Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809

By Barry M. Gough | Go to book overview

11
The Overlanders

To secure to one's own people a disproportionate share of the benefits of sea commerce every effort was made to exclude others, either by the peaceful legislative methods of monopoly or prohibitory regulations, or, when these failed, by direct violence.

A. T. MAHAN, THE INFLUENCE OF SEA POWER UPON HISTORY

About the time that the Nootka convention recognized British rights to trade in the Pacific and to claim sovereignty over sections of the Northwest Coast not already occupied by European nations, traders of the North West Company were relentlessly pushing their commerce into every tributary of the Athabaska country east of the Rocky Mountains. West of the Rockies they were facing obstacles of distance no easier than the long, tenuous links by sea faced by maritime fur traders then frequenting the Northwest Coast. Westward from Fort Chipewyan, the hub of Athabaska trade, four immense mountain chains divided the prairie foothills from the Pacific. A maze of wildly turbulent rivers lay beyond the continental divide. The secrets of the streams that flowed to the Pacific lay hidden to Europeans until the explorations by Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and David Thompson in the early years of the nineteenth century delineated the courses of the main rivers of the Pacific cordillera. Even then, they found no navigable artery except the lower Columbia River. This meant that to conquer distance and exploit the rich fur resources of the farthest west the Nor'westers would be obliged to use pack horses as well as canoes. 1

Just as the maritime fur traders sought the riches of the China market, so did the Nor'westers. Their push to the Pacific was as much keyed to opening this new branch of commerce as it was to competing in the European market against their two great rivals, the Hudson's Bay Company and John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company.

In the search for profits in the China market, the North West Company had to observe mercantilist regulations emanating from London, not enjoying the munificent privileges of trade that their Hudson's Bay Company had possessed by charter since 1670. 2 And, as in the case of Meares and other British maritime fur traders, the Nor'westers had to resort to subterfuge in order to circumvent the powers of the East India Company. These two giant chartered companies and, to a lesser degree, the South Sea Company (which had some rights of licensing

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Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Distant Dominion - Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809 *
  • Contents *
  • Photographic Credits *
  • Illustrations *
  • Preface *
  • 1: Tyranny of Distance *
  • 2: Pacific Probes *
  • 3: Cook's Reconnaissance *
  • 4: Spanning the Pacific *
  • 5: The Fortune Seekers *
  • 6: Beachhead of Empire *
  • 7: Imperial Dreams and False Starts *
  • 8: Conflicts of Ambition *
  • 9: Dealing with the Dons *
  • 10: The Surveyor-Diplomats *
  • 11: The Overlanders *
  • Epilogue *
  • Abbreviations *
  • Notes *
  • Note on Sources *
  • Select Bibliography *
  • Index *
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