- The Frigate Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu
- Atanasio Echeverria
- Ignacio de Arteaga’s Expedition of 1779
- Francisco de Eliza’s 1791 Expedition
The Frigate Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu
The Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu, built in Cavite (Philippines), was initially a 205-pound packet boat. It was first used in San Blas, Mexico, in 1781. In 1788 the ship was overhauled by adding seven feet to the prow and then equipped as a frigate. Between 1784 and 1792, the ship sailed the coasts over 30 times to supply the Californian missions and presidios with goods.
The Aranzazu was tasked with an important mission within the “Expedition of the Limits” of 1792, with the purpose of drawing the exact location of the legendary strait connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans claimed by Admiral Fonte. Many expeditions had intended to accomplish this before the Aranzazu. After leaving Nootka on June 13, the frigate explored Bucareli Bay, first. They headed southward from that post, where they inspected every inlet, island, and strait along the way. They crossed the Hecate Strait, and although the ship was too wide for the Principe Channel, they attempted that too. In short, they explored a great deal, but found no trace of Admiral Fonte’s strait.
As that summer passed, it became harder for the crew to navigate the waters and land, due to fog, rain, and stormy weather. Convinced that their efforts were fruitless, after an 86-day cruise, the frigate returned to Nootka on September 7.
The Aranzazu never went on an adventure like that again. After the “Expedition of the Limits,” the frigate was used mainly to supply the ever-growing trail of the Franciscan missions of Alta California.
TOVELL, Freeman (2008). At the far reaches of Empire: The life of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, UBC Press, Vancouver, Toronto
GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea
Basque-Mexican artist Atanasio Echeverria, barely 18 years at the time, worked for the “Expedition of the Limits” of 1792. He also served the Royal Botanical Expedition to New Spain, led by Jose Mariano Mociño and Martin de Sesse. This was one of the most interesting and significant expeditions of its time due to its duration, expansive travels, and volume of material collected. Echeverria’s drawings were particularly admired by the botanist Sesse. His illustrations of plants, birds, butterflies, and fish were unparalleled in beauty and precision. By Sesse’s writings we know that in a single day Echeverria drew four plants and a butterfly so delightful it looked like it was about to fly off the paper. Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt would later write about the artist’s drawings, “Señor Echeverría, whose works can compete with the most perfect that Europe has produced of this class.”
There is a large genus of plants of the Crassulaceae family named Echeveria that is comprised of over 393 species, native from Mexico to northwestern South America. The genus bears the name of the botanical artist with Basque origins, Atanasio Echeverria.
ENGSTRAND, Iris H. W. (2005). «Perception and Perfection: Picturing the Spanish and Mexican Coastal West» in The Western Historical Quarterly, 36. lib., 1. zenb., 4-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25443099.
GARIKANO, Asun (2013).“Bi lore euskaldun,” in Erlea 7, Euskaltzaindia, Pamiela, Iruñea.
Ignacio de Arteaga’s Expedition of 1779
Viceroy Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua, incited by rumors of English and Russian presence, ordered to organize a new expedition to the Pacific Northwest. The expedition counted on the participation of Commander Ignacio de Arteaga and the two frigates Favorita and Princesa. The Princesa was built by Francisco de Segurola in San Blas de Nayarit (Mexico). The two ships were much more comfortable and faster than previous vessels, far better prepared for longer journeys and better equipped to confront the English, if necessary. Commander Arteaga was in charge of the 98 men who formed the Princesa’s crew. The 107 men of the Favorita were under the orders of Basque Peruvian Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, who had sailed those waters before. The Favorita’s Second Pilot was also Basque, Juan Bautista Aguirre, who had previous experience sailing the California coastline ports.
