Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was a famous explorer who sailed for Spain. He participated in a few well-known expeditions during the time period but was most well-known for the discovery of California. He explored the San Diego and Monterey bays. Prior to his expedition on the Pacific Coast, he was the governor of Guatemala.
Early Life and Origins
The nationality of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo has been debated for many years.
Both the Portuguese and the Spanish claim he was born in their country, and both sides have convincing arguments.
There are multiple cities in Portugal that claim to be the birthplace of Cabrillo. He is listed as Portuguese by a Spanish historian 60 years after his death, which seems to be correct, considering the source was a trusted historian around the same era that Cabrillo lived.
However, the Spanish cite a court case that took place during Cabrillo's lifetime in which a witness with the same name and background testifies under oath that he was born in Palma de Micergilio.
The birthplace and early life of Cabrillo remain a mystery for now.
New Spain and California
It would be here that they accrued a large fortune mining gold in Guatemala. He became one of the youngest men to find a large fortune in New Spain.
Cabrillo returned to Spain, where he married Beatriz Sanchez, to which he had two sons. She would return with him to New Spain and serve alongside him in Guatemala.
Like many of the Spanish Conquistadors, Juan Rodriguez treated the natives in America as conquered people. He broke up families, sold many into slavery, and did many things that would be considered cruel today but were quite normal during his time.
In 1539, Francisco de Ulloa, who had been commissioned by Cortés, discovered the Gulf of California and reached nearly as far north as the 30th parallel. Cabrillo was then commissioned by the new Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, to lead an expedition up the Pacific coast in search of trade opportunities, perhaps to find a way to China or to find the mythical Strait of Anián connecting the Pacific Ocean with Hudson Bay Cabrillo built and owned the flagship of his venture (two or three ships), and stood to profit from any trade or treasure.
In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo would embark from Navidad to the coast of California.
On September 28, 1542, Cabrillo arrived at the San Diego Bay. This would not be the Northwest Passage he was looking for. However, he would continue to sail the coastline of California in search of another possible link from the Old World to China.
Due to his diligence, he explored every possible inlet, which made him the first European to explore many of these bays, islands, and coastal regions of California. Along the way, he mapped most of the coast of California.
On November 23, 1542, the little fleet arrived back in "San Salvador" (Santa Catalina Island) to overwinter and make repairs. There, around Christmas Eve, Cabrillo stepped out of his boat and splintered his shin when he stumbled onto a jagged rock while trying to rescue some of his men from attacking Tongva warriors. The injury became infected, and he developed gangrene, and he died on January 3, 1543, and was buried.
Much of his accomplishments in California went unnoticed. The names he had chosen for many of the places he explored and mapped were lost in history.
However, he is still considered the explorer who discovered California.