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Document Number: AJ-001
Title: Relation of the Voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, 1542-1543
Source: Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 3-39.
Pages/Illustrations: 39 / 0
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Author Note

The authorship of this narrative of the Cabrillo Expedition is uncertain, but modern scholars consider it likely that chief pilot Bartolomé Ferrelo wrote it; the earlier editors of this English translation ascribed it to Juan Páez. The expedition commander, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo (died 1543), was born in Andalucia, Spain, perhaps as early as 1500. He became an accomplished sailor and a Spanish conquistador. In 1542, Spanish Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza directed Cabrillo to explore the northwest coast of New Spain, including Baja California and the modern state of California. Their mission included claiming land for Spain, searching for resources, gold, and other treasure, and investigating whether a Northwest Passage existed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Cabrillo Expedition, 1542-1543

Cabrillo and chief pilot Bartolomé Ferrelo sailed two ships from the Port of Navidad, Mexico, on June 27, 1542, and crossed the Sea of Cortes to the Baja California peninsula. Sailing north along the west coast of Baja California, the ships arrived at the bay of present-day San Diego, which Cabrillo named the bay of San Miguel, on September 28, 1542. They established Spanish claim to the California coast, naming various sites and occasionally going ashore to take possession of the land in a formal ceremony. On November 14 the ships arrived at Northwest Cape near Fort Ross just north of present-day Santa Rosa. A storm forced them to turn back and return to San Miguel Island in California, where they wintered until January 19, 1543.

Cabrillo was injured in a fall at their winter camp and died there from gangrene in January 1543. Bartolomé Ferrelo, the chief pilot, took command of the fleet and eventually led the expedition north along the California coast to the border with Oregon. They probably did not sail further north than Point Arena, California. Stormy weather and low supplies forced the fleet to return to their home in Port Natividad, Mexico, on April 14, 1543.

Document Note

Manuscript copies of the diary are in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, and the Muñoz Collection. The diary was published in Spanish in Buckingham Smith, Colección de Varios Documentos para la Historia de la Florida y Tierras Adyacentes (London, 1857). An English translation was published in Richard Stuart Evans, Report upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian (Washington, 1879). This translation comes from Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Douros, Basil S. “Early Uses of Resources.” Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Site Characterization.

Hughart, Kathy and Bill White. Early Exploration of San Diego, 1542 to 1769 (California History & Culture Conservancy, 1999).

National Park Service. “Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo — A Voyage of Discovery.” Cabrillo National Monument (March 19, 2000).

San Diego Historical Society. “Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.” San Diego Biographies.

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