Category: Biography

Ranald McDonald

Ranald McDonald, b. 1824, d. 1894, was the only son of Archibald McDonald, Chief Factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Princess Raven, daughter of Chief Comcomly of the Clatsop Indian Tribe. McDonald was born at what is now Astoria, Oregon, when his father was stationed at Fort George, (formerly and subsequently Fort Astoria). McDonald’s gravesite is commemorated as a Washington State Park on the Kettle River, just south of the Canadian border.

As a boy of 10 or 12, McDonald learned Japanese from shipwrecked sailors at Fort Vancouver. As he grew up, he became fascinated with Japan and convinced himself that the Japanese people and Native Americans shared a common ancestry. He wanted to go to Japan and prove his theory, but at that time Japan kept its ports closed to all foreigners. Foreign sailors found on Japanese shores were routinely executed.

McDonald attempted to circumvent this by deliberately shipwrecking himself and trusting to the compassion of the Japanese fishermen who eventually found him. He was turned over to the authorities, but allowed to live as a “guest” of the Japanese government. During his internment, McDonald taught English to his captors. He was eventually released; he worked his way to the capital where he taught English to government officials. His activities in Japan undoubtedly had a positive influence on the Japanese government’s attitude toward receiving visitors from the West.

© 2002-2006, originally published May 21, 2002