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Ranald MacDonald

ranald1The son of a Hudson’s Bay factor and Raven, the daughter of Chief Comcomly of the Chinooks, Ranald MacDonald grew up on trading posts in the Northwest.  Fascinated by the idea of visiting Japan since his youth, he conceived the plan of shipping out on a whaling vessel and marooning himself on the Japanese shore.  Despite the fact that the government of Japan threatened death or imprisonment to foreigners trying to enter the kingdom, he did just that in 1848.

Ranald was taken captive and moved from one jurisdiction to another, but was well treated.  He was friendly and intensely curious about everything he saw and everyone he met.  The Japanese responded to his courtesy, and Ranald soon was teaching English to a significant group of Japanese officials.  His adventure ended when an American vessel, the Preble, arrived to retrieve a group of sailors that had been genuinely shipwrecked, and his captors allowed Ranald to accompany them back to America.

He continued his life as a sailor for some time, traveling widely.  When gold was discovered in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, he worked there for several years.  He died in North Central Washington in 1894.

When Japan finally opened to the West, Ranald’s student, Einosuke Moriyama, served as one of the chief interpreters between Commodore Perry and the Tokogawa Shogunate.

 The State Library has two items in its online collection that tell Ranald’s story:

1.  Ranald’s deposition given to Captain Glynn of the Preble on the voyage back to America in 1849.

Deposition of Ranald McDonald regarding his imprisonment in Japan, made to Captain James Glynn, USS Preble] [Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1850]From: Senate Executive Document (United State. Congress. Senate); 31st Congress, 1st Session, vol. 10, no. 84, p. 24-28.

2.  Ranald’s own account written years after the fact and edited for the Eastern Washington Historical Society.

Ranald MacDonald : the narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime, of his experiences in the Pacific whale fishery and of his great adventure to Japan : with a sketch of his later life on the western frontier, 1824-1894 by Ranald MacDonald.  Spokane, Wash. : Published for the Eastern Washington State Historical Society of the Inland-American Printing Co., 1923


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4 Responses to “Ranald MacDonald”

  1. March 21, 2009
    Your records and collections should be sure to include the book: Ranald MacDonald, Pacific Rim Adventurer, by JoAnn Roe (Washington State University Press, 1997) as it is a definitive work on MacDonald’s entire life and influence.

  2. Hello JoAnn,

    Thank you for your suggestion. We actually do have Pacific Rim Adventurer in our collection – find the detailed record here: http://cals.evergreen.edu/search~S2/o?36225568

    Laura Robinson

  3. Evan Robb Says:

    A few photos from the Kettle Falls Collection (a sub-collection of Washington Rural Heritage) depict a man who “may be” Ranald McDonald. It sure looks like him–I’d say it probably is. Here are links to the images:

  4. Well that’s cool! I did a quick search for “Kettle Falls” within Ranald MacDonald : the narrative of his early life and found lots of reference to Kettle Falls.

    As an aside, there is mention of a funny article about Ranald MacDonald in the Sept. 3rd, 1891, issue of the Kettle Falls (Wash.) Pioneer (a newspaper that we have very little of microfilmed and whose issues are peppered among misc. microfilm reels).