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Document Number: AJ-088a
Author: Collot, Georges-Henri-Victor, 1750-1805
Title: Journey in North America, Containing a Survey of the Countries Watered by the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Other Affluing Rivers [volume 1]
Source: Collot, Victor. A Journey in North America, Containing a Survey of the Countries Watered by the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Other Affluing Rivers; with Exact Observations on the Course and Soundings of These Rivers; and on the Towns, Villages, Hamlets and Farms of That Part of the New-World; Followed by Philosophical, Political, Military and Commercial Remarks and by a Projected Line of Frontiers and General Limits. Illustrated by 36 Maps, Plans, Views, and Divers Cuts. (Paris: Printed for Arthus Bertrand, 1826). Volume 1.
Pages/Illustrations: 325 / 27 (tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-088a/

Author Note

Georges-Henri-Victor Collot (1750-1805) was born in France, joined the military, came to America to fight alongside Washington’s revolutionary troops, and afterwards rose to the rank of major general in the French army. In 1793 he was appointed governor of Guadeloupe in the Caribbeana French colony without army, navy, revenue, or laws. When it was quickly captured by the British, they turned Collot over to American authorities in Philadelphia to answer legal charges brought by an American merchant.

Collot Expedition of 1796

Pierre Adet, French minister to the United States at the time, asked Collot to undertake the delicate task of reconnoitering the interior parts of the country. The French minister worried that the United States might enter the war on the side of Britain, and if they did, France would need accurate intelligence about the Mississippi and Missouri valleys. Collot accepted this responsibility with pleasure, and engaged French military cartographer Joseph Warin, two Canadians voyageurs, and three American boatmen to navigate the waterways in a flat-bottomed boat.

The party left McKeesport, Penn., in March 1796 for the Ohio River, surveying the village of Pittsburgh and its fortifications along the way. Collot kept duplicate sets of notes in case they should be stopped by British, American, or Spanish officials. They then descended the Ohio, noting not only the topography and frontier settlements but also the wildlife, Indians, and environmental features. After reaching the Mississippi, Collot turned upriver to St. Louis, and explored short distances up the Illinois and Missouri rivers as well. The party then descended the Mississippi, reaching New Orleans on October 27, 1796, where the Spanish promptly arrested them authorities. Collot was finally released on December 22, 1796, by which time his companion Warin had died from injuries suffered on the trip.

Document Note

Collot returned to France and prepared his manuscript and maps from notes kept on the journey. When in the year 1800 Napoleon acquired Louisiana from Spain, Collot, and Adet were named two of the commissioners who would administer the new French territory. Before they could cross the Atlantic to take up their assignments, however, Napoleon had a change of heart and sold Louisiana to the United States. Collot died in Paris in July 1805 with his manuscripts, maps, and drawings unpublished.

They fell into the hands of an appreciative publisher, A. Bertrand, who issued them in two luxurious volumes in 1826. Only three hundred copies in French and one hundred copies in English were printed. Collot’s maps and illustrations have long been sought by collectors and often reproduced; a facsimile of both volumes was issued in 1924. Only eighteen copies of the English edition are recorded by libraries worldwide in OCLC.

Journey in North America, Containing a Survey of the Countries Watered by the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Other Affluing Rivers 1796 (Paris : A. Bertrand, 1826). The document reproduced here is the text volume from the English-language edition published in 1826; this copy belonged to Lyman Copeland Draper and contains his signature and notes.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The plates and maps are available at the Web site, “The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award99/icuhtml/fawhome.html, part of the American Memory collection hosted by the Library of Congress.

Another copy of Collot’s atlas is available at http://www.davidrumsey.com on the Web site of map collector David Rumsey.

Two articles tell Collot’s story: Hamilton, Neil A. “A French Spy in America.” American History 1999 34(3): 22-28; and Lewis, Clifford M. “The Reconnaissance Expedition of Two French Navigators” West Virginia History 1981 43(1): 21-38.

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