The first person to complete the journey was, however, a young Scotsman engaged in the fur trade in western Canada. Alexander Mackenzie’s journey changed the stakes in the competition between Great Britain and the newly formed republic of the United States of America regarding national claims to the Pacific Northwest.
Born in Scotland, Alexander Mackenzie as a boy traveled with his family to New York and then to Canada at the outbreak of the War of Independence. In 1779, at approximately fifteen years of age, he entered the fur trade in Montreal. He soon became a partner in one of the trading firms that merged to form the North West Company. Five years later, in 1784, he was given responsibility for the important Athabasca fur district in northwestern Canada. While there, he resolved to become the first European to discover and document an overland route to the Pacific.
During his journeys, Mackenzie kept a careful log and, on returning to England soon after, he wrote, and then published in London in 1801 as Mackenzie’s Journal, a full report of his adventures. The two maps in this exhibition accompanied the book. His exploits won him a knighthood in 1802 and he retired to Scotland, never again returning to America.