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With the publication of the Discourse to prove a passage by the northwest to Cathay and the East Indies by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1576, men were obsessed with finding the fabled Northwest Passage to the Indies. This search would last well into the 19th century.

While searching for the Northwest passage during the 18th century, explorers discovered and charted the Pacific Northwest coast. Some of the better known explorers of the area were:

Each of these men would add to the knowledge of the geography of the world, but none would find the fabled Northwest Passage. In fact, Cook's last voyage in 1778 disproved the existence of a Northwest Passage.

The Pacific Northwest includes:

  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • British Columbia

Native Americans who had a sophisticated society and culture already inhabited this area. When the Europeans came, there was a ready-made market for trade.

The Fur trade industry would be the major factor in the exploration and settlement of the Northwest. Companies like the Hudson Bay Company and the Northwest Fur Company would send traders to the area to harvest the furs and trade with the local natives. Settlers, who came by ship or the Oregon Trail, would soon follow them.

To learn more about the history of the area, look at these Web sites.

  1. Trade. Curiosity. The Northwest Passage
    From the Virtual Maritime Museum, learn more about the early and other important developments in the Northwest. This page includes the three routes discovered and used by various explorers and traders. These routes linked the interior of the continent with the Pacific.
  2. Pacific Northwest History
    From the Lonely Planet web site, look at this short history of the area..
  3. History of Washington State and The Northwest Coast
    This online course by Professor John Findlay is a history of Washington State and the Northwest coast. This is not intended to be a comprehensive course but as a companion to other material on the topic.
  4. The Tragic Westward Hike of the Donner Camp
    Learn about the fated 1846 Donner party that got trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.