Chief Maquinna, born in the 1760s, became famous among the European and American captains because of his ongoing contact with visiting ships. He was a leader in his community, a Ha’wil, before contact with traders and explorers. When the ships started to come to the summer village at Yuquot, Nootka Sound, he skillfully encouraged trade, increasing prosperity and elevating the place of his people in the region. He arranged trade in goods from his village and acted as a middleman for trade items coming from communities located further away from the ports favoured by the large ships. More time was spent in Yuquot as it was more popular with visitors than their winter village of Tahsis.
The amplified ability of Maquinna and the Mowachaht people to hold potlatches to display their wealth and power and to stand up to rivals changed the political structures of the Nuu-chah-nulth on western Vancouver Island. Maquinna focused on increasing the area under his control, and in a political move, he married the daughter of rival chief Wickaninnish of Clayoquot Sound. He formed good relationships with other local Ha’wil by taking their daughters as his wives as well. Maquinna also provided for his community as a great whaler and spiritual guide.
Maquinna learned Spanish and English to the degree that he could converse about complex social practices of his people, and he was often invited to dine and sleep aboard ship. He drank tea with the Malaspina expedition, “a custom found to be well introduced among his relatives”, and was asked to keep watch over the Spanish settlement at Nootka, although misdealing led to conflict with some of the American vessels. Maquinna attempted to benefit from the new arrivals by accepting aspects of European culture without rejecting his own traditions.