Both frigates left San Blas port on February 11, 1779, carrying 15-months’ supply of provisions with specific orders: Sail away from the coast, reach latitude 70° and take formal possession of the territory between latitudes 50° and 70. ° They finally made it to latitude 61° N and took possession of the land twice: once in Puerto de Santiago and again in Ensenada de Regla. Both places were named by the expedition. They produced an exhaustive cartographic description of Northern California coastline and British Columbia, reaching as far north as Alaska. Multiple sites in their maps bear Basque names. Arteaga named a sandbar Pamplona. In the map of Bucareli Bay, there is an Esquibel Gulf (Arteaga’s mother’s family name was Esquibel). In the “Carta reducida de la costa septentrional de California” (Reduced map of the northern coast of California), drawn by Bodega and Arteaga, several places with Basque names appear: Punta Ureta, Punta Eguia, and more. In the “Plano de la ensenada de Nuestra Señora de la Regla” (Plan of the Inlet of Our Lady of the Rule), at 59, ° there is an island named Arteaga.
Besides the maps and plans, Friars’ and Officials’ diaries also detail these names and locations. The diaries are artifacts of interest for other reasons: they include knowledge about the fauna and flora of the area, and information about the traditions, languages and social structures of the peoples found on their voyage.
The Princesa and Favorita reached the snowy mountains of Canada earlier than expected, only 81 days after departing from San Blas. This is credited to the knowledge about the climate and coastline of the region acquired previously during Bruno de Heceta’s 1775 expedition. The ships anchored at Bucareli Port (northeastern side of Alaska) on May 3, when they had first contact with the locals. Anza’s diary describes this in his diary:
“Immediately after we anchored, there came two canoes of Indians, who did not want to come alongside, making various gestures with their arms wide and shouting very harmoniously, as if they were singing. One of them, who was holding a dead bird in his hands, plucked the small feathers from it, crumbled them in the air, and then sprinkled them on his head and on those of the others. We realized that these demonstrations were a request for us to stop and the desire to be our friends, for which reason we reciprocated by calling out to them, manifesting many signs of kindness to them, and offering them some things, but they never wanted to come alongside, and when it seemed good to them, they went away.”
Arteaga adds that on May 13, approximately 60 native women, men and children arrived in nine canoes to witness the Mass celebrated by the expeditioners. The Native Americans were surprised to see the men who had arrived in the impressive frigates kneeling and praying. Juan Bautista Aguirre, Second Pilot of the Favorita, described the event in great detail in his diary, recounting the story that before embarking the ships, the Spaniards held a festive celebration, and that once onboard, the frigates fired a cannon as part of a plan to command respect from the Native Americans. The Spanish did not want an unexpected attack from the Natives such as had happened at “Martyr’s Point” during De Heceta’s previous expedition.
While the exploration party was doing their work inland, the Princesa experienced a severe disease outbreak that took the lives of several men. They built a makeshift hospital on land to care for the sick, which promoted communication and trade with the Natives, who offered fish, tree-bark mats, seal, otter, deer or bear furs. The Indians were not as interested in usual small mirrors or glass beads in trade, but according to Aguirre, they wanted to obtain something else much more: “All their esteem is given to iron.”
They used iron in some cases to make the daggers that hung around their necks. Such was the Natives’ desire for the metal that they would steal it at any opportunity. Aguirre complained about the constant thefts, saying that “as they are so inclined to theft, this makes them very subtle in that damned practice.” He also complained about their “shamelessness and mockery.” As the days went by, the Natives approached them with greater confidence, thinking the foreigners’ weapons were loud but harmless. Once, they even dared to knock down a cross erected by the expeditioners at the shore, just to steal its nails. When the Spanish spoke to them about these actions, one of the Natives said it was the Spanish who had to leave the area, because the land and those waters belonged to the Bucareli Natives.
