Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

by Peter Stark

Hardcover, 2014

Call number

NWC 979.546 STA



Ecco (2014), Edition: 1st, 400 pages


Documents the 1810 to 1813 expedition, financed by millionaire John Jacob Astor and encouraged by Thomas Jefferson, to establish Fort Astoria, a trading post on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.

Media reviews

Stark moves skillfully back and forth from one segment of the splintered expedition to another. He also raises a tantalizing question about the enterprise as a whole. Astor went on to make his fortune in other ways, but what if he’d realized his Pacific Coast dream? Jefferson and other statesmen
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had given little thought as to how Astoria, as the short-lived outpost was called, would be assimilated into the United States — or whether it would be assimilated at all.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Stbalbach
This is really good. It starts off slow in Germany with background about John Jacob Astor and then moves to New York with the immigrants idea for starting a colonial expedition to Oregon. Then the journey begins. Moving westward there is both a sea journey and an overland journey, complete with a
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cantankerous evil captain, hostile indians, first contacts, French and Scottish voyagers, War of 1812, etc.. reaching a sort of explosive climax in an unforgettable incident. Unbelievably this story has been largely forgotten, it was once a standard schoolroom subject - I had never heard of it before. Probably overshadowed by Lewis and Clark, hopefully this readable book restores greater interest.
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LibraryThing member silva_44
Peter Stark really knows his stuff. He imbued what could have been a rather dull and uninteresting story with panache, wonderful characterization and descriptive details. I was drawn in by the characters, the setting, and a tale of an ambition of immense proportions. I have had the pleasure of
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visiting Astoria, OR many times, as it is only a few hours from where I grew up, and it's one of my favorite places in the world. This book allowed me to visualize the Astoria of yesteryear, an Astoria born out of a vast and hostile wilderness. A frontier encampment. A dream brought about by John Jacob Astor, who was never able to fully realize his golden trade triangle. This is a fabulous read for anyone interested in Pacific Northwest history, or anyone who likes to read about stories of courage and perseverance. Beautifully done.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
Stark has written a totally engrossing story of events surrounding John Jacob Astor’s bold vision for capturing the largely unknown Pacific Northwest for worldwide commerce in the early 19th century. Events depicted in this book largely have been lost to history probably because of its eventual
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failure but also because they were overshadowed by the hugely successful Lewis and Clark expedition.
Stark’s story focuses primarily on the people who Astor recruited to implement his plan. He planned to establish his foothold at the mouth of the Columbia by sea and by land. His recruits were from many different backgrounds and had varying temperaments and skill sets—Canadian voyageurs, former military men, and commercial partners with little knowledge of the wilderness. Stark effectively demonstrates their flaws as well as their heroism. His plan also was impacted positively by Jefferson’s support and negatively by Madison’s lack of it along with US involvement in a war with Great Britain.
Native Americans play a key role in the tale. They are depicted as being quite diverse in culture and temperament. Some showed amazing levels of empathy in assisting the Whites, while others were deceitful and even openly hostile. The loss of the first Astor vessel to arrive in the Northwest—the Tonquin—is an excellent example of the latter. Communication failures and an excessively rigid naval man undoubtedly precipitated this tragedy.
In addition to the important human element, geography played an overwhelming role in this endeavor. The distances were vast and all but unimaginable at the time. This made communication between the players almost impossible. Clearly mountains and rivers were important impediments, but also were oceans and weather.
Stark ends his narrative by speculating on other possible outcomes had the Astoria project actually succeeded, including a very different America.
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LibraryThing member mfedore
Incredible story of what's today a largely forgotten chapter in early American history. Peter Stark's book explores the ambitious endeavor conceived of by John Jacob Astor to construct a global fur-trading monopoly including an American colony at the mouth of the Columbia River. A number of dynamic
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personalities took charge of the expedition, including the domineering Captain Thorn and the accommodating Wilson Price Hunt, which include both an oceanic and overland expedition. The story is filled with great heroics, tragedy, and conflict as Astor's crews struggle to first reach the Pacific, and then battle nature and each other to establish the colony. In many ways this book reminded me of histories written by Candace Millard- flowing fast read with vivid details. This is the kind of book that as you read will make you ask "why isn't this already a movie?"
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LibraryThing member annbury
A splendid book. Stark knows a lot about the wilderness and conveys it well in this tale of the failed establishment of Astor's fur empire. One doesn't know until the end whether it failed or not. The writing is exceptional when it comes to the hardships suffered by these men.
LibraryThing member untitled841
Very well written and researched book about the steetlment of Astoria and early American fur trade.
LibraryThing member nmele
Meticulously researched, this account of John Jacob Astor's failed attempt to create a trading empire in the Northwest is a dramatic, engaging story.
LibraryThing member streamsong
President Thomas Jefferson had a vision of democracy stretching from the East Coast to the uncharted West Coast. So he heartily approved when John Jacob Astor proposed a colony at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The fur trade was amazingly rich; immense fortunes were made. In the early 1800's,
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however, all the American furs where coming from the land east of the Continental Divide. Astor envisioned a global trade triangle. Furs from the Pacific Northwest would be taken to the incredibly rich markets and high demands of China. Chinese luxury goods such as silk and ceramics would then sail around the Horn to New York where the ships would restock with items to resupply the Northwest colonies.

Astor had the wealth to put this plan into action. He purchased a ship to be captained by a stern ex-military man to sail around the Horn to the mouth of the Columbia. He also fitted out an expedition of sixty persons, including Scotch and French mountain men, several of his partners and Marie Dorion and her two young sons, to attempt the overland route - a feat which had not been accomplished since the earlier Lewis and Clark expedition.

