How did a brick from Roman Britain end up in today’s Washington state?
This Roman brick from Britain, imprinted by a mischievous feline while still wet, found its way to the Pacific Northwest when the Hudson’s Bay Company ordered bricks from England to build Fort Vancouver.
The Hudson’s Bay Company, a London-based fur trading powerhouse, established Fort Vancouver in 1825 as its western headquarters in North America. The new fort administered two dozen posts spread over an area of approximately 700,000 square miles – from Russian Alaska to Mexican California, and from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast. At its peak, Fort Vancouver had several hundred employees whose homelands spanned half the globe.
Despite being self-sufficient in many ways – Fort Vancouver had an extensive farm, tradesmen of various specialities, and a shipyard – tons of goods were imported from England every year. The company shop had an inventory of hundreds of items, including dishes, preserved food, fabric, jewelry, guns and ammunition, and other essentials and sundries. Bricks, used in building Fort Vancouver’s powder magazine, ovens, and chimneys, doubled as ship’s ballast on the way over.
This brick, whose size and composition suggest it was “recycled” from a Roman building or wall, helped fill a brickmaker’s order from the Hudson’s Bay Company. It is a humble artifact that tells a story of industrial development, global trade networks, colonial settlement, and one inquisitive cat.