Furs for Mandarins

Wealthy Chinese enjoyed lining their robes with furs to keep themselves comfortable in winter. American traders discovered that furs were a good trade item. Traders began to visit the American Pacific Northwest to purchase sea otter furs from the Native Americans living there. The Indians traded for small items, such as buttons, beads, blankets, mirrors, clothing, nails, muskets, molasses, and rum. The fur trade was sometimes dangerous; ships were armed and took precautions about allowing too many Indians to board at one time. The fur trade led to the discovery of the Columbia River, which was named after the merchant ship Columbia that arrived there in 1787. The Columbia and another vessel, the Lady Washington, were the first American vessels to round Cape Horn. John Jacob Astor, a wealthy merchant, founded the city of Astoria in what is now Washington State, in 1811. Another source of furs was the seal populations around the islands near Cape Horn and off the Patagonian coast; the Falklands, Staten Island, South Georgia, Aucklands, and Masafuera, in the Juan Fernandez Group, where on a neighboring island the original Robinson Crusoe lived from 1790-1812. American crews often lived on one of these remote islands for several years, killing seals and storing their furs. Eventually the seal fisheries were depleted by over harvesting. In 1819, a captain from Stonington, Connecticut, discovered many seals on the South Shetland Islands, and many vessels were sent out from Stonington. Palmer Land, in the Antarctic, was named for its discoverer, Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer.