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OREGON AND CALIFORNIA,
Preliminary Observations — Efforts of the Spaniards to discover Western Passages
to India – Successive Discoveries of the West Indies, the North American Continent, the Eastern Passage to India, Brazil, and the Pacific Ocean - Search for a navigable Passage connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans — Supposed Discovery of such a Passage, called the Strait of Anian - Discovery of Magellan's Strait and the Western Passage to India — Conquest of Mexico by Cortés, who endeavors to discover new Countries farther north-west — Voyages of Maldonado, Hurtado de Mendoza, Grijalva, and Becerra – Discovery of California – Expedition of Cortés to California — Pretended Discoveries of Friar Marcos de Niza — Voyages of Ulloa, Alarcon, and Cabrillo — Expeditions of Coronado and Soto — The Spaniards desist from their Efforts to explore the NorthWest Coasts of America.
The western coasts of North America were first explored by the Spaniards, in the sixteenth century. In order to convey a clear idea of the circumstances which led to their discovery, as well as of the claims and pretensions based upon it, a general view will be here presented of the proceedings and objects of Europeans with regard to the New World, from the period when its existence was ascertained, to that in which the exploration of its north-west coasts was begun.
The islands, found by Columbus, in his voyage across the Atlantic in 1492, were supposed to be situated in the immediate vicinity of Asia, the eastern limits of which were then unknown; and their discovery was the result of endeavors to reach, by a western course, the shores of India, from which Europe chiefly derived its gold, silks, precious stones, and spices, and those of China and Japan, of the wealth of which empires vague accounts had been brought by travellers.
With the same objects in view, the Portuguese had been long engaged in exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa southward and eastward, in search of some channel or sea, by which their ships might enter the Indian Ocean; being encouraged in their exertions by the Bull of Pope Nicholas V., issued in 1454, assuring to them the exclusive rights of navigation, trade, fishery, and conquest, in all seas and countries which they might find in that course, not before occupied by a Christian prince or people. They had, however, not reached the southern extremity of Africa when Columbus returned from his first voyage across the Atlantic; and, immediately afterwards, the united Spanish sovereigns procured from Pope Alexander VI. Bulls, granting to them and their successors, forever, exclusive privileges with regard to the seas and countries which might be found by navigating towards the west, similar to those conferred on the Portuguese, as to seas and countries east of the Atlantic.
Upon these extraordinary commissions, as bases, was founded the celebrated Treaty of Partition of the Ocean, concluded at Tordesillas, on the 7th of June, 1494, between the sovereigns of Spain. and the king of Portugal, then the greatest maritime powers of Europe. By this treaty, the Portuguese were to enjoy and possess the exclusive rights of discovery, trade, conquest, and dominion, in all the seas and territories not previously belonging to a Christian prince or people, east of a meridian line passing three hundred and seventy leagues west of the Cape Verd Islands; and the Spaniards were to possess the same rights, in all seas and all pagan lands west of that line; no provision being made for the contingency of the meeting of the parties proceeding in these opposite directions. The two nations having thus, under the guaranty of the highest authority recognized in Europe, settled the conditions on which they were to appropriate to themselves, respectively, nearly all the sea and nearly all the land on the globe, without regard for the wishes or claims of any other people, each continued its search for a navigable passage to India, generally, though not always, within the limits assigned to it.
In this search the Portuguese were soon successful; for, in 1499, they sailed around the southern extremity of Africa, to India, where they established their dominion or their influence over many of those regions. They also, about the same time, obtained possession of Brazil, the coasts of which were found to extend east of the meridian of partition, to the great regret and constant annoyance of the Spaniards, who had hoped, by the treaty of 1494, to secure to themselves the exclusive sovereignty of all the countries on the western side of the Atlantic.
The English, however, disregarding the Papal prohibitions, immediately entered the career of discovery in the west; and, under their flag, John Cabot, first of all Europeans, reached the American continent in 1497. They were soon followed by the French, who, during the early part of the sixteenth century, made numerous expeditions across the Atlantic; and the Portuguese, notwithstanding the restrictions of the treaty of partition, also endeavored to find a passage to India in the same direction. It was, indeed, long believed that Gaspar Cortereal, a Portuguese navigator, who explored the coasts of Labrador in 1499 and 1500, had actually sailed through a narrow channel, named by him the Strait of Anian,* westward from the Atlantic, nearly in the course of the 58th parallel of latitude, into another great sea, communicating with the Indian Ocean. This channel may have been the same, now called Hudson's Strait, connecting the Atlantic with Hudson's Bay, the discovery of which is generally attributed to Sebastian Cabot ; it was certainly known as the Strait of Labrador long before its entrance by the navigator whose name it bears. The belief in the existence of such a northwest passage to India, joining the Atlantic in the position assigned to the mouth of Cortereal's Strait of Anian, caused many voyages to be made to the coasts of northern America, on both sides, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and many false reports to be circulated of the discovery of the desired channel; the effects of which reports, in promoting the exploration of those coasts, will be hereafter shown.
