The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography

By E. W. Gilbert | Go to book overview

Chapter X
THE DISCOVERY OF A CENTRAL TRANS-
CONTINENTAL ROUTE

(a) Astoria, 1810-1813

John Jacob Astor, a fur-trader of Montreal, was one of the first to realise the importance of the great trans-continental route discovered by Lewis and Clark. Astor settled in New York and endeavoured to obtain a monopoly of the fur trade in the United States. In 1808 he founded the American Fur Company and in 1810 the Pacific Fur Company.

Astor determined to establish his headquarters near the mouth of the Columbia. From this place expeditions were to penetrate the interior in all directions, and return with furs. Supplies were to be sent out to the fur-trading centre by sea from New York. The supply ships were then to sell the furs in China and return home with eastern goods. Astor also decided to establish a line of posts across the continent, along the whole length of Lewis and Clark's route.

With these objects in view, two expeditions were prepared, one to travel by sea, the other by land. The Tonquin, a ship of 250 tons, under Captain Thorn carried the maritime expedition. The ship left New York in September, 1810, and arrived in the Columbia on May 25, 1811. The journey was enlivened by the constant quarrels which that iron disciplinarian, Captain Thorn, carried on with the traders. While some of the party remained on the Columbia to establish a fort, which they named Astoria, the ship proceeded to Nootka Sound. When the Tonquin arrived at Nootka, a large number of Indians came on board, apparently for trade, and treacherously seized the ship. On the following day an explosion of the magazine completely destroyed the Tonquin and all who were on board at the time.

____________________
1
The routes of explorers described in this chapter are shown on end Map B, Fig. 33.

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