The influence of the Kingdom of Spain on the northwest coast of North America reached its zenith in the late 18th century. Competition with Great Britain and Russia forced Spain to confirm its claims, and the crown sent several expeditions to formalize its control. Among the explorers was Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, who also played a role as a diplomat and peacekeeper with Britain.
Born in Lima, Peru in 1743, Bodega y Quadra entered the Spanish Navy at age 19 and soon earned a reputation as a competent naval officer. In 1775, he joined the second Spanish exploratory expedition to the lands of “Nueva Galicia,” as Spain called its possessions north of the modern border between California and Oregon. As commander of Sonora, the smaller of two ships, he visited the modern Trinidad Bay and explored Grenville Bay on the coast of later Washington State. Near Point Grenville, most of his crew was slaughtered by a party of Quinault Native Americans, who may have been defending their ancestral lands. After the Spaniards killed another group of natives in self-defense, the expedition moved on, though Bodega named the place “Punta de los Martires,” or Point of the Martyrs.
In July 1775, Bodega took his ship north, while the other, larger vessel, Santiago, under Bruno de Heceta, turned south. Determined to accomplish the core mission of formalizing Spanish claims to lands south of the 60th parallel, Bodega reached a body of water he named Bucareli Sound after the viceroy of New Spain. The bay is now in the state of Alaska. Four years later, he was in charge of the vessel Favorita as second-in-command of another expedition to the area under Ignacio de Arteaga, which reached as far north as modern-day Ketchikan, Alaska.
His reputation set as an intrepid explorer and naval leader, Bodega was promoted numerous times and served in high positions in the Spanish Navy, until he was sent back to command the naval department at San Blas, which oversaw west coast possessions. In the meantime, tensions between Great Britain and Spain nearly exploded into war after a hotheaded Spanish officer, Esteban José Martinez, seized British vessels at Vancouver Island, precipitating the Nootka Crisis, which ended with the Nootka Convention of 1790, committing Spain to handing over seized lands to the British.
In 1792, Bodega arrived at Nootka Sound to administer the agreement, and after negotiations with British explorer Capt. George Vancouver, the diplomat succeeded in maintaining Spanish influence over the area. During the summer, Bodega hosted parties and banquets attended by Capt. Robert Gray, whose two ships, Columbia Rediviva and Lady Washington, traded furs with local indigenous tribes on behalf of American investors. Bodega also established a short-lived Spanish colony at Neah Bay.
The government in Madrid, however, was losing interest in its northwest coast lands. Responsible for the other Spanish colonies further south, Bodega returned to Monterey, followed by San Blas. Suffering from poor health, he died after a siezure in Mexico City on March 26, 1794. Distracted by the growing conflict with Great Britain that would reach its head during the Napoleonic Wars, Spain never again reasserted its influence on the northwest coast, despite the accomplishments of Bodega and the Spanish explorers who came before him.
Present-day Bodega Bay in California is named for Bodega y Quadra, though he never entered the body of water. The bay was also the site of the southernmost Russian fur trading post at Fort Ross.
HistoryLink: Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra’s 1779 Expedition
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
HistoryLink: Hezeta (Heceta) and Bodega y Quadra Expedition of 1775
Wikipedia: Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra