Vessels: 18th Century Vessels in California

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Northwestern North America (the Pacific Northwest) was little explored by European ships before the mid-18th century. But by the end of the century several nations were vying for control of the region, including Britain, Spain, Russia, and the United States. For centuries Spain had claimed the entire Pacific coast of North and South America. Spain made claims of discovery for the northwest coast of North America by citing the voyages of Cabrillo in 1542, Ferrelo in 1543, and Vizcaino in 1602–03. Thus when, in the mid-18th century, the Russians began to explore Alaska and establish fur trading posts, Spain responded by building a new naval base at San Blas, Mexico, and using it as a base for sending a series of exploration and reconnaissance voyages to the far northwest. These voyages, intended to ascertain the Russian threat and to establish "prior discovery" claims, were supplemented by the "effective settlement" of Alta California.

In 1769, the expedition of Portola officially claimed Alta California for Spain. Starting in 1774, Spanish expeditions were sent to northern Canada and Alaska to reassert Spain's claims and navigation rights in the area. By 1775 Spanish exploration had reached Bucareli Bay including the mouth of the Columbia River between present-day Oregon and Washington, and Sitka Sound. In 1821, with Mexico's successful revolt against Spain, Alta California became land of Mexico, a position held until 1848 and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California statehood came in 1850.

Between 1743-1797, forty-two independent Russian companies made 101 voyages along the Aleutians, and obtained pelts worth around 8 million rubles. By the mid 1790s, only the Shelikhov-Golikov Company was left, and the owners petitioned for an official charter by the Imperial government granting them a twenty-year monopoly on the fur trade. On July 8, 1799, Emperor Paul 1 granted this charter to the Shelikhov-Golikov Company which reorganized as the Russiisko-Amerikanskia Company or RAC, and was now responsible for Russian settlement and the exploitation of Native peoples and furs in Russian America. [Makarova, Raisa V. Russians on the Pacific, 1743-1799, trans. Richard A. Pierce and Alton S. Donnelly. Kinsgston, Ont.: Limestone Press, 1975 (p. 209-217)]


NOTE: All fur-trading vessels necessarily had to pass the California Channel Islands. Fur traders were attracted to the Northwest Coast by the publication of Captain Cook's expedition of 1778. It brought to light that sea otter skins, obtained for scraps of iron at Nootka Sound, were sold in Canton for the equivalent of $120 each.

Boston quickly became the leader in the China trade. Her sea merchant families conveyed an air of optimism to the Pacific shores and northwest, taking early advantage of the economic gains to be found in this unspoiled, last temperate coast. The Chinese ports with their high demand for skins were generally closed to the Russians.


18TH CENTURY VESSELS IN SPANISH CALIFORNIA
YEAR NAME VESSEL TYPE MASTER VESSEL OWNER ACTIVITY
1754 San Sebastian Spanish merchant ship
1769 San Jose Spanish expedition ship (Portola)
1785 Sea Otter small brig British Captain James Hanna sea otter trade
1786 Princesa frigate Don Esteban Jose Martinez Spanish government California sea otter trade
1786-1788 Imperial Eagle British trader Capt. Charles William Barkley Robertson California sea otter trade
1787 Favorita frigate Capt. Jose de Cañizares Spanish government California sea otter trade
1787-1790 San Carlos packetboat Spanish government California sea otter trade
1787-1797 Lady Washington 90-ton brig Capt. Robert Gray/John Kendrick Boston sea otter trade
1787- Columbia Rediviva ship John Kendrick Boston sea otter trade
1788-1789 Aranzazu frigate Capt. Jose de Cañizares Spanish government California sea otter trade
1789- Hope ship Capt. Joseph Ingraham Boston sea otter trade
1789- Margaret ship Capt. Magee Boston sea otter trade
1793-1794 Butterworth ship Capt. William Brown Alderman Curtis and others, London California sea otter trade
1793 Jackal schooner or cutter Capt. Alexander Stewart/William Brown Alderman Curtis and others, London California sea otter trade
1793 Prince Lee Boo sloop Capt. Sharp/Gordon Alderman Curtis and others, London California sea otter trade
1794 Jenny ship Capt. John William Adamson Sidenham Teast, Bristol sea otter trade
1795 Phoenix (18th century) bark Capt. Hugh Moore at Bengal California sea otter trade
1796 Otter ship Capt. Ebenezer Dorr (1762-1847) Dorr & Sons, Boston California sea otter trade;
lst Amer. ship to stop in California (Monterey)
1797 Alert ship Capt. Bowles Boston sea otter trade
1797 Alexander ship Capt. Dodge Boston sea otter trade
1797-1799 Eliza ship Capt. James Rowan J. & T. H. Perkins and others, Boston sea otter trade
1797 Hazard ship Capt. Swift Boston sea otter trade
1797 Jenny ship Capt. Bowers Boston sea otter trade
1798 Garland brig Capt. Bazilla Worth owners at Boston California sea otter trade
1798 Ulysses ship Capt. Lamb Boston sea otter trade
1799-1801 Enterprise American trader O'Cain as mate Spanish government California sea otter trade


» William Dane Phelps (1802-1875) Solid Men of Boston in the Northwest, unpublished manuscript, Bancroft Library. 1870s. The manuscript describes the experiences of Boston ships on the Northwest Coast from 1787 to about 1812, but is principally an account of the Winship brothers and their ventures in the fur trade, 1803-1811. The authorship of this manuscript has been suggested by Miss Adele Ogden, from internal evidence and letter from Samuel Hooper to William D. Phelps, November 29, 1868, in the Phelps Collection, Widener Library, Harvard University:


» Ogden, Aldele 1941 California Sea Otter Trade. Berkeley: UC Press (1941)