The Hispanic-American History Timeline
1791 Alessandro Malaspina Reaches Alaska
Alessandro Malaspina an Italian-born Spanish naval officer leads a two-ship scientific expedition from Cadiz, Spain across the Atlantic Ocean, around Cape Horn and all the way up the West coast of the Americas to the Gulf of Alaska.
Although he expects to sail from Mexico across the Pacific Ocean, by the time he gets to Mexico, Malaspina receives orders from the King of Spain to continue northward along the Pacific Coast of North America in search of the Northwest Passage, that long-sought waterway that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Sharing command of the voyage with another Spanish naval officer, José de Bustamante y Guerra, the Malaspina expedition sails from Acapulco, Mexico directly to Yakutat Bay, Alaska. Although they supposedly share "dual command," even Bustamante acknowledges that Malaspina is the chief the expedition.
They never find the illusive Northwest Passage, but the expedition and its Spanish scientists spend a month studying the lifestyle of the Tinglit, the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. Spanish scholars study and document the Tinglit's language, customs, economy, warfare methods and even burial practices. Spanish artists paint portraits of the tribal members and sketch scenes of Tinglit daily life. Spanish botanists collect many new plants.
They also surveyed the Alaska coastline, measured the height of Mount Saint Elias and explored huge glaciers, including the Malaspina Glacier, subsequently named after him.
Aside from the Malaspina Glacier in southeastern Alaska, which is the world's largest piedmont glacier, there is also a Mt. Malaspina and a Malaspina Lake in Alaska; and a Malaspina Strait, a Malaspina Village and Malaspina Provincial Park in Canada.
By Karen Anderson, Lehman College