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Spanish expeditions to Alaska: Wikis


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Captain Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, circa 1785.

Spanish claims to Alaska dated to the papal bull of 1493, which divided the entire globe into Spanish and Portuguese hemispheres for the purpose of establishing colonies. The entire west coast of North America was within the portion of the globe granted to Spain. In 1513, this claim was reinforced by Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the Spanish explorer, when he claimed all lands adjoining the Pacific Ocean for the Spanish Crown. Spain was sufficiently confident in these claims, that it took little action to actually colonize the claimed territory north of Mexico for over two centuries.

In the 1770s, rivals began to appear for the first time in the form of British and Russian fur traders. King Charles III of Spain and his successors sent forth from Mexico a number of expeditions between 1774 and 1791, to assert and strengthen the Spanish claim. At the time it was important for claims to be backed up by exploration and the "first discovery" of particular places.


1774 voyage of Pérez

The first voyage was that of Juan Pérez of the Santiago. Although intending to reach Alaska, the expedition turned back at the Queen Charlotte Islands. Pérez and his crew of 86 were the first Europeans to visit the Pacific Northwest.

1775 voyage of Heceta and Bodega y Quadra

In 1775 a second voyage of ninety men led by Lieutenant Bruno de Heceta aboard the Santiago, set sail from San Blas on March 16, 1775 with orders to make clear Spanish claims for the entire northwestern Pacific Coast. Accompanying Heceta was the escort and supply ship Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (generally known as the Sonora), initially under the command of Juan Manuel de Ayala. The 37 foot (11 m) schooner and its crew complement of 16 were to perform coastal reconnaissance and mapping, and could make landfall in places the larger Santiago was unable to approach on its previous voyage; in this way, the expedition could officially reassert Spanish claims to the lands north of Mexico it visited. Ayala took command of the packet boat San Carlos, also sailing with the expedition, after its initial commander, Miguel Manrique, took ill soon after leaving San Blas. Heceta than gave Bogeda y Quadra command of the Sonora. Francisco Antonio Mourelle served as Bodega y Quadra's pilot and the two forged a strong and enduring friendship.

The three vessels sailed together as far as Monterey Bay in California. Ayala's mission was to explore Golden Gate strait while Heceta and Bodega y Quadra continued north. Ayala and the crew of the San Carlos became the first Europeans known to enter San Francisco Bay. The Santiago and Sonora continued sailing north together as far as Point Grenville, named Punta de los Martires (or "Point of the Martyrs") by Heceta in response to an attack by the local Quinault Indians. The vessels parted company on the evening of July 29, 1775. Scurvy had so weakened the crew of the Santiago that Heceta decided to return to San Blas. On the way south he discovered the mouth of the Columbia River. Juan Pérez, who was serving as Heceta's pilot, died during the voyage south.

Bodega y Quadra, in the Sonora, moved up the coast according to the expedition's orders, ultimately reaching the latitude 58° north on August 15, and entering Sitka Sound near the present-day town of Sitka, Alaska. During the return voyage south Bodega y Quadra discovered, named, and explored a portion of Bucareli Bay on the west side of Prince of Wales Island.

During Bodega y Quadra's voyage numerous "acts of sovereignty" were performed. Many place names were given, including Puerto de Bucareli (Bucareli Bay), Puerto de los Remedios, and Mount San Jacinto, renamed Mount Edgecumbe by British explorer James Cook three years later.

1779 voyage of Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra

Spanish contact in British Columbia and Alaska.

