While we understand that the settlement of Alta California required much support by sea until the colony became self-sufficient about 25 years later, only naval historians have studied how this support was arranged and sustained. Actually, as many people were involved in naval support as in the combined presidios, pueblos, and missions. Simultaneously with the settlement, there had to be mapping and exploration of potential harbors, coastal features, sailing hazards, and settlement sites. Just before, during, and after the Revolutionary War period, Spain was in intense rivalry with England, Russia, and other European powers for dominance in the Pacific. Spanish naval officers alternated between exploration and supplying Alta California. (Donald Cutter, “California: Training Ground for Spanish Naval Heroes,” California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol 40 (June 1961).
In order to begin settling Alta California, Visitor-General Jose Galvez first had to establish a port to support settlements. He selected San Blas in Nuevo Galicia (Nayarit) and by 1769 had developed it into a harbor and ship-building center. (Ref: Bean, Walton, and James J. Rawls, pp 20-21, California: An Interpretive History, Fifth Edition). San Blas was then the port and support base on the Mexican mainland opposite La Paz for both Baja and Alta California until 1810. San Blas had a small, shallow harbor, and could handle only four ships in its inner port. Others had to anchor in its outer harbor. The climate was hot and muggy, and considered unhealthful. Food and supplies spoiled quickly. It was anything but ideal for a support base. Its only recommendation was its location, convenient to building materials and to Baja California. Yet, it was the starting point for numerous naval careers. (Perhaps sea duty was preferable to being in home port.)
During the Revolutionary War period, the San Blas Navy consisted of three armed frigates, the Santiago (at 225 tons), the Favorita (at 193 tons), and the Princesa, (at 189 tons), and two packetboats, the San Carlos (El Toison), and the San Antonio (El Principe). There was also a schooner, the Sonora (at 59 tons), and a small packetboat, the Concepcion, which had been taken over from the Jesuits. These later two were used locally for coastal missions or across the Gulf of California to support Baja California. Because of the dangers to the Philippines from the War with England, the transports San Carlos(El Toison) and San Antonio were sent to Manila to give notice of the war and to deliver $300,000 for war preparations. (Ref: Bancroft, Hubert Howe, History of California, Vol I, 1542-1800, pp 328-331.) They remained at Manila and became part of the Manila Naval operations. They were replaced at San Blas by the packetboats, the Aranzazu, and the San Carlos (El Filipino). The frigates were authorized 72 members each, and the packetboats, 41 members each. Each ship carried its own chaplain.
The war with England affected everything going on in Alta California. The base at San Blas was redirected to saving Manila, and many of the most experienced pilots and sailors were transferred there. No record has been found for supply ships in 1780, and there were certainly none in 1781. By 1782 resupply of Alta California was given equal priority to supporting Manila, and supply ships again show up in mission records. The focus of San Blas on Manila caused the Spanish leaders to push the development of an overland route to Alta California through Sonora, across the Colorado, then on to San Gabriel. The Yuma fortified mission/pueblos were hastily planned and established as way stations on this overland route, and the result was the Yuma Massacre. The fact that the Great Expedition of 1781 got through at all is remarkable. By 1782, it was clear the overland route was not viable and that supply ships from San Blas were the only way to support the colony. By 1786, Alta California was nearly self-supporting; and San Blas activities shifted to further exploration voyages by Martinez, Lopez de Haro, Malaspina, and Quimper, and to supporting the final Spanish outpost at Nootka.
While some of the officers of these various vessels are known from naval records, most of the names of sailors, artisans, and cabin boys are known from confirmation and other mission records of Alta California. Each visit to Alta California was a time of great rejoicing to the people there. They received news from home, supplies for the year, and hope for better things to come. The captains of each vessel saw to it that each of his men who had not been confirmed visited one of the missions for this ceremony. The sponsors, or padrinos, were shipmates or ship officers. Sometimes, ship officers were padrinos for baptisms for any children, Spanish or Indian, recently born. These records give a beginning list of those who served. The confirmation records are especially helpful as it gave birthplaces, parents if the person was single, wife if married, for each those confirmed. (LDS Microfilm #0944282, various items by Thomas Workman Temple, II, and Maria Northrop). An example of a confirmation record is #461 on 14 Jul 1782 at San Carlos (Monterey) for Monsieu Joseph Meu, pilot, single, Frenchman, native of Morian, son of Matheren Meu and Theresa Ribal, sponsor, Capt. Eschavarria from the frigate Favorita.
