Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
Spanish naval Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo, in the Princesa, left San Blas on March 23, 1792, and headed directly to the port of Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was uncertain at this time whether the Spanish post at Nootka Sound and all lands north of the strait would be ceded to the British or not. Fidalgo’s work at Neah Bay would be in preparation for a possible relocation of Spain’s Nootka Sound post, with Viceroy Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco de Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo or Revillagigedo and Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra knowing the Spaniards could hold the country south of the strait only by actual and immediate occupation.
Fidalgo, born August 6, 1756 in Catalonia, Spain, joined the Spanish Navy as a midshipman at the naval academy in Cadiz. He graduated in 1775, and given the rank of Frigate Ensign. He was a member of a team of cartographers working during the 1780s on the first atlas of Spain’s ports and coastal waters and served on various assignments in the Mediterranean, seeing action against the British and Portuguese. In 1778, he was promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the Spanish naval station at San Blas. The Princesa (also called La Princesa and Nuestra Señora del Rosario) was a 189-ton frigate built at San Blas and launched in 1778. She was a three-masted, two-deck warship, carrying 26 cannons. She was designed with storage enough to sail for a year without having to restock and built for durability rather than speed. Accompanying Fidalgo were 89 men, including his second in command, first pilot Antonio Serantes, pilot Hipolito Tono, Surgeon Juan de Dios Morelos, Father José Alejandro López de Nava, a small company of Mexican, Peruvian, and Spanish male colonists, and, thirteen soldiers, members of the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia.
While Fidalgo was sailing up the west coast from Mexico, British Captain George Vancouver’s ships, the 337-ton sloop of war Discovery and the 133-ton survey brig Chatham, on March 16, 1792, had sailed from their winter harbor in Hawaii for the North American Coast. Earlier, in April 1791, Vancouver had sailed from England as commissioner appointed to implement the Nootka Convention. His mission was two-fold. First, to assume control over the territory at Nootka Sound that had been assigned to Great Britain by the Nootka Convention. Second, was to make a detailed survey of the coast to 600 N and a search for the fabled Northwest Passage. He was to pay particular attention to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the waterway that seemed most like to give access to the great passage. On April 17, Vancouver arrived off the coast of California at Cape Mendocino. Continue reading