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19th Century Printing of the First Scientific Mapping of Vancouver Island

Nice example of the US Government Printing Office re-issue of Galiano and Valdés' landmark map of Vancouver Island, based upon their circumnavigation of the island in 1792--the first Europeans to circumnavigate the island which would later be named for British explorer George Vancouver.

The map was prepared for Congress and submitted with the Annual Message of the President, as part of the Negotiations on the question with England regarding the Canada boundary at Juan de Fuca Strait, which was resolved in 1872.

This 19th Century edition is reduced in size from the original, produced following the explorations and surveys of Galiano and Valdés for the Spanish crown at the end of the 18th Century.

Galiano and Valdés, who had sailed to the Pacific as part of the Malaspina expedition, met George Vancouver during their expedition. However, as they had started from Nootka Sound and returned there, whereas Vancouver had started from the Juan de Fuca Strait, the Spaniards were the first to fully circumnavigate the island shown here. 

Engraved in 1795, this was the first printed chart of the area available in such a high resolution. It is rare on the market and in institutional collections.  Warren Howell notes, "Although the date 1795 appeared in the legend, the charts were not actually published until 1798, after the Depósito Hydrográfico had been established, and were then made available only to a few selected Spanish navigators."  The map would later  be reproduced in a much smaller format in 1802, to accompany the Galiano and Valdés expedition account. In 1945, Peter Decker described the map as “a beautiful map of great rarity, almost unprocurable" (Soliday Sale).

The chart focuses on the island but also shows part of what is now the coast of Washington State, the San Juan Islands, and the mainland coastline to just north of 51°N latitude. The abundance of Spanish toponyms reflects the Spanish expeditions to the area dating from 1774.

Of note is the Juan de Fuca Strait. In the late-sixteenth century, English financier Michael Lok advanced the story of Juan de Fuca (the Castilianized name of Greek navigator Ioánnis Fokás), who supposedly sailed to the fabled Strait of Anian. Little archival evidence survives of Fuca’s career, but according to Lok, Fuca reported that he had been sent north from New Spain twice in 1592 in search of the Strait of Anian.

Fuca supposedly traveled up a vast straight at the northernmost point of the west coast of America, around which he sailed for more than twenty days. The Spanish Crown failed to reward Fuca’s discovery of an opening in the coast at roughly 47° N latitude and Fuca left the Spanish service embittered. His story lived on in Lok’s letters and eventually was published in Samuel Purchas’ travel collection of 1625. Fuca’s account helped to keep this chimerical strait on many maps of the time. It was not until 1772 that Samuel Hearne conclusively disproved the grand strait’s existence, but de Fuca’s name lives on with the feature shown here.

In the lower-left corner is a profile view of the “canal of the departure of the schooners, looking to the east.” Above it is a note that explains that those who doubted the existence of the Juan de Fuca Strait entirely were in error. There is a strait, even if it didn’t lead all the way to the Atlantic; the extent to which it does extend was laboriously brought to light with charts like this. The advertisement also mentions a forthcoming narrative of the voyage, which would only be published in 1802.

Another area of particular interest is here called the “Archipelago de Nutka”, or Nootka. This was the site of controversy started by the competing interests and claims of the Spanish and the British. Both countries mobilized their navies over the possession of this area in 1790; France declined to enter the situation, however, and the aggrieved parties decided to negotiate instead.

Mapping Puget Sound

While historically the focus of this map has been on its treatment of Vancouver Island, Galiano and Valdés present a remarkably detailed treatment of Puget Sound, likely drawn from the work of George Vancouver.

A close inspection of the chart shows that the information available to Galiano and Valdés accurately shows the complex contours of Puget Sound to points as far south as Olympia and Tacoma, credibly depicting Nisqually Reach, Harstine Island, Squaxin Island, Anderson Island, Budd Inlet, Eld Inlet and Totten Inlet in the south. 

The area around Tacoma is also quite accurate, as is the depiction of Vashon Island. Further North, Elliot Bay is plainly depicted, as are Sinclair Inlet and Port Orchard.  The main limitations seem to be that Bainbridge Island is shown as a peninsula and Liberty Bay and Dyes inlet are not shown.

Galiano and Valdés are careful to shade the coastal outlines lightly, indicating these were areas they had not personally explored, whereas the Vancouver chart shows an anchorage off Blake Island, opposite the current location of Fort Ward, with sounding information further south.

The similarities and small differences illustrate that the information used by Galiano and Valdés was based upon an exchange of information by the British and Spanish captains during their meeting. They conducted an exchange of charts and survey information between June 12, 1792 and July 13, 1792, at which time the two expeditions began their circumnavigations of Vancouver Island.

Spanish voyages in the Pacific Northwest, 1774-1793

The Spanish theoretically claimed all lands touched by the Pacific Ocean as soon as the body of water was sighted by Vasco Núñez de Balboa in 1513. However, focused as they were on the galleon route and the administration of the American viceroyalties, they did not at first seek reconnaissance about the land north of Mexico and California in a sustained and organized way. This changed in the mid-eighteenth century, when the British and the Russians began to express interest in the coasts from California northward.

