Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

( 12 )

Overview

In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent out two advance parties to settle the wild, unclaimed western coast of North America. More than half of his men died violent deaths. The others survived starvation, madness, and greed to shape the destiny of a continent.

At a time when the edge of American settlement barely reached beyond the Appalachian Mountains, two visionaries, President Thomas Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor, foresaw that one day the Pacific would dominate world ...

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Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

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Overview

In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent out two advance parties to settle the wild, unclaimed western coast of North America. More than half of his men died violent deaths. The others survived starvation, madness, and greed to shape the destiny of a continent.

At a time when the edge of American settlement barely reached beyond the Appalachian Mountains, two visionaries, President Thomas Jefferson and millionaire John Jacob Astor, foresaw that one day the Pacific would dominate world trade as much as the Atlantic did in their day. Just two years after the Lewis and Clark expedition concluded in 1806, Jefferson and Astor turned their sights westward once again. Thus began one of history's dramatic but largely forgotten turning points in the conquest of the North American continent.

Astoria is the harrowing tale of the quest to settle a Jamestown-like colony on the Pacific coast. Astor set out to establish a global trade network based at the mouth of the Columbia River in what is now Oregon, while Jefferson envisioned a separate democracy on the western coast that would spread eastward to meet the young United States.

Astor backed this ambitious enterprise with the vast for-tune he'd made in the fur trade and in New York real estate since arriving in the United States as a near-penniless immigrant soon after the Revolutionary War. He dispatched two groups of men west: one by sea around the southern tip of South America and one by land over the Rockies. The Overland Party, led by the gentlemanly American businessman Wilson Price Hunt, combined French-Canadian voyageurs, Scottish fur traders, American woodsmen, and an extraordinary Native American woman with two toddlers. The Seagoing Party, sailing aboard the ship Tonquin, likewise was a volatile microcosm of contemporary North America. Under the bitter eye of Captain Jonathan Thorn, a young U.S. naval hero whose unyielding, belligerent nature was better suited to battle than to negotiating cultural differences, the Tonquin made tumultuous progress toward its violent end.

