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Cordova in Alaska

by Dr. Arsenio Rey-Tejerina
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The naming of Valdez

    Moving northward, the expedition came into another entrance, which they called Puerto Mazarredo in honor of Don José de Mazarredo, a well known Spanish admiral who fought many battles against the French and the British. George Vancouver, who a few years later relied heavily on the explorations of Fidalgo for his maps, presents Port Fidalgo as the name of this entrance and it is still known by this name today.

    At 61° 48' the exploring party discovered a volcano, which was given the name of the leader of the expedition: Volcán Fidalgo.

    On June 15th the longboat made another excursion toward the north and discovered a port, which they named Puerto Valdéz. Don Antonio Valdés, a prominent figure in the exploration of Alaska, was the Minister of the Spanish Navy at the time. As with Córdova, the name Valdéz has now been applied to several other geographical features: the marine access to that port is known as Valdez Arm, which gives into Valdez Narrows. There is an Old Valdez, which predates the year of the big earthquake that shook South Central Alaska in 1964 and a Valdez name applied to the town terminus of the Pipeline. Valdez Glacier is located inland on the neighboring mountains.

    Fidalgo continued his exploration of the area and Columbia Bay, where the glacier breaks into the water, was named Puerto Revillagigedo and the nearby island Isla del Conde, in honor of the Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy who had ordered the expedition.

    Captain Fidalgo, unable to sight any Russians, fills his journal with detailed descriptions of the character and the genius of the Prince William Sound Natives. He depicts their customs, physiognomy, foods and eating habits against the background of their bays and inlets with the imposing view of the surrounding mountains.

    After Captain Fidalgo and his crew of 74 men stayed in the vicinity of Cordova for more than a month, it was time to move on, and the San Carlos pushed its way westward. On the fourth of July they finally made their first contact with the Russians. The Spaniards visited a small Russian outpost near today's Port Graham at the southwestern coast of the Kenai Peninsula, which they named again Puerto Revillagigedo.

    The second pilot, Esteban Mondofía, who spoke Russian, visited another outpost in the Kasilof area and after sighting the Volcán Miranda (nowadays Iliamna ) returned to the frigate with a Russian who lived at the establishment. Mondofía seems to have gone up Cook Inlet, probably as far as the Turnagain Arm.

    Kachemak Bay received the name of Quadra, after Francisco de Bodega y Quadra, another Spanish explorer who led several expeditions to Alaska and at this time was the Commander of the San Blas headquarters.

    The explorers also visited the main Russian settlement of the time, which was located in Three Saints Bay, on the south of Kodiak Island. Mission accomplished, must have been the recurrent thought in Fidalgo's mind. He writes a very interesting account of the night of July 5th, when he had the whole hierarchy of the Russian commanders in his ship and had dined and wined them, he had them at his mercy.

    Another interesting moment is when just under the Russians' noses he conducts the ceremony of possession at their outpost of Alexandrovsk, near today's English Bay.

    After more than two months exploring the area, on September 1st they set sail for Bucareli Bay in South-East Alaska but the winds took them off course so that on September 15 they arrived instead at Monterrey in California, finally reaching their San Blas headquarters by November 15.

    There are four manuscripts re-telling Fidalgo's experiences in our area, and one seems to have been published in Spanish (see Note below). We have several reports from all the other expeditions to Alaska, usually written by the commander, the pilots, the chaplains or other officials but for this expedition we only have what Fidalgo wrote.

    Two of the manuscripts from Fidalgo's expedition are in Madrid at the archives of the Navy in the Museo Naval and two are in México City at the National Archives. They are titled:

  • " Noticias y apuntes sobre el viaje…. News and Notes on the voyage to explore northern California and the Russian settlements in América" (Ms 575 bis, doc.4)
  • "Extracto del diario… Excerpt from the Journal of Salvador Fidalgo commissioned to proceed to Nootka and continue the reexamination of Prince William and Cook Inlet to find out if there is any Russian settlement in the area". (Ms. 271, fol. 104; Ms 331, fol. 169).
  • "Diario de la Navegación… Voyage Journal, 1790". (AGN, Histor, vol. 68, fols. 206-410).
  • The fourth document, in México, is of a summary nature. It is titled "Compendio histórico de las…. Historical compendium of the voyages carried out by the officers and pilots in vessels of the Royal Navy on the Northern Coasts of California with the intention of determining and discovering the extent and location of the territories and adjacent islands, written by an officer of the Spanish Royal Navy. México: year 1799". Judging by the title and date, this compendium seems to have been written by Fidalgo in his later years. It is a general review of his and other officers' experiences.
Note:
*See my study: "The Spanish Exploration of Alaska, 1774-1796: Manuscript Sources". Alaska History Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 45-62.
You may also consult my book: Tomás de Suria a l'expedició Malaspina -Alaska 1791-. Valencia: Generalitat, 1995.

Page 1 - Who was Luis de Córdova y Córdova?
Page 2 - The Spaniards arrive and name it Córdova
Page 4 - Other places named Cordova