The first voyage set out in 1774, commanded by Juan Pérez. He led the Santiago north to the southern tip of Vancouver Island, then thought to be part of the mainland. However, he never landed or formally claimed land on behalf of Spain. He turned back at Haida Gwaii, ending the first confirmed voyage of Europeans to the Pacific Northwest.

A year later, Bruno de Heceta commanded a second expedition in the Santiago. He followed Pérez’s route north, in company with the Sonora and San Carlos. The Sonora was a small schooner intended to be able to get close to the shore for charting and surveying. This hydrographic vessel was commanded by Juan Francisco de Bodega y Quadra. The San Carlos was the first European ship to enter San Francisco Bay. The other two vessels continued north, but Heceta was forced to return to San Blas due to illness among his crew. On his return trip south, Heceta noted the mouth of the mighty Colombia River. Bodega y Quadra, now alone, took the Sonora to 59°N latitude. He sailed into Sitka Sound and performed many acts of sovereignty along the way, claiming the land in the name of the Spanish Crown.

In 1779, Ignacio de Arteaga, in command of the Princesa, sailed with Bodega y Quadra in the Favorita. The ships were supposed to evaluate the expansion of the Russian fur enterprise in Alaska, as well as to capture James Cook if he was found in Spanish waters. They were also, of course, supposed to keep an eye out for the elusive Northwest Passage. They did not find Cook, but they did sail to 61°N latitude, the farthest north of the Spanish voyages.

By the time of the third voyage, Spain was at war with Britain. The Viceroy of New Spain decided to suspend the voyages until peace was achieved and the imperial coffers replenished. The next voyage sailed nearly a decade after the third, in 1788, again to see the extent of Russian activity in Alaska. The Princesa, this time commanded by Esteban José Martínez, and the San Carlos, under Gonzalo López de Haro, sailed to Prince William Sound. They found the Russian posts and made contact at Three Saints Bay, the first Spaniards to do so. They also visited Unalaska, the farthest west reached by the Spanish Pacific Northwest voyages.

While on the 1788 expedition, the Spanish heard that the Russians had their sights set on Nootka Sound, a port the Spanish had visited and claimed. With Martínez and Haro again in command, they were supposed to ensure that Nootka Sound stayed in Spanish hands. They found that the area was already visited by British ships participating in the fur trade; indeed, when they arrived there were already two American ships and one British ship in the Sound. The latter, the Iphigenia, was seized and then released several days later, with orders to flee. Another vessel, the North West America, was also seized and turned into a Spanish ship, the Santa Gertrudis la Magna, which José María Narváez used to explore the Juan de Fuca Strait. Martinez continued to challenge non-Spanish ships and commanders in the summer of 1789. 

Over the next two years, and after a change in regime that ousted Martínez and brought in Bodega y Quadra, the Spanish built up a base at Nootka Sound, forming the first European settlement in what is today British Columbia. In summer 1790, Salvador Fidalgo was sent north to claim more Alaskan land for Spain; he named Cordova Bay and Port Valdez.

At the same time, Manuel Quimper was sent south from Nootka; he followed the route of Narváez into the Juan de Fuca Strait and explored among the San Juan Islands. Francisco de Eliza was the next to investigate the Juan de Fuca Strait, in 1791. He was accompanied in the San Carlos by Narváez in the Santa Saturnina. They explored the Strait of Georgia.

While the Spanish base at Nootka had proven useful for exploration, it was still controversial. Alejandro Malaspina, on his global voyage, visited Nootka for a month; he regained the trust of a local leader, Maquinna, and was promised that the Spanish had the rightful claim to land at Nootka Sound. In summer 1792, Bodega y Quadra arrived in Nootka to negotiate the second Nootka Convention; the British sent George Vancouver, who was on a Pacific voyage of exploration. The two met but could not decide on boundaries and settlements; they referred the matter back to diplomats in Europe. These diplomats eventually resolved the situation largely in Britain’s favor, granting their vessels the right to trade in the Pacific Northwest. Neither country was supposed to settle the area, but ultimately it came under the control of the British.

Meanwhile, also in 1792, Malaspina sent two of his officers, Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés y Flores, to survey Vancouver Island in the goletas Sutil and Mexicana. They became the first Europeans to circumnavigate Vancouver Island, on which Nootka Sound lies. En route, they met George Vancouver, who was also then surveying in the area. In the same year, Jacinto Caamaño surveyed the southern coast of the island; his maps were shared with George Vancouver, who adopted many of his Spanish place names.

Another voyage of note is the 1793 voyage of Eliza and Juan Martínez y Zayas which surveyed the coast of the Juan de Fuca Strait south to San Francisco Bay, connecting the Spanish claims. 