Wartime activities began during the Arteaga and Bodega Expedition. By Feb 1779, the Spanish had learned of the voyages of English Captain James Cook in the Pacific and of his encursions into Spanish territory along the Northwest Coast. (Actually, Cook had anchored his two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery in Nootka Sound, which Cook named Friendly Cove, and made local observations for one month. Cook left there in 1778 and headed north into Alaskan waters until blocked by ice. He then turned south and went back to the Sandwich islands, where he was killed.) The San Blas Port outfitted two armed frigates, the Princesa and the Favorita, to explore the northern reaches of Spanish territory and to capture Captain Cook if they found him in Spanish waters. They apparently sailed directly as far north as latitude 60 degrees, roughly the latitude of Juneau, Alaska, then worked their way south along the coast, stopping to take possession at several points and looking for Captain Cook, who had left no traces.
Joseph P. Sanchez, Spanish Bluecoats: The Catalonian Volunteers in Northwestern New Spain, 1767-1810, Chapter 6, pp 71-72. This author refers to Warren Cook, Flood Tide of Empires: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, p 93.
By July 1779, the frigates were back in San Francisco Bay, where they mapped part of the bay which had not been explored. They also had to stop so those who had come down with scurvy could recover. Eight had died on the Princesa. In early October, an overland courier brought news of impending War with England. Anticipating hostilities on the high seas, the frigates hastily departed for San Blas on 30 Oct 1779. (An incidental note for navy buffs is that Capt. Cook discovered on his Pacific voyages that he could prevent scurvy by giving each sailor some fresh lime juice each day. To this day, English sailors are called “limeys.”)
Officers of the Princesa were Lt. Ignacio de Arteaga, Expedition leader and ship captain; Ensign Fernando Quiros y Miranda, second officer; Juan Garcia, surgeon; Jose Camacho, pilot; and Juan Pantoja, second pilot.
Officers of the Favorita were Lt. Juan de la Bodega y Quadra, captain; Ensign Francisco Mourelle de la Rua, second officer; Mariano Nunez Esquivel, surgeon; Jose Canizares, pilot; and Juan Bautista Aguirre, second pilot. Names of crew members and casualties have not been found.
The Santiago also made a supply trip to Monterey and San Francisco in July/Aug 1779, and several of its officers served as godfathers at the baptisms of native Indians on 6 July at San Francisco. Still others were confirmed at Monterey at the San Carlos Mission by Father Serra on 8 and 10 August. The officers and men listed were Estevan Jose Martinez, captain; Jose Tovar y Tamariz, pilot; Gervasio Sanchez, surgeon; second officer, Marcos de Aguirre, second officer; Manuel de Esparza, carpenter; Jose Marian Julian, apprentice carpenter; Domingo de Huertas, 1st caulker; Jaime Pellicer, 2nd caulker; Juan Morando, artilleryman; and the following crewmen: Antonio Bausa; Jose Candelario; Jose Maria Cysneros*; Jose Antonio Machuca; Dionesio Medina; Carlos de Ortega; Jose Fructuoso de la Pena*; Jose Miguel de los Reyes; Pedro de los Rios; Jose Antonio Rodriquez; Clemente Soto; Vicente Tallado; and Basilio Victor*. (Those shown with an asterisk were listed as married in their confirmation records.)
