One of the more interesting places on the upper Oregon Coast is in the town of Garibaldi. Garibaldi’s history is the subject explored on the first floor of its fine museum. Upstairs is most of the maritime stuff in the Garibaldi Maritime Museum. Its most interesting area, however, is the Captain Gray Gallery, which is upstairs too. This museum’s hours are seasonally irregular. During the summer weekends are a safe bet. When Ruth & I were there recently on a sunny Saturday, a cat show was in progress. If not sure, call 503 322 8411 to see if it’s open.
Garibaldi is about 10 miles north of Tillamook. Its past included Native Americans, crabbers, the Coast Guard, loggers, and sawmill workers. At one point the town’s biggest employer was a plywood company. Speaking of crabs, the best place in the area to eat them and other seafood delicacies is The Fish Peddler at Pacific Oyster. which is halfway between Garibaldi and Tillamook in Bay City.
The maritime stuff in the Garibaldi Maritime Museum included mastheads, guns, nautical dress, etc. I enjoyed looking at its Korean mother of pearl and alabaster screen, which told the story of a naval hero. This surprisingly vivid museum was pretty eclectic and worth a browse, but I found the Robert Gray stuff fascinating. His accomplishments and place in history were underrated during his lifetime because he was, apparently, a very modest man.
Robert Gray was born on a farm in Rhode Island in 1755. This fact became important much later on. Somewhere, somehow he lost his left eye, which didn’t slow him down. At some point he married, and over time he became the father of 4 daughters. His early naval career is largely unknown. He didn’t gain much recognition until he became commander of Lucy, a privateer. A privateer was an armed ship with a government commission owned by private individuals. Privateers specialized in capturing merchant ships. His maritime skills were not especially recognized until the Presidency of James Madison despite his navigational success. By that time he was dead.
During the time when the west coast of North America was being explored by many nations like Russia and Spain and much of it was not officially claimed by any power, Robert Gray was there. It was 1791, 12 years before the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The first time Robert Gray passed the mouth of the Columbia River he didn’t attempt to cross its treacherous bar. Later, while Commander of the Columbia Rediviva, he managed to sail over this barrier to become the first non-native to explore this important river. He stayed 9 days and named the river after the ship he was in charge of. After passing back over the bar into the Pacific Ocean, he headed for China, where he sold furs and bought tea. He then became the first American to sail around the world.
Robert Gray died in 1806. What took his life is unknown. Most believe he died of yellow fever and was buried at sea. His family back in The US, probably in Boston, was financially needy so a friend suggested that his wife petition Congress to provide the Gray family with $500 a year pension for the time he spent serving his country. Congress failed to pass it and a later request for land. The fact that Gray was an American, however, did help the United States during the Madison Presidency to lay claim to a large stretch of the west coast of North America.