" It is stated in several collections of voyages, that the name of Anian was given to the strait supposed to have been discovered by Gaspar Cortereal, in honor of two brothers, who accompanied him ; but there are no grounds for such a supposition. In the earliest maps, Ania is marked as the name of the north-westernmost part of America. Ani, in the Japanese language, is said to signify brother; hence, probably, the mistake." (Chronological History of Voyages in the Arctic Regions, by John Barrow, page 45.) – In an article on the subject of a north-west passage, in the London Quarterly Review for October, 1816, supposed to have been written by Barrow, it is asserted that Cortereal “named the Strait of Anian, not in honor of two brothers who accompanied him, but because he deemed it to be the eastern extremity of a strait whose western end, opening into the Pacific, had already received that name." The value of this assertion may be estimated from the fact, that the ocean
on the western side of America was not discorered by Europeans until thirteen years after Cortereal's royage and death. The review abounds in similar
Many of the most important errors in Barrow's Chronological History have been exposed by Mr. R. Biddle, in his admirable Memoir of Sebastian Cabot, to which the reader is referred for the most exact accounts, so far as they can be obtained, of these early voyages to the north-west coasts of the Atlantic. A concise and clear view of the results of these voyages will be found in the first chapter of Bancroft's History of the United States
The Spaniards were, in the mean time, assiduously engaged in planting colonies in the countries newly found by them beyond the Atlantic, to which they gave the collective name of West Indies, ạnd in exploring the coasts in the vicinity of the islands first discovered, which were soon ascertained to be the borders of a vast continent. How far south this continent extended, and whether it was united, in the north, with Asia, or with the territories seen in that direction by the English and the Portuguese, remained to be determined; and, with those objects, the Spaniards persevered in their examinations, in which they were, moreover, encouraged by the constant assurances of the natives of the coasts and islands, respecting the existence of a great sea, and rich and powerful nations, towards the setting sun.
In 1513, this great sea was discovered, near the spot where Panamá now stands, by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the governor of the Spanish colony of Darien. It was naturally supposed to be the Southern Ocean, which bathed the shores of India ; and, as its proximity to the Atlantic was at the same time ascertained, encouragement was afforded for the hope that the two great waters would be found connected in a position the most favorable for navigation between Europe and Asia. The examinations of the Spaniards were, in consequence, directed particularly to the coasts of the Isthmus of Darien, and were conducted with great zeal and perseverance, until the entire separation of the two oceans by land, in that quarter, had been proved. These researches were, however, also continued both north and south of the isthmus, until, at length, in 1520, Fernando Magalhaens, or Magellan, a Portuguese, in the naval service of Spain, discovered and sailed through the strait now bearing his name, into the sea found by Balboa, over which he pursued his voyage westward to India.
The great geographical question, as to the circumnavigation of the globe, was thus solved, though not in a manner entirely satisfactory to the Spaniards. The Strait of Magellan was intricate, and
The name America was first applied to the New World in a work entitled “ Cosmographiæ Instructio, fc., insuper quatuor Americi Vespucii Navigationes," written by Martin Waldseemuller, under the assumed name of Hylacomylus, and printed at Saint Die, in Lorraine, in 1507. This has been clearly proved by Humboldt, in his admirable “ Eramen Critique de l'Histoire de la Geographie du Nouveau Continent," in which many other interesting questions relating to the discovery of the New World are also discussed and satisfactorily determined. The Spaniards carefully avoided the use of the name America in their histories and official documents, in not one of which, anterior to the middle of the last century, can the word be found.
the passage through it was attended with great difficulties and dangers; besides which, it was itself almost as far from Europe as India by the eastern route, Other and more direct channels of communication between the Atlantic and the Southern Ocean might, indeed, be discovered: but the latter sea was found to be infinitely wider than had been supposed ; and, although the part of it crossed by Magellan was so little disturbed by storms that he was induced to name it the Pacific Ocean, yet he also observed that the winds blew over it invariably from eastern points. These circumstances depressed the hopes of the Spaniards with respect to the establishment of their power in Southern Asia, though they continued their expeditions to that part of the world by way of Magellan's Strait, and their search for new passages into the Pacific. Their expeditions to India brought them into collision with the Portuguese,* who had already made several settlements in the Molucca Islands, and had obtained from the Chinese, in 1518, the possession, under certain qualifications, of the important port of Macao, near Canton; and many bloody conflicts took place, in consequence, between the subjects of those nations, in that distant quarter of the world, as well as many angry disputes between their governments, before the questions of right at issue could be settled.
In the mean time, other events occurred, which consoled the Spaniards for their disappointments with regard to India, and caused them to direct their attention more particularly to the New World.
Before the period of the departure of Magellan on his expedition, the Spaniards had, in fact, derived from their discoveries beyond the Atlantic but few of the advantages which they anticipated. They had found and taken possession of countries
Spain claimed the exclusive navigation, trade, and conquest, westward, to the extremity of the peninsula of Malacca, so as to include all the Molucca Islands and China; while the Portuguese insisted on exercising the same privileges, without competition, eastward as far as the Ladrone Islands; each on the ground that the meridian of partition, settled with regard to the Atlantic, in 1494, would, if continued on the other side of the globe, pass in such a manner as to place the portions claimed by itself within its own hemisphere. The question was discussed between the two courts directly, and by their commissioners who met at Badajos in 1523, but without arriving at any definite arrangement. At length, on the 22d of April, 1529, a treaty was concluded at Saragossa, by the terms of which the king of Spain sold all his rights to the Moluccas to the king of Portugal for 350,000 ducats of gold, ($3,080,000,) with the proviso that the latter might, by repaying the sum, be at liberty again to urge those rights. The sum was never repaid, and Spain did not again claim the islands; though, for a long period afterwards, the Spanish empire was represented on Spanish maps as extending westward to the extremity of Malacca.