Copyright 2000 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
This page is part of the Union County, OR AGHP
To Discover a Sea-path from Europe to India, the Incentive of Pacific Coast Exploration - Voyages, whether Eastward or Westward from Europe, alike and necessarily Precursors of the Discovery of Northwest America - Reputed Discoveries by the Cabots and Cortereal - The Strait of Anian Myth - Fictitious Narratives of Pretended Voyages of Maldonado, de Fuca and de Foute Stimulated North Pacific Exploration.
THE discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, the voyages to the South African coast rounding that cape and opening the sea-path from Western Europe to the East Indies, which had been accomplished within the fifteenth century, proved the forerunners of grand development of geographic science, knowledge of navigation and the expansion of commerce. These enterprises had been but shortly preceded by discovery of the polarity of the magnetic needle and its legitimate sequence, the invention of the mariners' compass. To China belongs the invention of those important discoveries. The period at which the compass became first utilized by the navigators of Western Europe is shrouded in uncertainty. The best authorities ascribe its introduction to Flavio Gioia, a citizen of Amalfi in the Kingdom of Naples, and designate the year 1307 as the date.
"Encouraged by the possession of this sure guide, by which at all times and all places he could with certainty steer his course, the navigator gradually abandoned the method of sailing along the shore, and boldly committed his bark to the open sea. Navigation was then destined to make rapid progress. The growing spirit of enterprise, combined with the increasing light of science, prepared the states of Europe for entering on that great career of discovery of which the details constitute the materials for the history of modern geography. Portugal took the lead, and in the foremost rank of the worthies of the little hero-nation stands the figure of Prince Henry, the navigator. Until his day (1394-1460) the pathways of the human race had been the mountain, the river and the plain, the strait, the lake and the inland sea. It was he who first conceived the thought of opening a road through the unexplored ocean, a road replete with danger but abundant in promise."
In the foregoing eloquent extract are presented, not only the cause of ignorance of geography, cosmography, cartography, - ignorance of the world in which humanity had stayed at home, or simply crawled over a small area of the earth's circumference, - but the method whereby knowledge was to be acquired; "opening a road through the unexplored ocean," harbinger to "abundant promise," which has been more than realized by executing what Prince Henry conceived in that isolation of his sea-girt, rock-bound home at Sagres. That pioneer of discovery of worlds and seas dedicated his life to remove that ignorance, to develop knowledge of the world and its wealth, to expand commerce," to find a sea-path to the thesauris arabum et divitas Indice." Through his enlightened foresight and perseverence, the world is indebted for the maritime discovery of more than half the globe. Having successfully colonized the Azores, Portugal extended its explorations southward along the Atlantic coast of Africa beyond Cape Bojadore,
seeking a channel leading eastward by which the Indian Ocean might be entered and the voyage to India shortened. In 1454, Portugal obtained from Pope Nicholas V. the grant of "exclusive right of navigation, conquest, trade, fishery in all seas and countries which they might find between Cape Bojador and the Indies, not before occupied by a Christian nation."
Portuguese voyages continued. Year after year new lands were being made known. While Columbus, under the patronage of Spain, had been pursuing his westward voyages of discovery in search of India, prompted by the theory which had suggested to Prince Henry the southward voyages, the Portuguese had persevered in their efforts to reach India by sea; Vasco de Gama had accomplished this desideratum. He had rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, and on the 20th of May, 1498, reached Calicut. Thus the idea and conception of Henry, the navigator, had ripened into fact.
Western exploration had culminated in the discovery of American. Southward and eastward voyages had opened the sea-path to India. Henry did not live to witness the realization of that hope, which had been the very soul of his being.
To find the much-coveted, long-hoped-for sea-path to Indian had been - nay it continued to be - the key-note of voyages of discovery; it "was the consummation devoutly to be wished." When found it was immediately succeeded by the revolutionizing of the commerce of the Est, the changing of its marts, the adoption of new routes of transportation. theretofore the rich products of India had found their way into Syria and Egypt, traversing the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Venitians, receiving them at Beyroot and Alexandria, had enjoyed the carrying trade. Thereafter that wealthy commerce passed into the hands of maritime nations.
