Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1792, Spanish Navy Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo y Lopegarcía established the first permanent European settlement in the present state of Washington, at Neah Bay (latitude: 48.368122 N) on the Olympic Peninsula at the southwestern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This settlement was in fact, the first European settlement in the Continental United States, West of the Rockies and North of San Francisco. Neah Bay, home for the Makah Nation for over 3,500 years, lies five miles to the east of Cape Flattery, just inside the south entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This strait is the wide waterway stretching from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the San Juan Islands on the east, with Vancouver Island to the north and the Olympic Peninsula to the south.
In some respects, the story of the settlement of Neah Bay begins in 1774, with the expedition of Spanish Navy Ensign Juan José Pérez Hernández. On the day before Christmas, 1773, at the Spanish navy base at San Blas, Mexico, 175 miles southeast of Mazatlan, Pérez received instructions from the Spanish crown to conduct a survey of Nueva Galicia (the Spanish name for the Pacific Northwest) and officially reassert the claim of these unknown northern reaches for Spain. The Viceroy governing New Spain, Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursua, ordered Pérez to go 600 North (about the latitude of present-day Cordova, Alaska) and return to Monterey. He was not to make any settlement on land; he should simply mark with a wooden cross and take formal possession of any site deemed suitable for occupation. Should any foreign settlements be encountered, he was to avoid them and sail farther north, where the ceremony of taking formal possession should be performed. Continue reading