There were a few tense moments during their time at Bucareli. At one point, a small boat of seamen and soldiers went ashore to wash some clothes, but on their way back to the frigate they noticed two of their men were missing. The Spanish thought the two men had been kidnapped by the Natives, so they took hostage of a Native in return. In the stir that followed, the Spanish knocked over a few of the Native’s canoes, fired from the frigate, and killed two Natives. Eventually, the two missing men turned up and confessed they had left the group voluntarily. Arteaga punished them with 100 lashes for having endangered the expedition. Some surprising bartering also took place between the Spanish and the Natives. A father handed over his 9-year-old daughter in exchange for a dress coat and two barrel hoops. She was taken under the wing of one of the friars who raised her in the Christian faith, and prepared her for baptism. On another occasion, the men from the Favorita ended up with “a little Indian boy, four or five years old, […] without anyone forcing him,” according to Aguirre. At first, the Spanish thought it was the Natives’ greed for iron that forced them to give their children away, but they soon realized all the children that were offered were not well; they were unwanted children. Bodega himself took charge of a 9- or 10-year-old boy, admittedly out of pity, to protect and educate the boy as best he could. Bodega even named the boy after himself: Juan Francisco. All the children perished at sea or soon after they arrived in San Blas, except Bodega’s boy. In 1783, Bodega took him to Peru, where he was left under the supervision of a friar knowing that Bodega was to leave for Spain in 1784.
The Journey to the North Becomes a Challenge
The expedition was scheduled to set sail from Bucareli Bay in mid-June, but their departure suffered a 12-day delay due to headwinds. When they finally set out on July 1st, the general sentiment among the men was that they missed the best season to sail the Pacific Northwest. The frigates faced strong winds as soon as they reached the San Bartolome Cape, which slowed their progress. Besides the wind, the expedition had to sail through patches of dense fog that hindered the sight of the other frigate, even at a close distance. The clouds covered the sky, which made it impossible for the sailors to use celestial navigation. Eventually, progress was made, but at a very slow rate.
Many crew members were in ill health the second week of July, when the surgeon counted 29 sick crew members in the Princesa alone. The situation was untimely, as they were nearing uncharted waters, where Russian and French maps differed from one another. On July 15, the crew began to see signs of nearby land: birds and kelp, and by the following day, at latitude 59, ° with favorable winds and clear skies, they were presented with a magnificent view of land they had reached. In Arteaga’s words:
“At eight o’clock, four peaks that had been covered became visible, all of them quite tall, and especially the most northern one, which might be included in the number of the most celebrated ones, due to its notable height. Both these mountains and all the land along the coast that is within sight are covered with snow, making such a beautiful view, especially if the sun communicates its rays to them, that I doubt that anything could be found more pleasing to the sight.”
The mountain was San Elias, the second tallest mountain of Canada and the United States. On July 18, they entered a large bay, which is today’s Prince William Sound. The very same day, while inspecting Hinchinbrook Island, the Spanish were approached by two Native men in canoes. Arteaga mentions the group’s surprise at how far from the ocean they had rowed, about five miles from the shore. The two canoes reached the main vessel first, singing loud and harmoniously, showing no signs of fear to foreigners. As a sign of peace, they broke off the tip of one of their arrows. Arteaga described it like this:
“Their clothes are of skins and fall from their shoulders to their knees, with sleeves. Their hair is black, long, and straight; their height is average; they are well-made and robust; and their color is white, although one of them had his face painted red; and in their language and gestures they were almost similar to those of the port of Bucareli, appearing to us to have their character, docile, peaceful, and affectionate. They carried bows, arrows, and lances, all very finely worked, with the arrow points of bone and some of copper.”
What most amazed the men of the Princesa and Favorita were the Natives’ canoes: it was the first time they had even seen a kayak-type canoe. According to author Asun Garikano in her book Kaliforniakoak, Arteaga wrote of the description of the unusual boats that were “curved in shape and covered with a strong, tightly-sewn skin with only a single opening, like the mouth of a clay jar, into which one person could fit.” The Natives recognized that the foreigners were very interested in their canoe. One Native proposed a barter: if one of the Natives was allowed in the frigate, they would let an expeditioner try a canoe. To this proposal, they all agreed and then proceeded to exchange the customary presents. The two Native men offered valuable information, too:
“They made signs to us that there were many to the north, and from what we understood, they meant to indicate vessels like ours and people with clothes like ours, and that there was bread like what they were given.”
