Cabrillo, Juan Rodríguez c. 1498–c. 1543

Juan Rodr­guez Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer, was one of a trio of explorers active in North America at the beginning of the 1540s, which included Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vquez de Coronado. Cabrillo’s voyage up California’s Pacific coast gave Spain a claim to the region that no European power could challenge until the eighteenth century. Not much is known about Cabrillo’s early life. He was probably born around 1498, perhaps in Seville. The place of his birth has created something of a controversy. Many scholars believe he was a Spaniard, although a contemporary document describes him as being Portuguese. Cabrillo came to the Americas as a young boy, perhaps as a page to a Spanish soldier. He was with Pnfilo de Narvez during his expedition to conquer Cuba in the 1510s. During the conquest of Mexico’s central valley, Cabrillo was a captain of crossbowmen, first against the renegade Hernando Cortz and later in his service. It was rumored at the time that Cabrillo used rendered human body fat in the production of pitch. Cabrillo rose to prominence in the army that conquered Guatemala and Honduras, and, by the 1530s, as a merchant, mine owner, and shipbuilder, he was one of the richest men in Guatemala. His military prowess also garnered him several highly profitable encomiendas (grants of land and people). Cabrillo ran into some financial difficulties at the end of the 1530s, and it is possible that money problems prompted him to undertake his famous voyage, sponsored by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. Cabrillo’s 1541 pamphlet describing an earthquake in Guatemala is generally understood to be the first secular work published in the Americas. In 1542, Cabrillo set sail to explore the western coast of New Spain and then to travel onward to China. At the same time, another Spanish fleet would attempt to reach the Spice Islands and China by sailing directly across the Pacific. Of course, both of these goals were impossible to achieve. Cabrillo’s group consisted of three ships, whose construction he had overseen himself. In September of 1542, he anchored the ships near Point Loma, near present-day San Diego, and went ashore. Through interpreters, he learned that the native people in the interior recently had been terrorized by Europeans. According to his account, men like us were traveling about, bearded, clothed and armed killing many native Indians, and for this reason they were afraid. Farther to the north, Cabrillo again heard reports of such atrocities. During the early 1540s, Coronado’s expedition on the Colorado River had come within 150 miles of San Diego, and word of the force’s brutality had spread rapidly through the region’s native communities. Cabrillo, however, seems to have maintained peaceful relations with most of his native hosts some even went so far as to spend the night on the Spanish ships. Sometime during the winter of 15421543, Cabrillo died, probably from the infection of a broken shinbone, an injury he had sustained earlier in the year when he had slipped on rocks trying to rescue some of his men from an attack by natives. With Cabrillo gone, the voyage continued under the direction of the chief pilot, Bartolom Ferrer. Ferrer led the ships to the area of the present-day border between California and Oregon. There, the combination of high seas and a shortage of supplies, which apparently drove some of the sailors to the brink of madness, forced Ferrer to abandon the original plan to reach China, and he turned back south. The Cabrillo expedition did not find a strait to the interior, the alleged home of fabulously wealthy native civilizations. It did succeed in exploring more than 1,000 miles of coastline and went a long way toward proving, once and for all, that Asia and the Americas were separate continents. The expedition also established a Spanish claim to the West Coast, providing a legal basis for the continued exploration and eventual colonization of the region for the Spanish. Matthew Jennings See also: California; Exploration; Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Kelsey, Harry. Juan Rodr­guez Cabrillo. San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1986. Morison, Samuel Eliot. The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages, A.D. 14921616. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992. Juan Rodr­guez Cabrillo – Wikiwand travelquaz

Cabrillo, Juan Rodríguez c. 1498–c. 1543 Photo Gallery

Cabrillo, Juan Rodr­guez (c. 1498c. 1543)

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Cabrillo, Juan Rodr­guez (c. 1498c. 1543)

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Cabrillo, Juan Rodr­guez (c. 1498c. 1543)

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