Juan Perez

Juan Perez sailed from the Port San Blas on the Baja Peninsula on January 25, 1774. Under orders from Spain to explore the NW Coast and claim territory in advance of the reported expeditions of the Russians into the region. His vessel, the 82-foot frigate Santiago was satisfactory in high seas navigation, but is was too large and unwieldy for inshore reconnaissance. This weakness, combined with the necessity for caution among uncharted islands and along fog-shrouded coasts, kept Perez in an anxious state and deterred him from approaching the shores he was to examine. It was a major mistake not to have dispatched two vessels so that there would have been a chance of survival if one was destroyed. The Spaniards sighed land on July 18, 1774, around 55 degrees latitude. In the following days, off the northern Queen Charlotte Islands, Perez received his first opportunities to observe the Indians.

The Haida seized the initiative and paddled out to the Spanish vessel to press for trade, often surrounding the Santiago with numerous canoes. Perez and his second-in-command, Esteban Jose' Martinez, expressed surprise at the size and quality of the Indian craft. One chief came to trade in a canoe paddled by 22 men who chanted a welcome accompanied by a kind of tambourine instrument. The chief was attracted by Martinez's red cap and he offered his blanket in exchange. The Spanish officer admired the quality of workmanship in the blanket which he noted "...is most elegant for having been made by a people without culture." Despite the typical European attitudes, it was evident to all of the Spaniards that they had encountered a very well-developed civilization. Although the Indians made every effort to invite Perez ashore, he resisted the prospect of putting into an uncharted harbor that also could be a trap.

Still, without landing to take official possession of the coast for Spain, Perez turned south and entered what was to become Nootka Sound. This time he made efforts to dispatch a landing party, but the weather turned for the worse. The officers and crew passed some difficult hours before they could get the ship out of danger and back into open water. As in the previous experiences, the Indians were less timid than the Spaniards where there were commercial matters at stake. The paddled out to acquire California abalone shells and likely obtained two silver spoons (possibly by theft) which were found by Captain Cook when he arrived at Nootka Sound four years later.

Perez returned to San Blas without touching land.

Captain Cook and the Spanish Explorers on the Coast, W.J.Langlois, Editor. SOUND HERITAGE Volume VII, Number1 Province of British Columbia, (c)1978