Leila Byrd

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Leila Byrd (#) (+1801-1805+), 18th century brig of 175-tons berthen from Portsmouth, Virginia, was purchased in August 1801 by William Shaler (1778- ) of Boston, and Richard J. Cleveland (1773- ) of Salem, for use in the Pacific sea otter trade on the western coast of North America. The vessel carried six 3-pound brass cannons, an arsenal of guns and powder, and carried a crew of fifteen, including Captain Shaler, Supercargo Cleveland, a mate, stewards, cook and others.

From 1801-1803 Leila Byrd was used for trading for sea otter furs to be sold in Canton, China. In January 1803 the brig was changed to a ship, when the crew “rigged a mizzenmast” [Cleveland 1842:200]. On March 16, 1803 Leila Byrd was becalmed at San Clemente Island, where Cleveland reported:

“the crew observed eleven completely nude individuals, men, women and children, living in a cave on the south side of the island. These natives live exclusively on fish that they baked in the earth.”

Captain Shaler arrived at Santa Catalina Island and soon thereafter careened Leila Byrd on the sand for repairs at Isthmus Cove, which Shaler called Port Roussillon. June 12, 1805 Leila Byrd left Santa Catalina Island for Hawaii. Later that year, Leila Byrd was traded to King Kamehameha, after Shaler determined she was no longer dependable.

Cleveland noted:

“The Leila Byrd was repaired by the King and made two or three voyages to China, with sandalwood. At length, worn out, and after being for a time a receiving ship for opium, she was broken up or sunk at Wampoa [near Canton.]


“Captain Wm. Shaler, of the Lelia Byrd, who landed at Santa Catalina in 1805, reported that he found about one hundred and fifty Indians on the island, and they were very friendly to him - he believed himself the first explorer! of the harbor where he anchored, and he named it after his former partner, Port Rouissilion. He stayed at the island about six weeks, and afterward published a narrative of his voyage.” (Williamson)


» Cleveland, Richard J. A Narrative of Voyage and Commercial Enterprises. John Owen, Cambridge, 1842

» Kemble, John Haskell. The Cruise of the Schooner Tamana, 1805-1807. An episode in the American penetration of the Pacific Ocean ... Reprinted from the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society for October 1968.

» Ogden, Aldele California Sea Otter Trade. Berkeley: UC Press (1941)

» Shaler, William Journal of a Voyage between China and the North-western Coast of America made in 1804. Saunders Studio Press, Claremont: (1935).

» Williamson, Mrs. M. Burton History of Santa Catalina Island in Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County, Vol. 6, No. 1 (1903), pp. 14-31