Gabriel Franchere was born in Montreal (Canada) in 1786. He received an excellent education in French and English from highly respectable parents.
In 1810, at age 24, he joined an expedition fitted out by John Jacob Astor and others, the American Fur Company, to establish a fur trading station on the Columbia River in Oregon. In September 1811, Franchere sailed form New York to Cape Horn, acting as one of the clerks of the expedition. They traveled by canoe via the St. Lawrence and St. John rivers, Lake Huron, and the Hudson River, carrying their canoes overland as necessary. He described New York, then with a population of 90,000, in his journal, later published as Relation d’un voyage a la cote du nord-oeste de l’Amerique septentrionale English and French (Journal of a voyage on the north west coast of North America during the years, 1811, 1812, 1813 and 1814.)
The expedition included 57 men. They sailed in the Tonquin under an American flag although most were British. After landing at the mouth of the Columbia, everyone except the officers and crew went ashore and were attacked and killed by Indians at Nootka Sound. The survivors stayed at the settlement called Astoria. Franchere later accompanied one exploring party into the interior for furs. After the start of the War of 1812, the English broke up the settlement. The inhabitants found their way overland back to the U.S. via rivers and Great Lakes. Franchere returned to Montreal in August 1814.
Franchere described his adventures in his book, Adventure at Astoria, 1810-1814, published in French. In 1854 he published an English translation of the book. The French version provided conclusive evidence of the priority and claim by Americans concerning the occupation and settlement of Oregon in a boundary dispute of 1846.
After Astoria, Franchere was connected as a factor (agent) with the American Fur Company. He sacrificed his own fortune to meet the company’s liabilities when it failed. Later, he was associated with Pierre Choteau Jr. and Company in their Northwest operations. Still later, Franchere engaged in his own fur business in New York.
Franchere died on April 12, 1863 at age 77 while visiting his stepson, J.S. Prince, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was survived by his second wife, several married daughters, and a son. Franchere was the last known survivor of the Astoria expedition. (This information is from the Minnesota Historical Society Collections v. VI Pts. I-III, pp. 417-420.)