North America was not the land of milk and honey that early explorers sought. It was a rocky, cold, foreboding obstacle blocking the way to the riches of Asia. The Vikings, Hernán Cortés, Juan de Fuca, Martin Frobisher, Sir Francis Drake, and virtually every captain dispatched across the pond by a European king between 1500 and 1800 hunted for the Northwest Passage to Cathay. The English got close in Hudson Bay, before its namesake was left to die in a dinghy by his mutinous crew. Frenchman Samuel de Champlain and his truchement made a valiant effort, plunging into America’s interior with paddles, snowshoes, and bibles, tasting all five Great Lakes along the way for signs of salt…

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