Upon the return of Columbus from his first voyage of discovery, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain claimed from Pope Alexander VI. that same recognition which had been extended to Portugal by his predecessor. On the 2d of May, 1493, the papal grant of 1454 was remodeled; the undiscovered world was divided between Spain and Portugal. From pole to pole, one hundred league west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, was the line of partition. All lands and seas discovered east of that line were allotted to Portugal; all west were awarded to Spain. Expeditions fitted out by Spain sailed eastward around the Cape of Good Hope. Neither Spain, Portugal nor the Pope had contemplated that these voyages respectively made from this common meridian of departure, as they approached the antipodes, would there meet or pass. Portugal became dissatisfied with the papal partition, because of the belief that Spain had secured a much greater extent of ocean. On the 7th of June, 1494, the two nations entered into the Treaty of Tordesillas. The line was removed two hundred and seventy leagues westward of the papal line. No provision, however, had been made for the contingent approach of the possessory claims of the two nations toward each other, consequent upon the sphericity of the globe, - of voyages starting in opposite directions from the same meridian. Of necessity, complications could not be avoided. Portugal, by way of the Cape of Good Hoe, established its power in the Indies, made settlement on the Moluccas or Spice Islands, and had acquired the Port of Macao in China. Later the Spanish expeditions to India, via the Strait of Magellan, came into collision with those Portuguese settlements.
Spain claimed exclusive navigation,
trade and conquest westward to the extremity of the peninsula of Malacca.
That contention included all the Moluccas and China.
Portugal asserted exclusive territorial rights from the partition meridian eastward to the Ladrone Islands. The treaty of Saragossa, April 22, 1529, adjusted these territorial differences between the two nations. Spain released to Portugal all claim to the Moluccas.
The relative situation of India to the maritime powers of Western Europe and the sea-paths to and from; the prevailing belief that America was the eastern extremity of India; that voyages westward would reach that goal of navigators and adventurers in pursuit of wealth, fully account for projecting westward voyages of discovery. As the extent of the new continent became appreciable, the vastness of the world's area began to be realized. Seas and continents were found to separate Western Europe and Western Asia, which must be traversed before India could be reached by westward voyages from Europe.
It was ascertained that the South Sea bathed the western shore of a vast continent; the hope had been dispelled that America was a projection of India. That same South Sea had become recognized as the Pacific ocean. It was realized that long voyages upon its surface must be made before India could be reached. Discovery had demonstrated that the world was infinitely more vast than hitherto believed. India, as its remoteness had been made manifest, had become the more tempting to the adventurer. The new world laid across this westward sea-path to India. The continent discovered by Columbus as the hoped-for India proved to be the great obstacle to a direct westward voyage from Europe to India. The discovery of the Pacific Ocean was succeeded by the exploration of the west coast of North America. Still clinging to the hope, a hope so strong that it may properly be termed faith, that the Pacific shore line was but the projection eastward of the coast line of India, the Pacific coast was followed northward, westward and then southward in the expectation that India would be reached. For centuries navigators continued to explore the Pacific coast from its southern extremity to Arctic latitudes, stimulated by the belief that a channel would be found, - a water-passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, affording direct route for westward voyages from Europe to India, avoiding the circuit of the southern extremities of the two hemispheres. Voyages of discovery, actuated by such motives, constitute the preliminary history of the Pacific coast of Northwest America.
In the search for the northwest passage, from the Atlantic Ocean to the South Sea and to the Indies, venturous spirits of all nations participated, notably of Portugal and Great Britain.