With gestures, again, the Natives suggested that if the frigates continued in that direction, they would find a passage. The expeditioners thought this passage could possibly be that described in Russian maps, so they followed that route, but soon realized it was very dangerous. The men decided to turn back, which also proved challenging.
Santiago, 61° 17′ N
On July 23, the frigates anchored in a beautiful site. Arteaga called for a meeting so that the group could make important decisions. First, they decided to stay to explore and chart the bay. Secondly, one pilot of each frigate, along with some soldiers, would sail North to find any possible passages; and then, the third decision was to celebrate a possession ceremony.
The ceremony was held with the customary solemnity, and the port was christened “Santiago.” The site became Spain’s farthest-north possession and was used as a symbol to claim Spanish sovereignty in the years following.
Arteaga’s expedition found more evidence of European presence at Prince William Sound besides the testimonies they had heard from the two Native men in canoes. The small party of men who traveled North in search of a water passage came across some Natives holding three small flags: a red one, a blue one and a white one, but they did not know of the origin. In Bodega’s description of those men’s garments, he mentioned necklaces made from big glass beads, but again, Bodega and his men did not know where they were from. The Natives also told the expeditioners they had seen bigger ships than the Favorita and the Princesa sailing in those waters.
Even with many of their men afflicted by scurvy, Arteaga and Bodega decided to keep sailing northward to see if they could reach latitude 70°, as mandated by the orders. The two frigates left the port of Santiago on July 29.
Nuestra Señora de Regla, 59° 08′ N
The ships struggled to get to their next anchorage, and they fought bad rain and winds which eventually turned into a hurricane. They were caught in a storm for many days and nights. When the fog finally cleared, land was visible in the near distance: they were surrounded by islands and cliffs. The ships were afraid to move forward, fearing they would crash into land. Finally, on August 1, they sighted land on the northwest. Measurements indicated that the location was latitude 59° 08′ N, so they decided to take possession of the land. They christened it Nuestra Señora de Regla, which is called Elizabeth Island today. Once on land, they found several empty huts and a Native man rowed past them in his canoe, but he refused to get closer to the explorers.
On the night of August 6, they were hit again with rainstorms and strong winds. On August 8, while at an archipelago, the Commander gave orders to start sailing southward. Arteaga details his reasons as follows:
“Attending to the weather, which is constantly severe with continual absence of visibility, in the midst of an archipelago of islands, having reconnoitered as far as the longitude of 57° 30′ west of the port of San Blas . . . without finding a passage northward for the purpose of ascending to 70° latitude, and finding ourselves at present with much of the crew sick and relapsing every day, because of the continual rain and excessive cold, I have determined to set a course for Cape Mendocino.”
Arteaga did not consult his decision with the rest of the officials, instead, he made the decision alone, probably due to the reasons he explained in the report written to Jose de Galvez, Minister of the Indies, after the journey was over. In words of Garikano:
“he was gripped by paralysis, due to the terrible cold and the severe storms they were suffering, and that day after day, it was impossible to do anything. ‘Thanks be to God,’ however, he was capable of reaching the port of San Blas.”
The Aftermath of the Expedition
The two frigates arrived at the Port of San Blas after a 9-month-long expedition at sea, four days apart: the first ship arrived on November 21, and the second one on the 25th. But Viceroy Bucareli had passed away earlier that April, so the leaders of the expedition were instead congratulated by his successor, Viceroy Martin de Mayorga. As was customary, promotions were requested for every member of the expedition. Arteaga had other wishes, however. Being lawfully married, Arteaga asked for a pension for his wife and children in the event of his death. Bodega was promoted from Lieutenant to Frigate Captain and was promised pension for his family.
