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Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survivalby Peter Stark
John Jacob Astor's ill-fated attempt to establish the first commercial settlement on the West Coast resulted in the tragic death of nearly half the expedition. Peter Stark recounts this captivating tale of madness, starvation, and survival under extreme hardship. It reads like a thrilling and harrowing mix of Shackleton's Endurance, the Donner Party, and Custer's Last Stand.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“A fast-paced, riveting account of exploration and settlement, suffering and survival, treachery and death. [Stark] recovers a remarkable piece of history: the story of America's first colony on the continents West coast.” Kirkus (Starred Review)
“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. Its also a great and...an ennobling tale of survival. Highly recommended.” Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Bunker Hill, and In the Heart of the Sea
“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.” Laurence Gonzalez, author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why and Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience
“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.” Stephenie Ambrose-Tubbs, author of The Lewis and Clark Companion
“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.” Jack Nisbet, author of Sources of the River and The Collector
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. David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and The River Why
In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Skeleton in the Zahara, Astoria is the thrilling, true-adventure tale of the 1810 Astor Expedition, an epic, now forgotten, three-year journey to forge an American empire on the Pacific Coast. Peter Stark offers a harrowing saga in which a band of explorers battled nature, starvation, and madness to establish the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest and opened up what would become the Oregon trail, permanently altering the nation's landscape and its global standing.
Six years after Lewis and Clark's began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, two of the Eastern establishment's leading figures, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson, turned their sights to founding a colony akin to Jamestown on the West Coast and transforming the nation into a Pacific trading power. Author and correspondent for Outside magazine Peter Stark recreates this pivotal moment in American history for the first time for modern readers, drawing on original source material to tell the amazing true story of the Astor Expedition.
Unfolding over the course of three years, from 1810 to 1813, Astoria is a tale of high adventure and incredible hardship in the wilderness and at sea. Of the more than one hundred-forty members of the two advance parties that reached the West Coast — one crossing the Rockies, the other rounding Cape Horn — nearly half perished by violence. Others went mad. Within one year, the expedition successfully established Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River. Though the colony would be short-lived, it opened provincial American eyes to the potential of the Western coast and its founders helped blaze the Oregon Trail.
About 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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