Spanish and British Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the Nootka Sound Controversy, 1774-1789

Part I of the blog series 225 Years Ago: Spanish Explorations of the Pacific Northwest and the First Spanish Settlement in Washington State, Núñez Gaona (Neah Bay), 1792

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.

Map of Cape Flattery and Nee-Ah Harbor, Washington, 1853

U.S. Coast Survey, Cape Flattery and Nee-Ah Harbor, Washington, 1853. From Record Group 23, Published Nautical Charts of Coastal Areas of the United States and its Territories (NAID 563731), Chart #645, 1st Edition. Click on the image to open an expanded view.

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[1], 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

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Inviting the World to Watch the Election of 1960

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

As the election of 1960 approached, President Dwight Eisenhower made a unique suggestion to Secretary of State Cristian Herter.  In a telephone conversation on the afternoon of October 31, General Andrew Goodpaster, Staff Secretary to the President, informed Herter that the President recommended inviting the foreign diplomatic missions (embassies and legations) in the United States to observe election procedures.[1]  Goodpaster informed the Secretary of State that President Eisenhower realized that some embassies might specifically aim to report voting problems, but “even that would be a plus because we had permitted it to be observed and we are trying to effect improvements.”  To implement the President’s desire, Herter sent the following letter to 87 foreign missions in the U.S.[2]


Secretary of State Cristian A. Herter to Minister Peter Voutov of the Bulgarian legation in the US, Circular Letter, Nov 1, 1960, file 711.00/11-160, 1960-63 Central Decimal Files, RG 59

Even though the Department issued the invitation only seven days before the election, many missions accepted the offer.  The countries invited and their responses are indicated on the chart that follows.[3]  Overall, the response was positive, even from those countries that did not participate.  A number of countries declined because of staffing issues (the UN General Assembly was meeting in New York City at the same time), because they saw no need because of familiarity with the U.S. and its election procedures, or planned to rely on radio and television coverage.  Others relied on consular officials already assigned to cities around the U.S.  Still others just declined. Continue reading

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“Arias Bernal’s Trip to Washington”: a Mexican Cartoonist Joins the War Effort

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives, College Park.

Antonio Arias Bernal, an accomplished Mexican political cartoonist, came to Washington, D.C. in 1942 at the invitation of the U.S. government to create editorial cartoons to promote the Allied war effort. Prior to being invited, Bernal was known for artwork that ridiculed the Axis leaders which regularly appeared on the cover of the Mexican magazine Hoy. His trip to Washington was organized by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), a World War II era agency established to promote solidarity and cooperation among the countries of the Western Hemisphere. Primarily concerned with economic and commercial cooperation, the agency also worked to shore up political and cultural support through propaganda messages conveyed in radio, motion picture, and print outlets. Bernal’s contribution came in the form of posters.

As reported in The New York Times on October 2, 1942:

“Posters,” said Señor Bernal, “reach the thousands of our people who do not read but who can understand quickly a dramatic picture.”

Señor Bernal reported that in 1938 he perceived a certain trend to divide the Americas and began to devote his art to unification. At first, he said, he received many anonymous threatening letters, especially after any of his cartoons attacked Hitler. Gradually the number of these letters decreased as sentiment in Mexico became more nearly solidified against the Axis.

Now, he said, he receives none, but he believes that there is still need in Latin America for posters and cartoons showing graphically the issues at stake in this war. [1]



Como un Solo Hombre (As One Man), NAID 44266052

In the image above created by Bernal for the CIAA, a colossal sentry, armed with a rifle, literally emerges in equal parts from North and South America. Below him, the words in Spanish “Como un Solo Hombre” (As One Man), reinforce the meaning of the illustration: the Americas stand united against a common enemy. Continue reading

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A View of the Election of 1960 From Abroad

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

While the Foreign Service reporting found in Department of State files is mostly about the countries in which the U.S. has overseas representation or about U.S. relations with those countries, the files include a modicum of documentation reporting on foreign official and unofficial commentary about events in the U.S.  One topic that usually attracts attention is a U.S. presidential election.

The election of 1960 was one in which foreign policy and national security issues played a major part, most notably the question of the (non-existent) missile gap between the U.S. and the USSR.  Other foreign policy issues included the off-shore islands between mainland China and Formosa/Taiwan and Cuba.

The following documents  from the Central Decimal Files (NAID 302021) consist of the reporting from the U.S. embassy in Moscow that touches on the election.  The final document is a short intelligence assessment about foreign comment on the election the Department of State prepared for President Dwight Eisenhower.


Telegram 2290 U.S. Embassy, Moscow to Department of State, March 11, 1960. File 711.00/3-1160

Continue reading

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Elbridge Gerry and the Constitution, 1787-1788

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

It had been a long, hot summer for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his colleagues in 1787 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. They had come to Philadelphia in May to improve upon the Articles of Confederation, which Gerry had signed in 1778, and ended up drafting a Constitution. Gerry had spoken often at the Convention, in fact, the sixth most times. Sometimes his colleagues agreed with him, sometimes not. However, he did not give up in expressing his views regarding government, hoping his colleagues would agree. Finally, during the second week of September he called for reconsideration of certain provisions, including measures to protect individual rights and to curtail the power of the central government. On September 12, believing there was nothing else he could do to stop the proposed constitution from being adopted by the Convention, he moved that a national bill of rights be incorporated into it. He was seconded by George Mason. When his motion was rejected, Gerry unsuccessfully offered numerous specific provisions to guarantee individual liberties.


