The Chumash 
Local California Chronology
2: The First European Contact 
The Spanish Incursion 
Updated 31 March 2002 
Work in progress 
458   Chineses records speak of the explorer Hui Shan, who in 458 A.D. sailed the Pacific and may have reached the coast of California. Hui Shan noted tall trees with a red wood.
1510   The name California is first used in a romance novel published in Spain in 1510, Las Sergas de Esplandián, or Adventures of Esplandian. Its author was Garcia Ordoñez de Montalvo, the translator of the Amadis de Gaul, and the Sergas is often referred to as the fifth book of the Amadis. In this book, which was an extremely popular piece of literature at the time of the conquest of Mexico, there is an island called California. The term came to connote insularity coupled with riches.
1524   Cortés, the conquistador, seeking to locate the source of the wealth of the empire of Montezuma, writes to the King of Spain, "They tell me that Ciguatan (the Indian name for the Californias) is an island inhabited by women.... They also tell me it is very rich in pearls and gold, respecting which I shall labor to obtain the truth, and give your majesty a full account of it." California History
1533   Two ships make their way northward from Tehuantepec and land at the very tip of Baja California at La Paz Harbor. Local residents kill 20 of the landing party and the ships retreat. For details of the early explorers, see Tales of Ocean Exploration (external)
1535   Hernando Cortés leads a return expedition to La Paz and plants a small colony there. It fails after a couple of years and the settlers return to the mainland.

1539   Francisco de Ulloa explores the gulf of California; he also rounds the tip of Baja and explores up its western coast. The diarist of the expedition, Francisco Preciado, refers to the territory as "California," a mythical island in a popular Spanish romance. Up through the 1730s, Europeans widely supposed the land to be an island, even though Mendoza's 1540 expedition (below) had disproved the idea.
1540   Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, sends a second sea expedition under Hernando de Alarcon up the Gulf of California where they enter the mouth of the Colorado River and become the first Europeans to stand on California soil. See also the overland expeditions of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (external).
1542 Sep. 28

The Spanish navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, on the authority of the Viceroy of New Spain, sails up the coast of California in the San Salvador, stepping onshore at the present-day harbor of San Diego (the official "discovery" of California). His mission was to map the coastline and claim the land for Spain -- largely a matter of paperwork -- and to search of a passage to the east coast of America through the hoped-for "Straits of Anian." The native population at the time is now estimated at 130,000, but the figure is uncertain.

Oct. 7 The Pimungans of Santa Catalina Island paddle out to greet the Spanish galleon; they were invited aboard ship and gifts were exchanged. Cabrillo claimed the island for the King of Spain and gave it the name San Salvador, after his ship. He continued up the coast the same day.
Nov. Cabrillo lands on San Miguel island in the Santa Barbara Channel . The sailors get into a fight with the inhabitants -- no word on casualties, but Cabrillo is noted as having broken a leg. The party continues to sail north almost to present day Fort Ross, 42°N. At Morro Bay, they spot the 534 foot rock.
Nov. 22 New laws passed in Spain aimed at giving native populations of New Spain some protection against enslavement.
1543 Jan. 3

Cabrillo dies of gangrene, likely from the broken leg; he is buried on San Miguel island.

Apr. 14

Bartolemé Ferrelo, having taken the command of the San Salvador after Cabrillo's death, is the first European to sail into the San Francisco Bay. (This claim contradicts the report that Ferrelo returned to San Diego on March 11.)

