April 1, 1984
Raymond Starr, Book Reviews Editor
Fort Guijarros. By Ronald V. May, Roy Pettus, and Stephen A. Colston. San Diego: Cabrillo Historical Association, 1982. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. 83 Pages. $7.50.
Reviewed by Richard L. Carrico, Cultural Resource Manager for WESTEC Services, Inc., who is a frequent contributor to this journal and a free-lance writer for several local and regional publications.
Archaeologists and historians are frequently accused of devoting too much time to field research and not enough energy toward publication of their findings. Whatever shortcomings this monograph may have, it does serve as a timely presentation of information about Fort Guijarros, San Diego’s first maritime fort.
The publication contains three research papers that were originally presented at the Tenth Annual Cabrillo Festival Historic Seminar. The first work is “The Search for Fort Guijarros: An Archaeological Test of a Legendary 18th Century Spanish Fort in San Diego” by Ronald V. May. This is followed by “Underwater Archaeology Research in San Diego Bay Offshore from Fort Guijarros” by Roy Pettus. The final article is “San Joaquin: A Preliminary Historical Study of the Fortification at San Diego’s Punta de Guijarros” by Stephen Colston.
Ronald May’s report offers a brief background to local legends surrounding the fort and provides an overview to the rationale behind, and results of, a commendable volunteer excavation at the fortifications. May uses contemporary maps and sketches to illustrate what was once a considerable military facility. A profile map and archaeological sketch map depict some of the results from the excavation. Sadly, not all of these reproduced very well, although they are serviceable.
While informative and basically sound, May’s article suffers from awkward grammar and syntax and is unevenly organized. One suspects that these drawbacks are the result of hasty writing to meet a deadline and of superficial editing. This reviewer hopes that Ron May continues to report on the archaeological excavations at the fort and shares with us the remarkable story of San Diego’s forgotten fort.
For those of us unfamiliar with marine archaeology, Roy Pettus provides a fine technical background to that growing discipline and to its uses at Fort Guijarros. Through a combination of remote sensing survey using a magnetometer and visual surveys conducted while driving, Mr. Pettus and his team amassed considerable information about off shore artifacts.
Pettus offers the reader maps, sketches and tabulated data to prove his point that there is a substantial quantity of cultural debris immediately off shore from the Fort Guijarros site. As described by the author, these materials include artifacts from the prehistoric and the historic period. While unsure exactly how the materials came to rest under the ocean, Pettus makes a good case for their importance in interpreting past life on Ballast Point.
Dr. Stephen Colston, Director of the Center For Regional History at San Diego State University, presents the most informative and well-written article of the three. Dr. Colston provides a tightly constructed historical study of the fort from its construction sometime in 1794 through abandonment and obscurity.
What sets Colton’s work above most other local histories is that he draws from primary Spanish and Mexican sources. As clearly revealed in the extensive notes section, the author did his homework. Admittedly, only a so-called preliminary report, this work should be read by researchers interested in colonial Hispanic history in coastal California.
On a closing note, the Cabrillo Historical Association should be lauded for providing an outlet for local scholars and for giving the public a chance to share in our rich history. With more thorough editing and closer attention to detail, future seminar series papers will make even more significant contributions to our historical literature.