Transcription of Seward’s Speeches on ‘Our North Pacific States’

Alaska State Library – Historical Collections









AUGUST, 1869.








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(letter pasted into front of pamphlet)


Hon James Wickersham.

Washington D.C.


My dear Sir.  Your letter

of April 11th has been received.


You will find in Vol 3. of

my “Life and Letters of William

  1. Seward”- page 415, to page

434 – the story of my fathers

trip to Alaska in the summer

of 1869.  His speech to the

citizens of Sitka delivered

at the Lutheran Church August 12th

? also mentioned on page

431 & 432.


On page 392 of the


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same volume you will find

his testimony before the

Investigating Committee of the

House of Representatives.

upon the Alaska Purchase.


You will also find

the Sitka speech reported in

full on page 559 of the 5th of

“Sewards Works” published by

Houghton, Mufflin [Mifflin] & Co of

Boston. – also his speech at

Victoria in August 1869 on

the North Pacific Coast page

569, and his speech in Mexico.


I think there is no

pamphlet edition of the

Sitka speech.  Neither reporters

nor news papers existed then


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in Alaska.  I was with him on

the “Active” and helped him prepare

the notes of his speech which I

brought to San Francisco and gave

to the newspapers there.


Very Truly yours

Frederick Seward



on the Hudson

April 14th 1910,


Of course you will find

both works in the Congressional



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SITKA, AUGUST 12, 1869






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Citizens of Alaska, fellow-citizens of the United States:


You have pressed me to meet you in public assembly

once before I leave Alaska. It would be sheer affecta-

tion to pretend to doubt your sincerity in making this

request, and capriciously ungrateful to refuse it, after

having received so many and varied hospitalities from

all sorts and conditions of men. It is not an easy task,

however, to speak in a manner worthy of your consid-

eration, while I am living constantly on ship-board, as

you all know, and am occupied intently in searching out

whatever is sublime, or beautiful, or peculiar, or use-

ful. On the other hand, it is altogether natural on your

part to say, “You have looked upon Alaska, what do

you think of it ?” Unhappily I have seen too little of

Alaska to answer the question satisfactorily. The en-

tire coast line of the United States, exclusive of Alaska,

is 10,000 miles, while the coast line of Alaska alone,

including the islands, is 26,000 miles. The portion of

the Territory which lies east of the peninsula, includ-

ing islands, is 120 miles wide ; the western portion,

including Aleutian islands, expands to a breadth of

2,200 miles. The entire land area, including islands,

is 577,390 statute square miles. We should think a for-

eigner very presumptuous who should presume to give

the world an opinion of the whole of the United States

of America, after he had merely looked in from his

steamer at Plymouth and Boston harbor, or had ran up

the Hudson river to the Highlands, or had ascended the


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Delaware to Trenton, or the James river to Richmond,

or the Mississippi no farther than Memphis. My ob-

servation thus far has hardly been more comprehen-

sive. I entered the Territory of Alaska at the Port-

land canal, made my way through the narrow passages

of the Prince of Wales archipelago; thence through

Peril and Chatham straits and Lynn channel, and up

the Chilcat river to the base of Fairweather, from

which latter place I have returned through Clarence

straits, to sojourn a few days in your beautiful bay,

under the shadows of the Baranoff hills and Mount

Edgecombe. Limited, however, as my opportunities

have been, I will, without further apology, give you

the impressions I have received.


Of course I speak first of the skies of Alaska. It

seems to be assumed in the case of Alaska that a coun-

try which extends through 58 degrees of longitude,

and embraces portions as well of the arctic as of the

temperate zone, unlike all other regions so situated,

has not several climates, but only one. The weather

of this one broad climate of Alaska is severely criti-

cised in outside circles for being too wet and too cold.

Never the less it must be a fastidious person who com-

plains of climates in which, while the eagle delights to

soar, the humming-bird does not disdain to flutter. I

shall speak only of the particular climate here which I



My visit here happens to fall within the month

of August. Not only have the skies been sufficiently

bright and serene to give me a perfect view, under the

60th parallel, of the total eclipse of the sun, and of the

evening star at the time of the sun’s obscuration, but

I have also enjoyed more clear than there have been

cloudy days, and in the early mornings and in the late


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evenings peculiar to the season I have lost myself in

