Territorial Timeline

Estivan Martinez enters Nootka Sound and claims the Pacific Northwest for Spain

On May 6, 1789, Estivan Martinez, representing the Viceroy of Mexico, entered Nootka Sound (on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island) and claimed all of the Pacific Northwest for Spain in an effort to block Russian and British claims to the region.

In the late 1780s, the Spanish were growing concerned with the expansion of Russian settlements on the northern west coast of North America. In 1788 Spanish navigator Estivan Martinez sailed north to examine the Russian settlements. In the course of his inquiries, Martinez discovered that the Russians planned to send four frigates to establish a settlement at Nootka Sound. The Viceroy of Mexico arranged for Martinez to sail to Nootka and build a fort to hold the area as a Spanish possession. Yet when Martinez arrived in Nootka on May 6, 1789, he found not Russians, but the British ship Iphigenia Nubiana . Martinez seized the British ship. Soon the British schooner North West America sailed into Nootka and Martinez seized it as well. Two other British ships, the Argonaut and the Princess Royal were also seized by Martinez, who sent his prizes to Mexico that August.

Captain John Meares of England, explorer of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, owned the ships captured by Martinez. When Meares reached London, he informed the English Parliament of Spain’s actions. Immediately, England demanded Spain abandon the fort at Nootka and the other lands on the northwest coast of America and to compensate Meares for the loss of his ships and cargoes. Initially, the Spanish refused, causing both countries to prepare for war, with England threatening to drive the Spanish completely out of North and South America.

In the end, both countries decided the land in dispute was not worth an all-out war. In 1790 Spain and England signed the Treaty of Nootka. The Spanish handed over the fort at Nootka to England and paid England an indemnity for ships they seized. Most important, they affirmed England’s claims to the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest.