Robert Gray (sea captain)

Robert Gray ( born May 10, 1755 in Tiverton, Rhode Iceland, † July 1806 at sea in Charleston, South Carolina, United States ) was the first American to sail around the world. Gray left in 1787 along with John Kendrick of Boston Harbor on two ships to drive on the northwest coast of America trade. After Gray left for China and flew around the globe. On a second expedition in 1792, he sailed into the mouth of the Columbia River and named the river after his ship. Grays first descent later formed one of the bases for the territorial claims of the United States in the Oregon Country.


Gray was born in Tiverton in Rhode Iceland. Little is known about his early years. It is believed that he served during the American War of Independence in the Navy of the Continental Army, but this is not documented. He also is said to have involved South Carolina from aboard the Pacific on the Atlantic triangular trade.

Circumnavigation of the world

The Captains Robert Gray and John Kendrick received by a group of Boston merchants to Charles Bulfinch the job, on the west coast of North America to acquire furs to sell these afterwards in China and invest the proceeds in tea and other valuable goods. Previously had other American distributors, sent among them Robert Morris, merchant ships to China. However they had trouble finding goods to which the Chinese were interested. After Bulfinch had read the 1784 published travelogue by James Cook, he came up with the idea to provide furs, because according to them, apparently there was a high demand.

On September 30, 1787 Gray and Kendrick left on board the Lady Washington and the Columbia Boston Harbor. The cargo consisted of blankets, knives, iron bars and other trade goods. Kendrick and Gray sailed via the Cape Verde Islands, the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn into the Pacific. On April 1, 1788, both ships were separated during a storm. Kendrick was forced to start off with the heavily damaged Columbia occupied by Spain Juan Fernandez Islands, to carry out repairs.

Meanwhile, Gray reached his destination, the Lady Washington while trying to navigate a river, ran aground and was attacked by a native tribe. The ship could again be afloat and reached on September 17, 1788 the Nootka Sound, where a week later the Columbia arrived. During his trip, Gray was found the ship by the English Captain John Meares.

On June 24, 1789 Gray exchanged with Kendrick for unknown reasons the command and took over the larger Columbia. While Kendrick remained in North America, Gray sailed with a fur charge toward China. After a stopover in Hawaii, the Columbia reached at the beginning of 1790 Guangzhou. In China, Gray swapped the furs for tea. The Columbia put to sea again, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and reached Boston on August 9, 1790. Consequently, the Columbia was the first American ship completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Gray was officially welcomed the basis of merit by Governor John Hancock.

Exploration of the Pacific Northwest

Just seven weeks after his arrival, on September 28, 1790, Gray embarked on a second expedition to the Pacific Northwest. On June 5, 1791, the Columbia reached the Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Iceland. There, Gray met again John Kendrick, who set off in the direction of China. On Meares Iceland the team built a winter camp called Fort Defiance. During the winter they also built a sloop, the Adventure. On April 2, 1792, the Adventure sailed under the command of Gray's first mate Robert Haswell northward, while the Columbia broke up in the south. On April 29, Gray met in the Juan de Fuca Strait HMS Discovery of British Captain George Vancouver. Gray informed Vancouver that he had possibly discovered in 1788 at 46'10 " north the mouth of a major river, but due to this strong current could not have traveled. However, Vancouver doubted the existence of a river in the area.

On May 7, 1792, the Columbia reached the later named after its captain bay Grays Harbor in the present city of Aberdeen. Four days later, they arrived at their final destination, the mouth of a major river. In the evening, the team found a navigable passage through the treacherous sand banks at the mouth and the ship sailed the lower reaches of the river. During nine days, Gray drove with the locals trade and swapped various iron products for furs for the Chinese market. After about 20 kilometers, the ship ran aground and Gray decided to turn back. Gray gave the river, which was called by the locals Wimahl ( "Great River " ), the name of the Columbia River after his ship. A day later, on May 20, the Columbia reached the open sea again.

The Columbia sailed northward and met with the adventure. The trading post at Nootka Iceland Gray told the Spanish commander Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra of his discoveries. George Vancouver found out about it in September and ordered his Lieutenant William Robert Broughton with a more detailed exploration. The Columbia again sailed meanwhile across the Pacific to China. Gray exchanged in Guangzhou, the furs for tea and Columbia met in July 1793 after completion of a further Weltrumrundung in Boston one.

More Experiences

Five years later, Gray was involved in the Quasi-War. On board the Bark Alert, he sailed on September 10, 1798 by Salem again in the Pacific Northwest. Again he was there to buy furs and bring this to China. Around 500 nautical miles east of Rio de Janeiro, the ship was captured by the French privateer La however Républicaine on November 17. The ship sailed to Montevideo on the Rio de la Plata and was sold there on 14 December with the summons. The alert left Montevideo on January 11, under the flag of Spain and with Spanish occupation in the Pacific.

Gray then returned to the U.S. and continued his seafaring career. On November 21, 1800, he left as captain of the schooner James again Boston. He sailed among other things, to Rio de Janeiro, England and the southern states of the USA. In July 1806 Gray died at sea in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, probably due to yellow fever. He left behind a wife and four daughters.


Gray himself never published his findings. This task was George Vancouver, who praised Grays services sufficient. The fact that Gray had to drive onto the first non- Indians to the Columbia River, and a few years later conducted the Lewis and Clark expedition served the United States as a justification to claim the area of the Oregon Country for itself. In 1846 negotiated Oregon compromise of 49th parallel was established as the boundary, so most of the basin of the Columbia River in the U.S. fell. The area north of the boundary line in 1871 was the Canadian province of British Columbia, which is named after Gray's ship.

After Robert Gray several places in the state of Washington are named:

  • Bay, Grays Harbor in Aberdeen
  • Grays Bay on the north shore of the mouth of the Columbia River
  • Grays Point at the western end of the Grays Bay
  • Grays River, a tributary of the Columbia River
  • Grays River, a small village on the eponymous river