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Juan de Fuca - a Greek, born in the island of Cephalonia

The straits which separate the State of Washington from Vancouver Island bear the name of the navigator who was the first to round the point now called Cape Flattery and to sail inland to a considerable depth in 1592. They are called Straits of Juan de Fuca. Juan de Fuca was a Greek, born in the island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Sea, and his real name was Apostolos Valerianos. Adventurous, as all the Cephalonians are, he went to Spain and there he became a mariner and a pilot in the service of that country for 40 years, sailing to and from many lands.

While returning from one of his expeditions from the Philippine Islands and China in November 1587 in his ship “Santa Anna” he was intercepted by the English Captain Candish, and was taken to Cape California where he was deprived of his cargo amounting to 60,000 ducats. Five years later, the Viceroy of Mexico sent him as a pilot with three small ships and 200 soldiers aboard, who were under the command of a captain, to discover the Straits of Anian along the coast of the Pacific and fortify them against the English who, they feared, might pass through those Straits into the Pacific Ocean. The expedition however failed owing to misconduct of the Captain; the soldiers mutinied and the ships had to return from California to Mexico where the Captain was duly punished.

After this ill fated voyage, in the year 1592, the Viceroy of Mexico sent him again with a small Caravela and a Pinnance with armed marines on board to discover the Straits of Anian and a passage through them to the North Sea. He sailed along the coast of Nova Spania (Mexico), California, and up the North American coast to 47 degrees latitude. He entered the straits there and sailed therein through many islands for more than twenty days. At the entrance of the above straits he saw a great island. He went on shore and there he saw people in beasts’ skins. The land was very fruitful and rich in “gold, silver, pearls, and other things like Nova Spania (Mexico)”.

Having explored the Straits to a considerable depth, Juan de Fuca thought that his mission was successfully performed and, fearing the ferocity of the savage people, he decided to return home to Nova Spania, and in 1592 he arrived at Acapulco. In Mexico he was greatly honoured by the Viceroy who also promised him great rewards. These he never received, although he stayed there for 2 years, but was advised by the Viceroy to go to Spain and receive his reward there by the King himself.

In Spain he was received very well by the Court and heard very many pleasant things but received no rewards. In disgust de Fuca, who now was quite old, left Spain to go to Cephalonia where he wanted to spend his remaining days. On his way through Italy, he met an Englishman by the name Michael Lok through whom he offered to serve Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of England, in the capacity of a pilot for the discovery of the North West passage into the Pacific Ocean, provided she put at his disposal one ship of 40 tons. He promised to navigate the Straits from one end to the other in thirty days. In offering his services to the Queen of England, he expressed the hope that she would compensate him for the goods taken from him by Captain Candish.

Lok wrote to Lord Treasurer Cecil, to Sir Walter Raleigh, and to Master Richard Hakluyt asking them to send 100 pounds to bring de Fuca to England. They were favourably disposed to the idea but no money was forthcoming. In the meantime de Fuca left for Cephalonia. Lok by July wrote to de Fuca to go with him to England and in November an answer was received that de Fuca was willing to go to England if Lok sent him the money. Evidently Lok was not in a position to supply the money and the matter rested thus until 1602, when no reply was received to letters sent and it was surmised that the old Pilot was dead.

This story of de Fuca’s discovery of the Anian Strait is not corroborated by any other source except by the narrative of Lok, who met the Cephalonian navigator in Venice in the year 1596 where he resided then an Consul of England. This narrative of Lok is contained in the third volume of the “Pilgrimes” by Samuel Purchas, printed in London in 1625. In 1847 the historian, Robert Greenhow republished this narrative in the fourth edition of his history of California and Oregon giving the original Spanish and the English translations of the correspondence between de Fuca and Lok. In 1859 A.S.Taylor in his second article on Juan de Fuca published in the October 1859 issue of the Magazine “Hutchins’ California Magazine” under the title “Memorials of Juan de Fuca, discoverer of Oregon,” reprints this same narrative of Lok with the following preface.

