Galleons and ‘Indios’

Historical Essay

by James Sobredo


"Indios" from Liwanag

In the summer of 1595, the galleon San Agustin with Spanish officers and Filipino crew members, sailed from Manila Bay with a shipment of Ming Dynasty porcelain and silks. After sailing across the Pacific Ocean, they landed in California on November 6, 1595, in a place they named La Bahia de San Francisco, now called Drakes Bay, in Point Reyes. These Filipinos, or Indios as the Spaniards referred to them, came as unfree labor who were coerced to work in the Spanish galleons. The San Agustin crew were greeted by Coast Miwoks, with whom they traded for food and other supplies. The ship got caught in one of California's infamous early winter storms and sank, along with its precious cargo of porcelains and silks. The remaining crew of 70 men built a smaller boat, loaded it with food and supplies, and sailed south, past the Farralon Islands and the San Francisco Peninsula. That they actually survived the journey and reached Acapulco is a testimony to the sailing skills of its Filipino crew.

From the 16th century through the 19th century, the migration of Filipinos to Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area continued. Today, a visitor to Mission Dolores can still see the tabernacle manufactured by Filipino craftsmen and brought over by galleons crewed by Filipino sailors.

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