When Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States in 1801, the new nation was already expanding to the west. In 1803, in a transaction called the Louisiana Purchase, the United States acquired territory from France that was roughly bounded by the 49th parallel to the north, the Rocky Mountains to the west, the Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. To explore the land and to discover whether the Missouri and Columbia rivers together formed a continental waterway, Jefferson sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark launched their expedition from near St. Louis in 1804.
In the beginning of 1805, the team followed the Missouri and Jefferson rivers into the Rockies, crossed the Continental Divide with the help of the Shoshone woman Sacagawea. On October 16, 1805, they reached the Columbia River. In November they arrived at the Pacific Ocean, and the next spring, after wintering at Fort Clatsop, Oregon, they returned up the Columbia River and explored the Willamette River.
The expedition’s successful return to St. Louis in the fall of 1806 touched off a great interest in the Northwest. Although Lewis and Clark found no easy route linking the Missouri to the Columbia, they had successfully opened the way to lands beyond the Rockies.
The beaver fur trade was only in its initial phase in 1810 when John Jacob Astor of New York City launched his own fur trading business, the Pacific Fur Company. Astor planned to build a chain of trading posts from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean with a depot at the mouth of the Columbia River. From this fort, Astor’s ships could carry furs to China and trading goods to the Russians on the coast of Alaska. Astoria was established in 1811 at the mouth of the Columbia River. However, misfortune soon began to plague the Astorians. During a trading expedition to the north their ship, the Tonquin, was destroyed and 27 crewmen were killed by Native Americans on Vancouver Island. Nevertheless, the Astorians established several interior posts in present-day Washington.
In the summer of 1811, David Thompson, a Canadian explorer and representative of the North West Company, arrived in Astoria. His intention was to provide an outpost on the Columbia River for his company’s interior trade. The War of 1812 (1812-1815) between the United States and Britain put an end to Astor’s ambitions. In January 1813 the Astorians learned from the North West Company that a British vessel was coming to capture Astoria. Short of supplies and without hope of receiving any, the Astorians sold their interests in Astoria to the North West Company. "Oregon" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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