To understand the animus which
prompted the voyages of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it becomes
essential to recur to the condition of geographic science, and the then
existing theories as to the connection between the Eastern and Western
hemispheres. Early charts demonstrate that North America was supposed to
have been the eastern portion of Asia. After it had become known that the
Pacific Ocean was separated by a continent from the Atlantic, and even
after the western coast of America had been examined as far north as forty
degrees north latitude, the idea was still entertained that, at no great
distance north of that parallel, the coast would sharply deflect westward,
and, after some distance, would then trend southward to the Indies. Another
favorite theory had its devotees, - that to the north of the American continents
a channel existed, through which, by sailing in a northwesterly direction,
Asia could be reached from the Atlantic Ocean. Later, these ideas resolved
themselves into a more definite theory, - that at a high northern latitude
there was a strait penetrating the continent, and constituting
a water passage connecting the two oceans. The search for the northwest passage was for centuries the desideratum of the voyages projected by geographers and navigators of European nations.
To discover a short and direct route from Europe to the Indies was an element in all North Pacific expeditions, - indeed, it might truthfully be added, all voyages westward from Europe.
Early as 1497 - 8, thus wrote Sebastian Cabota:
"And when my father died, in that time when news were brought that Don Christoval Colon, the Genoese, had discovered the coasts of India, of which there was great talke in all the court of King Henry VII., who then reigned, in so much that all men, with great admiration, affirmed it to be a thing more divine than human to saile by the West into the East, where spices growe, by a way that was never known before. By his fame and report there increaseth in my heart a great flame of desire to attempt some notable thing; and there increaseth in my heart a great flame of desire to attempt some notable thing; and understanding by reason of the sphere that, if I should sale by way of northwest, I should, by a shorter tract, come into India. I thereupon caused the King to be advertised of my devise, who immediately commanded two caravels to bee furnished, with all things appertayning to the voyage, which was, as farre as I remember, in the year 1496, in the beginning of summer. I began therefore to saile toward the northwest, not thinking to find any other land than that of Cathay, and from thence to turn toward India."
The Portuguese, who had discovered the route to India by doubling the Cape of Good Hope, now engaged in the more hazardous enterprise of seeking the Spice Islands of India by sailing westward around the northern extremity of North America. The first of these voyages, reported to have been as early as 146304, was by John Vaz Cortereal, who explored the northern seas by order of Alfonso V., and discovered the Terra de Baccalhaos (the land of codfish) afterward called newfoundland. It has been asserted that Portuguese from that time engaged in fishing on the banks of Newfoundland; but there is no record that any Portuguese navigator attempted to explore those northern seas after Vaz Cortereal.
The next voyage to those northern seas after Sebastian Cabot was that of Gaspar Cortereal, who sailed in 1500 from the Azores, his voyage occupying nearly the whole of that year. Of that voyage, Ramusio thus speaks:
"In the part of the new world which runs to the northwest, opposite to our habitable continent of Europe, some navigators have sailed, the first of whom, as far as can be ascertained, was Gaspar Cortereal, a Portuguese, who arrived there in the year 1500 with two caravels, thinking that he might discover some strait through which he might pass, by a shorter voyage than around Africa, to the Spice Islands. They prosecuted their voyage in those seas until they arrived at a region of extreme cold; and in the latitude of sixty degrees north they discovered a river filled with ice, to which they gave the name of Rio Nevado, - that is, Snow river. They had not courage, however, to proceed further."
Gaspar Cortereal, fully persuaded that a northwest passage to India existed, with two vessels sailed from Lisbon on May 15, 1504, on a second voyage. Reaching Greenland, bad weather separated the two vessels. After long waiting, without any tidings of Cortereal, his consort returned to Lisbon, reporting his loss.
In the collection of voyages,
the strait which Cortereal is accredited with having discovered is named
Anian. The reason for such nomination is stated to have been in honor of
two brothers of that name who accompanied the expedition. That circumstance
and such naming, with the ascribed motive therefor, are denied. According to some authorities, the northwest extremity of America was named Ania; and that name appears upon early charts. By others it is asserted that Ania was the name of an Asiatic province, which, so named, appears upon early maps. Purchas, in the "Pilgrims," speaks of "Anian" as an island off the coast of China. Hakluyt thus refers to the origin of the name: "An excellent learned man of Portingale, of singular grauety, authorite and experience, told me, very lately, that one Anus Cortereal, captayne of the Yle Tercera, about the yeere 1574, which is not above eight yeeres past, sent a shippe to discouer the northwest passage of America, and that the same shippe, arriving on the coast of the saide America in fiftie-eighte degrees of latitude, founde a great entrance exceeding deepe and broade, without all impediment of ice, into which they passed about twenty leagues, and found it alwaies to trende towarde the south, the land lying lowe and plaine on eyther side; and they persuaded themselves verely that there was a way open into the South Sea."