Despite the rich amount of information and resources found on these voyages, Spain had largely withdrawn from the Pacific Northwest by the end of the eighteenth century. Their claims were diminished by the Nootka Conventions, which allowed other nations to trade in the area, and they formally ceded their clams to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. They did publish several charts from these voyages, and limited voyage materials were also edited for public consumption.

The San Juan Boundary Dispute and the Pig War

In addition to its innovation when published, the map would continue to have historical relevance into the nineteenth century. It was one of the materials used in the boundary dispute between Britain and the United States that became known as the Pig War.

Although previous negotiations had been undertaken in 1818 and 1826, the border of the 49th parallel extending west beyond the Rocky Mountains was only agreed in 1846. The boundary was to extend to the middle of the channel separating Vancouver Island from the mainland, wherein the border would slice south and out to the Pacific. However, its precise extent was still a matter of debate over a decade later. The area of contention this time was the San Juan Islands, first explored by Manuel Quimper, and located precisely in the channel mentioned in the 1846 agreement.

Several incidents in the 1850s alerted officials to the need to settle the ownership of the islands. A Joint Boundary Commission investigated in 1857, but it came to no conclusions. By 1859, eighteen Americans had settled on San Juan Island, one of the largest of the San Juans, which the British considered as their territory.

One of them, Lyman A. Cutlar, shot a pig that was in his garden. However, the pig belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Colony, who ran the colony of Vancouver Island. Worse, the Company claimed it was a prime breeding pig worth $100. Cutlar had initially offered compensation, but balked at this high price. In response, British officials went to Cutlar’s farm to inform him that he was trespassing and would be arrested if he did not pay.

Meanwhile, the tension was further heightened by the arrival of United States Army Brigadier General William Selby Harney, commander of the Military Department of Oregon. Harney was sympathetic to the complaints of the Americans on the island and asked them to petition the government for military protection; in fact, he wrote the wording of the petition himself. He also stationed a Company of the Ninth Infantry on San Juan Island. In response, the Governor of Vancouver Island, James Douglas, ordered Captain Geoffrey Phipps Hornby of the Tribune to land Marines on the island. 

None other than Captain George Edward Pickett—only four years away from his eponymous charge during the Civil War—was in charge of the infantry company on San Juan Island. Although recalled, Phipps invited Pickett to talk. They met in the American camp, but their conversation only strained the situation further. By summer’s end, there were 461 American troops on the island and five British warships with 167 guns assigned to the area.

Word of the problems finally reached Washington D. C. in early September, 1859. Alarmed, President James Buchanan reassured British officials that Harney was not acting under his orders. He dispatched the aged Winfield Scott, General-in-Chief of the US Army, to the Pacific Northwest. Scott arrived in mid-October and quickly met with Harney and Pickett. Then, he met with the British and agreed to a reduction in the American troop presence, the removal of Pickett from command at the San Juan post, and a joint military occupation until the matter could be resolved diplomatically.

This lull was interrupted by the bellicose Harney, however, who was livid that these negotiations had gone forward without his participation. The general was particularly annoyed that Pickett had been removed. He reinstated Pickett in April 1860, triggering swift protests by British officials. When these protests reached Washington, Harney found himself ordered to turn over command to his next-in-line and return east immediately. He was reprimanded and moved to command of the Department of the West in Saint Louis, where others could keep an eye on him. In May 1861, he was recalled and held no further command until his retirement in 1863.

Pickett no longer rankled the British without Harney behind him, but he too left his post in June 1861. A Virginian, Pickett resigned his commission and instead joined the Confederate Army as a colonel.

The matter of the boundary dispute simmered for a decade while the United States fought and recovered from the Civil War. Rather than attempt negotiations afresh, the two countries submitted their cases, supported by evidence and materials such as this map, to Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. On October 21, 1872, the Kaiser decided that the boundary should be drawn through the Haro Strait, awarding the San Juan Islands to the United States.


The original chart was published in 1798 and included in the Atlas marítimo español (1789-1814). It is held by only a handful of institutional collections and is only rarely seen on the market.

Decker describes the map as a once-in-a-generation find. Indeed, the last time the chart appeared on the market—the first time it had appeared in years—was in the Warren Heckrotte sale, where it made $33,000, sold with a chart of the northern part of Vancouver Island.

This second state is also scarce.  This is the first time we have offered it for sale.

Peter Decker, A Priced and Descriptive Checklist Together with Short Title Index Describing Almost 7500 Items of Western Americana Comprising Books, Maps and Pamphlets of the Important Library (in four parts) formed by George W. Soliday (New York: Peter Decker, 1940-45), item 1353; Relación del viage hecho por las goletas Sutil y Mexicana en el año de 1792, para reconocher el estrecho de Fuca . . . (Madrid, 1802; repr. 1958); Henry R. Wagner, The Cartography of the Northwest Coast of America to the year 1800 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1937), 832; Howell, Catalog 52 (1980), item 49. KAP