Ranald MacDonald
Ranald MacDonald was the first man to teach the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, including educating Einosuke Moriyama
Moriyama Einosuke
was a samurai during the Tokugawa Shogunate, and an interpreter of Dutch and English. He studied English under Ranald MacDonald, and as “Chief Dutch Interpreter” was one of the chief men involved in the negotiations with Commodore Perry in regard to the opening of Japan to the outside world.Samuel...

, one of the chief interpreters to handle the negotiations between Commodore Perry and the Tokugawa Shogunate
Tokugawa shogunate
The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...


Early life

MacDonald was born at Fort Astoria
Fort Astoria
Fort Astoria was the Pacific Fur Company's primary fur trading post in the Northwest, and was the first American-owned settlement on the Pacific coast. After a short two-year term of US ownership, the British owned and operated it for 33 years. It was the first British port on the Pacific coast...

, in the Pacific Northwest
Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Definitions of the region vary and there is no commonly agreed upon boundary, even among Pacific Northwesterners. A common concept of the...

 of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

. The area was then known as the Columbia District
Columbia District
The Columbia District was a fur trading district in the Pacific Northwest region of British North America in the 19th century. It was explored by the North West Company between 1793 and 1811, and established as an operating fur district around 1810...

 or Oregon Country
Oregon Country
The Oregon Country was a predominantly American term referring to a disputed ownership region of the Pacific Northwest of North America. The region was occupied by British and French Canadian fur traders from before 1810, and American settlers from the mid-1830s, with its coastal areas north from...

, disputed territory dominated by the British Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company , abbreviated HBC, or "The Bay" is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world. A fur trading business for much of its existence, today Hudson's Bay Company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada...

 and the American Pacific Fur Company
Pacific Fur Company
The Pacific Fur Company was founded June 23, 1810, in New York City. Half of the stock of the company was held by the American Fur Company, owned exclusively by John Jacob Astor, and Astor provided all of the capital for the enterprise. The other half of the stock was ascribed to working partners...

. MacDonald's father was Archibald McDonald
Archibald McDonald
Archibald McDonald was Chief Trader for the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Langley, Fort Nisqually and Fort Colville and one-time deputy governor of the Red River Settlement.-Early life:...

, a Scottish
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 Hudson's Bay Company fur trade
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

r, and his mother was Raven (also known as Princess Sunday), a Chinook Indian
Chinook refers to several native amercain groups of in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, speaking the Chinookan languages. In the early 19th century, the Chinookan-speaking peoples lived along the lower and middle Columbia River in present-day Oregon and Washington...

, daughter of Chief Comcomly
Chief Comcomly
Chief Comcomly or Concomly was a Native American chief of the Chinookan people. He was the principal chief of the Chinook Confederacy, which extended along the Columbia River from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean....

, a leader of Chinook people from the Cascade Mountains and Cape Disappointment
Cape Disappointment (Washington)
Cape Disappointment is a headland located at the extreme southwestern corner of Washington State on the north side of the Columbia River bar, at . The point of the cape is located on the Pacific Ocean in Pacific County, approximately two miles southwest of the town of Ilwaco...

. This mixed heritage made MacDonald a Métis
A Métis is a person born to parents who belong to different groups defined by visible physical differences, regarded as racial, or the descendant of such persons. The term is of French origin, and also is a cognate of mestizo in Spanish, mestiço in Portuguese, and mestee in English...

, a person who straddles two cultures.

As a child, he met three shipwrecked Japanese sailors, including Otokichi
was a Japanese castaway originally from the area of Onoura near Mihama, on the west coast of the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture.- Biography :...

. MacDonald's Indian relatives told him that their ancestors had come from Asia and the boy developed a fascination with Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, theorizing that it might be the home of his distant relatives.

He was educated at the Red River Academy
Red River Academy (Manitoba)
The Red River Academy in Manitoba, Canada, was established for the training and education of the sons of Hudson's Bay Company employees. It was founded in 1852 by Rev. David Jones. Many of the students' mothers were Native American. It was part of the Red River Colony....

 in the newly established Red River Colony
Red River Colony
The Red River Colony was a colonization project set up by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk in 1811 on of land granted to him by the Hudson's Bay Company under what is referred to as the Selkirk Concession. The colony along the Red River of the North was never very successful...

, part of British North America
British North America
British North America is a historical term. It consisted of the colonies and territories of the British Empire in continental North America after the end of the American Revolutionary War and the recognition of American independence in 1783.At the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775 the British...

, which became Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

, Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. He secured a job as a bank clerk, following the wishes of his father.


A restless man, he soon quit his bank job and decided that he would visit Japan. Despite knowing the strict isolationist Japanese policy
was the foreign relations policy of Japan under which no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. The policy was enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate under Tokugawa Iemitsu through a number of edicts and policies from 1633–39 and remained in effect until...

 of the time, which meant death or imprisonment for foreigners who set foot on Japanese soil, he signed on as a sailor on the whaling ship Plymouth in 1845. In 1848, he convinced the captain of the Plymouth to set him to sea on a small boat off the coast of Hokkaidō
, formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is Japan's second largest island; it is also the largest and northernmost of Japan's 47 prefectural-level subdivisions. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu, although the two islands are connected by the underwater railway Seikan Tunnel...