Unfolding from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship, drawing extensively on firsthand accounts of those who made the journey. Though the colony itself would be short-lived, its founders opened provincial American eyes to the remarkable potential of the western coast, discovered the route that became the Oregon Trail, and permanently altered the nation's landscape and global standing.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jessica Loudis
…Stark's delightful narrative is proof that even though Astor didn't leave the legacy he intended, his grand failure certainly deserves its own place in history.
Publishers Weekly
12/23/2013
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.)
Stephenie Ambrose-Tubbs
“A splendid account of the man and men who had the audacity, passion, and courage to dream of an American Empire. Peter Stark’s Astoria is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the power of leadership in its purest form.”
Jack Nisbet
“Peter Stark leaps aboard at the very beginning of John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Northwest enterprise, then clings tenaciously to witness every twist, by land and by sea, along the entire desperate ride.”
William Kittredge
“This saga of ambition and adventure and courage is vividly told and thoroughly researched, a not very well known story of ambition confounded. Shipwrecks, bloodiness, and starve-to-death treks through drifted snow in the Rockies-Astoria is a hard-edged beauty.”
David James Duncan
Astoria is a scintillating corrective to the “guts and glory” school of American history and economics. [...] Grandiose visions ... have consequences, and Peter Stark’s depiction of the body count that results from this one unfolds with the inevitability of a fine tragedy and comedic zing of a good action flick.
New York Times Book Review
“Stark’s delightful narrative is proof that even though Astor didn’t leave the legacy he intended, his grand failure certainly deserves its own place in history.”
Washington Post
“In his new book, Astoria ... Stark moves skillfully back and forth from one segment of the splintered expedition to another. He also raises a tantalizing question about the enterprise as a whole.”
Bellingham Herald
“For better or worse, the precedents set by Astor and his expeditions created a tangible American legacy of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and manifest destiny. Carefully researched and splendidly written—an utterly spellbinding account.”
Portland Mercury
“Astoria is ultimately worth reading not just because it’s about Oregon history, but because it contextualizes Oregon’s past within American history. . . . The book is a welcome departure from romanticized tales of Lewis and Clark or of later pioneers.”
Crosscut (Seattle)
“Stark’s compelling, contextual account of Astoria’s founding—at one time documented by none other than author Washington Irving - casts this early venture as a pivotal point in the development of the Pacific Northwest and the nation.”
Inlander
“A great yarn set in our own corner of the continent.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The story of its founders is harshly inspiring, a deeply researched look into the irresistible drive to explore the unknown and the capacity of people to survive, not only the elements, but one another.”
Albany Times Union
“Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head.”
Nancy Pearl on NPR's "Morning Edition"
“A valuable book . . .but more importantly for my perspective, it’s really good reading.”
Coast Weekend
“Well researched and historically accurate, [Astoria] reads much like an adventure novel, engaging you from start to finish.”
BookBrowse.com
“Peter Stark does readers a very large service in reminding us about this extraordinary and important piece of North American history. I can’t recommend Astoria highly enough for anyone interested in the colonization of the American West.”
BookReporter.com
“A truly great adventure story, filled with high drama and hardship that would put ‘Survivor’ cast members into a tailspin of humility.”
Nathaniel Philbrick
“Peter Stark’s Astoria picks up where the Lewis and Clark Expedition leaves off, providing a fascinating and sometimes terrifying window into the brutal and acquisitive essence of not only America but of the human condition. It’s also a great and ... an ennobling tale of survival. Highly recommended.”
Booklist
“... a thrilling true-adventure tale ... A breathtaking account of an expedition that changed the geography of a young nation and its place in global commerce and politics.”
New York Post
“New York businessman Astor, with support from President Jefferson, launched two expeditions in 1810 - overland and by ship ... and Stark recounts the perilous journeys.”
Bookpage
“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. . . . Astoria brings to life a harrowing era of American exploration.”
Chicago Tribune
“[Descriptive] passages . . . make Stark’s fine book truly distinctive. They raise Astoria above the level of a well-done historical adventure and help the reader get into a scene and understand the context or see relationships between participants and between then and now.”
Seattle Times
“Peter Stark’s Astoria is a vivid recreation of an era when the Pacific Northwest was a vast unexploited wilderness, with Astoria as its main American colony. . . . Stark is particularly strong in describing the wilderness and its effects on human psychology.”
Portland Oregonian
“Stark tells their grim story well . . . ‘Astoria’ is a well-written . . . account of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to found a commercial empire in the Pacific Northwest. It illuminates the cultural limits of the American approach to frontier expansion.”
Parade Magazine
“In this 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.”
Wall Street Journal
“In Astoria, Peter Stark recounts the colony’s history as a fast-paced, enjoyable adventure tale.”
Library Journal
10/01/2013
A journalist and author who likes a good adventure in the wilderness, Stark drew on papers housed at the Harvard Business School, including those of financier John Jacob Astor, to reconstruct the 1810 Astor Expedition. That key expedition established the first U.S. settlement on the West Coast—the Columbia River trading post at Fort Astoria—and opened up the Oregon Trail. With a tour to Denver, Los Angeles, Montana, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-01-04
A correspondent for Outside recovers a remarkable piece of history: the story of America's first colony on the continent's West coast. Beginning in 1810, John Jacob Astor (1763–1848) set in motion an audacious plan to create "the largest commercial enterprise the world has ever known." He planned to control North America's entire fur trade by establishing a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, the lynchpin of a network extending west to the Pacific Rim and east to Europe. President Thomas Jefferson encouraged the venture, envisioning Astor's proposed settlement as the beginning of a "sister democracy" to the United States. From his base in Manhattan, Astor launched a two-pronged expedition: an Overland Party that carved a path later known as the Oregon Trail and a Sea-Going Party that sailed around Cape Horn to the coastal region west of the Rockies. Stark (The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey through the Blank Spots on the American Map, 2010, etc.) spins the tale of these arduous journeys, the founding of Astoria and the outpost's abandonment during the War of 1812. He focuses on the tyrannical sea captain, the beleaguered, consensus-seeking businessman, and the shady, self-important fur trader who headed the parties and the French voyageurs, Yankee seamen, and Scottish woodsmen they commanded, as well as the Native American tribes they encountered. If the character of Astor remains indistinct, not so the horrors faced by the Astorians. Their various ordeals give Stark the chance to comment on cold water immersion and hypothermia, the efficacy of pounded, dried wild cherries in combating scurvy, and the intriguing role of what we would today call PTSD in the early exploration of North America. Near the end of his life, Astor employed Washington Irving to tell the astonishing story of Astoria. With Stark, this almost unbelievable tale remains in expert hands. A fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death.
Laurence Gonzalez
“Peter Stark weaves a spellbinding tale from this lost chapter of American history. Astoria gave me the sense all readers long for: that nothing exists but the riveting narrative unfolding in your head.”
Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
Stark (The Last Empty Places) vividly writes of fur trader John Jacob Astor's capitalist quest, put forth in 1810, to establish an American colony on the northern Pacific coast at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. His grand plans to connect an Atlantic-based America to the trade routes of the Pacific were encouraged by President Jefferson; both men wanted an American presence firmly established in the continental Northwest in competition with the British fur explorations of David Thompson. Stark's strong familiarity with the terrain of the Rocky Mountain states and the use of the explorers' journals serve him well in his reconstruction of the expedition's overland journeys along the Snake River of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. His fascinating account of the journey's fast sailing ship, the Tonquin, headed to Oregon by sea, provides a dramatic narrative of power struggles with the coastal Native Americans. VERDICT Stark's book complements Larry Morris's The Perilous West, which concentrates on the establishment of the Oregon Trail. Lay and undergraduate readers will appreciate this title that never loses its focus on the founding of Astoria as the prime objective within Astor's push west. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/13]—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062218292
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 26,223
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Stark is the author of The Last Empty Spaces: A Past and Present Journey Through the Blank Spots on the American Map; Last Breath: The Limits of Adventure; At the Mercy of the River: An Exploration of the Last African Wilderness; and the essay collection Driving to Greenland: Arctic Travel, Northern Sport, and Other Ventures in the Heart of Winter. He also edited the anthology Ring of Ice: True Tales of Adventure, Exploration, and Arctic Life. A correspondent for Outside, he has written for Smithsonian and The New Yorker, among other publications, and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. He lives in Montana.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Very well written and researched.

