In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeletons in the Zahara , Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast.Read more...
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In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeletons in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.
Six years after Lewis and Clark's began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, two of the Eastern establishment's leading figures, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson, turned their sights to founding a colony akin to Jamestown on the West Coast and transforming the nation into a Pacific trading power. Author and correspondent for Outside magazine Peter Stark recreates this pivotal moment in American history for the first time for modern readers, drawing on original source material to tell the amazing true story of the Astor Expedition.
Unfolding over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea. Of the more than one hundred-forty members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast--one crossing the Rockies, the other rounding Cape Horn--nearly half perished by violence. Others went mad. Within one year, the expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River. Though the colony would be short-lived, it opened provincial American eyes to the potential of the Western coast and its founders helped blaze the Oregon Trail.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-12-23
- Reviewer: Staff
At the dawn of the 19th century, America's Eastern coast had largely been settled, but the West remained largely uncharted and undeveloped. In 1810, entrepreneur John Jacob Astor proposed to Thomas Jefferson that Astor start a trading colony in what is now Oregon. In a page-turning tale of ambition, greed, politics, survival, and loss, historian Stark (The Last Empty Spaces) chronicles Astor's mad dash to establish a fur-trading company, Astoria, which would capture the territory's wealth and allow Jefferson to inaugurate his vision of a democracy from sea to shining sea. Astor sent two parties to build his empire, one by sea and one by land. They were to reach the Pacific coast at the same time, but dissension among the leaders of the overland party, as well as Indian attacks and other logistical difficulties, kept it from arriving according to plan. The sea party aboard the Tonquin was scarcely more fortunate. The establishment of the short-lived Astoria coincided with the War of 1812, and in October 1813, Duncan McDougall sold out the trading post to the British. Stark eloquently concludes that though Astoria failed, Astor's vision and drive pushed settlers to establish a Western presence, altering the shape of the American nation. (Mar.)
Carving a way to the Pacific Northwest
The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood.
It’s hard to decide which party had the rougher journey. The overland party climbed snowy mountains, nearly starved and was attacked by Native Americans. The seafarers didn’t do much better, a motley crew of Americans and Scots who encountered rogue waves, endured water shortages and squabbled their way around Cape Horn to the rocky coastline where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.
Author Peter Stark retraces the journey in spellbinding detail, making use of journals to get inside the minds of these explorers who set out just two years after Lewis and Clark successfully crossed the continent.
“We climbed mountains so high that I could hardly believe our horses would get over them,” wrote Wilson Price Hunt, whom Astor chose to lead the overland party. “We could advance only with the greatest difficulty because of the sharp rocks, and the precipices plunge to the very banks of the river.”
Almost half of the 140 travelers died before ever laying eyes on Astoria. Those who did straggle in to the muddy settlement found something other than paradise awaiting them.
“[I]magine the rude shock of arrival in the coastal winter or early spring,” Stark writes. “It’s cold, it’s raining—as it is nearly two hundred days a year at the mouth of the Columbia—the infinite gray coastline stretches away backed by the thick, dark rainforest—soggy, choked with rotting cedar logs, prehistoric sword ferns, and the dark columns of towering fir and spruce whose outstretched limbs are draped with lichen in giant, ghostly cobwebs.”
Stark is a correspondent for Outside, and his outdoor-writing bona fides are put to excellent use here. Astoria brings to life a harrowing era of American exploration.