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The first Europeans


President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson

Two of the most important elements encouraging European exploration of the Northwest were competition between European nations and the search for the Northwest Passage, an inland water route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Spanish and the English were the first to venture up the northwest coast of the Pacific Ocean.

Spain, which had become the wealthiest European nation during the 16th century, saw its wealth decline during the 17th century. Spaniards hoped to reestablish themselves through exploration of the Northwest. In 1775 Spaniards Bruno Heceta and Juan de la Bodega y Quadra sent an expedition to near present-day Point Grenville and claimed the land in the name of the king of Spain.

In 1778 British explorer Captain James Cook charted the Washington coast and went ashore on Vancouver Island at Nootka Sound. Since both the British and Spanish claimed land in the area, relations between the two countries became tense. In order to avoid a war, they agreed to respect each other’s commercial activities and settlements in the region.

In 1792 Captain George Vancouver of Britain became the first European to complete a detailed survey of the Washington coast and the inland waters. Vancouver named many Washington landmarks, including Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and many of the San Juan Islands. Vancouver named Puget Sound after the officer who first sighted it, Peter Puget.

Also in 1792, as Vancouver charted the Washington coast and inland waters, American captain Robert Gray, a fur trader from Boston, explored the mouth of the Columbia River. He named the river after his ship. Both Britain and the United States had claims on Washington territory.After the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory (see Louisiana Purchase) from France in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the West (see Lewis and Clark Expedition). The two explorers, instructed to take special note of the geography and vegetation of the West, traveled down the Columbia River and reached the Pacific Coast in 1805. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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