The Spanish  Explorers




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Spanish sailors were the first Europeans to arrive in the Corvallis area. Heceta Head, on the Coast,  is named after a Basque-Hispanic explorer.  Juan de Fuca Strait is named after a Greco-Hispanic sailor who arrived here in 1592.

Early Spanish map of the NW

Malaspina College, in British Columbia, is named after the incomparable Italo-Spanish explorer, Alejandro Malaspina.

Below: Alejandro Malaspina
"Their discoveries have not cost a single tear."  -Report of Joseph Banks on Malaspina 

These were men, and a few women, sent by those who, at home in Spain, or elsewhere  in the Spanish realm, spent their hours reading and dreaming,not only of El Cid and Roland but also the lampoon of those who did so, Cervantes' Don  Quixote.They set sail to the east, to America, and carved out New Spain, from the Carribbean to Alaska.

The Manila Galleon

The Spanish came to Oregon specifically to protect the lucrative silk, slave and spice trade with Asia which the armies and navies of Spain and Portugal had taken from the Arab,the Turk and Venetian merchants and sailors who had managed it for a millenium.To circumvent the old silk road of Tamerlane, Portugal invaded India (Goa, Malabar,Bombay),  Pakistan, Bangladesh (Ugolim), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Indonesia (Malacca, Timor), Africa (Mozambique, Morocco), the Middle East (Bahrain, Hormuz, Oman, Yemen and China (Macao). In time, the silk trade would eliminate the Oregon beaver fur from the manufacture of expensive top hats (although there are still 800 trappers in Oregon, who yet sell their fur for hats). There were once thousands, and tens of thousands if indigenous trappers are included.

The beaver top hat, so expensive it was handed down from father to son, is still the logo of the New Yorker magazine. Mercury was used to color and prepare 'beaver 'wool' for hats, and mercury poisoning, which affects the nervous system, gave us the phrase 'mad as a hatter'.

Spain invaded Africa (Morocco), India,China and many of the Pacific Islands, including Guam and the Phillipines.And Oregon: both Spain and Portugal invaded the Americas. Remarkably, the entire world was divided between Spain and Portugal by papal decree, and all of Oregon fell within the Spanish claim.

Above: Madonna from Fujian province, Japan, 1608
Note: Only Japan was able to avoid domination by the Iberians, though not for a lack of trying. The Spaniards had followed the Portuguese into trade with Japan in the middle of the 16th century. Japan, then emerging from a bloody unification period very similar to the recent tortured history of the two Iberian nations,bought European firearms. In the exchange, the clan chief Nobunaga  tolerated the mission of Francis Xavier, a cofounder of the Jesuit order.

When Nobunaga died, the Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu, had doubts about the policies of his predecessors. There were incidents with Japanese samarai in the port of Macau, which Portugal had siezed from China. And Japanese merchants were barred from trading in Iberian ports.Ieyasu's fears were stoked was by the tales of shipwrecked Dutch sailors about the Inquisition, the 100 Years War, and the history of the Netherlands at Spanish hands, as well as the recent experiences of the Philippines, India, China, and Indonesia at the hands of both Portugal and Spain. 

The Portuguese arrive in Japan

An uprising against the levies of the Shogun by largely Christian peasants at Shimabara, which the Dutch helped suppress, led the Ieyasu to expel the Iberians and all Christians in 1596 Iberians and all Christians in 1596 on . Only the Dutch and the Chinese were allowed to remain, confined to Dejima, in Nagasaki.

Elsewhere, the Iberians prevailed, though the Dutch proceded to raid their colonies with a vengeance. 

-End of Note

Spanish treasure ships returning from Asia were instructed to sail westward from the Phillipines to the West Coast before turning south and heading for Mexico. This route permitted the ships to take advantage of the prevailing trade winds. Oregon and the West Coast, from Canada to the tip of South America was part of the Spanish Main, and the trade from Asia was called the Manila Galleon, which flowed through the Phillipines and Guam. Oregon has today a legion of Spanish treasure ship seekers, since the 'Galleon' was a favorite target for pirates, who today would be called 'terrorists', including the Englishman Francis Drake, who raided Oregon in 1579.

