Tag Archives: Mississippi

His Maps … Were Accurate!

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central ...

1814 map of the Pacific Northwest and central Canada by David Thompson. The Kootenay River is shown near the bottom left as McGillivray’s River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 15, 1811, David Thompson reached the mouth of the Columbia River only to find that John Jacob Astor‘s fur company had established a post there late in March.  This was a great disappointment to Thompson, who had hoped to claim the territory for Britain.  Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to present a  few highlights in the life of the man who was probably the greatest geographer in the world.

David Thompson was of Welsh extraction and came from a poor family.  He was only fourteen years of age when he was apprenticed to the Hudson’s Bay Company and sent to Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay, in 1784.  He spent thirteen years there and at other company posts in Saskatchewan, and also a winter with Natives at the present site of Calgary.  Surveying, which he studied with Philip Turner, became his favourite hobby.

In 1797 he transferred to the Northwest Company and made a 4,000 mile journey of exploration that included the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Later he was made a partner in the company.  Years were spent tracing the crazy course of the Columbia River, which curves back and forth between Canada and the United States, almost entwining itself with the Kootenay.  Thompson was the first man to travel the full length of the Columbia and back again.  He began his final assault on the Columbia in 1810.  He manufactured snowshoes and sleds and started from the Athabaska River on December 29 in weather 32 ° F ( 0 º C) below zero!  He travelled through the Rockies under these conditions to the junction of the Canoe and Columbia Rivers.

After Thompson finished his work in the West, he went to live at Terrebonne, near Montreal, where he prepared a map of Western Canada which is now in the Ontario Archives.  His maps were not like those of the early explorers.  They were accurate.

When Thompson arrived at Churchill in 1784, the map of Canada was blank from Lake Winnipeg to the west coast of Vancouver Island.  When he departed from the West in 1812, he had mapped the main travel routes through 1,700,000 square miles of Canadian and American territory!  It is tragic to remember that David Thompson died in 1857, in poverty and nearly blind.

To learn more of David Thompson and his work, I can direct you to a few sites to get you started. To begin, I suggest a new-to-me website, for an interesting video about today’s post – really interesting! And then there’s his Biography – I’m not sure who the author is, though. Another place to go is the David Thompson Columbia Brigade. And lastly, I suggest the Canadian Encyclopedia – you can never go wrong there!


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Americans Plan to Acquire Canada!

Benjamin Franklin's celebrity like status in F...

Benjamin Franklin’s celebrity like status in France helped win French support for the United States during the American Revolutionary War. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


There have been a number of occasions when the United States nearly took possession of Canada.  One of them was in 1782 when negotiations were taking place to end the American Revolutionary War.

Britain had fought France and Spain in Europe, as well as the Americans overseas, and was greatly tempted to end the war as quickly as possible.  The United States had obtained a secret document, prepared by the French ambassador in Washington, stating that France would oppose American claims to fishing rights in Canadian waters.  It was also clear that Spain, which owned Florida and the lands west of the Mississippi, would oppose American expansion to the south and west.  The Americans thus had every reason to suspect the future intentions of their allies, and were willing to close a separate peace with Britain.

Benjamin Franklin, American ambassador in Paris, was told to try to make a deal with Britain as quickly as possible.  Lord Shelburne, then Colonial Secretary, sent Richard Oswald to Paris to negotiate with Franklin.  Oswald did not even know the geography of North America, and was no match for a wily trader like Franklin, who persuaded him that the surrender of Canada was a logical part of the peace plan.  Oswald sent the proposal to Shelburne, who is believed to have shown it to the King, but kept it from the members of the cabinet.

Fortunately, Charles Fox who was Secretary for Foreign Affairs, sent his own agent to Paris on May 8 to see what was going on.  He learned about the proposal to give up Canada and rushed the information back to Fox.  There was a row in the cabinet during which Prime Minister Rockingham died, and Shelburne became Prime Minister.  He immediately got rid of Fox and it looked as though the Canada deal would go through.

Just then, Britain received some favourable news from Admiral Rodney in the West Indies: he had beaten the French fleet there.  He wrote:  “In two years I have taken two Spanish, one French, and one Dutch admiral.”  This, and the obvious conflict between the United States, France and Spain, strengthened Britain’s hand at the conference table.  When the Treaty of Paris was finally signed in September 1783, Canada remained a British possession.

