A guest post by commenter Jefe:
Manila galleons (1565 to 1815) were large Spanish ships that sailed across the Pacific between New Spain (Mexico) and the Philippines. They allowed Spain to trade with East Asia without using Portuguese trade routes. They brought the first Asians to arrive in North America after Columbus.
In 1494, after Columbus confirmed the existence of the Americas, the Pope divided the Americas between Portugal and Spain, which they interpreted as applying to the whole non-Christian world. In effect, this gave Portugal the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, while Spain got any it discovered in the Pacific Ocean.
In 1521 Magellan discovered a westward route, catching the Pacific currents that go west along the equator. In the Philippines on the island of Cebu, Magellan commanded local chieftains to provide him with food and to convert to Christianity. Lapu-Lapu fought back and killed Magellan and most of his men. Only 18 made it back to Spain alive.
In 1565 Andrés de Urdaneta discovered the eastward route by sailing along the Kuroshio Current near Japan north of the 38th parallel and then catching the westerlies to bring him east across the Pacific. He landed in the Americas near Cape Mendocino in what is now known as Humboldt County, California. From there he followed the coast south to Acapulco, Mexico.
These discoveries led to the Manila Galleon Trade. The Spanish traded with Japan, Taiwan, Fujian province of Ming Dynasty China, Macau, East Timor and the Spice Islands (eastern Indonesia).
Most Manila galleons were built in the Philippines and manned by Filipino crews. Chinese merchants would also board these ships, sometimes bringing goods from Mexico back to China.
Goods from Asia bound for Europe had to cross overland to get to the Atlantic Ocean. One way was across Mexico from Acapulco to Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico. The other way was to follow the coast south to the Isthmus of Panama, and cross there. From Veracruz, Spanish galleons (“treasure fleet”) would travel to ports around the Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, and then ride the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to Spain. Some Filipino crew and Chinese merchants joined the galleons leaving Veracruz. (Veracruz was also where most Afro-Mexicans lived.)
The Manila galleons tried to avoid landing near the foggy, rugged northern California coast, preferring to stop in Point Conception (near Santa Barbara), or even Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, on the way to Acapulco. However, a more permanent way station was established in Monterey Bay in the mid-18th century.
The first post-Columbian record of Asians in North America were brought by the Manila galleons:
- In 1587 Filipinos landed in California at Morro Bay near San Luis Obispo, 33 years before the Mayflower.
- In 1595, a galleon shipwrecked near Point Reyes just north of the San Francisco Bay; survivors swam to shore.
- Chinese artifacts in Mexico date back to the 16th century;
- Chinese settlement in California goes back to at least the 17th century.
The word Filipino did not exist back then. Many Mexicans referred to them as “Chino”.