  European crops such as broad beans, chick peas, barley, and wheat are transported to New Spain for cultivation; some New World crops, such as the potato, is now known but not yet cultivated in Europe.
1545   A typhus epidemic kills hundreds of thousands of natives and some colonists in Cuba and New Spain -- one of the first of a continued series of European-borne diseases that decimated the native populations.
1550   Radiocarbon tests indicate continuous human habitation up to this time in the East Bay, at foot of San Bruno Mountain. The Sipliskin Tribe, a northern branch of the Ohlone Indians, likely occupied the site.
1565   Father Andres Urdaneta reports sighting the California coast, likely near Cape Mendocino, sailing from Manila to Acapulco. Most of the attention California gets over the next two centuries is from the perspective of traders and pirates on this highly lucrative trade route.
The distortions of the Typus Orbis Terrarum from around 1570 -- the small islands of the Santa Barbara Channel are drawn larger than Ireland -- show that the western coast of the new world has barely been visited by European explorers. These are early days of European mapmaking -- in 1573, Saxton produced the first maps in England.
1579 Jun. 17 Sir Francis Drake sails the Golden Hinde into a bay on the western coast, names the land New Albion, and proclaims English sovereignty; few take notice.
1587   Thomas Cavendish, an English privateer (a state pirate), boards the galleon Santa Ana near Cape San Lucas and takes a cargo of Chinese goods and three million dollars in jewels and bullion.
Oct. 18 Spanish Captain Pedro de Unamuno also discovers California, en route from Maçao to Acapulco with a Philipino crew. He may have landed at Morro Bay.
1595   Sebastian Cermeno, under orders to explore the California coastline for possible refuge harbors for the Manila galleons, is wrecked at Arcata Bay; the crew returns to Mexico in an open boat. Fog and storms long concealed the narrow entrance to the San Francisco Bay.
Nov. The San Augustin, a Manila galleon, sinks near Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco, with a cargo of silks and porcelains from the Orient.
1602   British (and later Dutch) ships have taken to lying in wait at the tip of Baja for the Manila galleons.
Dec. 4

The merchant Sebastián Vizcaíno, sailing up the southern California coast, names Syuhtun and the area sheltered by the islands Santa Barbara, in honor of an unattested 3rd century martyr. San Diego, Santa Catalina Island (external), San Nicholas Island, and Monterey Bay are similarly named by the saints of the days on which they are sighted. 

Dec 16-Jan 3 Stopping at Monterey, the Vizcaíno expedition sees grizzly bears feeding on the carcass of a stranded whale. The expedition has a mandate to locate a suitable port for a base from which New Spain can operate against the English privateers, but the project is abandoned.

Detail from a map by John Speed entitled America, showing California as an island.

1683 Oct. 6 A small armada from the Mexican mainland land on their third attempt at crossing to the Baha peninsula and settle at the mouth of a river that they name San Bruno. The site is abandoned after two years. (Spanish settlement on the Baha was later described by Father James Donald Francez in The Lost Treasures of Baha California.)
1697 Oct. 25 Settlers from Mexico found the town of Loreto in honor of the Virgin Nuestra Señora de Loreto, on the Baha Peninsula. It served as the capital of Baha California for the next 132 years.
1709   "In the year 1709 Captain Woodes Rogers of England appeared off Cape San Lucas in search of the Manila galleon, having as pilot William Dampier, and as his second mate one Alexander Selkirk, whom he had picked up on San Fernandez Island; a few years later this Alexander Selkirk, in the hands of Defoe, became the wonderful Robinson Crusoe who has enthralled boyhood for nigh two centuries. Rogers put in with his vessels at the Bay of San Bernarbé. Shortly thereafter, though only by a sharp contest, he captured the Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación de Singano with a cargo of one or two million dollar's valuation." (National Geographic, September 1928.)
1719   An edition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is published with a map in which California appears as an island.

Contagious diseases carried by the Europeans had devastating effects on the native populations of the New World. Pre-Columbian population estimates are difficult, in part because of the impact of this sudden wave of plagues. The following graphic (source) presents a conservative estimate of the initial population of around seven million (for a discussion, see Mann (2002)::

The population of California, however, may have been untouched by these epidemics, as there was no sustained contact with Europeans during this period.

1769   For 227 years after the first contact, no European settled in Alta California, the territory of today's state. See map of California tribal pre-contact territories.
The Chumash 
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Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Department of English, UC Santa Barbara