Mr. John Jacob Astor, a New York merchant, who conducted almost alone the trade in furs south of the great lakes Huron and Superior, and who had acquired by that commerce a prodigious fortune, thought to augment it by forming on the banks of the Columbia an establishment of which the principal or supply factory should be at the mouth of that river. He communicated his views to the agents of the Northwest Company; he was even desirous of forming the proposed establishment in concert with them; but after some negotiations, the inland or wintering partners of that association of fur-traders having rejected the plan, Mr. Astor determined to make the attempt alone. He needed for the success of his enterprise, men long versed in the Indian trade, and he soon found them. Mr. Alexander M’Kay (the same who had accompanied Sir Alexander M’Kenzie in his travels overland), a bold and enterprising man, left the Northwest Company to join him; and soon after, Messrs Duncan M’Dougal and Donald M’Kenzie (also in the service of the company) and Messrs. David Stuart and Robert Stuart, all of Canada, did the same. At length, in the winter of 1810, a Mr. Wilson Price Hunt of St. Louis, on the Mississippi, having also joined them, they determined that the expedition should be set on foot in the following spring.
It was in the course of that winter that one of my friends made me acquainted in confidence with the plan of these gentlemen, under the injunction of strictest secrecy. The desire of seeing strange countries, joined to that of acquiring a fortune, determined me to solicit employment of the new association; on the 20th of May I had an interview with Mr. A. M’Kay, with whom the preliminaries were arranged; and on the 24th of the same month I signed an agreement as an apprenticed clerk for the term of five years.
When the associates had engaged a sufficient number of Canadian boatmen, they equipped a bark canoe under charge of Messrs. Hunt and M’Kenzie, with a Mr. Perrault as clerk, and a crew of fourteen men. These gentlemen were to proceed to Mackinaw, and thence to St. Louis, hiring on the way as many men as they could to man the canoes, in which, from the last-mentioned port, they were to ascend the Missouri to its source, and there diverging from the route followed by Lewis and Clark, reach the mouth of the Columbia to form a junction with another party, who were to go round by way of Cape Horn. In the course of my narrative I shall have occasion to speak of the success of both these expeditions.
Departure from Montreal.—Arrival in New York.—Description of that City.—Names of the Persons engaged in the Expedition.