Interesting, eh? You want to read more than just what’s written in today’s post? Okay. Here are a few places to get you started. There’s the New World Encyclopedia for a good article; and a timeline at Son of the South; another well written timeline is at The History Place; another interesting article can be found at American-Acadian; The U.S. Government Archives has a collection of reports on their Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations‘s page.

If you are like me, it’s also nice to hold a book. A few good books to check out are Battles of the Revolutionary War, and Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes, and finally Iron Tears: America’s Battle for Freedom, Britain’s Quagmire: 1775-1783.

Finally, even though it’s not exactly related to today’s story, you might want to visit the following site for its history posts: The Battle (


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The Day Louisiana Was Sold To The U.S.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One story that isn’t well-known is that Napoleon planned to recapture Canada for France.  He made himself dictator of France in 1799, on the pretext of “saving the Revolution,” but then went on to conquer most of Europe.

Napoleon’s plan to recapture Canada was inspired by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who in 1793 became the first man to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Mackenzie wrote a book about his trip which Napoleon had translated into French to help him plan his campaign.

His first step was to regain Louisiana.  France had owned the Mississippi Valley all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but had handed over this territory to Spain before signing the Treaty of Paris in 1763 so that Britain would not acquire it.

In 1800, Napoleon regained Louisiana from Spain as part of the secret treaty of San Ildefonso.  He planned to move his troops up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to do this, he sent a large navy and army to recapture the former French colony of Haiti, which had been lost in a rebellion led by a mighty black warrior, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

Français : Le général Toussaint Louverture.

Le général Toussaint Louverture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was to be the base for the attack up the Mississippi, led by Napoleon’s favourite general, Count Bernadotte. His campaign was defeated by the same elements that beat the Scotsmen who wanted to set up a colony in Panama and make it New Scotland.  The natives and the mosquitoes were too fierce.    They killed 60,000 French troops in two years!

In the meantime, the British fleet had moved powerful units to the West Indies, and Napoleon knew that it would be too risky to try to move an army to the mouth of the Mississippi.  He abandoned the plan to recapture Canada, and sold Louisiana on April 30, 1803, to the United States for $27 million between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. Spain still retained claims on the Pacific coast as far north as Oregon, which had an important bearing on the future development of British Columbia.

Want to read more about what became known as the Louisiana Purchase? I suggest National Archives & Records Administration for the transcripts, and a site I just found is that you just have to check out! Oh, and don’t forget Wikipedia


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How New Orleans was Founded by Montreal Brothers

Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville statue, Valiants Me...

Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville statue, Valiants Memorial, Ottawa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On his first voyage to Canada, in 1534, Jacques Cartier sailed in a 20-ton caravel and made the trip across the Atlantic in twenty-one days.  He was an expert navigator, and as he sailed up the Strait of Belle Isle, between Newfoundland and Labrador, he could tell from the water’s movement that there was a great river ahead and so he discovered the St. Lawrence.

One of the greatest military leaders in the history of Canada, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville used his knowledge of the sea in somewhat the same way to find the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Pierre Le Moyne, usually called Iberville, was one of ten brothers born and raised in Montreal.  The Le Moynes was have been one of the greatest fighting families in the history of the world at the time.  Their exploits ranged all the wary from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It had been said of the Iberville that if his campaigns had taken place in Europe instead of in the wilds of North America, he would been acknowledged as a military leader ranking with Napoleon.

French explorers from Canada, notably La Salle, had worked their way down The Mississippi River but had never reached its mouth.  In January 1685, La Salle tried to find it from the sea but sailed by without recognizing it.

King Louis XIV decided to entrust Iberville with the task.  On March 2, 1699, Iberville was sailing along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and saw the blue water turn grey.  He knew there must be a muddy river not far away, and later in the day sailed between high rocks into the mouth of the Mississippi.  Some of the mud flowing into the Gulf had come all the way from the prairies.

Iberville was a military adventurer, not a colonizer.  He left that job to his younger brother, Bienville, who had accompanied him; and so, the famous city of New Orleans, still proud of its French traditions, was founded by the Le Moyne brothers of Montreal.

Want more? Check out the Virtual Museum of New France; there’s also the the Robinson Library; then there’s New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia.


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