Robert Gray

Robert Gray, sea captain, fur trader (born 10 May 1755 in Tiverton, Rhode Island; died in 1806, probably at sea).

Portrait of sea captain Robert Gray

Robert Gray made two voyages to the Northwest Coast for Boston merchants investing in the sea-otter fur trade. The first, undertaken from 1787 to 1790, was commanded by John Kendrick and included two ships: the Columbia Rediviva (commonly known as the Columbia) and its tender, the Lady Washington, which Gray commanded. On trading voyages, Gray proved that the Haida Gwaii archipelago (then called the Queen Charlotte Islands) was indeed composed of islands. He sailed the Columbia back to Boston via Asia, making it the first American ship to sail around the world.

Gray undertook his second voyage from 1790 to 1793, this time as captain of the Columbia. In 1791–92, he wintered on Meares Island, where he built Fort Defiance and a trading sloop, the Adventure. In 1792, he became the first White person to reach the Columbia River, which he named for his ship. This achievement later supported the United States’ claim to the Oregon Territory.


Further Reading

  • F.W. Howay, ed, Voyages of the "Columbia" to the Northwest Coast (1941).

  • F.W. Howay, ed, Voyages of the "Columbia" to the Northwest Coast (1941).