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*Includes contemporary accounts
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
In 1808, North West Company explorer Alexander Mackenzie traced the great Canadian river now bearing his name to the Arctic Ocean, disappointed that it did not empty, as expected, into the Pacific Ocean. This, however, was further incentive to look south and west, and at about the same time, North West Company trader and explorer David Thompson undertook a series of journeys of exploration that opened up a vast new territory comprising the upper Columbia River, British Columbia, Idaho and Montana.
From the other direction came the first significant figure representing American commerce, John Jacob Astor, a brash German immigrant destined to become the wealthiest man in America. At the age of 17, Astor moved to London to work for his eldest brother, George, a manufacturer of musical instruments. Three years later, he departed for the U.S. to seek his fortune, in possession of a few flutes and $25.00. Arriving at the port of Baltimore, he soon migrated north to New York City to join his brother, Henry. In 1785, he married Sarah Cox Todd, with whom he would raise seven children. In the following year, one decade after the signing of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, Astor established his first fur shop, often going into the wilderness himself to guarantee that it remained well stocked. Within a few years, he found his calling in the larger fur and shipping trades, aptly demonstrating an intent to go well beyond the status of a provincial merchant. "Astute and pragmatic," the ambitious and at times ruthless Astor owned more than a dozen ships by the turn of the century. Not yet having reached the age of 30, he was already trading in China for tea, opium, and a number of other products not native to the American continent.
Astor's imagination concocted and perfected the vision of a multi-directional flow of trade, with products crossing the continent from New York to Oregon, where he had already purchased property by 1806. The fur products would be sent on to several eastern points. Return trips would bring all manner of exotic Asian products to eastern American and European cities. On the periphery were numerous tribes of the Pacific Northwest, furnishing Astor's company with furs in return for cheaply obtained blankets and beads. Similarly, an additional source of beaver, otter, and other fur-bearing animals was to come from Russian America (present-day Alaska) through Archangelsk (now the city of Sitka). The Russians greatly preferred American business to that of European enterprises and were particularly hopeful that Britain would be pushed out of the region due to political strife between the two countries.
While the settlement at Astoria made preparations to explore the interior and set up connecting posts, the international competition increased. By now, American claims were becoming more tangible, especially after Captain Robert Gray's exploration of the Columbia River 30 miles into the interior. Gray, a Bostonian, not only sailed upriver, but established the first American trading relationship with lower Columbia tribes. The Chinook proved to be essential to facilitating the Pacific Fur Company's progress with fellow tribes farther to the interior, although they were never considered entirely reliable.
Fort Astoria: The History and Legacy of the First American Settlement on the Pacific Coast examines the land disputes, and how events unfolded on the way to Oregon becoming part of America. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Oregon Country like never before.