The Pacific in the War of 1812: Pelts, Ploys and Plunder

Louis Arthur Norton

Abstract


During the War of 1812 the Pacific front was largely quiet except for the exploits of Captain David Porter and the frigate Essex. Porter sailed around Cape Horn without specific orders and harassed the Pacific-based British whaling fleet. Porter employed clever ploys to lure, seize and plunder whaler quarry, but ultimately the American was captured, surrendering his small force to a superior British force. The American Navy then ceded this vast ocean to the British Navy. Before the outbreak of the War of 1812 John Jacob Astor, the American entrepreneur, established the fur-trading post of Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. The outcome of Porter’s naval defeat spoiled Astor’s dream of lucrative sales of pelts largely to the Chinese market. More important, it affected the American political and economic development of the Pacific Northwest for the early half of the nineteenth century, finally settled by the outcome of what was known as the “Pig War.” This is the story of a part of the War of 1812 whose outcome changed the westward development of the United States and Canada.

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