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Bruno de Hezeta (Heceta) party lands on future Washington coast and claims the Pacific Northwest for Spain on July 12, 1775.
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On July 12, 1775, Bruno de Hezeta, Juan Perez, and others from the Spanish ship Santiago land on the shore of a wide bay and claim Nueva Galicia (the Pacific Northwest) for Spain. This is the first European landing in the future state of Washington. The bay, later named Grenville Bay, is located along the coast of what is now Grays Harbor County.
The Historic Landing
This 1775 Spanish expedition was undertaken on two ships, the Santiago, commanded by Bruno de Hezeta, and the Sonora, commanded by Bodega y Quadro. The expedition had set out from San Blas, Mexico, and the crews were mostly Mexican. Second in command on the Santiago was Juan Perez, who in 1774 had commanded the Santiago in the first European expedition to the Pacific Northwest.
On July 12, a select group of men from the Santiago -- the commander Bruno de Hezeta, Father Benito de la Sierra, Don Cristobal Revilla, the surgeon Don Juan Gonzales, and Juan Perez -- boarded the ship’s launch to conduct the formal act of possession. They successfully reached the shore and became the first non-Indians to set foot on what is now Washington and formally take possession of this land.
It could now be officially considered part of Mexico and part of the Kingdom of Spain. In a ceremony, Hezeta named the landing spot Rada de Bucareli in honor of the Viceroy of Spain at that time. As would be the trend to erase much of the Spanish nomenclature of this area, it has since been renamed Grenville Bay.
Approximately one hour after taking possession, the small launch quickly returned to the safety of the larger ship. The act was a monumental and historic event, but later that day the joys of that accomplishment were swept away by the repercussions of having undertaken it.
A Tragic Occurrence
The Santiago moved off shore by about a mile. From the Sonora, Bodega sent out a landing party of seven able crewmen to obtain fresh water and cut firewood. As the small launch reached land, Quinault warriors, who in previous encounters had seemed friendly, emerged from the forest and massacred the seven crewmen. Bodega looked on in horror through his spyglass, but could do nothing. Tribesman then paddled out and attempted to board the ship. Bodega ordered shots fired. Several of the Quinault were killed, and the Sonora escaped.
The two ships reconnoitered and the captains decided to continue, without retaliation. In commemoration of the unfortunate events that took place on that day, Bodega named the point at the end of the bay, which we know as Point Grenville, "Punta de los Martires" (Point of the Martyrs).
For Honor and Country: The Diary of Bruno de Hezeta translated by Herbert K. Beals (Oregon Historical Society Press, 1985); Warren L. Cook, Flood Tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest; 1543-1819 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973).
Note: This essay was slightly revised on May 2, 2013.
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