Within 20 years of the Franciscan padres entering California to establish a chain of missions along the coast, merchant ships from Boston began appearing in Pacific waters. They were welcomed by the priests and small groups of settlers, because supply ships from Mexican ports often took 3 or 4 months to arrive, and in some years didn’t come at all. On their way to China, these New England ships stopped in California ports in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Monterey to trade for sea otter pelts worth a fortune in Canton. After the sea otters were hunted to near extinction, ship captains loaded cattle hides to sell in Boston. Hides were used to make leather straps essential to cog and wheel manufacturing operations, as well as boots and other consumer goods. In exchange the Yankee sea captains brought essentials and “extras” to California’s ranch families and villagers: fish hooks, cotton cloth, woolen blankets, nutmeg and pepper, shawls, painted water pitchers, porcelain plates, linens, and furniture. Though illegal under Spanish and later Mexican laws, this trade flourished for several years in a province that had no manufacturing, developed agriculture, or transportation systems of its own, until the Gold Rush in the 1840s.
Imperial Spain, who had long feared a Russian advance into their largely unguarded province of California, was in no position to resist when Czarist Russia decided to build an outpost above Bodega Bay. Trade was vital to existing Russian settlements in Alaska, where long winters exhausted supplies and the inhabitants Continue reading Fort Ross
Although he never settled in California, renowned mountain man-fur trapper Jedediah Strong Smith explored many regions of the state in the 1820s, opening new paths in the interior plus other trails leading north to Oregon Territory and east to present-day Utah. Born January 6, 1799, the sixth of fourteen children, young Continue reading Trapper Jedediah Smith
California is the third largest of the fifty states; only Alaska and Texas are larger. Its boundaries contain 163,707 square miles, of which 7,734 square miles are covered by water. Its odd shape permits its northern port city of Eureka to be the most westward city in the United States, while San Diego lies farther east than Reno, Nevada. In no other state are there so many variations Continue reading Geographic Extremes
One of the most able of the Spanish commanders, Admiral Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was dispatched north from Mexico in 1543, with instructions to find the entrance to the hoped-for Northwest Passage to China. Instead he found the eastern shore of Baja California, and sailing around to the Pacific Coast, an excellent port he named San Miguel, today’s San Diego. He is thought to have visited Catalina Island and then San Pedro, before boldly sailing farther north, after waiting out an eight day storm at the Channel Islands, to a cape with tall pine trees he named Cabo de Pinos (Point Reyes). Here his two ships had become separated, and in turning back to search for his other ship, he found Monterey Bay. Cabrillo Beach at San Pedro is named for him, and Point Loma, at the entrance to the San Diego Harbor, is the site of the Cabrillo National Monument, complete with an imposing statue of the explorer.