Robert Stuart (explorer)

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Robert Stuart
Robert Stuart explorer.png
Born (1785-02-19)February 19, 1785
Died October 28, 1848(1848-10-28) (aged 63)

Robert Stuart, (February 19, 1785 – October 28, 1848) the son of Charles Stuart, was a partner of John Jacob Astor and was one of the North West Company men, or Nor'westers, enlisted by Astor to help him found his intended fur empire. Young Robert was age 25 when he sailed aboard the Tonquin on its nearly one year voyage to first the Falkland Islands. It was he who held the pistol to the head of the ship's Captain Thorn when he attempted to leave the Falkland Islands without Stuart's uncle David, another of the Nor'Wester partners of Astor's Pacific Fur Company. From the Falkland Islands they sailed around Cape Horn and up the South American and North American coast to the newly discovered Columbia River. The Tonquin crossed the treacherous Columbia Bar and proceeded up river carrying supplies and traders to establish Fort Astoria in the present state of Oregon on the Columbia River in 1811. After leaving supplies and traders in the newly created outpost on the Columbia, the ship and crew traveled north to Nootka Sound. Here, off Vancouver Island at a place named Woody Point in Clayoquot Sound, the Tonquin engaged in the fur trade in June 1811 with some of the Native Americans.[1] While trading with the local inhabitants, Captain Thorn tossed some otter pelts at a local chief that was on board the ship trading. [2] The "insult" angered the Indian chief who attacked the ship which was blown up, killing the few survivors and many Indian attackers.

After the blow up of the Tonquin the traders had no way to communicate with Astor to request a new ship, supplies, trappers, traders, etc.. Robert Stuart accompanied an overland expedition of seven men carrying word of the Tonquin disaster from Fort Astoria to St. Louis in 1812-1813. This expedition discovered South Pass, the easiest pass over the U.S. continental Divide. In 1812, Robert Stuart and six companions from the Pacific Fur Company (the Astorians) happened to cross the Rockies at this point while trying to avoid Indians further north, on their return to Saint Louis, Missouri from Astoria, Oregon.

In 1856 Ramsay Crooks, one of the party, wrote a letter describing their journey:[3]

"In 1811, the overland party of Mr. Astor's expedition [from St. Louis to Fort Astoria], under the command of Mr. Wilson P. Hunt, of Trenton, New Jersey, although numbering sixty well armed men, found the Indians so very troublesome in the country of the Yellowstone River, that the party of seven persons who left Astoria toward the end of June, 1812, considering it dangerous to pass again by the route of 1811, turned toward the southeast as soon as they had crossed the main chain of the Rocky Mountains, and, after several days' journey, came through the celebrated 'South Pass' in the month of November, 1812."
"Pursuing from thence an easterly course, they fell upon the River Platte of the Missouri, where they passed the winter and reached St. Louis in April, 1813."

Robert Stuart is credited as an explorer who was one of those who effectively blazed the Oregon Trail from the Columbia to the Missouri River. His journal is a detailed account of his wintertime trip from Fort Astoria in what is now Oregon in 1812 to St. Louis in 1813. Washington Irving's Astoria is said to be based on this journal. Despite Stuart's meticulous journal of the trip, which he presented to Astor and President James Madison, and published in France, the location of the South Pass did not become widely known or used. How widespread his journal was distributed is unknown. After the War of 1812 (1812–1815) the British Hudson's Bay Company tried diligently and usually successfully to discourage U.S. trappers etc. from traveling to the future states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, etc.. The British Hudson's Bay Company established their own York Factory Express route to the Oregon territory. This route evolved from an earlier express brigade used by the North West Company between Fort Astoria and the York Factory on Hudson Bay. In 1824, U.S. trappers Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick rediscovered the South Pass route across the Rockies.

The War of 1812 caused Astor to sell off the new Fort Astoria to the British in 1813. After the war Stuart continued in Astor's employ as head of the American Fur Company's Northern Department based on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Robert Stuart was also Treasurer of the State of Michigan from 1840-1841. He died on October 28, 1848, and is buried at the historical Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan.[citation needed]

The Robert Stuart House is one of fourteen historic buildings in Fort Mackinac. The building has been made into a museum of the fur trading industry, covering the time period begun by French merchants, English businessmen, and Native Americans (buckskins).[4]

Robert Stuart Middle School in Twin Falls, Idaho, is named after the explorer.[5]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Philip Ashton Rollins, ed., The Discovery of the Oregon Trail: Robert Stuart's Narratives of His Overland Trip Eastward from Astoria in 1812-13, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, ISBN 0-8032-9234-1
  • G.P.V. and Helen B. Akrigg, British Columbia Chronicle: Adventurers by Sea and Land, Discovery Press, Vancouver, 1975
  • Laton McCartney, "Across the Great Divide: Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail", Simon & Schuster, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-4924-0

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