My name is Barb Lewis, and I love books! In fact, I just finished "Astoria, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire, A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival," by Peter Stark. It was fascinating!
I loved Pacific Northwest History when I was in school because I'd been to a number of the places we learned about and that made it personal. And from the beginning of this true story of the 1810 expedition to establish a trading post - or as it was described, "The largest commercial enterprise the world has ever known", you are drawn in.
John Jacob Astor was the first multi-millionaire in the United States (his net worth was estimated in today's dollars at $110 billion.) His plan was to control North America's fur trade by having a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River and he had the encouragement of President Jefferson to do this. He sent two groups, his employees and his partners, to what is now Astoria, one by land and one by sea. He knew how much furs were wanted in China for clothes for the wealthy and he knew if he could control the shipments the profits were astronomical. He could trade beads with the Indians for furs, trade furs in China for porcelain, silk and tea, and then sell those items in London and New York, and his profits would be around 2,500 percent! Sea otter fur was called "soft gold" by the traders for its sale value in China.
This book really educated me about the history of the exploration of the Pacific Northwest. You know that it couldn't have been easy but we learn just how brutal it was. More than half died violent deaths. Starvation and madness happened. We learn that the single greatest obstacle to early exploration was scurvy! It was the Native American tribes who discovered how to prevent scurvy during winter when fresh food was scarce. Cherries and rose hips were like vitamin C pills and the Indians dried the wild cherries and later shared them with the explorers who were dying. The encounters between the Indian tribes was first friendly and they saved the Overland party from starving, just as the Nez Perz saved Lewis and Clark a few years earlier. It also tells of some explorers who killed and kidnapped Indians, which caused retaliation.
The mind tries to think of how extreme their undertaking was. This book goes into great detail about the weather they encountered, the brutal winters and then the continual down-pouring of rain. There's much to be learned from this book and I recommend it so highly to anyone interested in our history. And a side note -John Jacob Astor never set foot in Astoria!