So much for the name Anian. Its origin is as mysterious as was the strait itself to which it was applied. But to discover that strait, the bravest and most experienced navigators of Portugal, Spain, England and Russia continued for centuries to devote their lives in venturesome voyages and perilous navigation. Myth though it has proven to have been, - to the acquisition of geographic knowledge, - to the discovery of new worlds and seas, how great an incentive. To that long-continued, that reluctantly-abandoned faith in the existence of the Strait of Anian, or the northwest passage, is to be attributed those voyages which mark the early exploration of the coast of Northwest America. Kindred with the thought which accepted as assured the existence of that mythical strait, indeed, intensifying the mystery and co-operating to render those coasts more inviting to adventure, were fabulous narratives of pretended voyages and discoveries, which for centuries were credited. To ascertain the truthfulness of the narratives of the voyages accredited to Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, Juan de Fuca and Admiral Bartolomé de Fonté, upon the northern and northwestern coasts of North America, were the prompting motives of several national expeditions.
Maldonado affixed to his fraud the earliest date. "A relation of the discovery of the Strait of Anian, made by me, Captain Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, in the year 1588, in which is given the course of the voyage, the situation of the strait, the manner in which it ought to be fortified, and, also, the advantage of this navigation, and the loss which will arise from not prosecuting it."
Its purpose, its location, sufficiently appear in the following curious extracts:
"And now that I am commanded by your Majesty and the council of state to give some account of the voyage and of the method of fortifying the strait, it will be proper also to give the course to be steered, and the situation and harbor of that strait."
Then follows the sailing directions from Lisbon northwest to Labrador, then northwest and west by the Strait of Labrador until the strait is cleared, thence southwest until reaching sixty degrees north latitude, where the Strait of Anian was discovered.
The narrative recites: "The distance
from Spain to Friesland is four hundred and fifty leagues, and from thence
to Labrador one hundred and eighty, and to the termination of that strait
two hundred and ninety, which make, in the whole, nine hundred and twenty
leagues; and these added to seven hundred and ninety, which we found to
be the distance from the north part of the Strait of Labrador to the Strait
of Anian, make, in the whole, one thousand seven hundred and ten leagues
for the distance between Spain and the Strait of Anian.
"The strait we discovered in sixty degrees, at the distance of 1710 leagues from Spain, appears, according to ancient tradition, to be the one which geographers name in their maps the Strait of Anian; and, if it be so, it must be a strait having Asia on one side and America on the other."
After detailing the cruise southward to Mendocino, and the voyage westward 120 leagues, they return to the entrance of the strait. The narrative concludes:
"We found ourselves at the entrance of the same Strait of Anian, which, fifteen days before, we had passed through to the open sea, which we knew to be the South Sea, where Japan, China, the Moluccas, India, New Guinea and the land discovered by Captain Quiros are situated, with all the coast of New Span and Peru. At the mouth of the strait, through which we passed to the South Sea, there is a harbor situated on the coast of America, capable of holding five hundred ships."
In Spanish literature the name of Maldonado held prominent place. This has been suggested as a reason that such a name was selected as a nom de plume to conceal the imposture; - a fictitious voyage in which it is represented that a passage by the northwest was made from the Atlantic to the Pacific, returning in the following year. There is but little doubt, however, as to Maldonado having been a real personage, and as to the authorship of "the relation," above recited.
Nicholas Autorico, in Bibliotheca Hispana, title "Laurent Ferrer Maldonado," ascribes to that person great proficiency in geography and navigation, and refers to his published work on geographic science. The writer claims to have seen the original manuscript, "the discovery of the Strait of Anian made by Maldonado (the author) in 1588." Other authorities state that Maldonado appeared before the "Council of the Indies" to secure payment for two scientific discoveries: I. "To render the magnetic needle not subject to variation." 2. "To take the longitude at sea."
