Past his death in 1798, George Vancouver’s contributions to the age of exploration were overlooked, and his name forgotten. In life, he was a dedicated, hardworking naval officer and successful diplomat in the name of his country.
On June 22, 1757, the youngest of John Jasper Vancouver and Bridget Berner’s six children was born. George Vancouver, like his five siblings was born in King’s Lynn, a seaport town in Norfolk, England. His father’s side of the family was of Dutch descent, with the first to forge bonds with the English being Reint Wolter van Coeverden. Vancouver’s grandfather, Lukas Hendrik, was the one to anglicize their family name to Vancouver.In 1771, at thirteen, almost fourteen, Vancouver would join the Royal Navy. He entered as a, “young gentlemen,” a title which referred to a potential candidate for a future midshipman.
Vancouver served as midshipman on the HMS Resolution during Captain James Cook’s second voyage, from 1772 through 1775 as Cook searched for Terra Australis. On Cook’s third voyage, which would explore the Hawaiian Islands, Vancouver served as midshipman again, only on the HMS Discovery, the companion ship to the Resolution. After Cook’s death in 1779, Vancouver would serve in the West Indies under Admiral George Rodney for the next nine years, and earn a reputation as an excellent navigator and motivated leader.. In 1790, Vancouver would be assigned the leader of the exploration of what is now the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, down to modern San Francisco. He departed England with two ships, HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham, on 1 April 1791. The goals of this expedition were to assume control over the Nootka Sound area, survey the coast of northwestern North America, and discover the Northwest Passage, if it existed.
Initially, Vancouver retraced Cook’s route around the Cape of Good Hope, to Australia, New Zealand, and finally Hawaii, where they would remain through the winter of 1791. In March of 1792, they voyaged north, and reached where San Francisco is in modern California. As ventured further north, toward Alaska, Vancouver recorded maps that even today, are regarded as incredibly accurate to the coastline, but managed to miss the mouth of the Columbia river, like Cook, twenty years earlier. It was Robert Gray who discovered the Columbia River, and after revealing his discovery to Vancouver, returned to the site in order to claim the river for the United States.