After Captain James Cook's 1778-1779 discovery of the lucrative potential of the trade in sea otter pelts from the northern Pacific coast of North America, Russia, Britain, France, and Spain converged on the region. The United States joined the competition later. This paper compares the economic and territorial policies of the competing nations in the context of world affairs to explain how the United States came to dominate the sea otter trade and establish a presence in California.

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