That he was a man of learning and ability is unquestionable. There is also abundant evidence that his countrymen attached credit for many years to what subsequently proved a forgery. An illustration of how the claim was regarded is found in the fact, that is, fitting out the voyage of discovery (in 1789) commanded by Malaspina, destined for the examination of the coast of Northwest America, between fifty-three degrees and sixty degrees north. Among the instructions to the commander, he is directed "to discover the strait by which Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado was supposed to have passed, in 1588, from the coast of Labrador to the great ocean." Again, in 1790, after Malaspina had sailed, Buache, the distinguished French geographer, before the Paris Academy of Sciences, read a memoir to establish that the voyage accredited to Maldonado had been made, - that the narrative was genuine and reliable. A translated copy of that memoir was forwarded by the Spanish government to Malaspina at Nootka, which reached him at Acapulco, instructing him to determine the truth of falsity of the narrative. Again, in 1791, when Galiano and Valdez sailed for Northwest America, in the Sutil and Mexicana, they were also furnished with the " 'Maldonado' relation" with instructions to investigate the alleged discoveries. Nor was the making public of "the relation" less curious. Maldonado himself had waited twenty years subsequent to the alleged time of the voyage. In 1626, he published his geographic work, in which he omitted reference to the Strait of Anian, or his pretended discovery.
"The relation," copied from a
quarto transcript by Munon, March 24, 1781 (printed in 1788, as already
stated), has found a champion in Buache, the French scientist. In
1811, Amoretti, the librarian of the Ambrosian Library at Milan, his notice being called to a small volume in Spanish entitled "relation, etc." (a copy of the paper before cited), at first looked upon it as a mere sensational paper. On attentive reading, he became impressed with its truthfulness of claim. He translated it, published it with comments defending its authenticity and the integrity of its claim. Humboldt had already denounced it as an imposture, as also had Malaspina, after thorough examination of the coast of Northwest America, within the limits prescribed for the existence of the strait. In the light of present geographic science, the absurdities of the statement of Maldonado's voyage appear; wonder is excited that the so-called Maldonado relation as to the northwest passage should ever have deceived even the most ignorant.
Next in order of chronologic birth is the pretended voyage of Juan de Fuca. Michael Lok, Senior, British Consul at Aleppo, originated the narrative, which comprises all the evidence that there ever existed a man named Juan de Fuca, or that in 1592 such a personage made a voyage to Northwest America.
The voyage, the hero, the claim, are illustrated by the "note made by me, Michael Lok, the elder, touching the strait of sea, commonly called Fretum Anian, in the South Sea, through the northwest passage of Meta Incognita."
"When I was at Venice in April, 1596, haply arrived there an old man, about sixty years of age, called commonly Juan de Fuca, but named properly Apostolos Valerianus, of nation a Greek, born in Cephalonia, of profession a mariner, and an ancient pilot of ships.
"He said he was in the Spanish ship, which, in returning from the Islands Philippinas, towards Nova Spania, was robbed and taken at the Cape California by Captain Candish, Englishman, whereby he lost sixty thousand ducats of his own goods.
"He said that he was a pilot of three small ships which the Viceroy of Mexico sent from Mexico, armed with one hundred men, under a captain, Spaniards, to discover the Strait of Anian, along the coast of the South Sea, and to fortify in that strait, to resist the passage and proceedings of the English nation, which were feared to pass through those straits into the South Sea; and, that by reason of a mutiny which happened among the soldiers for the misconduct of their captain, that voyage was overthrown, and the ship returned from California to Nova Spania, without anything done in that voyage; and that, after their return, the captain was at Mexico punished by justice.