This history is the best sort of Narrative Non-Fiction with enough twists and turns and unforgettable characters to keep the pages turning. Exploration, hardships, hostile Indians (often not hostile until they had previous bad experiences with whites), calamitous weather and finally, the War of 1812 with Britain, make this a memorable read.

It's one I wouldn't have picked up except it was a choice by my book club. I'm really glad I did.
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LibraryThing member samseabornesq
Narrative approach to a subject lost on many.
LibraryThing member addunn3
Six years after the Lewis & Clark Expedition, Jacob Astor sent a ship around S. America and an overland expedition over the Rockies to converge at the mouth of the Columbia and establish a headquarters for a fur empire that would collect furs from west of the mountains and up and down the coast. An
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unbelievable story about probably the first "Pacific Rim" trade adventure! Well written. And you will find out who John Day was!
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LibraryThing member lothiriel2003
An interesting, popular history of an early, failed attempt to claim the Northwest Pacific coast of America for the United States. The author does an excellent job of evoking the characters, decisions and mishaps that doomed this enterprise. Yet, even though the original enterprise failed, the
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group that make the overland trek, discovered and explored the route that would one day become the Oregon Trail.
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LibraryThing member buffalogr
After a recent visit to Astoria, the book seller recommended this book as the primo popular reference to the claim that Astoria was the first American settlement West of the Rockies. As it turns out, just 5 years after Lewis and Clark returned to the US, John Jacob Astor dispatched two expeditions;
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by land and sea, to establish an "emporium" in the West. These guys went West for business purposes, not as explorers, as Astor was a [very rich] visionary. This is the story of their expeditions. In this book, I rediscovered some characters that I'd learned in the 4th grade Northwest history and learned a lot about some more. The story reads like a novel, but the best is at the end where the author describes Astor's impact and the epilogue about the people who did this. "Whatever happened to.....?" was clear. These entrepreneurs opened up the Oregon country for white settlement.
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LibraryThing member readyreader
Great historical account of the founding of Astoria.
LibraryThing member RoxieT
Very enjoyable read about the settlement of the US west coast; I appreciated how the author connected historical significance of the time with present day geography and facts.
LibraryThing member ArtRodrigues
I have read a lot of historical nonfiction. This is among the best. The author is an excellent story teller. I couldn't put the book down.
LibraryThing member Katyefk
What amazing heroes these folks were to take on the challenge of setting up the fur trade routes in the western USA! It seems that every way they turned there was another crisis, calamity or weather situation to deal with. I really enjoyed reading this book as I live in Central Oregon and I know
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the terrain to Astoria and surrounds. The fact that many survived is testament to personal courage, inner strength and stubbornness.
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LibraryThing member L11fields
Great book, those early arrivals to the Pacific Northwest were made of stout stuff.
LibraryThing member Castlelass
Non-fiction narrative of the journeys involved in the original settlement of Astoria, “the first American colony on the West Coast of North America, much in the way that Jamestown and Plymouth were the first British colonies on its East Coast.” Peter Stark relates John Jacob Astor’s vision of
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becoming a magnate of global commerce and how he attempted to make it a reality. To do so, “in 1810, he would send two advance parties—one around Cape Horn by sea on the Tonquin and one across America by land.”

This book is an adventure story involving American history, exploration, leadership, globalization, colonization, entrepreneurship, and biography, all woven together into an engaging, and sometimes shocking, story of the establishment of the first non-native settlement in the Pacific Northwest. It is a story of character and leadership styles, and the very tangible outcomes of decisions made at critical junctures. It made me question, before the decision was made, what I would I have done, and would it have turned out better or worse?

Stark provides a striking account of the physical and mental anguish endured by these adventurers. He also presents another example of cultural insensitivity in the treatment of the Native Americans, and how, ironically, the expedition would never have succeeded without their assistance. It is a tale of how extreme stress brings out the best and worst in human nature.

I very much enjoyed this action-oriented factual adventure, including vignettes such as:
• An explosion of immense proportions
• A group reduced to eating their moccasins (and worse)
• A pregnant woman with two small children walking most of the way across the remote wilderness

My quibbles with the book are few. While Thomas Jefferson is mentioned in the ever-so-long subtitle, his involvement is not covered in much depth. There are a few typos in the Kindle edition and the section about the War of 1812 was, for me, not as cohesive or compelling as the rest of the book. Recommended to those interested in true adventures, exploration, or American history.
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LibraryThing member creighley
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.
Six years after the Lewis and Clark began their journey to the Pacific Northwest, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson turned
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their sights to founding a colony on the West Coast.
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LibraryThing member dcunning11235
An interesting story, and one I'd never even heard of before. However, I'm not sure the narrative really "carried me on." It felt a bit flat in places, and the end come kind of suddenly and without any real sense of conclusion. But an piece of history that I'd otherwise be missing (and wouldn't
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have known to go looking for) so 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
A popular account of a nearly forgotten epic of commercial empire building, the striking thing to me is the raw hubris of it all, as Astor's vision depended too much on men who were not as committed as him in the face of too many unknowns; never mind that it's hard to imagine that Astoria could
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have really survived the course of war. Still, the whole exercise most certainly contributed to the course of American empire, as the the overland contingent of Astor's company (by the skin of their teeth) essentially pioneered the Oregon Trail.
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LibraryThing member wvlibrarydude
Not a bad mixture of history, adventure, politics and other subjects to flesh out the story. Narrative style history that will appeal to many. I would rather give this 3.5 stars on a whole. So much for not having half stars.


Montana Book Award (Honor — 2014)
Chicago Public Library Best of the Best: Adults (Selection — Nonfiction — 2014)




0062218298 / 9780062218292

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