Robert Stuart (explorer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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) was an American fur trader. The son of Charles Stuart, he was a partner of John Jacob Astor and was one of the North West Company (NWC) men, or Nor'westers, enlisted by Astor to help him found his intended fur empire.


Stuart was age 25 when he sailed aboard the Pacific Fur Company ship, the Tonquin, on its voyage to the Falkland Islands. He held a pistol to the head of the ship's captain, Jonathan Thorn, when he attempted to leave the Falkland Islands without Stuart's uncle David, another of Astor's partners. They sailed around Cape Horn and up the West coast of North America to the Columbia River. The Tonquin crossed the Columbia Bar and established Fort Astoria (located in modern Oregon) 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 chief then attacked the ship which was blown up, killing the few survivors and many Indian attackers.

After incident the traders had no way to communicate with Astor. Stuart accompanied the overland expedition of seven men carrying word of the Tonquin's fate to St. Louis, in 1812-1813, and discovering South Pass in the Continental Divide on the way. 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."

Stuart thus helped blaze the Oregon Trail from the Columbia to the Missouri River. His journal is a detailed account of the wintertime trip, and Washington Irving's Astoria is said to be based on it. Presented to Astor and President James Madison, and published in France, it did not make location of the South Pass widely known. In 1824, U.S. trappers Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick rediscovered the South Pass route across the Rockies. Despite the efforts of Stuart and others, the Pacific Fur Company collapsed due to the War of 1812, with Fort Astoria being sold to the North West Company in 1813. Later on the Hudson's Bay Company tried to discourage American trappers from operating in the Pacific Northwest; establishing an overland route between Fort Astoria and the York Factory on Hudson Bay called the York Factory Express. The route was partially based on the paths explored by Stuart.

After the War of 1812 Stuart continued in Astor's employ as head of the American Fur Company's Northern Department based on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He 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]


  1. ^ "Massacre by Savages". A Place Called Oregon. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  2. ^ "Traders Insult Indigenous Peoples". Graveyard of the Pacific. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  3. ^ Who discovered South Pass [1] Accessed 15 Aug 2012
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Stewarts of Glen Ogle, Balquhidder, Perthshire, Scotland


  • 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

External links[edit]