A third voyage took place in 1779 under the command of Ignacio de Arteaga with two armed corvettes: the Favorita under Arteaga, and the Princesa under Bodega y Quadra. With Arteaga on the Favorita was second officer Fernando Quiros y Miranda, surgeon Juan Garcia, pilot Jose Camacho, and second pilot Juan Pantoja y Arriaga. With Bodega y Quadra on the Princesa was second officer Francisco Antonio Mourelle, surgeon Mariano Nunez Esquivel, pilot Jose Canizares, and second pilot Juan Bautista Aguirre.[1] The expedition's objective was to evaluate the Russian penetration of Alaska, search for a Northwest Passage, and capture James Cook if they found him in Spanish waters. Spain had learned about Cook's 1778 explorations along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. In June 1779, during the expedition of Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra, Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of France, precipitating a parallel Anglo-Spanish War, which continued until the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra did not find Cook, who had been killed in Hawaii in February 1779.[1]

During the voyage Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra carefully surveyed Bucareli Bay then headed north to Port Etches on Hinchinbrook Island. They entered Prince William Sound and reached a latitude of 61°, the most northern point obtained by the Spanish explorations of Alaska. They also explored Cook Inlet, and the Kenai Peninsula, where a possession ceremony was performed on August 2, in what today is called Port Chatham. Due to various sicknesses among the crew Arteaga returned to California without finding the Russians.

Throughout the voyage, the crews of both vessels endured many hardships, including food shortages and scurvy. On September 8, the ships rejoined and headed south for the return trip to San Blas. Although the Spanish were normally secretive about their exploring voyages and the discoveries made, the 1779 voyage of Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra became widely known. La Perouse obtained a copy of their map, which was published in 1798. Mourelle's journal was acquired and published in London in 1798 by Daines Barrington.

After these three exploration voyages to Alaska within five years there were no further Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest until 1788, after the Treaty of Paris ended the war between Spain and Britain. During the war Spain dedicated the port of San Blas to the war effort in the Philippines. Voyages of exploration were suspended. Support of Alta California, which depended upon San Blas, was minimal. By 1786 Alta California had became nearly self-supporting and peace with Britain was restored, making further voyages to Alaska possible.[1]

1788 voyage of Martínez and Haro

In March, 1788, two ships were sent north from San Blas to investigate Russian acitivity. Esteban José Martínez, on the Princesa, was in command of the expedition, accompanied by the San Carlos under Gonzalo López de Haro, with José María Narváez serving as Haro's pilot. The ships arrived at Prince William Sound in May. Following evidence of Russian fur trading activity the ships sailed west. In June Haro reached Kodiak Island and learned from the natives that a Russian post was nearby.[2]

On June 30, 1788, Haro sent Narváez in a longboat to look for the Russian post at Three Saints Bay. Narváez found the post, becoming the first Spaniard to make contact with a large contingent of Russians in Alaska. Narváez took the Russian commander, Evstrat Delarov to meet Haro on the San Carlos, then returned him to his outpost. Delarov gave Narváez a Russian map of the Alaskan coast and indicated the locations of seven Russian posts containing nearly 500 men. Delarov also told Narváez that the Russians intended to occupy Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

After this meeting Haro sailed east and joined Martínez at Sitkinak Island. Using the information acquired from Delarov, the expedition sailed to Unalaska Island, where there was a large Russian post, also called Unalaska, under the command of Potap Kuzmich Zaikov. Martínez arrived on July 29, Haro on August 4. Zaikov gave Martínez three maps covering the Aleutian Islands. He also confirmed that the Russians planned to take possession of Nootka Sound the next year.[2] Zaikov explained that two Russian frigates were already on their way, and a third which was to sail to Nootka Sound. He was referring to the 1789 expedition of Joseph Billings, but greatly exaggerating its mission.[3][4] The visit to Unalaska marks the westernmost point reached during the Spanish voyages of exploration in Alaska.

The Spanish expedition left Unalaska on August 18, 1788, heading south for California and Mexico. Due to increasing conflict between Martínez and Haro, the ships broke off contact within three days sailed south separately. Martínez had allowed this but ordered Haro to rejoin him at Monterey, California. But during the voyage south Haro, with support from Narváez and the other pilots, declared his ship no longer under Martínez's command. They sailed back to San Blas on their own, arriving on October 22, 1788. Martínez spent a month in Monterey waiting for Haro. He arrived at San Blas in December, where he found himself faced with charges of irresponsible leadership. He soon regained favor and was placed in charge of a new expedition to occupy Nootka Sound before the Russians did.[2] This expedition took place in 1789, culminating in the Nootka Crisis.

