History of American Exploration from 1730 to 1745

About the history of American exploration from 1730 to 1745 including explorations of La Condamine.


1731 Englishman John Hadley invented the octant, or reflecting quadrant, for determining latitude. It was the precursor of the sextant.

1731-1743 In a family enterprise, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Verendrye (1685-1749), and his sons set up fur-trading posts and explored large parts of the northern U.S. and Canada, including the Saskatchewan River, the Winnipeg Basin, and the upper Missouri River (which they also discovered). In 1736 his eldest son and several friends were murdered by the Sioux. In 1742-1743 two of his sons, traveling on foot and on horseback, may have reached the Black Hills of South Dakota.

1735-1745 After being feted for months at Cartagena, Colombia, La Condamine's expedition finally got under way, traveling toward Quito in Pichincha Province in Ecuador, in February, 1736. In the group were cranky astronomer Pierre Bouguer; botanist Joseph de Jussieu (who later went mad when his plant collection, gathered over five years, was destroyed through the carelessness of servants); astronomer Louis Godin des Odonais; physician Jean Seniergues, (who was subsequently stabbed and stoned to death in Cuenca, Ecuador, by a crowd angry over his intercession in an aristocratic romance); and two Spanish scientists, Don Jorge Juan y Santacilla and Don Antonio de Ulloa. They were later joined by Pedro Vincente Maldonado, mapmaker, mathematician, linguist, and amateur scientist, who led La Condamine to Quito by a little-traveled route up the Rio Esmeraldas. During the journey they were plagued by mosquitoes and mouse-sized cockroaches, as they climbed to heights 13,000 ft. above sea level. When mists lifted near the end of their journey, they saw 15 snow-covered volcanoes. After meeting the rest of the group, who had traveled by an easier, longer route, they began their work. Dragging surveying chains up steep slopes and signaling to each other with mirrors from mountain peak to mountain peak, they established the baseline of a triangle, which would yield the arc of the meridian and in turn the length of a degree of longitude. The local inhabitants--both the ignorant and upper-class--were suspicious of them. As one said, "What could move men of decent standing to live so miserable, lonely, and laborious a life, traversing mountains and deserts and observing the stars--unless there was some high payment at stake?" Inca treasure perhaps? These suspicions created such problems with local Spanish officials that La Condamine had to travel the thousand miles to Lima, Peru, to obtain permission to continue this work. Their labors proved Newton right, though the Lapland expedition had come up with the answer first. On the way home La Condamine and Maldonado traveled across South America on the Amazon River, a two-month trip during which they measured the river's depth, width, speed, and other features.

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