"Also he said that, shortly after
the said voyage was so ill ended, the said Viceroy of Mexico sent him out
again, in 1592, with a small caravel and a pinnace armed with mariners
only, to follow the said voyage for the discovery of the Strait of Anian,
and the passage thereof into the sea; which they called the North Sea,
which is our Northwest Sea; and that he followed his course in that voyage,
west and northwest in the South Sea, all along the coast in Nova Spania,
and California, and the Indies, now called North America, until he came
to the latitude 47 degrees; and that, there finding that the land trended
north and northeast, with a broad inlet of sea, between 47 and 48 degrees
of latitude, he entered thereinto, sailing therein more than twenty days,
and found that land trended still sometimes northwest, and northeast, and
north, and also east southeastward, and very much broader sea than was
at the said entrance, and that he passed by divers islands in that sailing;
and that, at the entrance of this said strait, there is, on the northwest
coast thereof, a great headland or island, with an exceeding high pinnacle,
or spired rock, like a pillar, thereupon." "Also, he said that he went
on land in divers places, and that he saw some people on land clad in beasts' skins; and that the land is very fruitful, and rich of gold, silver, pearls and other things, like Nova Spania."
"And also, he said that he being entered thus far into the said strait, and being come into the North Sea already, and finding the sea wide enough everywhere, and to be about thirty or forty leagues wide in the mouth of the strait where he entered, he thought he had now well discharged his office; and that, not being armed to resist the force of the savage people that might happen, he therefore set sail, and returned homewards again towards Nova Spania, where he arrived at Acapulco anno 1592."
The narrative of Lok, from which the foregoing extracts are made, contains the only record, the only evidence of that alleged voyage. The claim, the service performed, the result, the motive for asserting the claim, are all exhibited in the language of him who heralds the great discovery, one whose real object seems to have been to seek indemnity for a pretended loss at the hands of pirates. The English government took no notice whatever of Lok's narrative. It is referred to by contemporary English writers, without additional particulars to corroborate it. It does not appear to have been regarded of sufficient importance to demand verification. The best authorities treated it as a fabrication. The story of the voyage, never credited to any great extent, like other narratives of expeditions in search of the Strait of Anian, kept alive the hope that such channel was a reality; it stimulated inquiry. No record is preserved in Spain or Mexico mentioning the voyage of him who is asserted to have made it, or that in any way contributes color of truthfulness to the Lok narrative. Its inconsistencies are patent, are glaring. The land described, the natives, the alleged elements of wealth, the location of the strait, its extent, coast line, internal navigation, indeed every peculiarity of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and its surroundings, repel the belief that the inventor of Lok's statement could ever have seen or visited the northwest coast of America.
The so-called voyage of Admiral Bartolomé de Fonté completes this trio of fables. As a preface to the story, it should be remembered that a voyage for fishing or discovery had been undertaken from New England to Hudson's Bay. The French then in possession of Canada had crossed overland with intent to extend their settlements to the shores of Hudson's Bay. M. de Grosseliez, one of the earliest settlers of Quebec, a man of enterprise, conceiving that advantages would result to the French by the possession of the ports and harbors of Hudson's Bay, fitted out an expedition to explore its coasts. It was late in the season when the party landed on the western side of Nelson's river. An English settlement had been observed which de Grosseliez proposed to attack. On approaching, a solitary hut was found, its half dozen inmates perishing from hunger and disease. Grosseliez ascertained that they were of the crew of a Boston ship, who had been sent ashore to find a proper place for their vessel to lie in safety during the winter; that while on this service the ship had been driven by storm from her anchorage and had never returned. To James Petiver, a contributor to the "London Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious," these circumstances suggested that fabrication entitled, "The account of a Spanish Expedition from the South Sea, through the interior of America, by means of rivers and lakes, into the Northern Atlantic," published in that magazine April, 1708.
M. de Lisle and P. Buache, of
the French Academy, translated the article, embellished it with maps illustrating
the routes of de Fonté and Bernardo, giving full faith and
credit to the narrative and to the voyage. Burney termed it an "adventurous piece of geography." Alexander Dalrymple pronounced it "an idle invention; if it had not made at the time some noise in the world it would be wholly undeserving of notice."
