Biographical Notes
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was Portuguese by birth and was born sometime late in the fifteenth century or early in the sixteenth century. We know little of his early life but, in 1520 he landed at Vera Cruz, Mexico, a soldier in Panfilo de Narvaez's expedition which had been sent to punish Hernan Cortes for overstepping his authority. Cortes managed to defeat Narvaez and Cabrillo was absorbed into Cortes's army. Cabrilio distinguished himself in subsequent fighting with Indians in and around Tenochtitlan.

After the conquest of Tenochtitlan, Cabrillo accompanied Pedro de Alvarado and Francisco de Orozco in their campaigns in southern Mexico and Central America. Again he distinguished himself and was given considerable recognition and monetary reward. In 1524 he was listed as one of the principal founders of the first capitol in Guatemala - Santiago de Guatemala. Cabrillo traveled to Spain to marry Dona Beatriz Sanchez de Ortega and returned to Guatemala to settle and raise his family. He was appointed Governor of Xicalpa and Comitlan.

Among Cabrillo's many activities in Guatemala was shipbuilding for himself and for Alvarado, then Governor of Guatemala. Cabrillo built three galleons of 200 tons each, seven ships of 100 tons each, and three smaller vessels. (Cabrillo was paid for his services with new land grants in Honduras.) Alvarado planned to use these ships for exploration and conquest in unexplored regions of the Pacific Ocean. Alvarado was listed as Captain General and Cabrillo was listed as Admiral in the planned expedition.

In 1540 the fleet sailed from Acajutla, El Salvador, and reached Navidad, Mexico, on Christmas Day. While in Mexico Alvarado went to the assistance of the town of Jalisco which was under siege by hostile Indians. He was killed when his horse fell on him. Following Alvardo's death the Viceroy of Mexico took possession of Alvarado's fleet. Part of the fleet was sent off to the Philippine Islands under Ruy Lopez de Villalobos and two of the ships were sent north under the command of Cabrillo.

Cabrillo sailed from Navidad on June 27, 1542, with the San Salvador and the Victoria (both thought to have been caravels). On September 28, 1542 Cabrillo sailed into a bay which he named San Miguel. He went ashore and formally claimed it for Spain. It is today known by the name a later explorer (Vizcaino) gave it - San Diego. While ashore Cabrillo met with Indians who, using sign language, explained that "in the interior men like us were traveling about..." (These were probably members of the Coronado expedition.)

Cabrillo sailed north out of San Diego Bay on October 3, 1542. While visiting an island which he named La Posesion (Vizcaino's San Miguel Island) Cabrillo fell and broke his arm (some say his leg). In spite of his injury, the ships continued sailing north into November in the face of the onset of winter and increasingly difficult weather conditions. Cabrillo's injury got worse (gangrene is suspected) and the two ships returned to San Miguel Island to rest and refit. Cabrillo died there on January 3, 1543. Following Cabrillo's death the two ships, under the command of Bartolome Ferrello, sailed north again probably as far as Southern Oregon before returning safely to Navidad.

Cabrillo Monument...