Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra
1744 - 1794
Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra was born on May 22, 1744, in Lima, Peru. At the age of nineteen he joined the Spanish Naval Academy in Cádiz and four years later, in 1767, was commissioned as an officer of the rank Frigate Ensign (alférez de fragata). In 1773 he was promoted to Ship Ensign (alférez de navío), and in 1774 to Ship Lieutenant (teniente de navío).
In 1775 under the command of Lieutenant Bruno de Heceta, the Spanish explored the Pacific Northwest. This followed the first Spanish expedition by Juan Pérez in 1774, who had failed to reach and claim the upper northwest coast for Spain. The expedition consisted of two ships: the Santiago (alias Nueva Galicia), commanded by Hezeta himself, and the schooner Sonora (alias Felicidad, also known as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), commanded by his second in command, Lieutenant Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Bodega y Quadra was given the lesser position of second officer on the Sonora despite the fact that he outranked the others. Bodega y Quadra had all the training and qualifications necessary to be considered for a senior officer position, but as a non-Spaniard he was subject to the class prejudice common to Spain and the colonial Americas during that time. So he was passed over for promotions.
The Spaniards were given orders to explore the coast and to go ashore so that the newly discovered territories would be recognized as Spanish lands. Most important for the expedition was the identification of colonial Russian settlements. The ships left San Blas, New Spain, on March 16, 1775. Illnesses (scurvy), storms, poor sailing capacities of the Sonora, and other incidents slowed their progress.
On July 13, 1775, they reached the vicinity of Point Grenville and Destruction Island in the present day U.S. state of Washington. While searching for a safe place for the ships to anchor, which was one of the duties of the Sonora, Bodega y Quadra sailed over what is now called Sonora Reef. He immediately realized his mistake and signaled the Santiago to not follow. The wind direction and changing tide trapped the Sonora between Sonora Reef and Point Grenville. The Santiago anchored a few miles to the south, in Grenville Bay. The Sonora attracted the attention of a nearby Quinault village. Many Quinault visited the schooner, trading with the crew and giving gifts of food. Early the next day an armed party from the Santiago went ashore and quickly conducted a possession ceremony, which was observed by some Quinaults. Later that morning, Bodega y Quadra decided to send six sailors ashore to collect water and wood. A large number of Quinaults appeared, attacked, and killed the shore party. Bodega y Quadra was unable to help as the party had taken the schooner's only boat. At noon he weighed anchor, hoping to escape the shoals at high tide. Progress was slow as the wind was low and the crew significantly reduced. Nine large canoes carrying about thirty Quinaults carrying bows and shields followed and came along side the Sonora. They made signs of friendship which Bodega y Quadra rejected. The Quinaults in one of the canoes approached in an attempt to board the Sonora, but once the canoe was in range of the schooner's two swivel guns and three muskets it was fired upon, killing "the greater number of them", according to Bodega's journal.
Bodega wanted to avenge his lost sailors, but was overruled by Heceta, who pointed out the expedition had orders to use force only in self-defense. Quinault ethnologists have come up with theories about the sudden attack, one being that the land-claiming ceremony was understood for what it was. Of particular note was the placement of a large cross on the beach. The Quinault would have understood that the erecting of a tall pole with a crossbar during an obviously religious ritual was a symbolically powerful act.
Shaken by this disaster, and with most of his crew suffering from scurvy, Hezeta decided to return to New Spain, but Bodega y Quadra refused to follow him without having completed the essential mission, which was to locate the Russians. He continued northward on the Sonora and got as far as what is now close to Sitka, Alaska, reaching 59° north latitude on August 15, 1775. Failing to find any Russians, he returned southward. When returning he made sure that he landed once to claim the coast for Spain. This expedition made it clear to the Spanish that the Russian colonization did not have a large presence in the Pacific Northwest.
On February 11, 1779 the corvettes Princesa and Favorita, under the command of Lieutenant Ignacio de Arteaga and his second in command, Lieutenant Bodega y Quadra, left San Blas again. Their mission was to explore the northwest coast, and not to intervene with the assumed English navigators there. They charted every bay and inlet in search of the Northwest Passage, going north to 58° 30? before turning back from Alaska due to bad weather. They completed the complex process begun earlier of claiming the Pacific Northwest for Spain.
