Sometimes, the most unlikely people become ambassadors. Just such a person was Ranald MacDonald, the half-breed son of a Scottish merchant and an Indian princess; who was well on his way to becoming a banker when he chucked it all for the siren call of adventure.
Born on February 3, 1824, MacDonald was the son of a trader for the Hudson's Bay Company named Archibald MacDonald. His mother, Princess Raven, was the daughter of an Indian chief named Comcomly, who ruled a confederation of tribes around the lower Columbia River on the border of what is now Washington. A child of two cultures, Ranald was raised by his white father, but also spent a good deal of time with his Indian relatives.
In July of 1834, a group of Japanese fishermen had been shipwrecked off the Pacific Northwest shore. Their boat had been caught in a storm and blown across the Pacific. The young Ranald was fascinated by these strangers, wondered if his own people might have been descended from the Japanese. This interest in Japan was ultimately to change Ranald's life.
His father became a factor for the Hudson's Bay Company, an affluent man of good position; and he saw that his son had the best education possible out on the frontier. He arranged for Ranald to get a job as a banker's clerk in the town of St. Thomas; but figures and ledgers were not for young Ranald. In 1841, at the age of 21, he packed a small suitcase and went off to seek his fortune.
He became a sailor, ultimately serving on the Plymouth, a whaling ship in the Pacific. He had many adventures during this period, and at some point developed his plan to actually visit Japan. At this time, the country of Japan was closed to outsiders. Only a few Dutch merchants were permitted to visit the country, and they were only allowed in the port city of Nagasaki; all other foreigners risked execution.
Ranald persuaded his captain to give him one of the whaler's boats in lieu of his regular payment and to let him off near the coast of Japan. On June 27, 1848 he left the Plymouth and sailed to one of Japan's northern islands, deliberately capsizing his boat so that it would appear he was a victim of a shipwreck. He hoped his apparent plight, his physical similarity to the Japanese, and his friendly manner would persuade the Japanese to spare him.
And they did; although the Japanese officials did arrest him and ship him to Nagasaki where he was held prisoner for seven months. The Japanese were impressed by his bravery and curious about the country he came from. They treated him well, and allowed him frequent visitors; including several officials whom he began teaching English. Much later, in 1853, these men served as interpreters when Commodore Perry forced Japan to open up to western trade.
In the spring of 1849, the American ship Preble came to Nagasaki to get 15 American sailors who had deserted off the coast of Japan some time earlier and were also being held in a Japanese prison. The Japanese unwillingly handed over the captives, but also included MacDonald.
Ranald continued his travels for a while, at one point trying his luck in the gold mines of Australia. where he managed to flatten the Australian boxing champion in a barroom brawl. Eventually returned home to the Pacific Northwest. He tried his hand at various business ventures, with meager success; but was widely respected as a friendly, likable, and even cultured fellow.
Game and Story Use
- In a historical or time travel campaign set in the mid 1800s, he would make an interesting character to meet.
- Okay, once the players have gotten all the "Ronald McDonald" jokes out of their system.
- The PCs are shipwrecked off the coast of Japan in the late 1840s, and find themselves sharing a cell with MacDonald
- Or they could meet him during some of his later travels.
- He would also make a good model for an adventurer in this time period.
- Not just this time period, either; his adventures could serve as a model for a First Contact situation in a Science Fiction campaign.