History of American Exploration from 1740 to 1770

About the history of American exploration from 1740 to 1770 including explorations of Samuel Hearne and discovery of Alaska.


1740-1741 On a search for Gamaland, which Russian Academy of Science cartographers believed to be near Siberia even though no one had ever seen it, the Dane Vitus Bering (1680-1741) in the St. Peter and the Russian Alexei Chirikov (1703-1748) in the St. Paul left Siberia in early June, 1740, after seven years of preparation for the journey, only to lose each other in the fog. In July the crew of the St. Peter sighted 18,000-ft. Mt. Elias on the Alaskan mainland. At Kayak Island, Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German scientist on the ship, went ashore for a few hours, where he identified a new species of jay, later named for him. Many in the crew, including Bering, became ill with scurvy. A violent storm battered their ship, and, desperate, they finally wintered on an uninhabited island (later named Bering Island), living in holes covered with sails. Bering died in December. By spring the 46 men left alive built a ship and sailed to Siberia. Meanwhile Chirikov had lost the St. Paul's two ship's boats. Fourteen of his men trying to go ashore at a landfall sighted Kenai Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands, and finally arrived home. Discoveries: the mainland of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

1743-1803 Siberian fur traders explored and exploited Alaska, decimating the furred population as well as the Aleuts.

1762 John Harrison won a pound 20,000 prize from the British government for his invention of a reliable marine clock, which was necessary for accurate measurement of longitude at sea.

1768-1770 Two Spanish expeditions, one led by Fernando de Rivera y Moncada and the other by Gaspar de Portola, explored the west coast of North America overland. De Portola traveled to San Diego with Father Junipero Serra, who founded missions along the coast, then went with 12 soldiers and 44 mission Indians on the first overland trek from southern California to Monterey.

1769-1770 Isabel Godin des Odonais, wife of La Condamine's astronomer, set out from Eucador down the Amazon to rejoin her husband. Her party's canoe overturned, the natives deserted, and one by one her companions died, until she was left to struggle on alone. She was finally found wandering in the jungle, and met up with her husband in Guiana after a 20-year separation.

1769-1772 Londoner Samuel Hearne (1745-1792), a skilled surveyor and scientific observer, was sent by the Hudson's Bay Company to find a mountain of pure copper, said by the Indians to be in Chippewa territory, and to open up fur trade with the Indians. Two early attempts failed due to Hearne's inexperience and the perfidy of his guides, who robbed and abandoned him. However, the third time, led by a Chippewa chief, he reached a copper deposit (which turned out to be worthless), then went on overland to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the first European to make such a journey. On the way back he discovered Great Slave Lake.

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