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Greenland, had frequently touched along the coast of New England; but these early northern colonies, after existing for four centuries, passed away, and, from 1404 until 1576, had almost gone from the memory of man and had to be rediscovered in 1721.
America still slumbered until 1492, when Columbus brought the new world into the family of nations. The newly discovered continent awaited a name, which the voyage of the ambitious Amerigo Vespucci, in 1499, furnished, he giving it his own Christian name.
Cabot, at Newfoundland, in 1497, and Columbus' voyages, were drawing attention to the Atlantic side of the continent. Alvarez de Cabral had made known his discovery of Brazil in 1501, but the waters of the great ocean west of America had not yet been seen by European eye; this was reserved for the Spanish adventurer, Balboa, who, in 1513, after making a journey into the interior of Darien, (Colombia,) was led to a high mountain by the natives, from a peak of which he first beheld the waters of the Pacific ocean. Clad in an armor of mail, with the royal flag of Spain, upon which was emblazoned Mary and the infant Jesus in her arms, and the crown of his sovereign, he waded deep into the water and exclaimed to his soldiers and followers, “Spectators of both hemispheres, I call you to witness that I take possession of this part of the universe for the crown of Castile. My sword shall defend what my arm hath given to it.”
Simultaneously with the entry of Cortez into Mexico in 1519, the Portuguese navigator, Magellan, then in the employ of the Spanish government, effected an entrance into the Pacific ocean through the straits now bearing his name. To this gallant navigator (slain at the Philippines, in 1520) are we indebted for the appropriate name of this vast ocean-Pacific.
Other navigators and explorers came. Cortez, having conquered Mexico, pushed westward to the Gulf of California in 1534, and, from that period up to 1540, the date of his final departure to Spain, had made several expeditions in the vicinity of Lower California. In 1535, Pizarro was asserting Spanish domination in Peru. The year 1542 found Cabrillo exploring the coast of California as far north as Cape Mendocino. Francis Drake, in 1579, was buffeting the north winds of the Pacific, and erecting the flag of monarchical England upon the shores of California; and 1602 found the Spanish navigator, Viscayno, exploring the lower coast of California and seeking shelter in the harbors of San Diego and Monterey. The first colonization of what is now the Republic of America was effected in Virginia, in 1607; and 1620 witnessed the Pilgrims landing on the shores of New England.
Lemaire and Schouten, the Dutch navigators, in 1615, had discovered Cape Horn. The Danish navigator, Behring, in the service of Russia, had, in 1727, discovered the passage between the continents of Europe and America, giving it his own name, and traversed the lonely shores of Alaska. The year 1764 found the English explorers, Willis and Carteret, navigating the North Pacific and establishing English dominion on the Pacific side of British Columbia. The famous Captain Cook had made his first voyage to the Pacific in 1768. The cross of the Jesuit fathers was first carried into California and planted at San Diego in 1769. The English navigator, Vancouver, in 1770, was exploring the Straits of Fuca and the island now called after its discoverer. Kenguelen, the French navigator, in 1772, was sailing in the waters of the North Pacific.
During all these eventful years, while, from Iceland to Patagonia and distant Alaska, America was being explored and settled, up to July, 1769, when Governor Portala first beheld the Bay of San Francisco, the vast region of California, its genial climate, rich soil, towering mountains, and mineral wealth, were all unknown to civilized man. No furrow had been turned in all her broad, rich valleys; no hand had touched her golden treasures; no keel had ruffled her placid waters; and, although her mighty Golden Gate had stood ajar since creation's dawn, the mystic seal that secluded her charms was still unbroken save by the wild birds, whose fleet course carried them uninterrupted through that portal destined to become one of the world's greatest commercial marts.
Man-civilized, educated man-had not yet asserted his dominion over this vast field; and, within all this broad land, a solitude, quiet, calm, and placid, through all the long months and years, reigned supreme, broken only by the whoop of the savage as he danced to his lengthening shadow beneath the tall pine tree.
From 1769 to 1846, Jesuits, Franciscan friars, Spanish and Mexican adventurers, amidst local revolutions and turbulent factions, had ruled and occupied California without effecting a permanent civilization or industry. Lingering shadows of Spanish superstition, crumbling walls of ancient missions, neglected graves, fragments of church bells that once, from the branches of sturdy oaks, called the red man to the foot of the cross, silently proclaimed the departure of a once semi-religious condition. Roving brigands, subsisting upon the semi-barbarous inhabitants, and revolutionary outbursts from whose leaders issued startling pronunciamentos, exhibited the lack of executive authority in the country, and the rapid decline of the last vestige of religious, social, and national power in the land. To redeem this degenerate people, found a new civilization, nationality, and freedom, required the quickening impulses of a social and national existence founded upon broader and more progressive principles than any yet known in the land.
At this critical period, when jealous monarchs of Europe were turning their eyes toward the chaos of California and contemplating a new field for American imperialism, the flag of the American Republic was hoisted over the Mexican territorial capitol at Monterey, and California entered upon a new era of advance
But it required the opening of the treasure vaults of the Sierras and the loosening of the golden sands of the Yuba to set in motion the long lines of pilgrims across vast deserts and over the precipitous mountains, and to spread the sails of vast fleets seeking a channel through the Golden Gate. It required the cry of Gold! to break the links of the family circle and leave in a wreck behind the household gods, as man sought in the unfrequented ravines and gulches of the Sierras the treasures of the new El Dorado. The voice came, stern and potent, reaching the dwellings of civilized men in every corner of the globe; it echoed in the ears of the shrewd Yankee, muscular Celt, vivacious Gaul, bearded Turk, stalwart Polander, grim Russian, and polite Castilian. It was heard by the turbaned Moslem in his harem, the wandering Arab on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the dreamy sons of the Flowery Kingdom as they wandered by the waters of the Yang-tse-kiang, or bent before Tien-tan to do homage to their prophet. The syren song of the enchantress was caught up by every kindred of men, who joined in the cosmopolitan throng to seek, by unknown channels, the shores of a land whose sands of gold and hidden mountain treasures, for the first time in the history of nations, had broken the seal of Oriental exclusiveness and brought into companionship, in voyages by sea and journeys by land, in intercourse of business and trade, the strange families of men whose complexions, costumes, and tongues startled and confounded each other.