Tide of Empire: America's March to the Pacific

Overview

They were idealistic, scheming, and visionary. They were daring, willing to take great risks in exchange for tremendous payoffs. They were builders and, at the same time, destroyers. They were the men and women who opened up the Oregon Country and California to mass settlement -- changing the nation forever. In this dramatic narrative, acclaimed writer and popular historian Michael Golay brings to life the traders, trappers, explorers, and missionaries who withstood seemingly insurmountable odds to seize a ...
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Overview

They were idealistic, scheming, and visionary. They were daring, willing to take great risks in exchange for tremendous payoffs. They were builders and, at the same time, destroyers. They were the men and women who opened up the Oregon Country and California to mass settlement -- changing the nation forever. In this dramatic narrative, acclaimed writer and popular historian Michael Golay brings to life the traders, trappers, explorers, and missionaries who withstood seemingly insurmountable odds to seize a Pacific Empire for their nation. Drawing from letters, diaries, and both published and unpublished memoirs, The Tide of Empire is a colorful chronicle of indomitable characters, moral ambiguities, and the clash of Native American and European cultures.

Golay explores the consequences of westward expansion, examining the transformational power -- both creative and destructive -- of American energy and ideals. Were these pioneers' motives pure or tainted? It is for the reader to decide, as these early settlers -- blindly certain of their values -- pave the way for a quarter-million men, women, and children to follow, hacking roads through mountains, rerouting rivers, cutting down lush forests, and dredging harbors, assured of their right to exploit the land. Golay deftly balances the unintended consequences of good intentions with cultural arrogance, as the Native Americans and Mexicans of the Pacific fall beneath the footsteps of the march of conquest. Along the way, we meet the complex individuals at the heart of the story, including the aggressively entrepreneurial missionary Jason Lee; John Charles Fremont, who may have carried secret government orders to spark a revolt in California; Nathaniel Wyeth, the resourceful adventurer who, in two cross-country voyages, clearly established the Oregon Trail; and Narcissa Prentiss, who longed for the heroic life of a missionary and, along with her husband Marcus Whitman, unwittingly set in motion the destruction of the Cayuse tribe's way of life. A compellingly told, fast-paced account of exploration and adventure, The Tide of Empire will engage every reader from start to finish -- from the Euroamerican discovery of the fabled turbulent Great River of the West to the silencing of those once wild and bountiful waters ... all in the name of progress.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The story of America's expansion to the Pacific Ocean is a familiar and oft-told one. Golay (To Gettysburg and Beyond) provides his take on events, from Robert Gray's discovery of the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792 to the Whitman killings in 1847. To make clear the theme that this expansion was inevitable given the nature of the times and the American character, Golay made extensive use of letters and diaries, particularly those of the Protestant missionaries sent to Oregon. Yet his words are also tinged with regret for what was lost because of this expansion and its consequences. While there is nothing new here, Golay offers a good picture of the trials and tribulations faced by the early settlers in Oregon and shows their relationship with Hudson's Bay Company. Recommended for most libraries.-Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
The story of America's expansion to the Pacific Ocean is a familiar and oft-told one. Golay (To Gettysburg and Beyond) provides his take on events, from Robert Gray's discovery of the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792 to the Whitman killings in 1847. To make clear the theme that this expansion was inevitable given the nature of the times and the American character, Golay made extensive use of letters and diaries, particularly those of the Protestant missionaries sent to Oregon. Yet his words are also tinged with regret for what was lost because of this expansion and its consequences. While there is nothing new here, Golay offers a good picture of the trials and tribulations faced by the early settlers in Oregon and shows their relationship with Hudson's Bay Company. Recommended for most libraries. —Stephen H. Peters, North Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette (Library Journal, September 1, 2003)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641649295
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/22/2003
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 6.58 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL GOLAY, a popular historian, has written five books about ninteenth-century American history, including To Gettysburg and Beyond and A Ruined Land (Wiley), for which he was a finalist for the prestigious Lincoln prize. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire.
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Read an Excerpt


The Tide of Empire



America's March to the Pacific


By Michael Golay


John Wiley & Sons



Copyright © 2003

Michael Golay
All right reserved.



