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Document Number: AJ-113
Author: Ulloa, Francisco de
Title: The Voyage of Francisco de Ulloa, 1539
Source: Wagner, Henry Raup (editor). Spanish Voyages to the Northwest Coast of America in the Sixteenth Century. (San Francisco: California Historical Society, 1929). Pages 11-50.
Pages/Illustrations: 41 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Little is known for certain about Francisco de Ulloa prior to this voyage. He was a Spanish naval commander who went to Mexico with or soon after the conquistador Hernan Cortes. Some early authors claimed that he helped Cortes subdue the country in 1520 by providing naval support on the lake that surrounded the Aztec capital.

Expedition of 1539

The reports of Cabeza da Vaca and his companions about northern lands (see AJ-070 to AJ-072) inspired Cortes to send Ulloa to explore the northern coast of Mexico. Ulloa left with three ships on July 8, 1539, and entered the Gulf of California six weeks later, naming it the “Sea of Cortes.” When one ship was lost in a storm Ulloa paused to repair the other two, resuming the voyage on September 12, 1539 and traveling up the western shore of the Baja Peninsula as far as the Isla de Cedros (just north of 28 degrees).

From there he sent back his clerk, who drafted the document given here, with information about the coast. This data arrived just in time to help the expedition under Hernando de Alarcon which was departing on a vain attempt to re-supply Coronado by entering the Colorado River from the Gulf of California (see AJ-086).

Contemporary sources differ about what happened next. Some claim that after Ulloa’s vessels separated, he sailed further north and was never heard from again. Others say that he returned safely to Mexico but was murdered by one of his men shortly after arriving. Two years later the Pacific Coast was explored as far north as the present Oregon-California border by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (see AJ-001). The first report of California to appear in English came from the 1579 voyage of Sir Francis Drake (AJ-039).

Document Note

The journal of the Ulloa expedition, “Relacion de los descubrimientos, hechos por Don Francisco de Ulloa en un viage por la Mar del Morte, en el navio Santa Agueda,” was apparently prepared by his clerk, Francisco Preciado. It was translated into Italian and first published in 1556; it first appeared in English in James Burney’s History of the Discoveries in the South Sea (London, 1803).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The state of Baja, Mexico, provides more context for early maritime explorations by the Spanish at

A useful timeline showing the relationships between the Cabeza da Vaca, De Soto, Ulloa, and Coronado travels is available form the University of Arizona at

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