Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo | Voyages Along the California Coast
Sailing under the flag of Portugal, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo is the man credited with the exploration of most of the western coast of North America. He is the first recorded European to land in what is present day California, and by many accounts discovered the area we know as San Diego.
He was sailing under Hernan Cortez in New Spain, which we would know as Mexico today, and he was part of an expedition seeking gold. Cabrillo’s history is full of turmoil, benefitting greatly from slave labor as he moved from land to land. He was considered a self-made man, but history exposes the bloodshed surrounding him. Lucrative contracts, paved in slave labor and brutal crackdowns, financed his newest expeditions.
Not all of his expeditions involved such brutality, and his exploration of the California coast showed his diplomatic side. Befriending natives gave him valuable intelligence on which tribes were positioned along the coasts, who would be friendly, and where he could find uninhabited land like Anacapa Island.
He also discovered Xexo, which is today’s Santa Barbara County. It was ruled by an old woman who led her tribe to war against the Xucu who occupied Ventura County. Although they found Point Reyes, they missed the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. He’d established extensive trade routes by that point and looked to make landfall for supplies and repairs.
He was attacked by natives, and is said to have cut his shin on jagged rock while trying to make landfall and fight them. He died January 3rd, 1543 of a gangrene infection.