ISBN: 0-471-37791-0



Chapter One


Ways West


Columbia had been sometimes a sullen ship, though invariably a
lucky one; John Jacob Astor's Tonquin sailed into a nightmare, with a
murderous and delusional martinet for a captain. Well launched upon
his rise to becoming America's richest man, Astor in the summer of
1810 outfitted Tonquin for a voyage around Cape Horn to the Pacific
Northwest, where his advance agents were to establish a depot at the
mouth of the Columbia River for the collection of Rocky Mountain
furs for the China market. A hard and canny buccaneer, Astor meant
to challenge and ultimately dominate the two British Canadian trapping
and trading firms, the 140-year-old Hudson's Bay Company and
its parvenu rival, the North West Company. He dispatched two expeditions
to the Oregon Country in 1810:a party of overlanders under
the New Jersey merchant Wilson Price Hunt and the shipborne contingent
in the star-crossed Tonquin.

Trade and wealth were Astor's obsessions, and he had an instinctive
feel for the precise points at which his interests and those of
the United States might intersect.His hired memorialist Washington
Irving would write in 1836 that Astor intended the Columbia outpost
as "the germ of a wide civilization" that would attract settlers from
the United States. Astor may or may not have been aware of the dictum
of the geographer Thomas Hutchins, an early prophet of American
transcontinental destiny. "If we want it, I warrant it will soon be
ours," Hutchins said in 1784, the same year, coincidentally, that the
German-born Astor arrived in the United States. Robert Gray had
staked the first American claim to the Oregon Country with Columbia's
reconnaissance of the estuary of the great river in May 1792. A party
from George Vancouver's British exploring expedition trumped the
Americans in October of that year, venturing a hundred miles upriver
and raising the British standard. In 1805-1806, the Lewis and Clark
transcontinental expedition wintered over near the mouth of the
Columbia, the second American penetration of "the Oregon of the
Spaniards." Now Astor's American Fur Company aimed to plant a trading
colony there, the first permanent white presence in the region.

With foreigners controlling the fur trade in U.S. territory on the
upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, Astor complained that he had to
travel to Montreal to buy American pelts to sell to his U.S. customers-with
a substantial markup to cover British profits and his own added
expenses. Lewis and Clark having shown the way, Astor proposed a
line of trading forts from the Missouri to the Pacific. He sought the
U.S. government's blessing and assistance, adumbrating the prospect
of a Pacific empire in return. "The intention is to carry on the trade
so extensively that it may in time embrace the greater part of the fur
trade on this continent," he wrote President Thomas Jefferson early
in 1808. "Every exertion shall be made to forward the wishes of the
government in these relations with the Indians &it is believed that
the trade will in time ... have advantages to the country." Jefferson
responded with enthusiasm: "You may be assured that in order to get
the whole of this business passed into the hands of our own citizens
and to oust foreign traders who so much abuse their privileges by
endeavoring to excite the Indians to war on us every reasonable facility
& patronage in the power of the Executive will be afforded."
Astor chartered the American Fur Company in April 1808 with the
goal of forcing the British out of the fur trade and establishing a
monopoly of his own.

Initially Astor proposed a partnership on the Columbia with the
North West Company. When the North Westers rebuffed him, he hired
away a legion of the company's experienced traders and prepared
to go it alone, setting up a subsidiary, the Pacific Fur Company, for
the purpose. In the early days of the trade, Americans exchanging
Pacific Northwest furs for Canton silks, tea, nankeens, and porcelain
had returned home with fabulous profits-"an average clear gain of a
thousand per cent every second year," according to one of Astor's new
employees, the ex-North Wester Alexander Ross. So the prize glittered.
Astor himself advanced the start-up capital, $200,000 out of his
own copper-bottomed assets, and agreed to bear all expenses and
losses for the first five years. Oddly for so pawky an operator, he
chose Hunt, a man with no experience of the wilds, to lead the overland
voyage and assigned the former North Wester Alexander McKay,
a veteran of trapper-explorer Alexander Mackenzie's epic march across
Canada to the Pacific in 1792-1793, to command the Tonquin party.

Hunt's overlanders set out from Lachine near Montreal in early
July 1810. Two separate parties of partners, clerks, mechanics, and voyageurs
pushed south from the St. Lawrence in bark canoes, bound for
New York City via Lake Champlain and the Hudson. The second band
of Canadians reached the metropolis on August 4, taking the inland
passage along the eastern shore of Manhattan Island to their lodgings
in Brooklyn. The voyageurs in their piebald uniform-blanket coat,
striped shirt, leather leggings, and deerskin moccasins-created a sensation.
"We sang as we rowed," Gabriel Franchere, one of the clerks,
wrote in his journal; the singing and the novelty of the canoes drew
dense crowds to the water's edge to catch a glimpse of these wild
exotics of the forest.