Elbridge Gerry (center) can be seen in the mural of the members of the Constitutional Convention hanging in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

On September 15, after the members had gone over the final draft, Edmund Randolph, Mason, and Gerry spoke in opposition to the proposed constitution. Gerry, after detailing his minor objections, told the Convention that he could live with them if individual rights had not been rendered insecure by the power of the government to make laws it may call necessary and proper, to raise armies and money without limit, and to establish tribunals without juries. He then joined Mason and Randolph in calling for a second constitutional convention where measures could be adopted to adequately protect individual rights. Continue reading

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Part II

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

While many American escapees returned to Allied lines in 1943, once having escaped from Camp 59, as was seen in Part I, many were not able to return until 1944. These are some of their stories.

PFC Richard A. Wombacher, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, had been captured on December 1, 1942, when taking part in a landing near Bizerte behind the German lines in an attempt to cut the main road. Before reaching the road they were attacked and surrounded by the enemy and forced to surrender after a few hours fighting.  On September 14, Wombacher left Camp 59 in company with five other American soldiers. The party walked south until they reached Falarone where they stayed with Italian families until November 27. During this time truckloads of German SS troops combed the countryside for escaped POWs, but Wombacher and his companions managed to evade them.  On November 27 the party set out again and walked for four days until they reached San Vittoria and here they stayed for a month due to bad weather and fatigue.  At the end of this time, in spite of continued bad weather, Womacher, accompanied by T/4 John Ford, managed his way to Corvara. Here they were snowbound for 21 days in nine feet of snow.  They stayed in a hay barn on the outskirts of the village and were given food by the townspeople. On January 22, Wombacher and Ford left Corvara, walking eight or nine days to Gagliano going cross-country and avoiding villages. They spent from February 3 to March 23 in caves near this town and received food from the villagers. One day Ford and a South African who had joined them, went to Sulmona and contacted an escape organization.  They were provided with clothes, shoes, maps and a compass and returned to Gagliano. After resting for a day and a half they and Womabcher returned to Sulmona and spent two nights there at the headquarters of the organization. Another group of escapees arrived meanwhile and on March 23 Wombacher, Ford and a party of 29 others left with a guide.  They walked part of the evening and all that night, taking a route over Monte Maiella. The going was extremely difficult through deep snow and, being too weak to continue, Wombacher had to drop out.  He and an American Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Ellis A. Ruppelt (a pilot of a B-25 that had been shot down on August 27, 1943, and who had escaped by parachute from his burning aircraft over Benevento, Italy), made their way to Campo di Giove and remained there four days and nights in an abandoned church. The weather then improved and they again attempted to cross the Maiella Mountains. They walked all night and at dawn found themselves overlooking Palena which was occupied by the Germans.  They hid in a cave all day and at 4pm on March 30 started down the road but almost immediately encountered a patrol of three Germans. They skirted back to the side of the mountain and walked four miles through an abandoned aqueduct arriving at dusk at a point above the village of Torricella Peligna. After dark they followed a road into Lama dei Peligni and encountered a British outpost.[1]

Continue reading

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy – Part I

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

At the time of the Italian Armistice on September 8, 1943, there were almost 80,000 Allied prisoners of war in Italian camps.  Among these prisoners of war were 1,310 Americans; many were soldiers captured in North Africa and airmen shot down over Italy.[1]

Most of the American prisoners of war were confined at Camp 59, at Servigliano. This camp, 15 miles north of Ascoli, in the foothills of the Apennines, held perhaps as many as 3,000 prisoners, mostly Allied enlisted personnel. Although the camp was well-guarded and thorough searches frequent, numerous tunneling projects were continually in progress. There were quite a few escapes, but most of the prisoners were recaptured. [2]

When the Allied prisoners of war learned of the Armistice, most were in a quandary as to what action to take.  Under orders received earlier in the summer, most remained in their camps under the mistaken impression that Allied forces would soon liberate them. Italian camp authorities also faced their own quandaries.  Without clear orders as to what to do, many simply opened the gates to allow the prisoners to leave their camps. During the first days after the Armistice, perhaps as many as 50,000 prisoners remained in their camps and quickly became prisoners of the Germans. Another 30,000 left their camps.  Some 16,000 were recaptured and 4,000 found safety in Switzerland.  The remaining 10,000 found safety in hiding with the help of Italians, and many found their way back to Allied lines.