The expedition anchored in Port Etches, near Prince William Sound. The harbor was given the name "Puerto de Santiago" on July 23, 1779. The name commemorated Saint James, the patron saint of Spain, whose feast day falls on July 25. While the Spaniards were anchored in Port Etches they performed a formal possession ceremony. All the officers and chaplains went ashore in procession, raised a large cross while cannons and muskets fired salutes. The Te Deum was sung, followed by a litany and prayers. After a sermon was preached a formal deed of possession was drawn up and signed by the officers and chaplains. The title to Puerto de Santiago was important for years afterward, as it formed the basis of Spain's claim to sovereignty in the North Pacific up to 61° 17?N.
In 1780 Bodega y Quadra was promoted to capitán de fragata (Frigate Captain), in recognition of his achievements during the 1779 voyage.
In 1780 Bodega was ordered to sail to the Viceroyalty of Peru in order to acquire quicksilver (mercury), which was required by the Mexican silver mining industry. The supply of quicksilver had fallen sharply because the ships that would normally have delivered it had been diverted elsewhere due to the war with Britain. After many delays, Bodega sailed the old frigate Santiago from San Blas on 5 June 1781. The voyage was plagued by difficulties, such as continually contrary winds and bad weather. The Santiago took on so much water it needed to be careened, but there was no opportunity to do so until in Peru. Bodega finally reached Callao, Peru, on July 18, 1782, thirteen months after sailing from San Blas. He soon discovered that there was no surplus quicksilver to be had. The Viceroy of Peru, Agustín de Jáuregui, had heard of Bodega's mission before Bodega arrived and decided to expedite matters by sending all the quicksilver he could spare to Acapulco on the merchant ship San Pablo. Wishing not to return without any cargo, Bodega arranged to carry military supplies. The Santiago was careened and many rotten planks were replaced. Bodega sailed from Callao at the end of March 1783, carrying the cargo of military supplies and a number of passengers. The voyage north went smoothly, and Bodega anchored the Santiago at San Blas on June 20, 1783.
Shortly after Bodega's return to San Blas he received orders to go to Havana, Cuba. There, in 1784, he requested and received permission to travel to Spain, which he did in 1785. He spent four mostly discouraging and frustrating years in Spain. However, there were at least two positive events. First, the king approved Bodega's promotion to capitán de navío (Ship Captain) on November 15, 1786, the highest naval rank below flag officer ranks. Second, he was knighted by the King of Spain as a full-fledged knight of the Order of Santiago - the most prestigious of Spain's four orders of chivalry. It was very difficult to earn a commission in the Order of Santiago. Bodega had begun the process in 1775. He was finally knighted by the king on April 8, 1788.
At the end of his stay in Spain, Bodega was appointed commandant of the Naval Department of San Blas. Instructed to select six junior officers to serve under him at San Blas, Bodega y Quadra chose Manuel Quimper, Ramón Saavedra Guiráldez y Ordóñez, Francisco de Eliza, Salvador Fidalgo, Jacinto Caamaño, and Salvador Menéndez Valdés. Bodega and these six officers sailed to America on the same ship that was carrying the new Viceroy of New Spain, Conde de Revillagigedo. The viceroy and Bodega arrived to find themselves in the immediate aftermath of the Nootka Crisis. They had two pressing issues to deal with right away. First they had to arrange for the release of the British ships, officers, and sailors taken prisoner by Martínez in 1789. Second, they had to respond to the Royal Order of April 14, 1789, which required that the Spanish establishment at Nootka Sound be maintained. At first neither Revillagigedo nor Bodega knew that Martínez had abandoned Nootka Sound. The Royal Order thus meant that a new expedition be immediately organized for the purpose of reoccupying, permanently, Nootka Sound. The reoccupation expedition was organized very quickly.
The three ships, Concepción, San Carlos, and Princesa Real sailed from San Blas and arrived at Nootka Sound in early April 1790. Francisco de Eliza was appointed commandant. Quimper, Fidalgo, and other officers were part of the expedition. The First Company of the Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, under Pedro de Alberni, sailed with Eliza to garrison the Nootka establishment. The expedition had to be well supplied, not only with cannons and munitions but also with warm clothes, new equipment for the soldiers under Alberni, materials for constructing buildings and Fort San Miguel, thousands of sheets of copper for trading or giving to the indigenous peoples, and numerous other goods. That Bodega y Quadra was able to organize the complicated logistical issues, especially given San Blas's chronically undersupplied and underfunded status, such that the ships sailed within months of Bodega's arrival, was a remarkable achievement.
