Bruno de HecetaBruno de Heceta (Hezeta) y Dudagoitia (1743–1807) was a Spanish Basque explorer of the Pacific Northwest. Born in Bilbao of an old Basque family, he was sent by the Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio María Bucareli y Ursúa, to explore the area north of Alta California in response to information that there were colonial Russian settlements there.
BackgroundThe Spanish claim to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest had dated back to a 1493 papal bull (Inter caetera) and rights contained in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. These two formal acts formed the basis of Spain's claim of the exclusive right to colonize all of the Western Hemisphere (excluding present day Brazil), including all of the west coast of North America. The first European expedition to actually reach the Pacific coast was led by the Spaniard Vasco Núñez de Balboa, which reached the western coast of present-day Panama in 1513. Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean for the Spanish Crown, as well as all the lands touching it. This action of Balboa further solidified the Spanish claim of exclusive control over the entire west coast of North America.
Confident of their claims, the Spanish Empire did not explore or settle the northwest coast of North America in the 250 years after Balboa's claim. By the late 18th century, however, learning of Russian and British arrivals along the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan coasts, Spain finally grew sufficiently concerned about their claims to the region and set out to discover the extent of any Russian and British encroachment.
Pacific expeditionA first expedition led by Juan José Pérez Hernández in 1774 with just one ship, the frigate Santiago (alias Nueva Galicia ), did not reach as far north as planned. Thus in 1775, when a small group of officers from Spain reached the Pacific port of San Blas in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (present day México), the viceroy placed one of them, Bruno de Heceta, in charge of a second expedition. This expedition was to have two ships, with the second a smaller ship that could explore in shallower waters.
Heceta was given command of the Santiago. Accompanying Heceta was the schooner Sonora (alias Felicidad, also known as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) initially under the command of Juan Manuel de Ayala. The 36 ft long Sonora, with a crew of 16, was to perform coastal reconnaissance and mapping, and could make landfall in places the larger Santiago was unable to approach on its previous voyage. In this way the expedition could officially lay claim to the lands of northern New Spain it visited.
The two ships sailed together as far north as Punta de los Martires (or "Point of the Martyrs"), present day Point Grenville in the U.S. state of Washington, named by Hezeta in response to an attack by the local Quinault Native Americans.
By design, the vessels parted company on the evening of July 30, 1775 with the Santiago continuing north, to what is today the border between Washington and British Columbia, Canada. The Señora, with second officer Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra at the helm, following its orders continuing further north up the coast, ultimately reaching a position at latitude 59° north on August 15, 1775, entering Sitka Sound near the present-day town of Sitka, Alaska. There, and near a Russian settlement on present day Kodiak Island, the Spaniards performed numerous "acts of sovereignty" claiming the territory. Bodega y Quadra named Puerto de Bucareli (present day Bucareli Bay, Alaska), Puerto de los Remedios, and Cerro San Jacinto that was renamed Mount Edgecumbe three years later in 1778 by English explorer James Cook.
On his return journey south, still with only the larger Santiago and a reduced crew, Heceta discovered a large bay penetrating far inland. He was the first European to sight the mouth of the Columbia River. He tried to sail in but the strong currents prevented it, even under a full press of sails. His crew was so reduced that they could not handle the anchor so he could not easily wait for better conditions. He wrote that the seething currents led him to believe it was the mouth of a great river or a passage to another sea. Later he guessed it to be the Strait of Juan de Fuca. He named the entrance bay Bahia de la Asunciõn and produced a map of what he could discern from outside the Columbia Bar. Later Spanish maps often showed the Columbia River's estuary with the name Entrada de Hezeta, Rio de San Roque, and other similar variants.
Throughout the voyage, the crews of both vessels endured many hardships, including food shortages and scurvy. On September 8, 1775, the ships rejoined and headed south for the return trip to San Blas.