A tale of maritime adventure, intrigue and high-stakes diplomacy.
Ridley (co-author: Power Struggle: The Hundred-Year War Over Electricity, 1986) looks at the first American voyage to sail the entire coast of the Americas. Embarking from Boston in 1787, two ships—under the command of Capt. John Kendrick, a former privateer said to have smuggled powder and arms for Washington’s Army—were sent to “carve an American trade route around Cape Horn to the Far East….barter for furs in the north, then cross the Pacific and stop at the Sandwich Islands on the way to Macao, China. The trip homeward would cross the Indian Ocean and round Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.” Despite the U.S. victory in the Revolutionary War, the British maintained a stranglehold on commerce in the Atlantic. Along with the French and Spanish governments, they were determined to keep the new republic in a state of economic dependency. To counter the British, Americans hoped to open up China and Japan to U.S. traders, while at the same time establishing claim to the Northwest Territory. During his five-year trip aboard Lady Washington, Kendrick and his crew faced hardship and danger, including storms, scurvy, dissension in the command and the incursions of Spanish, British and French ships, who were also intent on making territorial claims. “A dozen years before the Louisiana Purchase,” writes Ridley, “Kendrick held more than a thousand square miles of land on the Pacific”—a feat he accomplished by gaining the cooperation of native chieftains and the Spanish naval command against the British. Though Kendrick reached China and Japan, his success there was limited, and when he anchored in Hawaiian waters on his return trip, he was fatally wounded in 1794 when his ship was fired upon by a British ship, in what was claimed to be an accident.
A solid reconstruction of an important piece of American history, on par with Lewis and Clark’s historic journey.