The expedition, however, did not meet the overall expectations. Never before had an endeavor been prepared in such detail. The ships were in mint condition; the seamen were very skillful; the provisions were more than enough; and the unfortunate scurvy outbreak was not as severe as in other occasions. The Bucareli Bay exploration had taken too much of their time, so precious summer days needed to reach 70° had been wasted. Beyond that, evidence of European presence in the area (colored flags and glass beads) had been overlooked. The expedition never realized that Captain Cook’s ship had been there before them, and they never did find remnants of Russian settlements.
According to Garikano, “The absence of foreigners reaffirmed the Spaniards’ belief that their dominion in the Pacific was not endangered.” In the following years, Spain prioritized war with England and, confident of their sovereignty over the area, never sent another expedition to the Northwest. The Princesa and the Favorita were repurposed as cargo ships for the California Missions under the command of Agustin de Echeverria and Juan Bautista Aguirre. Bodega was sent to Cadiz. Heceta and Arteaga remained in San Blas. The news about the Northwest’s riches spread all over Europe. Arteaga’s and Bodega’s 1779 data and maps were published and made public, contrary to customary Spanish secrecy about explorations. News of Cook’s fur-trades became well-known, and a flock of merchant ships were sent to Alaska.
Ignacio de Arteaga: “Diario navegación de la fragata Nuestra Señora del Rosario,” AGI, ESTADO, 38 A,N.13. 141.
Juan Bautista de Aguirre: “Diario de navegación de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios,” AGI, ESTADO, 38 B, N.
“Relacion del viage que en el año de 1779 hizo el teniente de Navio Ignacio de Arteaga a las costas septentrionales de California formada por D. Franco. Antonio Maurelle.” Online Archive of California.
ARCHER, Christon I. (1994). “Los viajes de Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, 1775 y 1779,” in Coloquio Internacional sobre Bodega y Quadra, Lima.
ARTEAGA y BAZÁN, Ignacio; CAAMAÑO MORALEJA, Jacinto (1975). Colección de diarios y relaciones para la historia de los viajes y descubrimientos, 7. CSIC-Dpto.de Publicaciones.
BERNABÉU Albert, Salvador (1990). Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra: El Descubrimiento del Fin del Mundo (1775-1792), Alianza Editorial, Madrid.
CUTTER, Donald C. (1961). “California, Training Ground for Spanish Naval Heroes” in California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol.40, 2, 109-122. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25155386.
GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.
GOICOECHEA MARCAIDA, Angel (1992). Aportacion vasca al desarrollo de la cartografía de América durante el siglo XVIII, Eusko Ikaskuntza, Donostia.
TOVELL, Freeman (2008). At the far reaches of Empire: The life of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, UBC Press, Vancouver, Toronto.
THURMAN, Michael E. (1963). “The Establishment of the Department of San Blas and Its Initial Naval Fleet: 1767-1770” in The Hispanic American Historical Review, Duke University Press, Vol. 43, 1, 65-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2510436.
— (1967). The Naval Department of San Blas, New Spain´s Bastion for Alta California and Nootka, 1767. to 1798, Glendale, California.
IZENGABEA, (1918). “An Account of the Voyage Made by the Frigates «Princesa» and «Favorita» in the Year 1799 from San Blas to Northern Alaska,” in The Catholic Historical Review, Vol.4, 2, 222-229. Catholic University of America Press. http:// www.jstor.org/stable/25011566.
Francisco de Eliza’s 1791 Expedition
The Nootka Sound is located in the western side of Vancouver Island, on what is now British Columbia, Canada. Juan Perez’s Santiago was the first European ship to anchor in its waters in 1774, although the Spanish never disembarked, and never formally claimed the land. When Captain Cook visited the Sound in 1778, the Native Americans showed him two silver spoons, likely obtained from the Spanish through trade or theft. Spain took official possession of the Sound later in 1789, that action prompted the “Nootka Crisis” or “Incident” that arose later that year when Esteban Martinez, the Spanish commander at Nootka, seized multiple British merchant ships. The right to possess the entire Pacific West Coast was at stake, as well as commercial fur-trade interests. The Kingdom of Spain believed it possessed sovereignty rights over the Pacific for arriving there first, such rights were traditionally granted through possession ceremonies. The English, however, differed with the Spanish claiming that since Spain had no formal occupation of the land, the territory remained unclaimed, and therefore it was open to all navigators.
