Explorers from Britain, Spain, France, Russia, and eastern North America came by ocean and river to the Pacific Northwest. During the 18th century, their interests in the fur trade, a Northwest Passage, and charting and claiming land involved calculated political moves that linked the governments of Europe with what they knew as the “New World.”
Royal families who reigned in Europe faced their own subjects as an emerging political force. Humanist philosophy spread from intellectuals to the masses, bringing about ideas of self-governance that would result in the election of leaders to take the place of overthrown monarchs. The new Enlightenment philosophy, during what some have labelled Europe’s “Age of Reason”, linked the world with scientific and cultural inquiry and an open pursuit of trade. An expedition could sail all the way around the planet and meet with practices, religions, languages, and saleable goods that were different in every harbour. Men such as the Spanish Captain Malaspina considered themselves thinkers and philosophers who could appreciate and learn from new encounters and experiences.
The philosophical message of the “rights of man” (there was little place for women in these ventures) did not remove conflict from the world. As expeditions of exploration sought territory, European wars between Spain, France, and Britain extended all the way to the Pacific. The Spanish set up a fortified outpost in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island. They seized British vessels sailing nearby waters and sent them down to the Spanish naval base of San Blas, sparking the Nootka Crisis. This international dispute in the Pacific Northwest brought Spanish and English land claims to a climax, leaving much of the region under British control and setting the future path for trade, language, and government along the north Pacific coast.