Astor's people and Captain Jonathan Thorn, the master of Tonquin,
clashed from the outset. A U.S. Navy officer on half-pay leave,
the thirty-three-year-old Thorn struck the Astorians as violent, rigid,
secretive, and peevish. "He was accustomed to exact obedience, being
obeyed at the smallest demand," Franchere observed, "and was concerned
with duty only." To Ross, he went out of his way to make
everyone packed into the ninety-four-foot-long ship as miserable as
he allowed himself to be. Even Irving, who out of loyalty to Astor
attempted a published defense of the captain, called him "dry and
dictatorial." As for Thorn, he stigmatized his passengers as dirty, boastful,
noisy, lazy, and lax about discipline-in a word, lubberly. The journal-keeping
habits of Ross and Franchere particularly grated on him. "The
collecting of material for long histories of their voyages and travels
appears to engross most of their attention," Thorn wrote Astor. And
the Scots aboard tormented him by murmuring conspiratorially among
themselves in Gaelic, raising the specter of mutiny in the captain's
mind.

Perhaps anticipating trouble, Astor advised Thorn before Tonquin
sailed to take care to promote harmony aboard. "To prevent any misunderstanding
will require your particular good management," he
wrote. But the captain made scant effort to restrain himself when
McKay, as head of the traders, challenged him for assigning the five
Astorian mechanics to berths with the common seamen. They were
passengers, McKay insisted, not foremast jacks. Thorn informed McKay
that "he would blow out the brains of the first man who dared to disobey
his orders on board his own ship," according to Alexander Ross.
This set the tone for the entire voyage-rankling hatred between the
partners and the psychotic Captain Thorn.

Tonquin, 269 tons, pierced for 22 guns (but carrying only 10), with
21 crewmen and 33 passengers, warped away from the wharf on the
morning of September 6, 1810, and floated out into the stream. The
wind died presently, leaving the ship adrift under limp sails off Staten
Island and unable to make an offing. A fitful southwesterly breeze
finally carried Tonquin out to sea. With rumors of an armed brig from
British Halifax lying just over the horizon, Astor had asked the senior
naval officer in New York City for an escort to see his investment
safely away. Franchere and Ross recalled that Tonquin sailed in company
with the frigate USS Constitution for a day or so as a precaution
against an encounter with the British vessel, which Astor supposed to
be a North West Company hireling.

In the event, the brig failed to appear. To Thorn's disgust, the
restless heaving of the ship caused an epidemic of seasickness among
the Canadians. Miserable and disoriented, others fell victim to the
blue devils. "I found myself sailing on the open sea with nothing
between the depths of the water and the immensity of the sky on
which to fix my eye or attract my attention except the frail machine
that bore me," wrote Franchere. "For a long time I remained with my
eyes straining toward the coastline that I could no longer see and that
I despaired of ever seeing again." Tonquin struck the trades on October
4. The next morning, lookouts reported a distant view of the
Cape Verde Islands to the northwest. The ship wallowed in a dead
calm all day on the eighth. The men captured a shark and made a
meal of it; Franchere thought it ate like sturgeon. The sun bore down
with an intensity the Canadians had never before experienced, the
mercury reaching 108 °F on October 16. Tonquin crossed the equator
six burning days later. Conditions gradually turned cool and rainy as
the ship dropped down the map. Beginning on November 10, hard
gales damaged the rigging and started several leaks. Scarcely had that
fifty-hour storm blown itself out when a second struck, a true widow-maker,
dismounting six guns (for a time, they rolled about on deck
like thunder, according to Ross)and sending the people below to the
pumps. With water running short, Thorn reduced the ration to three
gills a day (about three-quarters of a pint), torture for hard-worked
men on a salt-meat diet. He altered course for the Falklands so the
water casks could be refilled and greenstuff taken aboard.

Tonquin dropped anchor between two bald, treeless islands on
December 4. The second mate, John Mumford, led a detail ashore in
search of water. He found none, though he did return with several
geese and two seals. With the barometer falling, Thorn stood out to
sea that evening. He discovered a safe anchorage on the sixth-Port
Egmont, as it turned out. Shore parties reported a flowing spring of
freshwater and abundant geese, duck, seals, and penguin eggs. One
group came upon the headboards of the graves of two British whalers,
the names almost obliterated. The men set to recarving them. Another
scythed grass for the ship's livestock. Two of the Astor partners, Duncan
McDougall and David Stuart, moved off in search of game. Then,
quite without warning, Thorn flashed out the order to embark.