admiration of skies adorned with sapphire and gold as

richly as those which are reflected by the Mediterra-

nean. Of all the moonlights in the world commend

me to those which light up the archipelago of the

North Pacific ocean. Fogs have sometimes detained

me longer on the Hudson and on Long Island sound

than now on the waters of the North Pacific. In say-

ing this, I do not mean to say that rain and fog are

unfrequent here. The Russian pilot, George, whom

you all know, expressed my conviction on this matter

exactly when he said to me, Oh, yes, Mr. Seward,

we do have changeable weather here sometimes, as they

do in the other States.”  I might amend the expres-

sion by adding, the weather here is only a little more

changeable. It must be confessed at least that it is an

honest climate, for it makes no pretensions to con-

stancy. If, however, you have fewer bright sunrises

and glowing sunsets than southern latitudes enjoy, you

are favored on the other hand with more frequent and

more magnificent displays of the aurora and the rain-

bow. The thermometer tells the whole case when it

reports that the summer is colder and the winter is

warmer in Alaska than in New York and Washington.

It results from the nature of such a climate that the

earth prefers to support the fir, the spruce, the pine,

the hemlock, and other evergreens, rather than decid-

uous trees, and to furnish grasses and esculent roots,

rather than the cereals of drier and hotter climates. I

have mingled freely with the multifarious population—

the Tongass, the Stickeens. the Cakes, the Hydahs, the

Sitkas, the Kootznoos, and the Chilcats, as well as with

the traders, the soldiers, the seamen, and the settlers

of various nationalities, English, Swedish, Russian, and



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American—and I have seen all around me only persons

enjoying robust and exuberant health. Manhood of

every race and condition everywhere exhibits activity

and energy, while infancy seems exempt from disease

and age relieved from pain.


It is next in order to speak of the rivers and seas of

Alaska. The rivers are broad, shallow, and rapid.

while the seas are deep but tranquil. Mr. Sumner, in

his elaborate and magnificent oration, although he

spake only from historical accounts, has not exagge-

rated—no man can exaggerate—the marine treasures

of the Territory. Beside the whale, which everywhere

and at all times is seen enjoying his robust exercise,

and the sea-otter, the fur-seal, the hair-seal, and the

walrus, found in the waters which embosom the

western islands, those waters as well as the seas of

the eastern archipelago are found teeming with the

salmon, cod, and other fishes adapted to the support

of human and animal life. Indeed, what I have seen

here has almost made me a convert to the theory of

some naturalists, that the waters of the globe are filled

with stores for the sustenance of animal life surpassing

the available productions of the land.


It must be remembered that the coast range of moun-

tains, which begins in Mexico, is continued into the

Territory, and invades the seas of Alaska. Hence it

is that in the islands and on the mainland, so far as I

have explored it, we find ourselves everywhere in the

immediate presence of black hills, or foot-hills, as they

are variously called, and that these foot-hills are over-

topped by ridges of snow-capped mountains. These

snow-capped mountains are manifestly of volcanic

origin, and they have been subjected, through an indef-

inite period, to atmospheric abrasion and disintegration.


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Hence they have assumed all conceivable shapes and

forms. In some places they are serrated into sharp,

angular peaks, and in other places they appear archi-

tecturally arranged, so as to present cloud-capped cas-

tles, towers, domes, and minarets. The mountain sides

are furrowed with deep and straight ravines, down

which the thawing fields of ice and snow are precip-

itated, generally in the month of May, with such a

vehemence as to have produced in every valley im-

mense level plains of intervale land. These plains, as

well as the sides of the mountains, almost to the sum-

mits, are covered with forests so dense and dark as to

be impenetrable, except to wild beasts and savage

huntsmen. On the lowest intervale land the cotton-

wood grows.  It seems to be the species of poplar

which is known in the Atlantic States as the Balm of

Gilead, and which is dwarfed on the Rocky Mountain.

Here it takes on such large dimensions, that the Indian

shapes out of a single trunk even his great war canoe

which safely bears over the deepest waters a phalanx

of sixty warriors. These imposing trees always appear

to rise out of a jungle of elder, alder, crab-apple, and

other fruit-bearing shrubs and bushes. The short and

slender birch, which, sparsely scattered, marks the

verge of vegetation in Labrador, has not yet been

reached by the explorers of Alaska. The birch tree

sometimes appears here upon the river side, upon the

level next above the home of the cottonwood, and is

generally found a comely and stately tree. The forests

of Alaska, however, consist mainly neither of shrubs,

nor of the birch, nor of the cottonwood, but, as I have

already intimated, of the pine, the cedar, the cypress,

the spruce, the fir, the larch, and the hemlock. These

forests begin almost at the waters edge, and they rise


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with regular gradation to a height of two thousand feet.

