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Sebastiao Melendez Rodriguez Cermeno (1560?-1602) – A Spanish navigator andexplorer, Cermeno was Portuguese by birth. He was appointed by the King Philip II to sail along the shores of California, in the years 1595 and 1596, in order to map the American west coast line and define the maritime routes of the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century.
He was born in Sesimbra, Portugal, and little is known of his early life, but he grew up to be a sailor. In 1565, Spanish King Phillip II occupied the Philippine Islands with a view of participating in the profitable trade with China and the Spice Islands. At this time, Cermeno was appointed by King Phillip to sail along the shores of California to map the American west coast line, define the maritime routes of the Pacific Ocean, and to find a safe port where the galleons could take refuge. In the mid 16th century, the Spanish galleons that sailed between Manila and Acapulco carried valuable cargos that attracted foreign privateers and pirates. It was also a difficult trip for the ships and crews who needed a place to refit, and restock prior to continuing on to Acapulco.
Cermeno left Manila on the galleon San Agustin on July 5, 1595 and first sighted land somewhere between Cape St. George and Cape Mendocino, California on November 4th. He then sailed down the coast looking, without success, for a port that he dared enter. A few days later he rounded a prominent point of land and anchored in Drakes Bay on November 6th. The crew was greeted by Native Americans in a manner similar to that of Sir Francis Drake 16 years before. In late November, the San Agustin was at anchor when a large storm blew in. Heavy swells caused the ship to drag anchor and the ship sank. Several of the crew were drowned but, about 80 men made it to shore. Ceremeno claimed the land, which is now known as Point Reyes, for Spain. Ceremeno and his surviving men salvaged a small launch from the wreckage of the galleon and on December 8th sailed south. They arrived at Puerta de Chacala, Mexico on January 17, 1596.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) – An Italian explorer who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, hoping to find a route to India. He made a total of four trips to the Caribbean and South America during the years 1492-1504, sailing for King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Spain. On his first trip, Columbus led an expedition with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. See full storyHERE.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado (1510-1554) – Spanish ruler, explorer and conquistador. He was the first European to explore North America’s Southwest.
Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) – Also spelled Cortez, his full name was Hernan Cortes de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. He was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortes was part of the generation of Spanish colonizers that began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
Andres Dorantes de Carranza (1500?-1550s) – An early Spanish explorer, de Carranza was a native of the southwestern Castilian town of Gibraleon, Spain. The son of a minor nobleman, Pablo Dorantes, he faced bleak economic prospects in Spain and sought his fortune in the New World. In 1527, he enlisted as a captain in the ill-fated expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez. Taking his Moorish slave, Estevanico, with him, the two began the voyage to Florida in 1527. After surviving a hurricane near Cuba, the expedition landed on the west coast of Florida near present day Tampa Bay in April, 1528, claiming the land for Spain. A series of hurricanes and fights with the local Indians killed many of the crew, and the captain of the ship sailed to Mexico without many of his men. The stranded men soon built five crude barges on which they sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. Along the way, three of the vessels sank, but the two surviving ones, carrying about 80 men, landed at Galveston Island, Texas. After a very cold winter with very little food, only 15 men survived. In the spring, the men traveled west by land, walking along the Colorado River, through the deserts of modern Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, before finally reaching civilization in 1536. By this time there were only four men who had survived – Estevanico, Carranza, Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado. They were the first non-natives to travel in this area of the southwestern North America. Eight years after having been stranded in Florida, they arrived at the Spanish settlement of Culiacan. Later that year they reached Mexico City, where they were welcomed by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. The viceroy asked Andres Dorantes to assist in a follow-up expedition, but, Dorantes declined, but agreed to sell his slave, Estevanico, to Mendoza. Dorantes remained in New Spain and married the widow of Francisco de Valdes, María de la Torre, who controlled the encomiendas of Asala and Jalazintgo. After Maria’s death, Dorantes married Paula Dorantes, widow of Antonio Gomez de Corona. He fathered more than fourteen children in New Spain. He died in the 1550s.
