Californians and the Military
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Portuguese Discoverer Of California, 1542
By Michael R. Hardwick

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (also known under his Portuguese name João Rodrigues Cabrilho) was not just an explorer, but also an entrepreneur, soldier, master shipbuilder, miner, farmer, and owner of large estates. He spent most of his life in the Spanish conquest, participating in a number of roles as a page, a crossbowman, a military leader, and a key figure in building several armadas of ships.

In 1542 Antonio de Mendoza, the viceroy of New Spain, took control of an armada of over a dozen ships and split it into segments. Mendoza sent the better part of the fleet to the Philippines in 1541 with Ruy Lopez de Villalobos. Ships were also sent up the Gulf of California to rendezvous with Coronado's expedition in the Southwest. Cabrillo was to explore the northern limits of New Spain's west coast.

On June 27, 1542, three ships left Navidad on the west coast of Mexico (North of Acapulco). Cabrillo's flagship was the San Salvador. Bartolomé Ferrer piloted Victoria. Antonio Correa commanded a small brigantine, San Miguel. More than 200 persons crowded aboard 3 vessels.

In the course of his voyage, Cabrillo discovered and named San Diego Bay in September of 1542, calling it San Miguel. On October 7, 1542, Cabrillo arrived at Catalina Island and by the 18th his ships were at Point Conception. Cabrillo visited San Pedro, Santa Monica, Ventura, and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. Being forced out to sea at Point Conception, Cabrillo returned to the coast at Point Reyes and explored down to Monterey, missing San Francisco Bay. He returned to anchor at San Miguel Island on November 23, 1542. Cabrillo named the Island of San Miguel La Posesion. On Christmas Eve, Indians on La Posesion attacked several of his men. Cabrillo was injured and died from an injury on San Miguel on January 3, 1543.

Reference: Lavender, David. DeSoto, Coronado, Cabrillo Explorerers of the Northern Mystery, Handbook 144, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C. 1992.

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