Page images

by the ships of European nations; and, strange to say, this voyage was conducted under the Polish flag! In the month of May of that year, a few persons, chiefly Poles, who had been exiled to Kamtchatka for political reasons, succeeded in overpowering the garrison of the small town of Bolscheretsk, on the south-west side of Kamtchatka, where they were detained, and escaped to sea in a vessel then lying in the harbor. They were directed in their enterprise by Count Maurice de Benyowsky, a Hungarian, who had been an officer in the Polish service, and from whose history of his own life, afterwards published, all the accounts of their adventures are derived. From these accounts, it appears that the fugitives, on entering the Pacific, were driven northward as far as the 66th degree of latitude; during which part of their voyage, they frequently saw the coasts of both continents, and visited several of the Aleutian Islands. At Bering's Isle they found a number of fugitive exiles, like themselves, established in possession, under the command of a Saxon; and at Unalashka, the largest of the group, they discovered crosses, with inscriptions, erected by Krenitzin, in 1768. I'roceeding thence towards the south, they touched at several places in the Kurile, Japan, and Loochoo Islands, as also at Formosa; and, at length, in September, they arrived at Canton, where they carried the first furs which ever entered that city by sea.*

A circumstantial account of the principal voyages and discoveries of the Russians, made between 1741 and 1770, drawn from original sources, was published at St. Petersburg, in 1774, by J. L. Stæhlin, councillor of state to the empress. These records are curious and interesting, but they throw very little light on the great geographical questions relative to that part of the world, which then remained unsolved ; and the accompanying chart only serves, at present, to show more conspicuously the value of the discoveries effected by other nations. According to this chart, the American coast extended, on the Pacific, in a line nearly due north-west from Cali

* Memoirs and Travels of Maurice Augustus Count de Benyowsky, written by himself, published at London, in 1790. Benyowsky's account of his escape from Kamtchatka, and his voyage to China, were for some time discredited; but they have since been confirmed, at least as regards the principal circumstances. He afterwards had a variety of adventures, especially in Madagascar, of which he pretended to be the rightful sovereign; and he was, at length, killed at Foul Point, in that island, in May, 1786, while at the head of a party of Europeans and natives, in a contest with the French from the Isle of France.

+ Description of the newly-discovered Islands in the Sea between Asia and America. A translation of the greater part of this work may be found in the last edition of Coxe's History of Russian Discoveries.




fornia, to the 70th degree of latitude, and was separated from the opposite coast of Asia by a wide expanse of sea, containing many islands, several of which correspond in name with those of the Aleutian Archipelago, though the positions assigned to them are far from correct: the largest of the islands there represented, called Alascha, lies under the 67th parallel, between the westernmost point of America and the most eastern of Asia. In the beautiful map of the Russian empire, published at St. Petersburg by Treschot and Schmidt, in 1776, no land, except some islands, appears within twenty-five degrees of longitude east of Kamtchatka. Other maps, however, which appeared at a much earlier period, offer a view more nearly correct of the extreme north-western coasts of America, although the geographer who constructed them must have been guided almost entirely by suppositions.

The errors of latitude, in all these maps, were very great, amounting to ten degrees, in some instances; and those of longitude were, as may be readily supposed, much more considerable. Indeed, before 1778, when Cook made his voyage through the North Pacific, the differences in longitude, between places in that part of the ocean, had never been estimated otherwise than by the dead reckoning, which, however carefully observed, cannot afford accurate results ; nor had any relation, which could be considered as nearly correct, been established between the meridian of any point on the Atlantic and that of any point on the North Pacific.



1763 to 1780.

Great Britain obtains Possession of Canada - Journey of Carver to the Upper Mis

sissippi - First Mention of the Oregon River ~ Inaccuracy of Carver's Statements - Journeys of Hearne through the Regions west of Hudson's Bay – Voyage of Captain Cook to the North Pacific — His important Discoveries in that Quarter, and Death - Return of his Ships to Europe ; Occurrences at Canton during their Stay in that Port.

Whilst the Russians were thus prosecuting the fur trade on the north-westernmost coasts of America, the British were engaged in the same pursuit on the north-eastern side of the continent.

It has been already mentioned that King Charles II. of England, in 1669, granted to an association of gentlemen and merchants of London the possession of all the territories surrounding Hudson's Bay, and the exclusive trade in those regions, with the object, expressed in the charter, of encouraging his subjects to prosecute the search for a north-west passage for ships from that sea to the Pacific Ocean. Under the protection of this charter, the Hudson's Bay Company erected forts and trading establishments on the shores of the bay, and carried on an extensive and profitable trade with the natives of that part of America, to the annoyance of the French, who, also, claimed the country as part of Canada, and more than once dislodged the British traders. It was, indeed, provided by the treaty of Utrecht, in 1714, that the Hudson's Bay territories should belong to the former nation, and that commissaries should be appointed, on both sides, to settle the line separating those territories from Canada : but no such boundary was ever fixed, by commissaries or otherwise, as will be shown hereafter ; * and the

* limits of the Hudson's Bay territories remained undetermined in 1763, when Canada, with all the other dominions of France in · North America, east of the Mississippi, were ceded to Great Britain by the treaty of Paris.