The pirate, Sir Francis Drake

 The wealth of the Spanish shipping may be judged by the fact that just one of Drake's raids yielded 15 tons of gold and thousands of silver coins.The support of the English Queen, Elisabeth, for the piracy of Drake and his 'peers', alongside the English persecution of Catholics and support for the Dutch rebellion in the Spanish Netherlands, was responsible for Spain launching the Spanish Armada at England, though Spain had always played a lion's part in Europe's long history of dynastic war, and claimed the English throne.

Elisabeth I
Spanish expansion north of Latin America, into California and the Northwest, was slowed by repeated uprisings of the indigenous peoples and by the arrests, expulsion, and exile from all of the Spanish empire, following the lead of  the French and Portuguese empires, in 1767, of the Jesuit priests who had been at the center of many of the settlements of New Spain, and especially on the West Coast. The Jesuits had accounted for 90% of the clergy in the Americas.
Catherine the Great of Russia

From the north, the Russians - who from the Viking beginnings of the Russian state had been armed merchants as well as predators - had been building a lucrative fur trade with their former overlords in China and had begun moving southward from Kodiak Island, establishing forts as far south as San Francisco (Fort Ross) and the Hawaiian Islands, accompanied by the Russian Orthodox church.  A 1780 census of Corvallis' Mary's River Indians by the Church, has survived and is in the Library of Congress.

The Spanish responded to the Russian incursion by garrisoning and patrolling the Northwest.In 1774, Juan Josef Perez Hernandez patrolled as far north as Estevan Point, south of Yuquot on the southeastern tip of Nootka Island, in British Columbia. He was aboard the Santiago.  In 1775, a Spanish expedition under Bruno de Heceta, for whom Heceta Head is named, in the "Santiago", and the "Sonora" under Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, patrolled the Oregon coast.Many of his crew were killed by native Northwesterners. 

In 1775, a massive Indian uprising set back Spanish efforts further, and in 1776 the American Revolution diverted Spanish attention and resources from the West. 

Bernardo de Galvez

From New Orleans, America's Spanish allies, through the Louisiana governor Bernardo de Galvez, shipped weapons, ammunition, and other supplies to the rebel army through Pittsburg. Spanish soldiers captured Mobile Bay and Pensacola from the English. 4000 Spanish soldiers died as prisoners in English brigs in New York Harbor, where death rates among prisoners of the British ran about 40%.

Champoeg 1843

The French were allied with the Spanish and the Americans in the Revolutionary War and the sympathies of the French 'Canadiens', dispossessed by the English in 5 of Europe's dynastic wars, rarely lay with Britain.  Some fifty years later, it was memories of that era which led one Frenchman, Francois Mathieu, to cast, at the Champoeg Conference, the deciding vote against the wishes of his English employers, for American rather British sovereignty in Oregon .

The English were rivals of the Spanish in the Northwest, as elsewhere. Captain Cook, of England, came to Oregon in 1778, traded for beaver skins, and wrote of the profits to be made in his journal, published in 1785. Within 3 years, John Jacob Astor had built his settlement at the mouth of the Columbia River - Astoria.Astor's grandson was one of the nation's first sci-fi writersand died on the Titanic.

William Bligh

Cook's 'sailing master' along the Oregon shore was William Bligh, the Captain Bligh of the Mutiny on the Bounty The fur fever and the 'Americans' followed Cook's book.

In 1788, an American, John Kendrick, traded $100 of merchandise to the local people for $8000.00 in furs of several thousand slain ocean otters. Kendrick's ship was named the Columbia.

The British East India Company and the Hudson Bay Co. sent ships to Oregon for the purpose of securing the beaver fur trade to themselves, chasing the Irishman John Meares from the area.They established a fort at Vancouver Washington, and each spring sent a party of trappers into the Corvallis area from a post at Salem (called Chemeketa then). 

The Hudson Bay's Nonsuch

   John Meares, though Irish, was raised in England and flew the Portuguese flag. He was "given" 50 carpenters by the Chinese government, and 'given' an unspecified number of women by the Hawaiian monarch - under equally vague circumstances - and he came and built a fortified village, from which he preceded inland  to trade for fur. In reading many Oregon journals, one can encounter 'Owyhees'.The conclusion may be drawn that these were an Indian tribe. In fact, 'Owyhees' refers to Hawaiians. There is even an Owyhee River in Oregon, named for Hawaiian trappers who were killed there 2 centuries ago. 

