973:40-41) documents the early years of colonial encounters in enclaves such as Plymouth and the Virginia Colony as an initial stage when British settlers relied on Indians  to teach them the knowledge and skills necessary for their survival. This initial dependency was then reversed as colonists took Indian lands and resources to colonists. However, he does not examine the way this affected relations between the two groups and, initially at least, subverted the status of the civilized newcomers.

13 John Franklin readily made concessions to gain Canadian Inuit assistance. In his Narrative of a Second Polar Expedition, Captain John Franklin (1825-27) reports that he made every possible effort to win the friendship of an aggressive group of Inuit since their knowledge of the weather, currents, channels and ice conditions were essential for successful exploration (105).

14 For more on gender and indigenous women see: Brown 1980; Devens, 1992; Etienne and Leacock, 1980; O’Brien 1997; Van Kirk 1980.

15 Captain James Cook commented on sexual relations between his crew and indigenous women: “A connection with women I allow, because I cannot prevent it; but never encourage, because I always dread its consequences. I know, indeed, that many men are of the opinion, that such an intercourse is one of our greatest securities amongst savages; and perhaps they who, either from necessity or choice, are to remain and settle with them, may find it so. But with travelers and transient visitors, such as we were it is generally otherwise; and in our situation, a connection with their women betrays more men than it saves. What else can be reasonably expected, since all their views are selfish, without the least mixture of regard or attachment (Lloyd:261)?”

16 Bockstoce 1988 states in a footnote on p. 130 that there were 13 cases of gonorrhea among the crew during the winter of 1852-53. In addition he provides more information about sexual contacts between British men and Iñupiaq women at Nuvuk: ”There had been sexual contacts between the Eskimos and the British sailors since 1849, when the ships first reached Point Barrow. Dr. John Rae (1953, p. 75), the explorer, was told that there was a certain amount of sexual intercourse with the crews of Lieutenant Pullen's boats when his expedition was held up by the ice at Point Barrow. John Murdoch (1892, p. 53) learned during his research of the 1880s that there had been 'considerable intercourse' between the Plover's men and Eskimo women. Although there were no clearly identifiable offspring from these liaisons, "one woman was suspected of being half English'. Charles Brower a resident whaler and trader at Point Barrow, believed that this woman was the daughter of one of Maguire's officers (Stefansson, 1914, p. 204 )."

17 Apparently alcohol was not used in trade or to gain sexual favors as Maguire reports they had no desire for it (324, 375).

18 Gibson reports that by the early 1800s EuroAmerican maritime traders along the North Pacific coast used the strategy of taking favored chiefs to the captains cabin where they were given food and presents in order to gain advantage in their trade with the Indians (383).

19 Captain Cook found that "[b]oth trading and mixing with native women could be controlled far more easily aboard ship than ashore…" (Munford:221). Maguire seems to have followed this example, at least where trade was concerned. Given the general level of suspicion between ship and shore, especially during the first year, it may well have been the main site of sexual activities. Further, access to below decks was granted only on an individual basis which would have protected such liaisons from direct confrontations by villagers. 

20 This was probably a regular practice in the Navy. When Commander Pullen’s boat was at Pt. Barrow in 1849, he ended a trading session on shore with a scramble (Bockstoce 1988:447).

21 It is this orientation in the journal that has made reading it so difficult for contemporary Iñupiat.







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