In the visit of the Princesa and the Favorita to Monterey in July and August, 1782, the following were noted in confirmation records: Estevan Jose Martinez, captain of the Princesa; Juan Augustin de Echavarria, captain of the Favorita; and the following from the two ships: Francisco Antonio Arias; Antonio Bausa; Guillermo Beltran; Josef Francisco Beltran; Juan Francisco Bolanos; Juan Antonio Bueno*; Mariano Francisco Buenaventura; Antonio Candulla; Miguel Choneayava/Choncamava; Ignacio de la Cruz; Juan Antonio de la Cruz*; Gravasio de la Cruz, cabin boy; Pascal de la Cruz; Serafin de Dios; Jose Tomas de Estrella/Estrada*; Jose Francisco Flores; Juan Gallardo; Juan Jose Garcia; Philipe de Guevara; Jose Gonzalez; Josef Eusebio Gonzalez; Antonio Hermenegildo; Juan Francisco de Inote; Salvador Jose; Pedro Julian; Joaquin Lopez; Joseph Meu, pilot; Alonzo Moreno; Jose Manuel Munguia; Juan Lopez de Narvaez; Jacinto Navarro; Juan Francisco de Ochea; Andres Isidro Parada; Diego Pena/Pons; Jose Ramirez*; Juan Bernardo Ramirez; Jose Ramos; Pedro Ramos; Pedro Roy; Pedro Jose de Salazar; Domingo de los Santos; Luis Silvero de Tapia; Josef Tovar, pilot; and Celedonio Varran.
In the visit of 26 Jul 1783 by the San Carlos (El Filipino) to Monterey, the following were noted in San Carlos confirmation records: Marcos Aguirre; Domingo Amador; Ignacio Vicente Barrera; Basilio Brito; Cosmo Cardena; Jose Anastacio Cardenas; Bernardino Chrisanto; Antonio de la Cruz; Juan Bernardo dela Cruz; Pedro Czaxmote; Juan Diego; Thomas de Estrada; Ignacio Francisco; Juan Francisco Fuentes; Francisco Gomez; Josef Gomez; Antonio Ledesme; Juan Antonio Machuca; Juan Morando; Juan Pantoja y Arriaga; Jose Ricardo Quintero; Isidro Rosalio; Luis Antonio dela Pena; Pablo Roig/Roy; Joaquin de los Santos; Jose Geronimo de Silva; Manuel de Torres; Josef Velez del Valle; and Antonio Valls. A record for 7 June 1783 shows Juan Bautista Aguirre, pilot and captain of the Favorita; Fernando Campuzano, master carpenter; and Diego Murino, caulker. The ship visited Santa Barbara and San Diego.
No mission records of visits have been found for 1780 and 1781. It is known that there were no supply ships to Alta California in 1781, the San Blas Navy being busy shoring up its local defenses against possible English attack and supporting Manila. The Favorita made a visit to Santa Barbara and San Diego in 1783, and mission or Presidio records there may be helpful.
Other Spanish naval officers associated with San Blas may have been in service there or elsewhere during the war period. These officers include: Juan Manuel de Ayala; Jacinto Caamano; Jose de Calizares; Juan Carrasco; Diego Choquet; Vicente Doz; Francisco Eliza; Cristobal Espinosa; Salvador Fidalgo; Manuel Antonio Flores; Alcala Galiano; Jose Bustamente y Guerra; Gonzalo Lopez de Haro; Bruno de Hezeta; Alejandro Malaspina; Jose Martinez y Zayas; Salvador Medina; Esteban Mondofia; Jose Maria Narvaez; Juan Perez; Manuel Quimper; Antonio Serantes; Antonio Valdez; Cayatano Valdez; Salvador Melendez Valdes; Josef Antonio Vasquez; and Jose Verdia.
Michael E. Thurman, The Naval Department of San Blas: New Spain’s Bastion for Alta California and Nootka, 1769-1798, Glendale, CA, The Arthur H.. Clark Company, 1967
Christon I. Archer, “Spanish Exploration and Settlement of the Northwest Coast in the 18th Century,” Sound Heritage, VII (Jan-Mar 1973):33-53.