Bartolomé de Fonté was the name given the admiral assigned to the command. Associated with his name were Diego Penalosa as vice-admiral, Pedro de Bernardo and Felipe de Rinquillo as captains. The fleet, consisting of four vessels commanded by Admiral de Fonté, is represented to have sailed from Callao in April, 1640, under orders of the Viceroy of Peru, to explore the American coasts of the north Pacific, and to intercept certain vessels reported to have sailed from Boston in search of a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Arrived at Cape St. Lucas, Vice-Admiral Penalosa was detached to explore the Gulf of California. De Fonté, with three vessels, proceeded northward 260 leagues, having sailed in crooked channels among the Archipelago of San Lazandro, beyond which, in latitude fifty-three degrees north, he discovered the mouth of the river Reyes. Bernardo continued his examinations further north, while de Fonté entered the river Reyes, which he ascended to a large lake with beautiful shores, which he named La Belle. It contained many islands, and was surrounded by a lovely country, inhabited by a hospitable people. On its south shore was a large town called Conasset. Passing through a strait to the eastward, he reached an Indian town, where he learned that at a little distance from thence lay a great ship. He sailed thither, and found aboard only one man, advanced in years, and a youth, who told him that the ship was from Boston. The next day the captain and owner of the ship appeared. Although de Fonté had been ordered to make prize of any people or vessels seeking a northwest passage, he looked upon Boston merchants as trading for skins. Instead of seizing them he made valuable presents, and received in return their charts and journals, and then returned to Conasset. Bernardo had ascended another river, called by him Rio de Haro, into a lake he named Valasea, in latitude sixty-one degrees. There he left the ship and proceeded northward several hundred leagues, in three large Indian canoes. To de Fonté he reported that there was no "communication out of the Spanish Sea by Davis's Strait, for the natives had conducted one of his seamen to the head of Davis's Strait, which terminated in a fresh lake of about thirty miles in circumference, in the eightieth degree of north latitude, and there were prodigious mountains north of it." The narrative ends by saying that Admiral de Fonté returned to Peru, "having found that there was no passage into the South Sea by that which is called the northwest passage."
This de Fonté fraud only ceased to find believers after explorations had demonstrated the utter falsity of its description of the lands and seas in the region claimed to have been visited.
In dismissing these narratives of those three fabulous voyages, it must be remarked that they contributed largely to stimulating expeditions for discovery, and as incentives to exploration. They serve also in a very great degree to illustrate the thought of the times in which they appeared as to the geography of Northwest America.
In the last half of the sixteenth
century, the track of the European vessels engaged in the commerce of the
Pacific Ocean, i.e., between Europe and the East Indies, was through
the Strait of Magellan, the only then known passage between the Atlantic
and the Pacific Oceans. Such voyage was long in time and distance; it was
equally hazardous. To avoid circuity of route, to shorten the time, to
escape difficulties of navigation, to effect directness of course, to secure
dispatch, economy and safety, the hope of that period
became father to the thought, which almost ran mad in seeking a strait of sea through the North American continent connecting the two great oceans in high northern latitudes. It is not surprising that the credit ascribed to Gaspar Cortereal of having discovered and nominated the Strait of Anian stimulated so many voyages of discovery; that the educated wish of that age, the existence of the northwest passage, the Strait of Anian, prompted many to believe Maldonado's "relation;" that for centuries there continued to be found those who believed Juan de Fuca to have been a real personage, and to have made a voyage to the waters bearing his name; that the narrative of the voyage of Admiral de Fonté was entitled to have been recorded with those of veritable voyages.
The story of the Strait of Anian has, with difficulty, been discarded; - the theory has never been abandoned; the region in which the passage exists has merely been transferred to Arctic latitudes. Polar exploration to secure shorter passage between the two oceans has to-day just as much attraction for many as had the Lok invention of de Fuca's voyage in the sixteenth century.
The mystery has worked for the good of our race, - for the civilization of continents and worlds. To and from both sides of America, how numerous the expeditions and voyages. In solving the mystery in seeking the northern strait, the northwest passage, the FRETUM ANIAN of the meta incognita, most valuable have been the contributions to science. How vast the fields which have been opened to humanity and dedicated to commerce and civilization, and how important the bearing in the problem of the establishment of those great commonwealths on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, whose history it is the purpose of the following pages to chronicle.