The Camp 59 Commandant, apparently a hard-core Fascist, at the Armistice placed his guards around the walls of the Camp, ostensibly to “protect” the prisoners from the Germans but, in reality to detain them until the arrival of the Germans.[3]  On September 14, it was rumored in the camp that the Germans were close by and at 10pm the Senior British Officer (SBO) gave the order to evacuate the camp. As the prisoners started towards the gate, the guards opened fire and the SBO went to the Commandant and asked (or perhaps threatened) that the guards be ordered to cease fire. The order was given over the loudspeaker system and the gates were opened. [4]

With the gates opened, the prisoners took off to get as far away as possible before the Germans arrived in the area.  What follows are stories of some of the American soldiers and airmen who escaped from Camp 59 on September 14.  All of them made it to the Allied lines, some in 1943 and others in 1944.  During the process, some were recaptured, but escaped again to reach the Allied lines.  As will be noticed, all of them received help from Italians.  Without this help many of the escapees would have been recaptured and most likely ended up in a German prisoner of war camp for the duration of the war.

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Theodore Roosevelt Schools the Department of State, 1908

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In December 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Department of State a letter in which he admonished that agency for preparing a set of remarks for his use in greeting a foreign visitor that were “fatuous and absurd.”

In 1908, China sent Tang Shao-yi to the United States as a Special Envoy. His mission was to carry the thanks of the Chinese Emperor for the return of a portion of the Boxer indemnity, levied on China as payment for damages during the Boxer Rebellion, and to inquire into various American administrative methods, particularly to study the currency question. Tang departed from China in late September and was expected to arrive in Washington in December, where he planned to stay for several months. Between the dates of departure and arrival in Washington, the Emperor and the Empress Dowager of China died.

Diplomatic protocol demanded that the Special Envoy present his credentials to the President during a ceremony at which both men would make appropriate comments. At the time, the Department of State handled protocol matters, including the preparation of such comments, on behalf of the White House. President Roosevelt was not happy with the remarks drafted for him by the Department of State and prepared his own.[1] Subsequent to the ceremonial visit, the President sent the Department the following letter:

President Theodore Roosevelt to the Department of State, December 2, 1908, file 2413/201-202, 1906-1910 Numerical File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.  Available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (images 629-632).

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T.V. Pearson and the Parachute Scheme

Today’s post is written by Richard Elsom, an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Denver.

In the West, wildland fire is a regular threat to populated spaces as well as the rugged backcountry found in forests and wilderness areas. In 1939, in an effort to improve response time on fires in remote areas, the U.S. Forest Service began to experiment with dropping firefighters from aircraft. These early parachute tests conducted in Washington State were so successful that they spawned a new type of wildland firefighter that still serves today, the smokejumper.

1939 Jumper

From Parachute Jumping in Forest Fire Control: Report of Field Experiments, Forest Service Region 6, Fall 1939

However, 1939 was not the first time the Forest Service tested the idea of dropping firefighters by parachute. The History of Smokejumping, produced by Region 1 of the Forest Service in 1976, states that T.V. Pearson “proposed and initiated” the first parachute tests in 1934 in the Intermountain Region (also known as Region 4), but the project stalled due to a belief it was too risky.[1]

At the National Archives at Denver, we have documents relating to this first test in Record Group 95: Records of the Forest Service, within the series Historical Files, 1901-1962 (NAID 23944420). While Pearson may have proposed parachute tests in 1934, there is no mention of it among the files of that year. However, there is evidence of Pearson’s parachute experiments beginning in 1935. Continue reading

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“Let’s Make a Movie:” The Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the documentary Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), 1946

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

During World War II, over 100,000 Italians helped at least 10,000 Allied escapees and evaders, by providing material and financial assistance to them in their efforts in avoiding being seized by the Germans and Fascists, as well as their efforts to reach the Allied lines.  In late April 1944, in Bern, Switzerland, Ignazio Silone (pseudonym of Secondino Tranquilli), an Italian author and Socialist Party leader, talked to Allen Dulles, head of the Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, about an idea for a movie about the Italian helpers.  Dulles cabled his bosses in London and Washington:

The following is for Washington: 475 [Silone] is wiring Harper Bros. in New York that he is readying a story as the foundation for a movie depicting the brotherhood existing between Americans and Italians as shown by the experiences of escaped Britishers and Americans who were both helped and hidden by northern Italian peasants. Because of the psychological value of such a movie as well as my wish to help 475, would appreciate it if Harpers could be discreetly contacted, on basis of 475’s direct wire, in an effort to discover, if the material can be delivered to them, whether they would be interested. [1]

The movie was never made.  But the idea for such a movie did not end.  Lt. Col. Hugo Graham De Burgh, O.B.E., the commanding officer of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and a former escapee himself, in early 1946, was interested in discussions taking place in Rome about the possibility of a movie being made about the Italian helpers, those they helped, and the work of the Commission.  In fact, he may have begun such discussions. He probably discussed the matter with Renzo Lucidi, an Italian film maker, who, with his wife Adrienne, was amongst the foremost helpers in Rome during the war, and after the liberation of Rome, worked for a year for the Allied Screening Commission (Italy).  In 1946, Lucidi was, as a film editor, working with producer John Stafford, on the British-Italian thriller film Teheran. Continue reading

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