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  Capt. James Cook
Robert Gray
Alexander Hamilton
Thomas Jefferson
Meriwether Lewis
Alexander MacKenzie
James Madison

Capt. James Cook
Capt. James Cook was considered Britain’s greatest navigator and explorer. He discovered the Hawaiian islands. Image © 2002 www.clipart.com.

In Meriwether Lewis' mind Capt. James Cook was the modern-day Christopher Columbus.

Cook was Britain's greatest navigator. He took three famous voyages to faraway lands. His accounts of his journeys, especially his third voyage, inspired the young Lewis and his thirst for exploration.

In 1755 the 27-year-old Cook enlisted in the Royal Navy. He came to America during the French and Indian War to make soundings of the St. Lawrence River to prepare for Great Britain's attack on Quebec. His detailed charts earned him a commission as surveyor of Newfoundland. In 1768 he made the first of his voyages. He surveyed Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia. His second expedition brought much fame when he explored frigid Antarctica from 1772 to 1775. But it was his final voyage that most intrigued President Jefferson and Lewis.

In 1776 Cook sailed the West Coast of North America in search of a passage to the Atlantic Ocean. On this trip he discovered the Hawaiian Islands (which he named the Sandwich Islands). He eventually sailed north through the Bering Straits to the Arctic Ocean. His conclusion? There was no usable passage from Pacific to Atlantic.

Cook's chart of the Pacific Coast was the chief reference that Nicholas King used as he prepared his map of America for Lewis. Cook also described the natives of the Pacific Northwest and the brisk trade between the Hudson's Bay Company and the Indians.

As Lewis traveled up the Missouri in 1805, he wrote humorously in his journal that his little fleet,

"altho not quite so rispectable as those of Columbus or Capt. Cook, were still viewed by us with as much pleasure as those deservedly famed adventurers ever beheld theirs."

Lewis was also influenced by Cook in another way. Cook's exploration of Newfoundland in 1766 was the first to include a naturalist on board. That emphasized to Lewis the scientific nature of the Corps of Discovery expedition.

Returning to the Hawaiian Islands in 1779 for the winter, Cook was killed in a skirmish with natives.

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