"The river bottoms are wide and have some fertile lands, but much is injured by the salt deposits of the waters from the neighboring hills. Wheat, turnips have been grown here with success. Cattle thrive well. The nights are always cold. Grant has a large herd of cattle and fine band of horses. The employees of the Fort are a motley group. English, Scotch, Orkney men, Canadians, Spaniards, Americans, Owyhees, Chenooks, Neepercees, Kaiwahs etc. There are several lodges of French free trappers under one 'Bonaparte' camped at the gate of the fort."
-Theo Talbot diary Reference is to Fort Hall

The Spanish Viceroy at San Blas, Mexico  decided to build a fortification at San Lorenzo (Nootka/Yuquot). In June, 1789, Spaniards under Esteban Jose Martinez established a settlement, to protect Spanish interests. They brought along a priest, medical doctor, a contingent of troops, and some livestock. They installed a fort, a 16-gun emplacement, a headquarters building, barracks, a bakery, sick bay, carpentry workshop, water wells, vegetable gardens, livestock pens, and cemetery. On the way, Spain seized a number of ships in Oregon, including those of Captain John Meares, who had been working the Corvallis area as well as other Oregon areas.

Meares, who had previously been expelled by the English fur companies from the area, now was made an English hero as the East India Company and the Hudson Bay Company  worked to foment the nation into a War with Spain to provide the Companies with a trade monopoly. The English embarked upon a massive buildup of the navy and army known as "the Armament". War came very close to being renewed between Spain and England.

Storming he Bastille: France 1789 A.D.
In 1789,too, the French Revolution occurred in Europe and the terrified monarchs of Europe reacted like a cobra had struck them. Before the ensuing wars were concluded, the United States fought a second war with England, the War of 1812, as the seaman-starved British warships stopped American sailing ships and 'shanghaied' American sailors.

In the course of that War,  the native American nations of the Mississippi Valley were invaded and destroyed in the Creek War, directed at those nations honoring the moral leadership of the Shawnee  Tecumseh and his brother, ' the Prophet'. The invasion, in Indiana, was led by by William Henry Harrison, whose name is attached to Harrison Boulevard in Corvallis. Joe Lane, the infamous first (military) governor of Oregon, after whom Lane County was named, was in Indiana at that time and his father likely participated.


In Europe, meanwhile, Spain was the crucible for Napoleon's megalomania and betrayal of the Revolution.The Peninsular Wars in Spain  eventually led to French defeat not only in Spain but elsewhere, but not before Spain and the rest of the Continent were entirely devastated. In the course of this catastrophe, Spanish interest in the West Coast waned.

Goya: May 3rd; executions of Spaniards by the French
England allied itself with the Spanish during the Peninsular Wars and Spain renounced its claim to the Northwest in the Nootka Convention in 1795. The Nootka Convention bound Britain to leave South America in exchange, and is cited by Argentina as the basis for their claim to the Falkland Islands.
Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla
In 1810, Fr. Hidalgo issued the Grito de Delores, the call for Mexico's Independence.  In 1815, Simon Bolivar launched his 3rd independence war  from the the newly-free 'slave republic' of Haiti where he was given support because of his commitment to end slavery in South America. Bolivar's army was partly supplied by the new United States. Within a few years, Spain was defeated by Latin Americans on both continents and banished.

Mexico never tried to establish a strong Northwest presence in the face of English(i.e., the Hudson Bay Company), American and Russian occupation of the area, especially after the Mexican War, in which Oregon's first (military) governor was a participant. 

Spain would not again play a significant role in Corvallis until 1898, when John Berry, Walter Dickey and other Corvallis and Philomath boys joined Ulysses Alexander et al  in the controversial actions surrounding the Spanish American War. 40 years later, Spain would appeal to the world for help against the Nazi Falange and Corvallis' own Carl Geiser was one of those who stepped into the breach.

Today, Corvallis' has many ties to Spain. OSU hosts Spanish professors, and OSU professors in turn attend Spanish conferences or conferences with Spanish colleagues. Corvallis residents study in Spain, hail from Spain, and work in Spain. The Spanish legacy is also strong. Many of us speak Spanish,honor Spanish saints, listen and dance to Spanish music, eat and drink Spanish food and wine , and laugh at Monty Python references to the Spanish Inquisition.