About Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (Portuguese: João Rodrigues Cabrilho; ca. March 13, 1499 – January 3, 1543) was a Portuguese explorer noted for his exploration of the west coast of North America on behalf of Spain. Cabrillo was the first European explorer to navigate the coast of present day California in the United States. He accompanied Francisco de Orozco to subdue the indigenous Mixtec people at what would eventually become the city of Oaxaca, in Mexico. Little is known of what he did there.
Not much is known about Cabrillo's early years. His nationality was first addressed by contemporary Spanish chronicler Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, who, in his Historia General de los hechos de los Castellanos en las Islas y tierra firme del Mar Oceano, referred to Cabrillo as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo Português, Still, historian Henry Kelsey, in his exhaustive 1986 biography Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, writes that Cabrillo appears to have been born in Castille, Spain.
In Lapela, Parish of Cabril and municipality of Montalegre (Portugal), the land where allegedly the nickname Cabrilha originated (allegedly pronounced at the time Cabrilhe in Galician and Cabrillo in Spanish according to João Soares Tavares, biographer of João Rodrigues Cabrilho), and still existing in Portugal as a surname (because of this Castro Daire, in Beira Alta, was also claimed as his birthplace), there is the ancient house called today by local people and alleged local descendants of branches of his ancient family, the same surname (Rodrigues Cabrilho), as Casa do "Galego" (House of the "Galician") and Casa do "Americano" (House of the "American") where allegedly Cabrilho was born, as stated on a plaque where there is also a statue of him.
Cabrillo shipped for Havana as a young man and joined forces with Hernán Cortés in Mexico (then called New Spain. Later, his entrepreneurial skills while mining gold in Guatemala, made him one of the richest of the conquistadores in Mexico). He took an indigenous woman as his common-law wife and sired three daughters. Later he married the Spanish Beatriz Sanchez de Ortega in Seville during a hiatus in Spain. She bore him two sons.
In 1539, Francisco de Ulloa, who had been commissioned by Hernán Cortés, discovered the Gulf of California and reached as far north as the 28th parallel. Cabrillo was then commissioned by the new Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, to lead an expedition up the Pacific Coast in search of trade opportunities, perhaps to find a way to China (for the full extent of the northern Pacific was unknown) or to find the mythical Strait of Anián (or Northwest Passage) connecting the Pacific Ocean with Hudson Bay. Cabrillo built and owned the flagship of his venture (two or three ships), and stood to profit from any trade or treasure.
In 1540 the fleet sailed from Acajutla, El Salvador, and reached Navidad, Mexico, on Christmas Day. While in Mexico, Pedro de Alvarado went to the assistance of the town of Jalisco which was under siege by hostile Indians. He was killed when his horse fell on him, crushing his chest. Following Alvardo's death the Viceroy of Mexico took possession of Alvarado's fleet. Part of the fleet was sent off to the Philippine Islands under Ruy Lopez de Villalobos and two of the ships were sent north under the command of Cabrillo.
On 27 June 1542, Cabrillo set out from Navidad (in Jalisco) in New Spain with three ships: the 200-ton galleon and flagship San Salvador, the ship La Victoria (c. 100 tons), and the lateen-rigged, twenty-six oared "fragata" or "bergantin" San Miguel. On 1 August Cabrillo anchored within sight of Cedros Island. Before the end of the month they had passed Baja Point (named "Cabo del Engaño" by de Ulloa in 1539) and entered "uncharted waters, where no Spanish ships had been before". On 28 September, he landed in what is now San Diego Bay and named it "San Miguel". A little over a week later he reached Santa Catalina Island (7 October), which he named "San Salvador", after his flagship. On sending a boat to the island "a great crowd of armed Indians appeared" — which, however, they later "befriended". Nearby San Clemente was named "Victoria", in honor of the third ship of the fleet. The next morning, October 8, Cabrillo came to San Pedro Bay, which was named "Baya de los Fumos" (English: Smoke Bay), after the burning chapperal that raised thick clouds of smoke. The following day they anchored overnight in Santa Monica Bay. Going up the coast Cabrillo saw Anacapa Island, which they learned from the Indians was uninhabited. On 18 October the expedition saw Point Conception, which they named "Cabo de Galera". The fleet spent the next week in the northern islands, mostly anchored in Cuyler Harbor, a bay on the northeastern coast of San Miguel Island.
Cabrillo's expedition recorded the names of numerous Chumashan villages that were present on the California coast and adjacent islands in October 1542 — then located in the two warring provinces of Xexo (ruled by an "old woman", now Santa Barbara County, California) and Xucu (now Ventura County, California).
On 13 November, they sighted and named "Cabo de Pinos" (Point Reyes), but missed the entrance to San Francisco Bay, something mariners would repeat for the next two centuries and more. The expedition reached as far north as the Russian River before autumn storms forced them to turn back. Coming back down the coast, Cabrillo entered Monterey Bay, naming it "Bahia de los Pinos".
On 23 November 1542, the little fleet limped back to "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. There, around Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled on a jagged rock while trying to rescue some of his men from Chumash attack. The injury developed gangrene and he got infected. He died on 3 January 1543 and was buried. A possible head stone was later found on San Miguel Island. His second-in-command brought the remainder of the party back to Navidad, where they arrived 14 April 1543.
A notary's official report of Cabrillo's inconclusive expedition was lost; all that survives is a summary of it made by another investigator, Andrés de Urdaneta, who also had access to ships' logs and charts. No printed account of Cabrillo's voyage appeared before historian Antonio de Herrera's account early in the 17th century.
Namesakes and commemorations
His discoveries went largely unnoticed at the time, so none of his place names were permanently adopted. Despite this, Cabrillo is now remembered as the first European to travel the California coast, and today many streets and buildings in California bear his name.
One such example is Cabrillo College in Aptos, California; another is the portion of State Route 1 that runs through Big Sur, which is also called the Cabrillo Highway. The SS Cabrillo was a great wooden steamer launched in 1914 to serve as a ferry across the San Pedro Channel to Santa Catalina Island. It was later requisitioned by the U.S. army and served as a troop transport all over San Francisco Bay and surrounding areas in Northern California during World War II. In San Diego, the National Park Service operates a monument, Cabrillo National Monument, overlooking the bay at Point Loma commemorating his first landing in California and offering views of both San Diego and the Pacific Ocean. The Cabrillo Bridge and Cabrillo Freeway running through San Diego's Balboa Park are also named for him. In Santa Barbara, scenic Cabrillo Boulevard runs parallel with the coast through the eastern part of the city.
There are two high schools, one in Lompoc, California and the other in Long Beach, California, as well as a school in Malibu, California and one in Santa Clara, California named for him. A middle school in San Buenaventura, (also known as Ventura, California) bears his name. In northern California, the Point Cabrillo Light is named after Cabrillo. San Pedro, part of the City of Los Angeles, has Cabrillo Beach and the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, in addition to a street named Cabrillo Avenue and Cabrillo Avenue Elementary School. A street in San Francisco next to Balboa Street is named for him, and Torrance, California has a main street called Cabrillo Avenue.
In 1992, the United States Postal Service issued a 29¢ stamp in honor of Cabrillo.
In the state of California, September 28 is officially "Cabrillo Day".
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's Timeline
March 13, 1499
Santiago de Guatemala, Sacatepéquez, Guatemala
January 3, 1543
California, United States