Early European Explorers Part II

By Jack Tracy

Last week, we presented Jack Tracy’s story of early explorers Juan Ayala and Juan Bautista de Anza.   Here is Tracy’s account of other Europeans who landed in California, decades before Captain William Richardson founded what was then known as Saucelito:

The first non-Spanish ship came in 1786 and anchored off Monterey. Le Comte de Laperouse, under orders from the French government, was stopping over briefly on his "voyage of discovery." In reality, of course, he was looking for potential French colonies, and, more specifically, to see what Spain was up to in California. In defiance of edicts from the Spanish Crown, Laperouse was welcomed; and he learned all there was to learn about Spanish defenses and commerce. Before sailing off to an unknown fate at sea, he ventured the opinion that there was little in upper California to interest France or any other European power for at least one to two hundred years.

Captain George Vancouver, in full regalia      Courtesy Photo

Captain George Vancouver, in full regalia      Courtesy Photo

The next non-Spanish explorer to show up on the northern coast was George Vancouver of England, who landed in San Francisco Bay in 1792. He too was welcomed and even escorted overland to Monterey for further receptions. It should be mentioned that the governor was away at the time, and when he heard of the hospitality shown the foreigner, he was, to put it mildly, not amused. Least welcome of all foreigners were the Americans. Either because these "Boston Yanquis" were considered particularly aggressive, or because their antimonarchist, Protestant republic was on the same continent as California, Americans were forbidden absolutely to land in San Francisco Bay.

In time, as a new governor took over in Monterey, American ships were permitted to lay over long enough to take on food and supplies and to off-load their sick; the first of these was the ship Otter in 1796. The Spanish residents even grew to like and accept some of these "Yanquis." Of necessity, the Spanish also began simple trade with foreign visitors, even though this too was illegal. In this period ships first came to the cove in Sausalito for fresh water before setting out to sea.

By 1795 the age of innocence was over for California. Word of its natural wonders had reached the courts and governments of Europe. Although, as Laperouse had predicted, it was not yet practical to pursue aggressive colonization, still it was attracting increasing interest. Then the flow of newcomers to the New World slowed to a trickle while Napoleon and his armies were overrunning Europe. But the time was clearly coming. For in 1795 there had occurred in England an event unrecorded in history then, but of primary importance to our story now: William Richardson was born.

This excerpt is from Jack Tracy’s book Moments in Time, which is available at the Ice House Visitors Center at 780 Bridgeway.