Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A French captain in California, 1826-1827

A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands, and Around the World in the Years 1826-1829 / August Duhaut-Cilly; Translated and Edited by August Fruge & Neal Harlow. Published by University of California Press, 1999, c1997.

Duhaut-Cilly's journal first came to my attention in January when an exchange between a researcher and a well-informed historian of ship-wrecks pointed out that the book, A Voyage to California, the Sandwich Islands, and Around the World in the Years 1826-1829, held some details about a ship, the Teinmouth, which had foundered off the coast of Baja California in 1826.

As described by the publisher, the value of a diary is far-reaching, as Duhaut-Cilly's accounts cover his journeys in detail revealing the lives of California missionaries and their subjects of the period.

In Duhaut-Cilly's times and for not long afterward, California missions operated as religious communities as they had for about two hundred years. When Duhaut-Cilly sailed back to France in 1829, the missions were reduced to military outposts or secularized at the behest of the Mexican government. Until then foreign visitors were treated with respect when some advantage was apparent. A fellow Catholic, and as a speaker of their language, Duhaut-Cilly was welcomed for news he might have of Spain or France, the internet of the day being the chance meeting or available companionship of fellow citizens. He was not only adept at sea but also with the great range of peoples and cultures encountered in the Americas and islands of the Pacific. The merchant-captain seemed to be masterful with his ability to speak three languages, French, English and Spanish and to qualify with words and illustration the features of life in early California. This may have increased his personal value to the padres in the two years spent in the Californias (Alta and Baja) but couldn't resolve their lack of interest in goods he attempted to trade before continuing on his journey to Hawai’i (the Sandwich Islands). Perhaps this was because fate dealt him a business partner who swindled him out of his chance of becoming rich, by secretly sending out a ship on a similar journey to reach Hawai'i ahead of him; it was after his California adventures that he finally reached China by way of Hawai’i, trading in sandalwood and furs before returning to France.

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