History of American Exploration from 1778 to 1792

About the history of American exploration from 1778 to 1792 including explorations of Vancouver and Malaspina.


1778-1781 French botanist Joseph Dombey and two Spanish scientists, Hipolito Ruiz Lopez and Jose Antonio Pavon y Jimenez, were directed by King Carlos III of Spain to explore Peru, their goal to be "the methodical examination and identification of the products of nature of my American dominions. . .not only in order to promote the progress of the physical sciences but also to banish doubts and adulterations that are found in medicine, painting, and the other important arts." One medical remedy the expedition uncovered was boiled shoots of the native plant quiscar to cure colds or, mixed with urine, to alleviate toothache.

1784-1801 Felix de Azara, a Spanish naval officer, conducted seven mapping expeditions to define the region watered by the La Plata, Uruguay, Parana, and Paraguay rivers. He also became an authority on four-legged animals, propounding a rudimentary evolution theory decades before Charles Darwin.

1785-1787 On a three-year voyage for the French Academy of Science and Medicine, Jean Francois de Galaup, Count of La Perouse (1741-1788), an admirer of Capt. James Cook, proved that two mythical continents--Isla Grande in the Atlantic and Drake's Land in the Pacific--were merely small islands off South America. On yet another search for the Northwest Passage, he set out to sail from the Gulf of Alaska south, but was daunted by the irregular coastline and an accident that cost the lives of 21 of his men.

1789-1794 For years, Lombard nobleman Alessandro Malaspina pains-takingly mapped the coastlines of South and North America to make precise hydrographic charts, invaluable to seamen. Because he favored the emancipation of Spanish colonies, he was jailed when he returned to Spain, and for 30 years his maps remained in limbo.

1789 After wintering with his mentor, old Peter Pond, at Lake Athabasca, Scots-born Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820) traveled west to Great Slave Lake. There he discovered a new river, and with several men and three birch-bark canoes he cruised down it to the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean, a journey of 1,120 mi. He had hoped to reach the Pacific, so he called the new river the River of Disappointment. Today it bears his name.

1791-1794 Trying to prove there was no Northwest Passage, Britain's George Vancouver (1757-1798) made three separate mapping expeditions by sea along the northwest coast of America, surveying the network of water in present-day Washington, sailing around Vancouver Island, naming Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound for his associates, but missing the mouth of the Columbia River in bad weather. He proved what he had set out to establish: There was no Northwest Passage from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan.

1792 On a trip to the Pacific Northwest to buy furs from Indians to trade for tea in China, American Robert Gray (1755-1806) discovered the Columbia River, which he named for his ship.

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