Author Peter Stark On John Jacob Astor's Lost Pacific Empire

Mar 13, 2015

This interview was originally broadcast in September, 2014

The rugged coastline of the Pacific Northwest is dotted with historic cities and sea ports. But today’s well-established metropolises belie the imagination and tenacity that it took to settle this wild and remote region.

In 1809, John Jacob Astor -- a young, ambitious New York businessman -- saw the potential of the Northwest coast as a great trading emporium for the western half of the United States. Astor dispatched a land and sea party that he hoped would arrive at what is now Astoria, Oregon. The plan was to set up a Jamestown-like colony and establish a fur trading empire.

The explorers arrived (some of them at least) but not without encountering danger. And as many grand schemes go, Astor’s plan didn’t exactly pan out.

Peter Stark tells this fascinating tale in a new book, titled Astoria — John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition and Survival.  Peter Stark is an adventure writer and long-time correspondent for Outside magazine, as well as a contributor to many national publications. His other books include The Last Empty Places: A Past and Present Journey through the Blank Spots on the American Map, and Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance.