The Coveted Pacific Coast

Spanish Reaction

In Madrid, however, the Spanish authorities feared the consequences of Cook's expedition. Viceroy Bucareli was instructed to oppose Cook if he were to reach California, but he responded that any such orders were diplomatically risky, as well as unachievable given the means available to him. Bucareli even delayed until 1779 the departure of a new expedition northward.

On February 11 of that same year, the frigates Princesa and Favorita, under the command of Lieutenant Ignacio de Arteaga and his second in command, Lieutenant Bodega, left San Blas. Their mission was to explore the northwest coast, and not to intervene against the English navigators: merely crossing their path would be enough to confirm Spanish presence in the area. Such an encounter did not occur, however. Cook had already left some time before the Spanish frigates reached Nootka in July 1779 after sailing along the coast of Alaska. Arteaga and Bodega carried out detailed surveys, which were consigned to the archives along with those of the earlier expeditions, for Spain was now at war with England and its navy had been mobilized for combat.

After peace was made in 1783, the Spanish did not immediately resume expeditions to the north, now considering them useless. In 1786 the arrival in California of a French expedition led by Lapérouse made them change their minds. It confirmed to the Spanish not only that there were Russian posts in Alaska, but also that on the northwest coast there were English merchant ships that had begun to trade with the Amerindians. Cook's voyages had shown that extraordinary profits could be made by selling furs from the Pacific northwest coast in China.

Thus in January 1787 King Carlos III ordered that the Spanish resume expeditions. The following year, the Princesa and the San Carlos moved up the coast to Kodiak Island in Alaska. Along the way, the ship's ensign, Estebân José Martinez, who was commanding them, saw several English and American merchant ships plying the area. Back in Mexico, he strongly recommended that a fort be established at Nootka to protect Spanish rights.