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Arrival of the first foreign vessel at Monterey

 
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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2008 7:23 pm    Post subject: Arrival of the first foreign vessel at Monterey Reply with quote

We may be sure that the arrival of the first foreign vessel at Monterey was an event. It was in 1817. Lieutenant Don Jose Maria Estudillo was commandante of the military post, and Don Vicente Pablo de Sola was governor. On a soft spring morning, while a gentle breeze was blowing in from the northwest, the lookout stationed at Punta de Pinos came rushing in on horseback through the presidio gate, and made straight for the commandante's house.

"What is the matter?" asked Don Jose, coming to the door. "A sail! A strange sail, far out at sea; it is very far out, but it seems to have the intention of coming here," replied the lookout.

"Ho, there! My glass and trumpet," shouted the commander; "and bring my coat, the best one with the gold braid; and don't forget my boots and hat. Where is my sword? and hunt me up that chart of the flags of all nations."

Arrayed in his most imposing habliments, the commander was ready to meet the enemy.

"Now sound the drum!" he cried, "and let the infantry and artillery appear; let all who love their country join with me in her defense, prepared to shed our last drop of blood for God and the King!"

The drummers rushed forth, beating for dear life round the plaza, while the troops mounted their horses, and the artillerymen and militia repaired to the fort. The women made everything ready for flight, and the old men and boys got out their old swords and fire-locks, and scoured from them the rust.

At the fort the men heated some balls red hot, so as to do the fullest execution upon the ship.

"Is it a pirate," they wondered, "or a Frenchman, or Yankee?" It did not matter; it was all one; it should see, whatever it was, that the country was not to be so easily wrested from its noble and brave defenders.
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Slowly and surely as an impending fate, the vessel approached, until distinctness marked its very outline, and the ever-broadening sails were loosened and allowed to flap in the wind.

The commander planted himself at the foot of the fort. He clutched his big trumpet nervously; he gazed at frequent intervals through his glass, and studied attentively his flag pictures. Life was sweet, but his mind was made up. Life without honor was valueless; and better eyes dim in death than awake to see California sons slain, her daughters ravished, and the little children with their brains dashed out upon the rocks!

By and by, after faithful study, applying to the matter to the fullest extent the exercise of his astute intellect, the commander pronounced the strange sail a schooner of 80 or 100 tons burden, but of what nation it was impossible to determine. The streaked and starred bunting flying at the mast-head was not on his chart of the flags of all nations, which was fully fifty years old. It was evidently a private signal, and there was not a reasonable doubt of its being that of a corsair, the red streaks signifying rivers of blood, and the stars the number of cities taken. He thought he could discern warlike preparations on board; nevertheless, he would play on her at once his old successful tactics, and raise a white flag. If he could thus lure the enemy into his power, he might yet save the commonwealth. Presently the gallant commandante placed his trumpet to his lips and bellowed:

"Que buque?"

"No sabe Espanol," was the reply which came back across the water as from another world.

"Ship ahoy! Que bandera " bravely persisted Don Jose, determined to know the truth, however unpalatable.

"Americana!" came from the schooner.

If there were now only a boat at hand; if Spain, in the days of her grandeur, had only supplied the metropolitan seaport in Alta California with a boat wherewith to board ships, he would show the world what a brave man will do in the service of his country. But alas! There was none. And not without show of reason Ferdinand, Charles, Phillip, might ask, why burden Spain with the expense of a small boat at the port of Monterey, which has no commerce?

Meanwhile the governor, who had tarried to mend some rips in his full-dress uniform, appeared upon the scene, attended by his officers, all with shoes blacked and hair oiled.

All on shore felt the dreaded moment approaching, as a boat was seen lowered from the vessel and making toward them. Fearlessly it approached the land, and as the bow touched the beach a man stepped forth, smirking, and nodded to the august assemblage. Instantly he was surrounded by soldiers, and the measure taken of his man-killing capabilities. He was arrayed all in black, high hat and swallowtail coat—a privateer disguised as a priest, it was whispered.

Fortunately for the peace of California, the creature carried no weapon. He was wholly in their power. If, as they supposed him to be, he was the captain of that great and villainous-looking craft, they had him in their power.

Leaving the army to guard the boat, lest some daring sailor should rush to the rescue of his captain, the Yankee skipper, for such was the quality of the invader, in the center of a platoon of cavalry was conducted into the presence of the governor. Signifying that he spoke only English, an interpreter was procured in the person of a seaman from the boat.

After a hearing before the governor, the latter replied: "We cannot find you guilty of being a pirate or a spy, for lack of evidence, though doubtless you are both. A storm might have blown you hither; and wanting water you may have said you had Chinese goods to sell. Neither can we prove your flag piratical, though it looks so, as indeed do you. You may have water; but you must be off within five hours or be hanged."

The captain did not delay, and that was the reception given to the first vessel that touched the shores of Monterey.
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