Explorers Set Out to Find the Fabled Northwest Passage From the Straits of Mackinac

On September 24, 1767, from inside the stockades of Fort Michilimackinac Carver wrote to his wife Abigail: “… I have two hundred pounds sterling due to me from the crown, which I shall have in the spring. Give my compliments to all friends and acquaintances. I am, My dear, your’s forever, Jonathan Carver.

The money was never to be. Rogers was far from convincing England to ante up money for his expedition. In fact, he was under scrutiny by British officials who believed he was involved in a treasonous plot with the French to turn his Michilimackinac into a French colony. On December 6, 1767, Commandant Rogers was arrested at his own fort. In the spring, as Rogers was taken to Montreal for trial, Carver returned to Massachusetts, penniless.

In February of 1769 Carver sailed for England to beg for the money he believed was due him. He never saw his wife or children again. Living in poverty in England he married a widow, though he’d never divorced Abigail, and had two more children. In 1778 he published a book "Travels Through the Interior Parts of America In the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768." In the book Carver barely mentions Tute, Rogers and Goddard, writing as if the expedition was his own idea. He never mentioned Rogers’s imprisonment, and reduced what must have been a dismal winter of 1767-68, to descriptions of fishing for “trouts” on the ice at the Straits of Mackinac.

In Montreal Rogers was found not guilty, though he was essentially a ruined man. Tute faded from history, and Carver died just over a year after the book was published, in January 1780, without seeing its profits.

Nevertheless, "Travels" lived on in numerous printings and translations. Less than 40 years later, Thomas Jefferson referenced it in preparation for sending Lewis and Clark on their way to find a Northwest Passage. But by the late 19th century, historians had come to scorn the book; they believed Carver had made up most of it and plagiarized other portions. Carver’s honor was restored at the beginning of the 20th century when the journals he kept on his expedition and then used to write the book, were found in the British Museum. The book’s 18th-century London editor is now credited with adding the portions that appear plagiarized from the writings of earlier explorers.

But Carver and his book have another enduring claim to fame. =Travels was the first time the word Oregon—as in Rogers’s “River Ouragon” but with a new spelling—was ever published. Eventually, Carver’s word became a part of the American lexicon. There was no transcontinental river, of course, but the word Oregon was easily adapted to a trail.

Elizabeth Edwards is managing editor of TRAVERSE. [email protected]

You say Ouragan, I say Oregon

Jonathan Carver was the first person to use the word Oregon in a book, but Robert Rogers gets credit for coining the word—or so says Ives Goddard, a linguist at the Smithsonian Institution, and Thomas Love, an anthropology professor at Linfield College in Oregon. Writing in the Oregon Historical Quarterly in 2004, the pair point to Rogers’s use of the word that would evolve into its current spelling in his 1765 petition to the British government for an expedition to search for the Northwest Passage—a river he called the Ouragon. Goddard and Love believe Roberts came up with the word by taking a mutation of an Algonquian word for Beautiful River and using it for the Belle Riviere, shown stretched from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Pacific on a map in the 1758 book, =Histoire de La Louisiane by Antoine-Simone Le Page Du Pratz. In Rogers’s instructions to Tute, written from his post at Fort Michilimackinac in September of 1766, he used the word numerous times, spelling it Ourigan, Ouragan and Ouregan.


Jonathan Carver’s "Travels Through America 1766-1768, An Explorers Portrait of the American Wilderness," edited by Norman Gelb. 1993, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

"Treason? At Michilimackinac: The Proceedings of a General Court Martial held at Montreal in October 1768 for the Trial of Major Robert Rogers," Edited by David A.Armour. 1967 Mackinac State Park Commission.

Mackinac State Historic Parks, www.mackinacparks.com/parks/a-brief-history.

"Oregon Geographic Names," Seventh Edition, 2003, Lewis A, McArthur & Lewis L. McArthur.

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 105, No. 2, 2004.  “Oregon, the Beautiful,” Ives Goddard and Thomas Love.

The Boston Chronicle, 1768, microfilm, The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carver’s Cave.

For over 30 years the staff at Traverse Magazine has written about the history and natural world of our region. For the web series, Traverse Classics, we've reached into our archives to bring our favorites to our MyNorth.com audience.

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