1790 voyage of Fidalgo

In 1790, Spanish explorer Salvador Fidalgo took the San Carlos to Alaska, visiting and naming Cordova Bay and Port Valdez in Prince William Sound. Acts of sovereignty were performed at both places. Fidalgo entered Cook Inlet and found the Russian post Pavlovskaia, the Pavel Lebedev-Lastochkin Company post at the mouth of the Kenai River. Fidalgo did not stop at the post but continued west to Kodiak Island, where he noted Shelikov's post.[5] Fidalgo then went to the Russian settlement at Alexandrovsk (today's English Bay or Nanwalek, Alaska), southwest of today's Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula, where again, Fidalgo asserted the Spanish claim to the area by conducting a formal ceremony of sovereignty.[6]

1789-1794 voyage of Malaspina and Bustamante

The King of Spain gave Alejandro Malaspina and José de Bustamante y Guerra command of an around-the-world scientific expedition with two corvettes, the Descubierta and the Atrevida. One of the king's orders was to investigate a possible Northwest Passage. The expedition was also to search for gold, precious stones, and any American, British, or Russian settlements along the northwest coast. Arriving in Alaska in 1791, Malaspina and Bustamante surveyed the coast to the Prince William Sound. At Yakutat Bay, the expedition made contact with the Tlingit. Spanish scholars made a study of the tribe, recording information on social mores, language, economy, warfare methods, and burial practices. Artists with the expedition, Tomas de Suria and José Cardero, produced portraits of tribal members and scenes of Tlingit daily life. Malaspina Glacier, between Yakutat Bay and Icy Bay was subsequently named after Alessandro Malaspina.

1792 voyage of Caamaño

Jacinto Caamaño, commander of the frigate Aránzazu, sailed to Bucareli Bay in 1792. Juan Pantoja y Arriaga served as his pilot. Caamaño conducted a detailed survey of the coast south to Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. By 1792 much of the coast had already been visited by European explorers, but some areas had been overlooked, such as the southern part of Prince of Wales Island. A number of Caamaño's place names in the area have survived, such as Cordova Bay, Revillagigedo Channel, Bocas de Quadra, and in what is now called Caamaño Passage, Zayas Island (named for his second pilot, Juan Zayas).[7][8]

Caamaño's 1792 voyage was to be the last Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest. No report on the voyage was published until long afterwards and his discoveries remained obscure, although George Vancouver apparently met Caamaño and obtained copies of his maps, especially of areas north of Dixon Entrance. Vancouver later incorporated some of Caamaño's place names into his atlas.


In the end Spain withdrew from the North Pacific and transferred its claims in the region to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. Today, Spain's Alaskan legacy endures as a number of place names, such as the Malaspina Glacier, Revillagigedo Island, the towns of Valdez and Cordova, and numerous smaller features.


  1. ^ a b c "The Spanish Navy in the Californias during the Revolutionary War Era". The California State Military Museum. Retrieved 6 December 2009.  
  2. ^ a b c McDowell, Jim (1998). José Narváez: The Forgotten Explorer. Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company. pp. pp. 24-31. ISBN 0-87062-265-X.  
  3. ^ Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Alaska: an American Colony. University of Washington Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780295982496.  
  4. ^ Billings, Joseph, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  5. ^ Haycox, Stephen W. (2002). Alaska: an American Colony. University of Washington Press. p. 170. ISBN 9780295982496.  
  6. ^ History of Spanish exploration of Pacific Northwest and Alaska
  7. ^ "Spanish Place Names on the Face of Alaska". ExploreNorth. Retrieved 5 December 2009.  
  8. ^ Spanish explorers

See also

External links



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