    Being an avid reader of this era's history of the American West, I really enjoyed reading a new take on the trials and tribulations of the Astorians. Much detail, but not too much, revealing what really went into the unraveling of John Jacob Astor's "Grand Plan."

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2014

    Excellent book! Very well written and laid out. Couldn't put i

    Excellent book! Very well written and laid out. Couldn't put it down.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    Oh yea

    Could not wait to read the next page. Without any question in the top 5 books that I have read on any subject . A must .

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2014

    The story is too real to not be real - but you keep reading and

    The story is too real to not be real - but you keep reading and it just gets more unbelievable!
    What we did to go to the moon, as explorers, was obviously epic, yet what Stark points out here is
    sometimes our greatest explorations have happened right here on Earth.
    You don't have to be a part of the Pacific Northwest to enjoy this fantastic read. You like historic action reads
    you'll like this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2014

    Great story

    Readers of adventure/survival history will love this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Excellent read

    Fascinating history of the establishment of Astoria. Well written story of early adventurers and the struggles they encountered as they crossed the unknown western regions of the US to establish world commerce. Excellent profiles of the people who made this trek and how the personalities interacted. I was particularly impressed with the courage and determination of the men...and one woman...who suffered great hardships to realize the vision of John Jacob Astor. Held my interest throughout.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2014

    Wyth

    F

    0 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2014

    Hry2,0

    Dancin with ma milkshake baby

    0 out of 36 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 4, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted April 22, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

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    Posted May 8, 2014

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