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Early America and the Revolutionary Pacific

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


In 1776 the russian merchant grigor ivanovich shelikhov outfitted a ship bound from the siberian peninsula of kamchatka to the Aleutian Islands, which dot the sea at the westernmost reach of the North American continent. The expedition would hunt sea otters for trade in China, where the pelts fetched a high price. The same year nearly two hundred Spanish colonists arrived at the presidio in Monterey after a six-month journey from present-day southern Arizona. The expedition, led by Juan Bautista de Anza, aimed to populate northern California as part of Spain's efforts to resist encroachment from the north by Russian merchants like Shelikhov. Meanwhile, also in 1776, the explorer James Cook left England for the South Pacific in Britain's continuing attempt to rival France's scientific discoveries and access to potential trade goods in Asia. Throughout the European Atlantic, publications and translations of Cook's final travel narrative circulated details of the profitable trans-Pacific fur trade that until this point had largely been enjoyed by the Russians. Together, the Shelikhov, Anza, and Cook expeditions illustrate inter-European competition for resources and trade in the eighteenth-century Pacific while also suggesting the extraordinary transcultural, intercontinental, and multilingual reach of those encounters—including exchanges between several European nations (such as Russia, Spain, England, France), a variety of indigenous peoples (including Aleuts, Tlingits, Haidas, Ohlones, Tahitians, Hawaiians), and the inhabitants of and visitors to Canton (among them Chinese merchants and laborers, foreign traders from many European nations, and sailors and slaves from the Philippines, India, and other regions of Asia).

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2013 by The Modern Language Association of America

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