- Who was Jonathan Carver?
By Leanne Brown, Exec. Director Carver Co. Historical
When the county was organized in 1855, it was
named after Jonathan Carver. Historical Society staff is often asked
who he was. The short answer is that Carver was an explorer, author
and the subject of controversy for over 200 years. A longer answer
is as follows.
Jonathan Carver was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts on April 13,
1710. Little is known about his life until he joined the colonial
militia in 1755 during the French and Indian War. Much of his time
in the militia was spent at forts along the frontier. When he mustered
out after eight years, Carver held the rank of Captain. By this
time, he was 53 years old. With western lands opening up, Carver
bought books on cartography and surveying so that he would be able
to make maps of the new frontier.
Captain Carvers opportunity to explore the expanded frontier
materialized in 1766 when a party was organized to map part of the
new land and find a western water route which flowed to the Pacific
Ocean. Carver was charged with documenting geography as well as
the number and location of Indians. He was also told to describe
the trade posts that they encountered along the way.
Carver spent the winter of 1767 around Saint Anthony Falls and
along the Minnesota River. When the rest of the party joined him
that spring, they began to explore the area but quickly ran out
of supplies and were forced to turn back. During the rest of 1767
and early 1768, Carver spent much of his time at the frontier Fort
Michilimackinac in Michigan where he worked on his journals documenting
their exploration. He then traveled to London where he found an
editor to liven up his journals for wide-spread publication.
Carvers book, Travels through the Interior Parts of North
America, in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 was published in
1778 and immediately found critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the
books profits did not come soon enough for Carver. He died
destitute in 1780.
By 1789 praise for the book had faded and many were questioning
the validity of Carvers exploration claims and accused him
of plagiarizing the work of other explorers. The controversy was
heightened when Carvers descendants claimed that two Dakotah
chiefs had deeded the Captain thousands of acres of land in what
is now southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Many, including
the federal government, saw this claim as fraudulent and it has
never been treated as valid.
The controversy over Travels persisted until the original
journals documenting his explorations were discovered at the British
Museum in the early 1900s. The journals helped prove that his books
inaccuracies and plagiarism were based on the work of Carvers
editor, not Carver. And while the validity of his land claim has
never been fully resolved to the satisfaction of his descendants,
Jonathan Carvers work as an explorer has been exonerated by
Much of the information for this article comes from the Journals
of Jonathan Carver, edited by John Parker.