The trees, nowhere dwarfed or diminutive, attain the

highest dimensions in sunny exposures in the deeper

canons or gorges of the mountains. The cedar, some-

times called the yellow cedar, and sometimes the fra-

grant cedar, was long ago imported into China as an

ornamental wood; and it now furnishes the majestic

beams and pillars with which the richer and more am-

bitious native chief delights to construct his rude but

spacious hall or palatial residence, and upon which he

carves in rude symbolical imagery the heraldry of his

tribe and achievements of his nation. No beam, or pil-

lar, or spar, or mast, or plank is ever required in either

the land or the naval architecture of any civilized State

greater in length and width than the trees which can

be hewn down on the coasts of the islands and rivers

here, and conveyed directly thence by navigation. A

few gardens, fields, and meadows, have been attempted

by natives in some of the settlements, and by soldiers

at the military posts, with most encouraging results.

Nor must we forget that the native grasses, ripening

late in a humid climate, preserve their nutritive prop-

erties, though exposed, while the climate is so mild

that cattle and horses require but slight provision of

shelter during the winter.


Such is the island and coast portion of Eastern

Alaska. Kla-kautch, the Chilcat, who is known and

feared by the Indians throughout the whole Territory,

and who is a very intelligent chief, informs me, that

beyond the mountain range, which intervenes between

tlie Chilcat and the Youkon rivers, you descend into a

plain unbroken by hills or mountains, very fertile, in

a genial climate, and as far as he could learn, of

boundless extent. We have similar information from


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those who have traversed the interior from the shore

of the Portland canal to the upper branches of the

Youkon. We have reason, therefore, to believe that

beyond the coast range of mountains in Alaska we

shall find an extension of the rich and habitable valley

lands of Oregon, Washington Territory, and British



After what I have already said, I may excuse myself

from expatiating on the animal productions of the for-

est. The elk and the deer are so plenty as to be under-

valued for food or skins, by natives as well as strangers.

The bear of many families—black, grizzly, and cinna-

mon ; the mountain sheep, inestimable for his fleece;

the wolf, the fox, the beaver, the otter, the mink, the

raccoon, the marten, the ermine; the squirrel—gray,

black, brown, and flying, are among the land fur-bear-

ing animals. The furs thus found here have been the

chief element, for more than a hundred years, of the

profitable commerce of the Hudson’s Bay Company,

whose mere possessory privileges seem, even at this

late day, too costly to find a ready purchaser. This

fur-trade, together with the sea fur-trade within the

Territory, were the sole basis alike of Russian com-

merce and empire on this continent. This commerce

was so large and important as to induce the Govern-

ments of Russia and China to build and maintain a

town for carrying on its exchanges in Tartary on the

border of the two empires. It is well understood that

the supply of furs in Alaska has not diminished, while

the demand for them in China and elsewhere has im-

mensely increased.


I fear that we must confess to a failure of ice as an

element of territorial wealth, at least as far as this

immediate region is concerned. I find that the Rus-


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sian American Company, whose monopoly was abol-

ished by the treaty of acquisition, depended for ice

exclusively upon the small lake or natural pond which

furnishes the power for your saw-mill in this town,

and that this dependence has now failed by reason of

the increasing mildness of the winter. The California

Ice Company are now trying the small lakes of Kodiac,

and certainly I wish them success. I think it is not

yet ascertained whether glacier ice is pure and practi-

cal for commerce. If it is, the world may be supplied

from the glaciers, which, suspended from the region of

the clouds, stand forth in the majesty of ever-wasting

and ever-renewed translucent mountains upon the

banks of the Stickeen and Chilcat rivers and the shores

of Cross sound.


Alaska has been as yet but imperfectly explored.

But enough is known to assure us that it possesses

treasures of what are called the baser ores equal to

those of any other region of the continent. We have

Copper island and Copper river, so named as the places

where the natives, before the period of the Russian

discovery, had procured the pure metal from which

they fabricated instruments of war and legendery

shields. In regard to iron, the question seems to be

not where it can be found, but whether there is any

place where it does not exist. Mr. Davidson, of the

Coast Survey, invited me to go up to him at the sta-

tion he had taken up the Chilcat river to make his

observations of the eclipse, by writing me that he had

discovered an iron mountain there. When I came

there I found that, very properly, he had been study-

ing the heavens so busily, that he had but cursorily

examined the earth under his feet; that it was not a

single iron mountain he had discovered, but a range of



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hills, the very dust of which adheres to the magnet,

while the range itself, two thousand feet high, extends

along the east bank of the river thirty miles. Lime-

stone and marble crop out on the banks of the same

river and in many other places. Coal-beds, accessible

to navigation, are found at Kootznoo. It is said, how-

ever, that the concentrated resin which the mineral

contains renders it too inflammable to be safely used

by steamers. In any case, it would seem calculated to

supply the fuel requisite for the manufacture of iron.

