Early America and the Revolutionary Pacific

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Modern Language Association


In 1776 the Russian merchant Grigor Ivanovich Shelikov 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. he expedition would hunt sea otters for trade in China, where the pelts fetched a high price.1 he same year nearly two hundred Spanish colonists arrived at the presidio in Monterey ater a six- month journey from present- day southern Arizona. he expedition, led by Juan Bautista de Anza, aimed to populate northern California as part of Spain’s eforts to resist encroachment from the north by Russian merchants like Shelikhov. Meanwhile, also in 1776, the explorer James Cook let En gland for the South Paciic in Britain’s continuing attempt to rival France’s scientiic discoveries and access to potential trade goods in Asia. hroughout the European Atlantic, publications and translations of Cook’s inal 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 Paciic while also suggesting the extraordinary transcultural, intercontinental, and multilingual reach of those encounters—including exchanges between several European nations (such as Russia, Spain, En gland, 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).2