" See chap. xiii., and Proofs and Illustrations, letter F.




How far the Hudson's Bay Company, also, endeavored to fulfil the intention expressed in the charter, of promoting the search for a north-west passage, it is unnecessary here to inquire; suffice it to say, that, at the end of a century from the date of the concession, the question, as to the existence of such a channel, was nearly in the same state as at the commencement of that period. Hudson's Bay had been navigated by Middleton, in 1741, to the 66th degree of latitude, beyond which it was known to extend; Baffin's Bay had not been visited since the beginning of the seventeenth century, when it was examined imperfectly to the 74th parallel. The territories west of both these seas were entirely unexplored; but accounts, which seemed to merit some credit, had been received from the Indians, of great rivers and other waters in that direction. The desired communication with the Pacific might, therefore, exist; or the Pacific, or some navigable river falling into it, might be found within a short distance of places on the Atlantic side of the continent, accessible to vessels from Europe: and the determination of these questions became infinitely more important to Great Britain, after the acquisition of Canada.

The region extending south-west, from Hudson's Bay to the great lakes, and the head waters of the Mississippi, had long been frequented by the traders from Canada and Louisiana, and had been partially surveyed by French officers and missionaries, by whom several journals, histories, and maps, relating to those countries, had been given to the world. This region was also visited, immediately after the transfer of Canada to Great Britain, by an American, whose travels are here mentioned, because he is supposed to have thrown much light upon the geography of North-west America by his own observations, and by information collected from the Indians of the Upper Mississippi.

This traveller, Captain Jonathan Carver, of Connecticut, who had served with some credit in the war against the French, particularly in the country about Lakes Champlain and George, set out from Boston in 1766, and proceeded, by way of Detroit and Michilimackinac, to the regions of the Upper Mississippi, now forming the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa, where he spent two years among the Indians. His object was, as he says in the introduction to his narrative, “after gaining a knowledge of the manners, customs, languages, soil, and natural productions, of the different nations that inhabit the back of the Mississippi, to ascertain the breadth of the vast continent which extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, in its broadest part, between the 43d and the 46th degrees of northern latitude. Had I been able,” he continues, “to accomplish this, I intended to have proposed to government to establish a post in some of those parts, about the Strait of Anian, which, having been discovered by Sir Francis Drake, of course belongs to the English. This, I am convinced, would greatly facilitate the discovery of a north-west passage, or communication between Hudson's Bay and the Pacific Ocean.” This extensive plan he was, however, unable to pursue, having been disappointed in his intention to purchase goods, and then to pursue his journey from the Upper Mississippi, “by way of the Lakes Dubois, Dupluie, and Ouinipique, [the old French names of Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Winnipeg,] to the head waters of the Great River of the West, which falls into the Strait of Anian.” *

This Great River of the West is several times mentioned by Carver, under the name of Oregon, or Origan. In another part of his introduction, he refers to his account, in the journal, “of the situation of the four great rivers that take their rise within a few leagues of each other, nearly about the centre of the great continent, viz., the River Bourbon, (Red River of the north, which empties itself into Hudson's Bay, the waters of the St. Lawrence, the Mississippi, and the River Oregon, or River of the West, that falls into the Pacific Ocean at the Straits of Anian.” At the conclusion of his work, also, in speaking of a project which had been formed, in 1774, by himself, Mr. Whitworth, a member of the British parliament, and other persons in London, to cross the American continent, he says that they would have “proceeded up the River St. Pierre, [St. Peter's,] and from thence up a branch of the River Messorie, till, having discovered the source of the Oregon, or River of the West, on the other side of the summit of the lands that divide the waters which fall into the Gulf of Mexico from those that fall into the Pacific Ocean, they would have sailed

* Travels throughout the interior Parts of North America, in 1766—8, by Jonathan Carver, London, 1778. It consists of — an introduction, showing what the author had done and wished to do – a journal of his travels, with descriptions of the countries visited, and -- an account of the origin, habits, religion, and languages, of the Indians of the country about the Upper Mississippi, which account occupies two thirds of the work, and is extracted almost entirely, and, in many parts, verbatim, from the French journals and histories. The book was written, or rather made up, at London, at the suggestion of Dr. Lettsom and other gentlemen, and printed for the purpose of relieving the wants of the author, who, bowever, died there, in misery, in 1780, at the age of 48.

« PreviousContinue »