Spanish Ships Lead Early Exploration of Pacific Coast

Sep 11, 2013

  Spain was the first country to explore the Pacific Coast of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its seamen contributed the first map of the coast between Panama and the northern boundary of California. 

  The earliest expedition was led by Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo, and continued after his death by his chief pilot, Bartolomé Ferrelo, who named Cape Mendocino in Northern California.  He sailed farther north, perhaps in 1543 reaching 42 ½ degrees north latitude, just shy of today’s Port Orford, Ore.  In 1579 the English privateer, Sir Francis Drake, sailed even farther north in a futile search for a passage to the Atlantic. In 1602, the Spanish viceroy in Mexico City sent Sebastián Vizcaíno on an expedition to locate safe harbors in California for Spanish galleons returning to Mexico from The Philippines.  The log of one of Vizcaíno’s ship commanders, Martín d’Aguilar contains one of the first written descriptions of the Oregon Coast.  He named Cape Blanco in 1603 after the chalky appearance of the headland.   Some say his ship, the Tres Reyes, may have reached the latitude of present-day Coos Bay, Ore.  Sources: Schafer, Joseph. History of the Pacific Northwest. London: The Macmillan Co., 1909. Google Books. Web. 13 Aug. 2013; "Territorial Timeline - Spanish Explorers Reach Southern Oregon." Washington History. Washington Secretary of State, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2013.; Eldredge, Zoeth S. The March of Portolá and the Discovery of the Bay of San Francisco. San Francisco: Reception Committee of The California Promotion, 1909. Web. 13 Aug. 2013.; "Cape Blanco State Park." Oregon State Parks and Recreation. Web. 13 Aug. 2013.