On this date in 1792, Captain George Vancouver (1758-1798) of the British Navy named a high, snowy peak ‘Mount Baker’ after Lt. Joseph Baker (1767–1817). Only two years previously, the mountain appeared on a map drawn by Gonzalo Lopez de Haro, the pilot on a Spanish expedition commanded by Ensign Manuel Quimper, who named it “La Gran Montana del Carmelo”. More on that soon.
At the time Vancouver named the mountain, his two ships, HMS Discoverer and the much smaller HM Armed Tender Chatham, were anchored in Discovery Bay at the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, about 70 miles SSW from Mount Baker. In Vancouver’s account, at about 5 p.m. that day “…a very high conspicuous craggy mountain, bearing by compass N. 50 E. presented itself, towering above the clouds: as low down as they allowed it to be visible it was covered with snow; and south of it, was a long ridge of very rugged snowing mountains, much less elevated, which seemed to stretch to a considerable distance…the high distant land formed, as already observed, like detached islands, amongst which the lofty mountain, discovered in the afternoon by the third lieutenant, and in compliment to him called by me MOUNT BAKER, rose a very conspicuous object, bearing by compass N. 43 E.., apparently at a very remote distance.” (Miles, Koma Kulshan, the Story of Mount Baker, p. 41).
Who was Joseph Baker? According to John Miles, author of Koma Kulshan, the Story of Mount Baker (see refs): “The man for whom the mountain was named remains a rather obscure figure. Third lieutenant Baker was from an old Norman family of Bristol, England. His father, Captain Valentine Baker, had enjoyed a distinguished Royal Navy career, from which he retired to become Harbor Master at Bristol. Joseph was his fourth surviving son and aspired to follow his father in a naval career. Captain George Vancouver was very impressed with the young man and eventually gave him command of Discovery. Baker eventual became a captain, too. He died unmarried in 1817 in Bristol.”
Miles, John C., Koma Kulshan, the Story of Mount Baker. The Mountaineers, Seattle. 230 pages.