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Painting of a Spanish galleon

The Manila galleons or Manila-Acapulco galleons (Spanish: Galeones de Manila-Acapulco) were Spanish trading ships that sailed once or twice per year across the Pacific Ocean between Manila in the Philippines, and Acapulco, New Spain (present-day Mexico). The name changed reflecting the city that the ship was sailing from.[1] Service was inaugurated in 1565 with the discovery of the ocean passage by Andrés de Urdaneta, and continued until 1815 when the Mexican War of Independence put a permanent stop to the galleon trade route.

Though service was not inaugurated until almost 50 years after the death of Christopher Columbus, the Manila galleons constitute the fulfillment of Columbus' dream of sailing west to go east to bring the riches of the Indies to Spain, and the rest of Europe.

Contents

Discovery of the route

Imaginary portrait of Andrés de Urdaneta, by Antonio Valverde

The Manila-Acapulco galleon trade began when Andrés de Urdaneta, sailing in convoy under Miguel López de Legazpi, discovered a return route from Cebu City to Mexico in 1565. Attempting the return the fleet split up, some heading south. Urdaneta reasoned that the trade winds of the Pacific might move in a gyre as the Atlantic winds did. If in the Atlantic ships made a wide swing (the "volta") to the west to pick up winds that would bring them back from Madeira, then, he reasoned, by sailing far to the north before heading east he would pick up trade winds to bring him back to the west coast of North America. Though he sailed to 38 degrees North before turning east, his hunch paid off, and he hit the coast near Cape Mendocino, California, then followed the coast south to San Blas and later to Acapulco.[2] Most of his crew died on the long initial voyage, for which they had not sufficiently provisioned.

By the eighteenth century it was understood that a less northerly track was sufficient, but galleon navigators steered well clear of the forbidding and rugged fogbound California coast; According to historian William Lytle Schurz, "They generally made their landfall well down the coast, somewhere between Point Conception and Cape San Lucas...After all, these were preeminently merchant ships, and the business of exploration lay outside their field, though chance discoveries were welcomed".[3]

The first motivation for exploration of Alta California was to scout out possible way-stations for the seaworn Manila galleons on the last leg of their journey. Early proposals came to little, but in the later eighteenth century several Manila galleons put in at Monterey.

Spice trade

The Manila-Acapulco trade route started in 1568 (gold) and the rival Portuguese east trade routes (green) of 1479-1640 (map not meant to accurately depict actual navigational routes followed by ships)

Trade served as the fundamental income-generating business for Spanish colonists living in the Philippine Islands. A total of 110 Manila galleons set sail in the 250 years of the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade (1565 to 1815). Until 1593, three or more ships would set sail annually from each port. The Manila trade was becoming so lucrative that Seville merchants petitioned king Philip II of Spain complaining of their losses, and secured a law in 1593 that set a limit of only two ships sailing each year from either port, with one kept in reserve in Acapulco and one in Manila. An "armada", an armed escort, was also allowed.

With such limitations it was essential to build the largest possible galleons, which were the largest class of ships known to have been built anywhere up to that time.[4] In the 16th century, they averaged from 1,700 to 2,000 tons, were built of Philippine hardwoods and could carry a thousand passengers. The Concepción, wrecked in 1638, was 43 to 49 m (140-160 feet) long and displacing some 2,000 tons. The Santísima Trinidad was 51.5 m long. Most of the ships were built in the Philippines and only eight in Mexico. The Manila-Acapulco galleon trade ended when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, after which the Spanish crown took direct control of the Philippines. (This became manageable in the mid-1800s upon the invention of steam power ships and the opening of the Suez Canal, which reduced the travel time from Spain to the Philippines to 40 days.)

The galleons carried spices, porcelain, ivory, lacquerware, processed silk cloth gathered from both the Spice Islands, and Asia-Pacific, to be sold in European markets. East Asia trading primarily on a silver standard, the goods were mostly bought by Mexican silver. The cargoes were transported by land across Mexico to the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, where they were loaded onto the Spanish treasure fleet bound for Spain. This route was the alternative to the trip west across the Indian Ocean, and around the Cape of Good Hope, which was reserved to Portugal according to the Treaty of Tordesillas. It also avoided stopping over at ports controlled by competing powers, such as Portugal and the Netherlands. From the early days of exploration, the Spanish knew that the American continent was much narrower across the Panamanian isthmus than across Mexico. They tried to establish a regular land crossing there, but the thick jungle, and malaria made it impractical.

It took four months to sail across the Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco, and the galleons were the main link between the Philippines and the viceregal capital at Mexico City and thence to Spain itself. Many of the so-called "Kastilas" or Spaniards in the Philippines were actually of Mexican descent, and the Hispanic culture of the Philippines is somewhat close to Mexican culture.[5] Even when Mexico finally gained its independence, the two nations still continued to trade, except for a brief lull during the Spanish-American War. The Manila galleons sailed the Pacific for nearly three centuries, bringing to Spain their cargoes of luxury goods, economic benefits, and cultural exchange.

