Juan Rodriguez CabrilloHe was an ambitious, sometimes ruthless, Portuguese soldier who served the Spanish Empire. He participated in the conquest of Cuba in the early 16th century and later fought the Aztecs in Mexico.Cabrillohe eventually made his fortune in Guatemala, mining for gold and trading goods while participating in the slave trade. Hoping for more riches, he set out to explore the California coastline, map landmarks, and identify towns. He died on January 3, 1543 from infection from a wound sustained after an attack on his expedition by members of the Tongva tribe.
Early life ofCabrilloit’s a mystery. Historians believe that he may have been of Portuguese descent, but he was born in Spain around 1475. More than one town in Portugal claims to be his birthplace. What is known is that he grew up in Castilla, Spain, with humble origins.
As a young child,CabrilloHe became a skilled sailor and in 1502 he sailed to the West Indies as part of a massive expedition of 30 ships and 2,500 soldiers to colonize the island of Cuba. In 1519, he was sent to Mexico on a mission to arrest the rebel Hernán Cortés, who had disobeyed orders in his conquest of the Aztecs. The mission was unsuccessful and the ambitiousCabrillohe joined Cortez in his assault on the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.
In the 1530s,Cabrillohe made his fortune in gold mining. From a port on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, he facilitated the import and export of items to Spain and other regions of the New World. He benefited greatly from the encomienda system, an economic practice in which the indigenous inhabitants of specific areas of land were heavily subjugated and expected to pay tribute to the Spanish authorities.Cabrilloit divided indigenous families by sending the men to work in the mines and handing over the women and girls to their soldiers and sailors, presumably as slaves. Historians believe thatCabrilloHe may also have taken an indigenous woman as his lover and fathered several children.
On June 24, 1542,Cabrillohe set sail for Christmas (near present-day Manzanillo, Mexico) with his flagship and two other ships, the La Victoria and the San Miguel. Four days later, the expedition reached “a very good closed port” whatCabrillonamed “San Miguel” (later known as San Diego Bay) after one of his ships. Six days later, the fleet sailed north along the unexplored coast of California, visiting a series of islands that included Santa Cruz, Catalina, and San Clemente. Along the way, the expedition visited numerous coastal towns, recording their names and population counts. Spain would not visit the area again until 1769, returning with soldiers and missionaries.
The expedition ofCabrilloit moved slowly north along the coast, occasionally hit by various changes in the weather. On November 13, explorers sighted and named “Cabo de Pinos” (present-day Point Reyes), then sailed to the mouth of the Russian River before autumn storms forced them back. They then sailed south along the coast to Monterey Bay, and named it “Bay of Pines.” In the process,Cabrilloand his men completely missed the entrance to San Francisco Bay, a mistake sailors would repeat for the next two centuries, likely due to fog.
The expedition returned to San Miguel and spent the winter there. Sometime on Christmas Eve, the Spanish were attacked by indigenous Tongva warriors. In an effort to help your men,Cabrillohe tripped over jagged rocks and broke his shin. The wound became infected and developed gangrene. He died on January 3, 1543, and is believed to have been buried on Catalina Island. The expedition set out again in mid-February, possibly sailing as far north as Oregon. They returned to Christmas in April 1543.
The expeditionCabrilloHe never achieved his main goals of finding rich cities and the mythical Strait of Anian or meeting with Coronado. However, the expedition claimed new lands for Spain that stretched north of Mexico, which the country would colonize and settle two centuries later.