1824 - 1894
Ranald MacDonald was born on February 3, 1824 at Fort George at the mouth of the Columbia River (today Astoria, Oregon.) The son of Hudson's Bay Company chief factor Archibald McDonald and Princess Raven, sometimes called Princess Sunday, the daughter of the powerful and prominent Chief Comcomly of the Chinooks. At the time there was only one white woman who was brought out to the Pacific Northwest for a short stay in 1814 and a blueblood Chinook princess was an attractive match despite the vast cultural differences. She helped cement relations with the Chinook tribe.
Ranald was educated at academies to which the Hudson's Bay Company chief officers sent their children, which included the Red River Missionary School in Fort Garry, Manitoba. He then worked briefly as a banker in St. Thomas Ontario but found that this career did not suit him. He smarted from the social rejection he attributed to the Indian side of his ancestry and besides he felt "uncontrollably in my blood, the wild strain of wandering freedom." In 1842 Ranald went to sea and spent time sailing the Pacific visiting China, Indonesia, India and Australia until he finally decided to head to Japan (1848 - 1849.) He had heard and read that the North American Indians originally came from Japan - "The land of his ancestors." For nearly two and a half centuries the nation of Japan had been closed to the rest of the world. Ranald MacDonald had heard compelling stories about the Japanese nation, and not withstanding these strict edicts, he was determined to learn more. His plan was to find work on a whaling ship, then convince the captain to put him afloat near Japan. He would then capsize his small boat and swim ashore, placing himself at the mercy of whoever found him. This he did thus becoming the first American to willingly go to Japan - and the first native speaker to teach English there. Historians regard Ranald MacDonald as the man who set the stage for the opening of Japan to the West.
While in Australia Ranald took part in the goldrush and mined for a time at Ballarat. Returning from Australia he sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to Europe and eventually back to North America in 1853. With his brother Allen MacDonald they had a ranch on the Bonaparte River, and conducted a supply-house and ran pack-trains to the gold mines on the Upper Fraser River in the Cariboo District. In 1861 he was associated with John G. Barnston, a barrister attorney of Lower Canada, and some capitalists of San Francisco where the idea was conceived of finding a shorter way to the gold mines on the upper Fraser River. He searched for a route from Fort Alexandra to a bay or inlet around Bentinck Arm, where boats could go up the Coast and land freight and passengers. Ranald was successful in his explorations and secured a permit to establish a toll-trail there. The trail was built and a small quantity of freight was packed in over it, but it was never a commercial success, and promoters failed to secure a line of steamer connection. Their original grant was small, simply for a pack trail. Other parties, perhaps more influential with the government, built a wagon road which eventually took all the business.
From 1859 to 1861 Ranald and his brother, Allen, secured a government license and ran a ferry across the Fraser River at Lillooet, then in 1862 his brother sold out. Ranald then became interested in mining and was one of the pioneers in the Bonaparte and Horsefly districts, 1862 - 1863. He continued prospecting and mining in northern British Columbia for some ten years more, spending his summer in the mountains and his winters on his ranch in Bonaparte.
In 1864 Ranald found himself in a leading role in Robert Brown's Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition. It was probably because of his mining and prospecting background that he received the position, but also because of his association with Vancouver Island's Governor Sir James Douglas. Ranald's father was a close friend of Sir James Douglas, and the Governor's wife was a distant relative of Ranald's foster mother, Jane Klyne MacDonald. Ranald and his brothers Allen and Benjamin were occasional guests at the residence of the Governor in Victoria.
Ranald MacDonald lived in the Pacific Northwest for the next twenty years until he settled in Toroda near old Fort Colville, a short distance from his birthplace. He died on August 4, 1894 at the age of seventy.
Roe, Jo Ann.
Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer. Washington State University
Press. Pullman, Washington. 1997.