CRESPI, Juan




Author Tags: 1700-1800, Haida Gwaii, Spanish

The priest Juan Crespi was one of four Spaniards among the Juan Pérez expedition of 1774 to provide the first written eyewitness accounts of British Columbia. Crespi also described the first known contacts between Europeans and Aboriginals in British Columbia on July 19, 1774 when canoes approached the Santiago near Langara Island, atop the Queen Charlotte Islands. He wrote, “While it was still distant from the vessel we heard the people in it singing, and by the intonation we knew they were pagans, for it was the same sung at the dances of pagans from San Diego to Monterey. They were eight men and a boy. Seven of them were paddling; the other, who was advanced in years, was upright and making dancing movements. Throwing several feathers into the sea, they made a turn about the ship.”

In describing the second and third canoes that arrived, Crespi noted one of the harpoons had a head of iron “and it looked like that of a boarding-pike.” Hence there is evidence the Haida had prior contact with mariners from cultures that could produce iron. One of the Spanish mariners with Crespi speculated as much at the time. Crespi later noted “some pieces of iron and copper and pieces of knives” in the canoes of Hesquiat people off the west coast of Vancouver Island in August. Captain Cook confirmed these sightings four years later in 1778. When the Mowachaht of the Nuu-chah-nulth approached the Santiago near Nootka Sound, Crespi reported hearing a “mournful crying out.” Some 18 years later a Spanish artist named José Moziño visited Nootka Sound and was told by Chief Maquinna’s people that it was thought Juan Pérez’s ship might be carrying a supernatural being named Qua-utz who was coming to punish their misdeeds.

The diaries kept by Crespi and his younger companion Father Tomás de la Peña y Saravia were handed over to their superior Junípero Serra in Monterey in November. These remained the only two known eyewitness accounts of the Pérez voyage in either Spanish or English for two centuries. The contents of Crespi’s diary were used to supplement a biography of Junípero Serra by Francisco Palóu in 1787. The biographer’s transcription of Crespi’s diary was later published in full as Noticias de la Nueva California in 1857. Crespi’s significant role in British Columbia literary history is little-known and has been overshadowed by his more significant role in California history. In 1769, a Spanish expedition of about 67 men including Crespi, led by Father Junipero Serra and Captain Gaspar de Portola, entered what is now Los Angeles, by way of Elysian Park, on August 2. Hence Father Juan Crespi was able to record the European origins of Los Angeles.

Born on March 1, 1721 in Palma, Crespi entered the Franciscan order at age seventeen. He arrived in America in 1749 and made his way to the California peninsula in 1767 where he administered the Mission Purísima Concepción. In 1774, at age fifty-three, Crespi joined the voyage of Juan Pérez. He was probably the oldest man on board. During this voyage Crespi and his fellow priest Tomás de la Peña became the first Catholic priests to see British Columbia, but there is no record of them going ashore.

BOOKS:

Crespi, Juan. The Journal of Fray Crespi (Sutro Collection, Los Angeles: Franklin Printing Company, 1891).

Bolton, Herbert E. (editor). Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774 (University of California Press, 1927; New York: AMS Press, 1971).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "Missionaries" "QCI" "1700-1800" "Spanish"