||Collot, Georges-Henri-Victor, 1750-1805
||Journey in North America, Containing a Survey of the Countries Watered by the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, and Other Affluing Rivers [volume 1]
||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.
||325 / 27 (tables)
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 Caribbean—a 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
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.
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”
part of the American Memory collection hosted by the Library of
Another copy of Collot’s atlas is available at
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.