A Pearl Legend

A Pearl Legend

Sixty years later, Sebástian Vizcaíno sailed in search of a safe “midway” harbor for galleons coming from Manila. Though the viceroy of New Spain ordered him to honor Cabrillo’s place names, Vizcaíno developed a severe case of cartographic amnesia: he swore he couldn’t find any original sites and had to rename everything. Among the changes, Cabrillo’s Isla de San Salvador became San Clemente Island, and San Miguel became San Diego.

Cabrillo Lighthouse, Point Loma, San Diego, California

Cabrillo Lighthouse, Point Loma, San Diego, California

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Around sundown, several Indians came to the settlement with pearls. Vizcaíno returned the favor with mirrors and knives.

Four Franciscans joined the party, a sign Vizcaíno meant to establish a colony, not just fish for pearls and explore the region. At Salaga, another 120 men and 14 more horses came on board.

A legend grew around the cause. Supposedly, young Don Lope, the viceroy’s page, fell in love with Doña Elvira. She said she would marry him. But first he had to find, or replace, a pearl she had lost. When he heard that Vizcaíno — the “pearl king,” thanks to his royal license — was leading an expedition to California, Don Lope signed up.

He wasn’t just one of the men at the fateful meal; the story goes, he caused the trouble. The chieftan’s daughter wore a pearl identical to Doña Elvira’s on a necklace. Don Lope walked up, ripped it from her, and shouted, “That’s my fiancée’s!”

When he brought the pearl home, Doña Elvira confessed she’d never lost one. She was just teasing. They got married and lived happily ever after.

In the letter, Vizcaíno revised his reasons for the expedition. First, the natives needed conversion. Second, the pearl beds, for which the crown would receive a generous portion, were of “excellent quality.” Third, many natives spoke of cities “twenty days travel overland,” where the people wore gold earrings” and cloaks decked with silver — the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola?

More about the pearl legend.

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