What seems to be excellent cannel coal is also found

in the Prince of Wales archipelago. There are also

mines at Cook’s inlet. Placer and quartz gold mining

is pursued under many social disadvantages upon the

Stickeen and elsewhere, with a degree of success which,

while it does not warrant us in assigning a superiority

in that respect to the Territory, does nevertheless war-

rant us in regarding gold mining as an established and

reliable resource.


It would argue inexcusable insensibility if I should

fail to speak of the scenery which, in the course of my

voyage, has seemed to pass like a varied and magnifi-

cent panorama before me. The exhibition did not,

indeed, open within the Territory. It broke upon me

first when I had passed Cape Flattery and entered the

Straits of Fuca, which separate British Columbia from

Washington Territory. It widened as I passed along

the shore of Puget Sound, expanded in the waters

which divide Vancouver from the continent, and finally

spread itself out into a magnificent archipelago, stretch-

ing through the entire Gulf of Alaska, and closing un-

der the shade of Mounts Fairweather and. St. Elias.

Nature has furnished to this majestic picture the only

suitable border which could be conceived, by lifting the


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coast range mountains to an exalted height, and cloth-,

ins them with eternal snows and crystalline glaciers.

It remains only to speak of man and of society in

Alaska. Until the present moment the country has

been exclusively inhabited and occupied by some thirty

or more Indian tribes. I incline to doubt the popular

classification of these tribes, upon the assumption that

they have descended from diverse races. Climate and

other circumstances have indeed produced some differ-

ences of manners and customs between the Aleuts,

the Koloschians, and the interior continental tribes.

But all of them are manifestly of Mongol origin. Al-

though they have preserved no common traditions, all

alike indulge in tastes, wear a physiognomy, and are

imbued with sentiments peculiarly noticed in Japan

and China. Savage communities, no less than civilized

nations, require space for subsistence, whether they

depend for it upon the land or upon the sea—in savage

communities especially; and increase of population dis-

proportioned to the supplies of the country occupied

necessitates subdivision and remote colonization. Op-

pression and cruelty occur even more frequently among

barbarians than among civilized men. Nor are ambi-

tion and faction less inherent in the one condition than

in the other. From these causes it has happened that

the 25,000 Indians in Alaska are found permanently

divided into so many insignificant nations. These na-

tions are jealous, ambitious, and violent; could in no

case exist long in the same region without mutually af-

fording what, in every case, to each party, seems just

cause of war. War between savages becomes the private

cause of the several families which are afflicted with the

loss of their members. Such a war can never be composed

until each family which has suffered receives an indem-


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nitv in blankets, adjusted according to an imaginary

tariff, or, in the failure of such compensation, secures

the death of one or more enemies as an atonement for

the injury it has sustained. The enemy captured,

whether by superior force or stategy, either receives

no quarter, or submits for himself and his progeny to

perpetual slavery. It has thus happened that the In-

dian tribes of Alaska have never either confederated

or formed permanent alliances, and that even at this

late day, in the presence of superior power exercised

by the United States Government, they live in regard

to each other in a state of enforced and doubtful truce.

It is manifest that, under these circumstances, they

must steadily decline in numbers, and unhappily this

decline is accelerated by their borrowing ruinous vices

from the white man. Such as the natives of Alaska

are, they are, nevertheless, in a practical sense, the

only laborers at present in the Territory. The white

man comes amongst them from London, from St. Pe-

tersburg, from Boston, from New York, from San

Francisco, and from Victoria, not to fish (if we except

alone the whale fishery) or to hunt, but simply to buy

what fish and what peltries, ice, wood, lumber, and

coal, the Indians have secured under the superintend-

ence of temporary agents or factors. When we con-

sider how greatly most of the tribes are reduced in

numbers, and how precarious their vocations are, we

shall cease to regard them as indolent or incapable,

and, on the contrary, we shall more deeply regret than

ever before, that a people so gifted by nature, so vig-

orous and energetic, and withal so docile and gentle

in their intercourse with the white man, can neither be

preserved as a distinct social community, nor incorpo-

rated into our society. The Indian tribes will do here


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as they seem to have done in “Washington Territory

and British Columbia : they will merely serve the turn

until civilized white men come.


