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Document Number: AJ-002
Author: Vizcaíno, Sebastián, 1550?-1615
Title: Diary of Sebastian Vizcaino, 1602-1603
Source: Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 43-103.
Pages/Illustrations: 63 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Sebastián Vizcaíno (1550?-1615) was an established merchant in the trade between Mexico and Asia when he gained the royal license to explore and settle the Gulf of California. In 1596, he led an expedition to establish a colony at La Paz and explore the inner coast of the Gulf. However, he abandoned the project before year’s end because of severe weather, loss of equipment and supplies, low morale among the settlers, and other difficulties.

Vizcaíno Expedition of 1602-1603

Spanish galleons engaged in trade between the Philippines and Mexico returned to Mexico by sailing north to Japanese waters and capturing westward currents that took the boats to the coast of northern California. From there they turned south towards Acapulco. The Spanish sought to establish a port of call on the California coast that would establish Spanish claims to the area and provide a place where their ships could stop for repairs and to allow sailors to rest after the voyage across the Pacific. In 1599, the Viceroy of New Spain selected Vizcaíno to lead an expedition to explore the California coast to find a site that would meet these needs. He was to collect detailed information about weather, shoreline features, water depth, and other resources, information that would facilitate settlement. Vizcaíno mapped the California coastline and assigned new names to coastal features that replaced those Cabrillo had given sixty years before (see AJ-001).

The expedition began May 5, 1602, with two ships, a frigate, and a long boat moored in the Bay of San Bernabe. They set sail from Acapulco, Mexico. At Mazatlán, they crossed the Gulf to Cabo San Lucas and proceeded north along the Baja California coast. On November 10, Vizcaíno reached the place that Juan Rodríquez Cabrillo had named San Miguel and renamed it San Diego. After ten days charting the bay, the expedition continued north. On December 14, Vizcaíno discovered and named Monterrey. From there two of the three boats proceeded further north. Although Vizcaíno tried to turn around at Cape Mendocino, a storm blew the ships northward, with one going as far as Cape Blanco in southern Oregon. On January 21, Vizcaíno finally did head south, arriving back in Acapulco on March 21, 1603.

Document Note

The author of this diary is not named, but the attestation at the end and the descriptions in it suggest that the work was taken from Vizcaíno’s original ship log. The diary was published in Spanish in Carrasco and Francisco Guisasola, eds., Documentos referents al Reconocimíento de las Costas de las Californias desde el Cabo de San Lucas al de Mendocino recopilados en el Archivo de Indias (Madrid, 1882). This English translation is from Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Douros, Basil S. “Early Uses of Resources.” Monterrey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Site Characterization.

Hughart, Kathy and Bill White. Early Exploration of San Diego, 1542 to 1769 (California History & Culture Conservancy, 1999)

San Diego Historical Society. “Sebastian Vizcaíno.” San Diego Biographies.

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