The shore detachments did not respond to the summons promptly
enough to satisfy Thorn. He ordered Tonquin to weigh and sailed off,
stranding McDougall, Stuart, McKay, the clerks Franchere and Ross,
and three or four others. The castaways raced down to the beach,
wrestled the launch into the surf, and began to row furiously. An hour
passed, then another. Robert Stuart, a nephew of David Stuart, persuaded
himself that Thorn really intended to maroon the men. Drawing
two pistols, he confronted the captain on his holy quarterdeck and
demanded that he put ship about. According to Thorn, the wind
shifted providentially just then and Tonquin lost way. Stuart sheathed
the pistols. The launch closed fast and McDougall and the others
heaved themselves aboard. To the end, Thorn insisted he had intended
to abandon them in the Falklands, as an encouragement to
the others.

"Had the wind (unfortunately)not hauled ahead soon after leaving
the harbor's mouth, I should positively have left them," he wrote
Astor.

After ten days of fog, rain, and piercing cold, Thorn doubled
Cape Horn on Christmas Day. Curving northward into the Pacific,
Tonquin caught favorable winds and sped on a great spread of sail into
the new year of 1811. Fishing from the rail, the men caught several
large tuna on January 17. The ship crossed the equator on the twenty-third.
Thorn made landfall on February 11, raising Mauna Loa volcano
on the island of Hawaii in what were then known as the Sandwich
Islands, and in due course Tonquin glided to anchor in Kealakekua
Bay. Natives in outriggers raced alongside with cabbages, yams, watermelons,
and poultry for sale. Franchere, Ross, and others ventured
ashore. A Hawaiian guide led them to the place where islanders had
killed Captain Cook in an argument over a small boat on the same
date thirty-two years before. Franchere noted the coincidence, then-to
be on the safe side-returned to the ship.

With trade in pork a royal monopoly, the Hawaiian king's representative
on Hawaii advised Thorn to sail for the capital on Oahu and
negotiate for hogs there. A double pirogue with a crew of twenty-four
ferried the king himself to Tonquin's anchorage in the roadstead opposite
Waikiki. Tall, robust, running to fat, and majestic of carriage, King
Kamehameha I wore European clothes and carried a sword at his side.
The traders' dealings with the king, especially the pretensions of the
vain, rank-conscious Duncan McDougall, spurred Thorn to new
heights of churlishness. "It would be difficult to imagine the frantic
gambols that are daily played off here," he wrote Astor; "sometimes
dressing in red coats, and otherwise very fantastically, and collecting a
number of ignorant natives around them, telling them that they are
the great eris of the Northwest, and making arrangements for sending
three or four vessels yearly to them from the coast with spars &c.;
while those very natives cannot even furnish a hog to the ship."
True, Kamehameha did drive a shrewd bargain for meat, demanding
payment in Spanish dollars because he wanted to buy a frigate from
his brother, King George of England, to protect his coasting fleet of
small schooners. Thorn took aboard a hundred hogs, some goats and
sheep, poultry, and a quantity of sugarcane for fodder. To work off his
bile, he had two sailors flogged for overstaying shore leave by a few
minutes. A third hand, absent overnight, appeared the next day to
accept his flogging; instead, Thorn had him thrown overside. Islanders
fished him unconscious from the sea and returned him to the ship.
Thorn refused to allow him aboard.

Tonquin departed the Sandwich Islands on March 1, 1811. Inky
clouds piled up to the northeast, and the weather turned cold and
stormy. Thorn denied the Astorians' request to break out warm clothing
stowed with the cargo, this latest outrage touching off a mutinous
colloquy in Gaelic. Cape Disappointment advanced into the sea out
of a thin curtain of rain on March 22. With seas tumbling violently
over the bar, Thorn called for a boat to be lowered and sent the first
mate, Ebenezer Fox, and four men to reconnoiter a passage. Irving
speculated that Thorn chose Fox as punishment for alleged slackness
earlier in the voyage. McKay interceded, urging Thorn to recall Fox.
This probably sealed the first mate's doom.

Continues...




Excerpted from The Tide of Empire
by Michael Golay
Copyright © 2003 by Michael Golay.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author's Note
Prologue: Columbia's River 1
1 Ways West 17
2 The Road to India 65
3 Arcadia 118
4 The Missionary Impulse 172
5 The Great Migration 219
6 Manifest Destiny 219
Epilogue: The Country of the Setting Sun 325
Notes 335
Bibliography 363
Index 369
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