Estevanico (1500?-1539) – Also known as Mustafa Zemmouri, Black Stephen, Esteban, and other names, he was the first known person born in Africa to have arrived in the present-day continental United States. An enslaved servant, he was one of four survivors of the Spanish Narvaez expedition and traveled with Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, Andres Dorantes de Carranza, and Alonso Del Castillo across present-day U.S. southwest and northern Mexico. He was killed by Zuni Indians.
Sometime before 1527, Estevanico became the personal slave of Andres Dorantes de Carranza, with whom he traveled with on the ill-fated expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez to Florida. After surviving a hurricane near Cuba, the expedition landed on the west coast of Florida near present day Tampa Bay in April, 1528, claiming the land for Spain. A series of hurricanes and fights with the local Indians killed many of the crew, and the captain of the ship sailed to Mexico without many of his men. The stranded men soon built five crude barges on which they sailed west, hoping to reach a Spanish settlement in Mexico. Along the way, three of the vessels sank, but the two surviving ones, carrying about 80 men, landed at Galveston Island, Texas. After a very cold winter with very little food, only 15 men survived. In the spring, the men traveled west by land, walking along the Colorado River, through the deserts of modern Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, before finally reaching civilization in 1536. By this time, there were only four men who had survived – Estevanico, Carranza, Cabeza de Vaca, and Alonso Castillo Maldonado. Estevanico was the first African-born slave to traverse Texas. When they arrived in Mexico City, Estevanico was sold to the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, who assigned him to a Franciscan, Fray Marcos de Niza.
Preceded by Estevanico, Niza was ordered to explore the area of Sonora and northward, in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola. Restless over the slow progress of the friar and his support party, Estevanico was sent ahead as an advance scout. Separated by several days’ travel from Fray Marcos de Niza, Estevanico approached “Cíbola,” which is thought today, to have been the Zuni pueblo of Hawikuh. On his arrival, he announced his intentions to make peace, heal the sick, and told the villagers that he had been sent by white men who would soon arrive and instruct them in divine matters. The village elders, suspicious of his claims that he came from a land of white men because he was dark, and resentful of his demands for turquoise and women, killed him when he attempted to enter the village. Fray Marcos and the rest would arrive a few days later, but, never went into the village. He would return to Mexico to tell of seeing Cibola from a distance.
Juan de Fuca (15??-1601?) – A Greek navigator who sailed for Spain under a Spanish name. His original name was Ioannis Phokas. De Fuca sailed up the western coast of North America from Mexico to Vancouver Island in 1592, looking for a passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. He was perhaps the first European to see this area. After sailing back to Acapulco, Mexico, de Fuca was not rewarded by Spain for his journey, and his discovery of the strait was not entirely believed until Captain Vancouver retraced de Fuca’s route 200 years later.
Ioannis Phokas came from the village of Valeriano located on the Elios Valley at the Southwestern tip of Cephalonia. The extension of the Spanish dominion on the neighboring shores of Italy, provided much opportunity to the seafaring men of the Ionian Islands to serve on Spanish ships as crews or officers. Taking advantage of these opportunities, Phokas went to Spain where he embarked on Spanish ships as a sailor, and he took on the Spanish name of Juan de Fuca. Proving to be very skilled he soon was captaining the ships and attracted the attention of the King of Spain who appointed him Pilot of his navy in the West Indies, a position which he kept for over 40 years.
Fuca’s early voyages were to the Far East, but his voyages would later be expanded, and he claimed to have arrived in New Spain in 1587 off Baja California. Before he made his famous trip up the northwest coast of the North America, he sailed to China, the Philippines and Mexico. He would later be ordered by the Viceroy of New Spain, Luis de Velasco, to travel with an expedition to find the fabled Strait of Anian, believed to be a Northwest Passage, a sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The first voyage saw 200 soldiers and three small ships under the overall command of a Spanish captain, but failed when, due to the misconduct of the Captain, the soldiers mutinied and the ships had to returned from California to Mexico where the Captain was duly punished. In 1592, a second voyage was sent, at which time he discovered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which was named for him. He then returned to Mexico, claiming to have found the passageway. Despite Velasco’s repeated promises, Fuca never received the great rewards he claimed as his due. After two years, Fuca traveled to Spain to make his case to the court in person. But he was be disappointed again and returned to his homeland.
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