Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire
Astoria, a harrowing historical tale of adventure and hardship, journalist Peter Stark re-creates a largely forgotten 19th-century expedition—during which one group crossed the Rockies and another sailed around Cape Horn—to establish America’s first colony on the Pacific Northwest coast. Read an excerpt below.
The bickering aboard the Tonquin started that first night out of New York Harbor, on September 8, 1810. Captain Thorn, following his naval discipline, ordered all lights out at 8:00 P.M. His salt-hardened crew diligently obeyed. But the four clannish, woodsy, Scottish fur traders on board as passengers hadn’t finished their socializing on deck, chatting and smoking their pipes as if sitting around a campfire. Nor had the dozen sinewy, French-Canadian voyageurs. Nor the eight literate young men from Canada who had signed on as clerks with Mr. Astor, some of them scribbling away in their journals.
The argumentative Scottish fur traders flatly refused Captain Thorn’s order for bedtime. Mr. Astor had made them partners in the great scheme, they retorted. They held a financial interest. That meant, as shareholders, they owned part of the Tonquin. How could Captain Thorn tell them what to do aboard their own ship.
Another question arose: Who would sleep where on the overcrowded vessel jammed with supplies and personnel to start Mr. Astor’s empire on the Pacific? Captain Thorn had assigned some of the clerks-in-training to sleep before the mast with the common crew. The Scottish partners took this as an insult and confronted Captain Thorn to move the clerks aft to the main cabin.
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