The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1984, Volume 30, Number 2
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Reviews

Raymond Starr, Book Reviews Editor

The Cabrillo Era and His Voyage of Discovery. Edited by Carl F. Repusch. San Diego: Cabrillo Historical Association, 1982. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. [125 pages.] $6.95 paper.

Reviewed by Stephen A. Colston, Director, San Diego History Research Center, San Diego State University.

On September 28, 1542, three Spanish vessels under the general command of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo anchored in “an enclosed and very good port” which was named San Miguel in honor of the saint on whose day in the Church’s calendar the discovery was made. The first European contact with the port (which was to be renamed San Diego sixty years later), and with other localities along the coasts of Alta and Baja California, together with events which provide an historical context for interpreting this voyage of discovery, are the subjects of The Cabrillo Era.

The work is a compilation of ten papers which were presented at four seminars sponsored by the Cabrillo Historical Association during the 1970s. The first five papers provide a useful backdrop for the 1542-43 voyage, and the remaining contributions focus on Cabrillo, his men, and the epic voyage. The first paper is an overview by Raymond Brandes of the church in colonial Spanish America and, particularly, the instruments Spain forged to administer her American possessions. The papers which follow treat more specific topics and include a study of the development of naval bases on the west coast of New Spain from 1523 to 1542 by Michael E. Thurman; the implications of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1493) for Spanish and Portuguese voyagers by Luis Mendoca Albuquerque; navigational instruction in Spain and Portugal during the sixteenth century by A. Teixeira da Mota; developments in New Spain which were antecedental to and provided a foundation for Cabrillo’s voyage, and a description of the voyage by Abraham Nasatir. There is also an appraisal of navigational information and instruments available to Iberian mariners at the time of the Cabrillo voyage by James Robert Moriarty, III; the identifications of Cabrillo and his men in select historical sources by Harry Kelsey; the search for sources documenting Cabrillo’s life and voyage by Moriarty; and an article by Robert F. Heizeron about an inscribed stone which may have served as Cabrillo’s grave marker. The final paper is a translation of the summary log of the 1542-43 voyage, attributed to Juan Páez, by Moriarty and Marty Keistman.

The title of the monograph is grammatically incorrect and should have been “Cabrillo’s Era and His Voyage of Discovery.” While all papers are instructive, it is regreted that three studies (Thurman, Albuquerque, Nasatir) do not contain bibliographical citations. These blemishes aside, the volume provides balanced coverage of the Cabrillo voyage set within the broader perspective of sixteenth-century Iberian and colonial Ibero-American history. Most of the studies derived from both secondary and published primary sources and Kelsey’s, in addition to these, from unpublished documents from Seville’s Archivo General de Indias and Guatemala City’s Archivo General de Centro América. The translation of the log is enhanced by an appendix in which Clyde J. Lussier compares the identifications of the localities in the log made by three eminent historians-Hubert Howe Bancroft, Herbert Eugene Bolton, and Henry Raup Wagner. This reviewer found Kelsey’s contribution and Moriarty’s biographical study particularly interesting because, by documenting their investigations, these two scholars have themselves created chronicles of very special journeys of discovery.

In sum, the book deserves the attention of every serious student of the Age of Discovery. The work represents the state of the art of Cabrillo studies and, it is hoped, will stimulate historians to conduct further investigations in this area.

This volume is the result of a long term commitment by the Cabrillo Historical Association, and especially Carl F. Repusch, to encourage and to pursue research on Cabrillo and his voyages. In addition to sponsoring the seminars on Cabrillo and publishing this volume of essays, Repusch was also instrumental in launching a major project to locate the original Cabrillo logs and other documents which would confirm either his Portuguese or Spanish nationality. Starting in 1982, the Association began a major search for manuscripts relating to Cabrillo, in order to acquire photocopies of such manuscripts, and to deposit the copies at the Cabrillo National Monument with the objective of making these original research materials more accessible to scholars. Queries directed to repositories in the United States, Latin America, and Europe have secured copies of the Páez log plus a group of documents, dating from 1568-71, from the Archivo General de Indias which relate to a Guatemala encomienda (a grant of Indian labor) of a certain Juan Páez who may have been the same as the purported author of the summary log. The search for Cabrillo materials is continuing and staff from National Park Service are as of this writing investigating the holdings of Spanish archives.

Repusch was engaged in this repository search until shortly before his death on May 30, 1983. This volume which he edited, and the research project he initiated, together constitute as much of a monument to this remarkable avocational historian as the statue gracing the Cabrillo National Monument is to the accomplishments of a sixteenth-century mariner.