You, the citizens of Sitka, are the pioneers, the

advanced guard, of the future population of Alaska;

and you naturally ask when, from whence, and how

soon, reinforcements shall come, and what are the signs

and guaranties of their coming? This question, with

all its minute and searching interrogations, has been

asked by the pioneers of every State and Territory of

which the American Union is now composed; and the

history of those States and Territories furnishes the

complete, conclusive, and satisfactory answer. Emi-

grants go to every infant State and Territory in obe-

dience to the great natural law that obliges needy men

to seek subsistence, and invites adventurous men to

seek fortune where it is most easily obtained, and this

is always in the new and uncultivated regions. They

go from every State and Territory, and from every

foreign nation in America, Europe, and Asia; because

no established and populous State or nation can guar-

anty subsistence and fortune to all who demand them

among its inhabitants.


The guaranties and signs of their coming to Alaska

are found in the resources of the Territory, which I

have attempted to describe, and in the condition of

society in other parts of the world. Some men seek

other climes for health and some for pleasure. Alaska

invites the former class by a climate singularly salu-

brious, and the latter class by scenery which surpasses

in sublimity that of either the Alps, the Apennines,

the Alleghanies, or the Rocky Mountains. Emigrants

from our own States, from Europe, and from Asia, will

not be slow in finding out that fortunes are to be


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gained by pursuing here the occupations which have

so successfully sustained races of untutored men. Civ-

ilization and refinement are making more rapid ad-

vances in our day than at any former period. The

rising States and nations on this continent, the Euro-

pean nations, and even those of Eastern Asia, have

exhausted, or are exhausting, their own forests and

mines, and are soon to become largely dependent upon

those of the Pacific. The entire region of Oregon,

Washington Territory, British Columbia, and Alaska,

seem thus destined to become a ship-yard for the sup-

ply of all nations. I do not forget on this occasion

that British Columbia belongs within a foreign juris-

diction. That circumstance does not materially affect

my calculations. British Columbia, by whomsoever

possessed, must be governed in conformity with the

interests of her people and of society upon the Ameri-

can continent. If that Territory shall be so governed,

there will be no ground of complaint anywhere. If it

shall be governed so as to conflict with the interests of

the inhabitants of that Territory and of the United

States, we all can easily forsee what will happen in

that case. You will ask me, however, for guaranties

that the hopes I encourage will not be postponed. I

give them.


Within the period of my own recollection, I have

seen twenty new .States added to the eighteen which

before that time constituted the American Union, and

I now see, besides Alaska, ten Territories in a forward

condition of preparation for entering into the same

great political family. I have seen in my own time

not only the first electric telegraph, but even the first

railroad and the first steamboat invented by man. And

even on this present voyage of mine, I have fallen in


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with the first steamboat, still afloat, that thirty-five

years ago lighted her fires on the Pacific ocean. These,

citizens of Sitka, are the guaranties, not only that

Alaska has a future, but that that future has already

begun. I know that you want two things just now,

when European monopoly is broken down and United

States free trade is being introduced within the Terri-

tory: These are, military protection while your num-

ber is so inferior to that of the Indians around you,

and you need also a territorial civil government.

Congress has already supplied the first of these wants

adequately and effectually. I doubt not that it will

supply the other want during the coming winter. It

must do this, because our political system rejects alike

anarchy and executive absolutism. Nor do I doubt

that the political society to be constituted here, first as

a Territory, and ultimately as a State or many States,

will prove a worthy constituency of the Republic. To

doubt that it will be intelligent, virtuous, prosperous,

and enterprising, is to doubt the experience of Scot-

land, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and Belgium, and

of New England and New York. Nor do I doubt that

it will be forever true in its republican instincts and

loyal to the American Union, for the inhabitants will

be both mountaineers and sea-faring men. I am not

among those who apprehend infidelity to liberty and

the Union in any quarter hereafter, but I am sure that

if constancy and loyalty are to fail anywhere, the fail-

ure will not be in the States which approach nearest

to the north pole.


Fellow-citizens, accept once more my thanks, from

the heart of my heart, for kindnesses which can never

be forgotten, and suffer me to leave you with a sincere

and earnest farewell.



Alaska State Library – Historical Collections, PO Box 110571, Juneau AK 99811-0571