Who Was The First American To Circumnavigate The Globe?

By | April 9, 2019

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Capt. Gray's ship, the Columbia, painted in 1793 by George Davidson. Source: (Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Library, OrHi984)

At the end of the War of Independence, the United States was bustling with the energy of a new nation. Opportunities were seen abroad for American expansion and influence. Curiously, in this atmosphere, the first American to circumnavigate the globe did not do so for glory but for profit.

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Captain Robert Gray (1755-1806) Source: (Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Library)

A Former Privateer

Captain Robert Gray was born on May 10, 1755, in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Not much is known about Gray’s early life except that he commanded an American privateer during the War of Independence. After the war, he offered his services to a group of Boston merchants. The New Englanders had read the reports of the British explorer James Cook who had made a landing on the Oregon coast in 1778. There were purportedly valuable resources ready for exploitation, particularly furs.