. On July 1, he came ashore on the island of Rishiri
Rishiri may refer to:*Rishiri-kombu , a type of kombu* Rishiri Island, a Japanese island** Rishiri, Hokkaidō, a town on Rishiri Island** Mount Rishiri, a volcano on Rishiri island...

 where he pretended he had been shipwrecked. He was caught by Ainu people
Ainu people
The , also called Aynu, Aino , and in historical texts Ezo , are indigenous people or groups in Japan and Russia. Historically they spoke the Ainu language and related varieties and lived in Hokkaidō, the Kuril Islands, and much of Sakhalin...

, who remitted him to the Daimyo
is a generic term referring to the powerful territorial lords in pre-modern Japan who ruled most of the country from their vast, hereditary land holdings...

 of Matsumae clan
Matsumae clan
The was a Japanese clan which was granted the area around Matsumae, Hokkaidō as a march fief in 1590 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and charged with defending it, and by extension all of Japan, from the Ainu 'barbarians' to the north. The clan was originally known as the Kakizaki clan who settled...

. He was then sent to Nagasaki, the only port allowed to conduct limited trade with the Dutch.

Since more and more American and British ships had been approaching Japanese waters, and nobody in Japan spoke English with any sort of fluency, fourteen men were sent to study English under him. These men were samurai
is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. According to translator William Scott Wilson: "In Chinese, the character 侍 was originally a verb meaning to wait upon or accompany a person in the upper ranks of society, and this is also true of the original term in Japanese, saburau...

, who had previously learned Dutch and had been attempting to learn English for some time from secondhand sources, such as Dutch merchants who spoke a little of the language. The brightest of these men, a sort of language genius, was Einosuke Moriyama.

MacDonald stayed in confinement, at , a branch temple of the in Nagasaki, for 10 months, during which he also studied Japanese, before being taken aboard a passing American warship. In April 1849, in Nagasaki, MacDonald was remitted together with fifteen other shipwrecks to captain James Glynn
James Glynn
James Glynn was a U.S. Navy officer who in 1848 distinguished himself by being the first American to negotiate successfully with the Japanese during the "Closed Country" period....

 on the American warship USS Preble
USS Preble (1839)
USS Preble was a United States Navy sloop-of-war with 16 guns, built by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, launched June 13, 1839 and commissioned in 1840. She was named after Commodore Edward Preble ....

 which had been sent to rescue stranded sailors. Glynn later urged that a treaty should be signed with Japan, "if not peaceably, then by force".

Upon his return to North America, MacDonald made a written declaration to the US Congress, explaining that the Japanese society was well policed, and the Japanese people well behaved and of the highest standard. He continued his career as a sailor.

After travelling widely, MacDonald returned to Lower Canada
Lower Canada
The Province of Lower Canada was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence...

 (now Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

) and, in 1858, went to the new colony of British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

 where he set up a packing business in the Fraser River
Fraser River
The Fraser River is the longest river within British Columbia, Canada, rising at Fraser Pass near Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and flowing for , into the Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver. It is the tenth longest river in Canada...

 gold fields and later in the Cariboo
The Cariboo is an intermontane region of British Columbia along a plateau stretching from the Fraser Canyon to the Cariboo Mountains. The name is a reference to the woodland caribou that were once abundant in the region...

, in 1864. He also participated in the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition
Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition
The Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition explored areas of the Colony of Vancouver Island that remained unknown outside the capital of Victoria and settlements in Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley. The expedition went as far north as the Comox Valley over four and one half months during the summer...


Although his students had been instrumental in the negotiations to open Japan with Commodore Perry and Lord Elgin, he found no real recognition of his achievements. His notes of the Japanese adventure were not published until 1923, 29 years after his death. He died a poor man in Washington state in 1894, while visiting his niece. His last words were reportedly "Sayonara, my dear, sayonara..."

Last resting place

MacDonald rests today in the Ranald McDonald Cemetery, Ferry County, Washington. Ranald McDonald's Grave is 18 miles northwest of Curlew Lake State Park on Mid Way Road and is a satellite of Osoyoos Lake State Park. The grave bears the following inscription:
RANALD MacDONALD 1824-1894

There are memorials to Ranald MacDonald in Rishiri and in Nagasaki, as well as in his birthplace, where Fort Astoria used to stand in Astoria, Oregon
Astoria, Oregon
Astoria is the county seat of Clatsop County, Oregon, United States. Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, the city was named after the American investor John Jacob Astor. His American Fur Company founded Fort Astoria at the site in 1811...


Further reading

  • MacDonald, Ranald; Lewis, William Stanley Ranald MacDonald: The Narrative of His Early Life on the Columbia... The Eastern Washington State Historical Society, 1923. ISBN 0875952291 (1990 reprint)

  • Roe, Jo Ann Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer. Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-87422-147-3 (hardbound) ISBN 978-0-87422-146-6 (paperback)

  • Schodt, Frederik L. Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 2003. ISBN 1-880656-77-9

Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection Senate executive document, 31st Congress, 1st session, no. 84

External links

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