CHAPTER 3: The Coveted Pacific Coast
The Nootka Incident
Spanish Steps to Guarantee Sovereignty
In Mexico, Viceroy Manuel Antonio Flôrez approved Martinez' suggestion that Nootka be occupied. In February 1789 the Princesa and the San Carlos sailed towards Nootka where they planned to build a temporary post large enough to guarantee Spanish sovereignty. In addition to their crew, the two ships had 31 soldiers on board. Martinez, who commanded the expedition, had to ensure that foreign ships recognized Spanish authority, without the need to resort to force. But when he arrived in Nootka on May 5 he was surprised to find three merchant ships anchored there. Two were American, which was not a problem because the Americans were not considered a threat to Spanish claims. But the third ship, the E figenia Nubiana, was Portuguese in flag and captain only, as all the crew were English. Martinez concluded that it was a British ship sailing under a flag of convenience. He also learned from the Natives that an English trade expedition under the command of John Meares, a former lieutenant in the Royal Navy, had not only stopped at Nootka the previous year to trade, but had also erected temporary shelters and even built a small ship, the North West America.