Friends of MacDonald tend the flame of a great 19th century adventurer
Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 9:11 a, Daily Astorian
In the pantheon of 19th century adventurers, Ranald MacDonald’s story is one of the more astounding. Born at Fort Astoria in 1824, MacDonald was the child of a Scotsman and a Chinook Indian princess, daughter of Chief Comcomly. He went to sea on a whaling vessel, with the intention to be shipwrecked in Japan, which had excluded foreigners for some 200 years. MacDonald’s plan worked, and he brought the English language to Japan.
Writing in Eminent Astorians, Frederik L. Schodt says MacDonald: “ … is a classic example of an individual who, overcoming great odds, did something heroic then fell through the cracks of history.”
Over lunch last Saturday at the Bridgewater Bistro, the Friends of MacDonald held its 25th annual meeting. The Friends group had its genesis following the 1988 placement of a memorial stone at Fort Astoria park. On that marker, MacDonald’s story is told in English and Japanese. Local leadership from then-Astoria librarian Bruce Berney and Japanese money were the winning combination.
The Japanese make a bigger deal of MacDonald than we Americans. A woman from Kyoto traveled to the Friends of MacDonald lunch, as did the Japanese Consul from Portland.
It is said that through biography we give life to the dead. Reminding Astorians that a story of global accomplishment began here is important. The Friends’ gathering reminds us that the Columbia-Pacific region has long been a cultural crossroads.
Cities are living things. They are in a constant cycle of deterioration, death and renewal. And they have memories.