The wrecks of the Manila galleons are legends second only to the wrecks of treasure ships in the Caribbean. In 1568, Miguel López de Legazpi's own ship, the San Pablo (300 tons), was the first Manila galleon to be wrecked en route to Mexico.

Hawaii

Pacific Ocean with Mauna Kea highlighted.

For 200 years, hundreds of Manila galleons traveled from present-day Mexico to the Philippines, with their route taking them south of the Hawaiian Islands. And yet, no historical records of any contact between the two cultures exist. British historians like Henry Kamen maintain that the Spanish did not have the ability to properly explore the Pacific Ocean, and were not capable of finding the islands which lay at a latitude 20° north of the galleon route and their currents.[6] But, there are questions as to whether explorers accidentally arrived in the Hawaiian Islands two centuries before Captain James Cook's first visit in 1778. Ruy López de Villalobos commanded a fleet of six ships that left Acapulco in 1542 with a Spanish sailor named Juan Gaetano aboard as pilot. Depending on the interpretation, Gaetano's reports seemed to describe the discovery of Hawaii or the Marshall islands in 1555.[7] If it was Hawaii, Gaetano would have been one of the first Europeans to find the islands. Most scholars have dismissed these claims as lacking credibility.[8][9]

After 1565, Andrés de Urdaneta's new route allowed Manila galleons to sail regularly between Mexico and the Philippines. These routes were cloaked in secrecy to protect Spanish ships from English pirates and the Dutch. Because of the Spanish secretiveness, if the Spanish did find Hawaii during their voyages, they would not have published their findings and the discovery would have remained unknown. From Gaetano's account, the Hawaiian islands were not known to have any gold or silver so the Spanish would have ignored their existence.[7] Spanish archives allegedly contain a chart that depicts islands in the latitude of Hawaii but with the longitude ten degrees east of the Islands. In this manuscript, the Island of Maui is named "La Desgradiada" (the unfortunate), and what appears to be the Island of Hawaii is named "La Mesa" (the table). Islands resembling Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokai are named "Los Monjes" (the monks).[10]

William Ellis, a writer and missionary in early 19th century Hawaii, recorded several folk stories about foreigners who had visited Hawaii prior to first contact with Cook. According to Hawaiian writer Herb Kawainui Kane, one of these stories:

concerned seven foreigners who landed eight generations earlier at Kealakekua Bay in a painted boat with an awning or canopy over the stern. They were dressed in clothing of white and yellow, and one wore a sword at his side and a feather in his hat. On landing, they kneeled down in prayer. The Hawaiians, most helpful to those who were most helpless, received them kindly. The strangers ultimately married into the families of chiefs, but their names could not be included in genealogies.[7]

Debate continues as to whether the Hawaiian Islands were actually visited by the Spanish in the 16th century[11] with researchers like Richard W. Rogers looking for evidence of Spanish shipwrecks.[12][13]

See also

References

  1. ^ Williams, Glyn. 1999. The Prize of All the Oceans. Viking, New York. ISBN 0-670-89197-5, p. 4
  2. ^ Derek Hayes (2001). Historical atlas of the North Pacific Ocean: maps of discovery and scientific exploration, 1500-2000. Douglas & McIntyre. p. 18. ISBN 9781550548655. http://books.google.com/books?id=0Z26YL407SkC&pg=PA152&lpg=PA152&dq=sailing+historic+use+of+trade+winds+book&source=bl&ots=wne5PBr4ZE&sig=TWluAxcmcc9C78mDygkZ28oqeqA&hl=en&ei=TRf3SpaNL4LO8Qbk1-3zCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CBYQ6AEwBTgU#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  3. ^ Schurz 1917, p.107-108
  4. ^ See Treasure Ship for Chinese vessels that might have been larger.
  5. ^ See, for example the observation of The Day of the Dead.
  6. ^ Kamen, Henry (2004). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060932643. 
  7. ^ a b c Kane, Herb Kawainui (1996). "The Manila Galleons". in Bob Dye. Hawaiʻ Chronicles: Island History from the Pages of Honolulu Magazine. I. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 25-32. ISBN 0-8248-1829-6. 
  8. ^ By Oliver, Douglas L. (1989). The Pacific Islands. University of Hawaii Press. p. 45. ISBN 0824812336
  9. ^ Coulter, John Wesley. (Jun, 1964) "Great Britain in Hawaii: The Captain Cook Monument". The Geographical Journal, Vol. 130, No. 2. doi:10.2307/1794586
  10. ^ Hawaii National Park. (June 1959). "Hawaii Nature Notes". The Publication of the Naturalist Division, Hawaii National Park, and the Hawaii Natural History Association.
  11. ^ Horwitz, Tony. (2003). Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. p.452. ISBN 03124226
  12. ^ Rogers, Richard W. (1999). Shipwrecks of Hawaii: A Maritime History of the Big Island. Pilialoha Press
  13. ^ "Perhaps the leading authority on Hawaiian shipwrecks today", writes Peter von Buol, referring to Richard W. Rogers in the Fall 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3 issue of Prologue, published by the NARA.

Further reading

External links

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