Quadra was called as an expert witness in the aftermath of the Nootka Crisis at Nootka Sound. In 1789, as the Commandant based at San Blas, he sent out several new expeditions of exploration. In 1791 he was appointed Spanish commissioner to negotiate and administer the implementation of the Nootka Conventions at Nootka Sound.
As commandant of the Spanish establishment at Nootka, Bodega made a point of hosting and entertaining every visitor, indigenous and European. He held feasts for the officers of every ship that arrived at Nootka Sound, including the French fur-trading ship La Flavie, the "Portuguese" ship Feliz Aventureira (actually a British ship masquerading as Portuguese), the American ships Columbia, under Robert Gray, and the Hope, under Joseph Ingraham, Vancouver's ships Discovery and Chatham, and a number of others. The journals of many people who visited Nootka Sound during the summer of 1792 record amazement at the grandeur of Bodega's dinners, especially at such a remote part of the world, at which over fifty people would be served many courses on Bodega's personal collection of about 300 pieces of silver dinner ware. Bodega also provided ship repair services to any vessel needing them. A number of ships, including the Chatham, were careened and repaired by Spanish workers.
In August 1792, Bodega welcomed English Captain George Vancouver. The two commanders swiftly established friendly relations, including joint explorations and the sharing of supplies and information. Vancouver provided the services of his surgeon, Archibald Menzies, to help Quadra with increasingly serious headaches. During their meetings Bodega y Quadra asked Vancouver to name "some port or Island after us both" (however, Bodega wrote in his journal that it was Vancouver who made the suggestion). Since Vancouver had determined that the land upon which Nootka stood was a great island, he proposed that they name it Quadra's and Vancouver's Island: "would name some port or island after us both in commemoration of our meeting and friendly intercourse that on that occasion had taken place (Vancouver had previously feted Quadra on his ship);....and conceiving no place more eligible than the place of our meeting, I have therefore named this land...The Island of Quadra and Vancouver." It was thus entered upon the explorer's charts, but this name was soon shortened to Vancouver Island.
However, the two commanders were unable to reconcile the conflicts in the instructions from their respective governments. At issue was whether the Spanish were to hand over only the small plot of land actually built upon by the adventurer John Meares, or the entire West Coast, or something in between. It is scarcely contested that Meares had exaggerated the extent of his discoveries. However, Bodega y Quadra was handicapped by uncertainties as to how far his superiors' wished to maintain Spanish sovereignty in a part of the world that had limited strategic value. He improvised and by chance pressed for exactly the condition that both the king and viceroy later communicated to him. Vancouver was likewise handicapped by a lack of instructions. He stuck by a strictly literal interpretation of Article I of the Nootka Convention. Having reached an impasse, the two agreed to refer the points at issue back to their respective governments in Madrid and London; Quadra arranged passage for Vancouver's envoy, William Robert Broughton, through Mexico. Viceroy Revillagigedo chastised Bodega for allowing Broughton passage through New Spain. Eventually, Spain and Great Britain signed an agreement on January 11, 1794, in which they agreed to abandon the region (the third Nootka Convention).
After suffering from chronic headaches for several years, in April 1793 Bodega y Quadra requested a leave from his duties to restore his health. It was granted and he left San Blas for Guadalajara and Mexico City. He suffered a strong fluxo de sangre (blood loss or haemorrhage) in Guadalajara. He had a seizure in Mexico City and died there on March 26, 1794, at the age of forty-nine. The internist Dr. John Naish has conjectured that Bodega y Quadra's death was the result of either a brain tumor or the severest form of hypertension. Given the lack of details and the imprecision contemporary diagnosis and description, Viceroy Revillagigedo's statement official statement that Bodega died "of natural causes" is indisputable.
When George Vancouver, at Nootka Sound again in September 1794, learned of Bodega's death, he wrote in his journal (grammar and typos form the original):
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Naish, John. The Interwoven Lives of George Vancouver, Archibald Menzies, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget: The Vancouver Voyage of 1791-1795. The Edward Mellen Press, Ltd. 1996.
Wing, Robert and Newell, Gordon. Peter Puget: Lieutenant on the Vancouver Expedition, fighting British naval officer, the man for whom Puget Sound was named. Gray Beard Publishing. 1979.
Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest: Maps of Exploration and
Discovery: British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Yukon. Sasquatch
Thurman, M.E. The Naval Department of San Blas: New Spain's Bastion for Alta California and Nootka, 1767 to 1798. The Arthur H. Clark Company. Glendale, California. 1967.