Due to these circumstances, Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, the Basque Peruvian Commandant of the Naval Department of San Blas de Nayarit (Mexico), under the command of Viceroy Revilla Gigedo, organized an expedition to repossess Nootka. Francisco de Eliza was appointed leader of the expedition and tasked with the primary mission to establish a permanent settlement in Nootka. Other less relevant tasks included collecting data about Nootka’s fauna and flora, meteorological experiments, and mineral sampling. They were also charged with obtaining sea otter pelts and furs in exchange for Mexican copper sheets.
When the expedition that included the Concepción, San Carlos and Princesa Real ships reached the shores of Nootka on April 3, 1790, European presence was nonexistent. They camped in a sheltered cove, Puerto de la Santa Cruz de Nuca, (“Friendly Cove,” presently Yuquot), where they built a small fort. The fort was christened San Miguel, and the explorers began to lay the foundation of the settlement by building several houses, a hospital, sheepfolds, gardens, a bread oven, irrigation canals, and more. The construction work was carried out by the circumnavigators as well as the 76 soldiers from the Catalan Free Company of Volunteers. Eliza also conducted exploration campaigns. In May of 1790, he sent Salvador Fidalgo to investigate the Russian settlements in Alaska, and Manuel Quimper was to explore the Strait of Juan de Fuca to determine if the legends were true that it opened to the Atlantic.
Bodega’s instructions to Francisco de Eliza outlined the need to restore cordial relations with the Native Americans, since they had soured the year before when the Spanish killed their chief, Callicum. Eliza’s occupation did not occur without its own friction, either. One night, the settlers killed five Indians who were trying to steal iron hoops from their barrels. At another time, the Spanish had stirred up trouble when some sailors tried to steal boards off the natives’ huts to build their own houses and barracks. Additionally, because the Spanish established on the best location in the Bay, the Native Americans were anxious to reclaim it, inquiring often when the settlers were expected to leave.
The winter of 1790-1791 was harsh for the members of the expedition due to several reasons. The settlers stopped hunting because they feared the Native Americans. Intense rain had destroyed their gardens and the lack of fresh produce caused an outbreak of scurvy. At some point, the Spanish depended solely on fish supplied by the Native Americans. Slowly, the two groups warmed up to each other, thanks to Eliza’s efforts to de-escalate tensions. That winter, when the settlers’ entire garden was lost, Chief Maquina brought them some fresh fish and venison. Despite their help, nine Spanish men perished, and in the spring Eliza shipped 32 sick men back to California.
In May of 1791, Eliza himself led the San Carlos through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where they explored multiple locations. Just as he had in Nootka, Eliza wrote a detailed description of the places and peoples from his journey. The most significant outcome of that trip was the discovery of the Strait of Georgia. Eliza named it “Gran Canal de Nuestra Señora del Rosario la Marinera.” When he returned to Nootka, Eliza found it to be a friendlier place than the place he had left: the winter was milder and the relations with Native Americans had improved. In a letter addressed to the Viceroy, Eliza explained that the Indians were used to eating and sleeping at his place, however he complained that this happened not occasionally, but too often, and visitors were not just the chiefs, but many visitors to the bay, including those from other nations.
Eliza completed his mission to re-establish a settlement in Nootka, so on May 24, 1792, he left Nootka to return to Mexico. The following year, he led an exploring expedition along the California coastline.
GARIKANO, Asun (2013). Kaliforniakoak (1533-1848), Pamiela, Iruñea.
TOVELL, Freeman (2008). At the far reaches of Empire: The life of Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, UBC Press, Vancouver, Toronto.