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Cordova in Alaska

by Dr. Arsenio Rey-Tejerina
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Other places named Cordova

    Along with Fidalgo and the new Viceroy was another young officer named Jacinto Caamaño Moraleja, who would also honor the great Admiral Córdova by giving his name to another Alaskan spot: Cordova Bay. It is a water passage between Long Island and the southern part of Prince of Wales Island.

    Caamaño was born in 1759 in Madrid and joined the Navy as an adventurer when he was 18; two years later he was already an Ensign (Alférez de Navío). After a quick trip to Cuba in which he distinguished himself as an excellent leader, he was also selected by the viceroy for the Pacific Northwest explorations.

    On February 3, 1790 Caamaño became an experienced sailor, entering the forbidding northern latitudes as commander of the Princesa, a 189-ton frigate recently built in San Blas. He accompanied Salvador Fidalgo, but only as far as the Nootka settlement on the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island, returning to the base before the winter.

    After a temporary sojourn in México, Don Jacinto Caamaño came again to the north in 1792 with the commitment to carefully map the coast from Alaska's Klawock down to Vancouver's Nootka.

    He left the Department of San Blas aboard the frigate Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu on March 20, making a brief stop in Nootka. By July 11, he was ready to begin his task of mapping the whole coast from Bucareli Bay to Nootka.

    When, on July 18th, 1792, he arrived at the spacious strait between the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island and Long Island, he was so impressed by the beauty and serenity of the surroundings, that he named it under the false conviction of being in a bay: Puerto de Córdova y Córdova. He affirms in his Journal about the spot: Nothing inferior to Bucareli and worth a 15-20 day exploration tour, a good mooring place. The terrain is very similar to that around Bucareli. He also noticed the numerous Indian people moving around the area.

    From there he continued his work, leaving Alaska and sailing south into Queen Charlotte. Caamaño became temporarily governor of Alaska in replacement of Francisco Eliza who had taken off on an exploration of his own. Caamaño also passed most of his findings to George Vancouver who, after incorporating them with his own, passed to Alaska most of the Spanish names that stand on our maps today. It was him who corrected the false impression changing the name to the current Cordova Bay.

    Manuel Quimper del Pino, whose father was French, was the third explorer to accompany the Viceroy to New Spain. He would also imprint the name of Córdova in the Northwest, but not in Alaska. He also gave the names of his friends, Fidalgo and Caamaño, to other geographical discoveries he achieved.

    On July 19, 1791 he arrived at Quadra-Vancouver Island (which today has lost its first hyphen) to what is now known as Esquimalt Harbor, just south of the present day capital of British Columbia. The next day a boat party spent the day studying the bay, which Quimper named Puerto de Cordova. This name is still there, just north of the capital city, Victoria, changed to Cordova Bay.

Arsenio Rey-Tejerina
University of Alaska Anchorage

Page 1 - Who was Luis de Córdova y Córdova?
Page 2 - The Spaniards arrive and name it Córdova
Page 3 - The naming of Valdez

Also by Arsenio Rey-Tejerina:
Spanish Place Names on the Face of Alaska