European Exploration

Washington’s early history is shared with that of the whole Oregon Territory. The perennial search for the Northwest Passage aroused initial interest in the area. Of the early explorers along the Pacific coast, Spanish expeditions under Juan PĂ©rez (1774) and Bruno Heceta (1775) are the first known to have definitely skirted the coast of what is now Washington. Capt. James Cook’s English expedition (1778) first opened up the area to the maritime fur trade with China, and British fur companies were soon exploring the West and encountering Russians pushing southward from posts in Alaska. In 1787, Charles William Barkley found the inland channel, which the following year John Meares named the Juan de Fuca Strait (after the sailor who is alleged to have discovered it). In 1792, the British explorer George Vancouver and the American fur trader Robert Gray crossed paths along the Washington coast. Vancouver sailed into Puget Sound and mapped the area; Gray, convinced of the existence of a great river that the other explorers rejected, found the entrance, crossed the dangerous bar, and sailed up the Columbia, establishing U.S. claims to the areas that it drained.

Tags: , , , ,