“The character and truthfulness of this great navigator whose name was given to the Straits which separate the American Continent from Vancouver Island have become the topic of one of the greatest discussions in the history of naval explorations. Even the fact of whether such a person ever lived has been disputed and confirmed time and again in the course of 268 years, i.e. from 1592-1859 without any efforts as it appears on the part of the writers or of the Governments to try and ascertain the facts mentioned by the first chronicler of the notable services of Juan de Fuca to Spain and Humanity. Besides that chronicler (Lok) was a much respected English Consul and evidently a capable, clever and cultured gentleman…”

Around the question of Juan de Fuca and his voyage to the Northwestern shores of America the historians are divided into different schools. While some admit his existence and dispute certain points only of Lok’s narrative, as this is related in “Purchas His Pirgrimes”, there are others, as Bancroft, who wrote the history of the Northwestern States of America, who consider Fuca an imaginary person, and others who, even if they admit the existence of a person with such a name, maintain that he never made the voyage which Lok reports. These last ones base their arguments on the fact that no mention is made of Fuca in any of the Spanish archives of that period nor of any voyage to the Straits of Anian.

In the year 1854, however, Alexander S. Taylor who specialized in the study of the history of California and Oregon, asked the American Consul in the Ionian Islands, A.S.York, to gather everything concerning Fuca and his family.The information which York sent from Zante to Taylor convinced him that Fuca did live and that his story, two and a half centuries after his death, remained alive in Cephalonia. In the September and October 1859 issues of the Magazine “Hutchings’ California Magazine” Taylor published two extremely interesting articles, in the first of which he gives the biography of Fuca, which was sent to him by York based on manuscripts in Cephalonia, and on a book “ The lives of Glorious Men of Cephalonia” written and published in Venice in October 1843 by Rev. Anthimos Mazarakis, a Cephalonian, which was translated into Italian by Tomazeo.

According to Taylor’s biography John Phokas (Fucas), the seafarer was born in the island of Cephalonia at the beginning of the 16th century at the end of which he became renowned for his venturous voyages in the Pacific ocean as well as for his explorations in the Northwestern shores of America.

The ancestors of this fearless seafarer were those who fled Constantinople in 1453 and found refuge some in the Peloponese and others in the Ionian Islands. The brothers Emmanuel and Andronikos Phokas were amongst those who went to Peloponese where Andronikos remained and became the head of the Phokas family branch there. Emmanuel who was born in Constantinople in 1435 left in 1470 for Cephalonia and established himself there near a beautiful spot called Elaion or Elios. Elios is a beautiful valley in the Southwestern tip of Cephalonia full of olive trees and vines, in York’s description. In the center of the valley, he adds, there is a village Valeriano, upon a small height stands an old building with a wonderful view around as far as your eyes can see. This building, according to information given by the inhabitants around, is supposed to be the home of Juan de Fuca where he retired after his tortuous life to enjoy the comforts of peace and tranquility.

All the numerous families of Phokas in Cephalonia hail from Emmanuel. According to the genealogical list the head of the family Emmanuel, had four sons, Stephanos, Emmanuel, Hector, and Jacob the father of Juan de Fuca who, because he was living in the village of Valeriano near Elaion, was given the name Phokas Valerianos, as a distinction perhaps from the other Phokas who were living in Argostoli.

The extension of the Spanish dominion in the neighboring shores of Italy and the commercial relations which sprang up as a result with the Ionian Islands, gave the opportunity to the seafaring men of the Ionians islands to serve in Spanish ships as crews or officers. Fucas driven by such an ambition went to Spain where he embarked on Spanish ships sailing over the oceans. In a very short time he learned the art of pilotage so well that he attracted the attention of the King of Spain who appointed him Pilot of his navy in the West Indies, a position which he kept for over forty years.

As it has been stated the story of de Fuca’s discovery of the Anian Straits is not confirmed by any other source except by Lok’s narrative. It is also to be remembered that the name of Juan de Fuca was given to the Straits north of Cape Flattery by John Mears in 1788. That Juan de Fuca, however, the Apostolos Valerianos of Greece was a Pilot and that he may have sailed up to the Mexican and California coasts we have no reason to doubt.

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