Friday, June 28, 2013

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the Discovery of California

Above is a bronze medallion honoring the exploration of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.
It says that in 1542 in service to Spain, he was the first to explore the coast of California from Nativity Island to the North of San Francisco.  Cabrillo died during this exploration in early 1543 while returning home from his discoveries.
Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo (JOÃO RODRIGUES CABRILHO, ca. March 13, 1499 -- January 3, 1543) was a Portugese navigator sailing for the Spanish crown.  He is most noted for having been the forst European to sail along the California coast.  He sailed as far North as the Russian River, which is located in Sonoma County California, North of San Francisco.  He did not discover San Francisco Bay. That discovery would not occur for another 200 years. I have included below almost verbatim, from the Wikipedia entry about him.

Little is know of Cabrillo's early life.  He accompanied Francisco de Orozco to subdue the indigenous Mixtec people at what would eventually become the city ofOaxaca, in Mexico. 

In 1539, Francisco de Ulloa, who had been commissioned by Hernán Cortés, discovered the Gulf of California and reached nearly as far north as the 30th parallel. Cabrillo was then commissioned by the new Viceroy of New Spain,Antonio de Mendoza, to lead an expedition up the Pacific coast in search of trade opportunities, perhaps to find a way to China (for the full extent of the northern Pacific was unknown) or to find the mythical Strait of Anián (or Northwest Passage) connecting the Pacific Ocean with Hudson Bay. Cabrillo built and owned the flagship of his venture (two or three ships), and stood to profit from any trade or treasure.

Cabrillo shipped for Havana as a young man and joined forces with Hernán Cortés in Mexico (then called New Spain). Later, his success in mining gold in Guatemala made him one of the richest of the conquistadores in Mexico. According to his biographer Harry Kelsey, he took an indigenous woman as his common-law wife and sired several children, including at least three daughters. Later he married Beatriz Sanchez de Ortega in Seville during a hiatus in Spain. She returned to Guatemala with him and bore him two sons.

In 1540 the fleet sailed from Acajutla, El Salvador, and reached Navidad, Mexico, on Christmas Day. While he was in Mexico, Pedro de Alvarado went to the assistance of the town of Jalisco, which was under siege by hostile Indians, and was killed when his horse fell on him, crushing his chest. Following Alvarado's death the viceroy of Mexico took possession of Alvarado's fleet. Part of the fleet was sent off to the Philippine Islands under Ruy Lopez de Villalobos and two of the ships were sent north under the command of Cabrillo. 
Cabrillo's expedition recorded the names of numerous Chumashan villages on the California coast and adjacent islands in October 1542 — then located in the two warring provinces of Xexo (ruled by an "old woman", now Santa Barbara County, California) and Xucu (now Ventura County, California).On 27 June 1542, Cabrillo set out from Navidad (in Jalisco) in New Spain with three ships: the 200-ton galleon and flagship San Salvador, the ship La Victoria (c. 100 tons), and the lateen-rigged, twenty-six oared "fragata" or "bergantin" San Miguel. On 1 August Cabrillo anchored within sight of Cedros Island. Before the end of the month they had passed Baja Point (named "Cabo del Engaño" by de Ulloa in 1539) and entered "uncharted waters, where no Spanish ships had been before". On 28 September, he landed in what is now San Diego Bay and named it "San Miguel". A little over a week later he reached Santa Catalina Island (7 October), which he named "San Salvador", after his flagship. On sending a boat to the island "a great crowd of armed Indians appeared" — whom, however, they later "befriended". Nearby San Clemente was named "Victoria", in honor of the third ship of the fleet. The next morning, October 8, Cabrillo came to San Pedro Bay, which was named "Baya de los Fumos" (English: Smoke Bay), after the burning chaparral that raised thick clouds of smoke. The following day they anchored overnight in Santa Monica Bay. Going up the coast Cabrillo saw Anacapa Island, which they learned from the Indians was uninhabited. On 18 October the expedition saw Point Conception, which they named "Cabo de Galera". The fleet spent the next week in the northern islands, mostly anchored in Cuyler Harbor, a bay on the northeastern coast of San Miguel Island.
On 13 November, they sighted and named "Cabo de Pinos" (Point Reyes), but missed the entrance to San Francisco Bay, a lapse that mariners would repeat for the next two centuries and more. The expedition reached as far north as theRussian River before autumn storms forced them to turn back. Coming back down the coast, Cabrillo entered Monterey Bay, naming it "Bahia de los Pinos".
On 23 November 1542, the little fleet arrived back in "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. There, around Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled onto a jagged rock while trying to rescue some of his men from Chumash attack. The injury became infected and developedgangrene, and he died on 3 January 1543 and was buried. A possible headstone was later found on San Miguel Island. His second-in-command brought the remainder of the party back to Navidad, where they arrived 14 April 1543.
A notary's official report of Cabrillo's inconclusive expedition was lost; all that survives is a summary of it made by another investigator, Andrés de Urdaneta, who also had access to ships' logs and charts. No printed account of Cabrillo's voyage appeared before historian Antonio de Herrera's account early in the 17th century.

1 comment:

  1. Tom (Madison, Wisconsin)June 28, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    As far as I can tell, there were only two other europeans that explored parts of what is now considered the mainland of the United States before Cabrillo. They were De Soto and Coronado. What is amazing is that so little is taught of these early explorers to our shores. I was totally unaware of Cabrillo until I read it here. Thank you.