Northwest Boundary Survey, 1857-1861

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"Fifty-four forty or fight," was the slogan, but when the northwestern boundary between American and British territory was settled in 1846, the line was drawn at 49 degrees north latitude. The survey was begun in 1857, and was conducted jointly by British and American personnel. The American commissioner was Archibald Campbell, and Caleb Kennerly served as surgeon and naturalist. The American team sailed from New York on April 20, reaching San Francisco on May 20 (via the Isthmus of Panama). It took four years, 1857-1861, to survey the entire 409-mile boundary, which crossed rugged and heavily forested terrain between the crest of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast at Point Roberts. The first group of participants returned to Washington in January 1861, and the last group left the northwest territory later that year. Tragically, Kennerly died at sea on the return trip, off the coast of Baja California, in February 1861. The remaining participants returned to Washington to find the Civil War underway. With the returning parties came instruments, records, baggage, and "24 boxes [of] natural-history specimens." (Baker, 1900: U.S. Geol. Sur. Bull. 174: 17). One of the casualties of the war was the final report of the expedition; although manuscripts were completed and several short papers were published, the main report was never printed due to lack of money. The Northwest Boundary Commission allocated $3,500 for the preparation of the scientific section of the final report. George Suckley (1858, 1861) published descriptions of several new species of salmon and trout collected by his friend, Caleb Kennerly. Theodore Gill wrote a report on the remaining fishes, but this work remained unpublished as well.


National Museum of Natural History, Department of Invertebrate Zoology. (2011). Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian, 1850-1900. Retrieved from

Date Range

1857 - 1861


  • Animals
  • Birds
  • Ornithology


  • Canada
  • United States


Expedition name