The Fantasy Image of the Southwest
Digital History ID 533
In 1804, William Shaler, the captain of a trading ship, became one of the first United States citizens to visit California. In the following selection, he describes what California was like at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and argues that it would be easy for the United States to acquire the province.
The Spanish population of the Californias...hardly exceeds 3000 souls, including the garrisons, among which, even the latter, the officers excepted, there are very few white people: it principally consists of a mixed breed. They are of an indolent, harmless disposition, and fond of spirituous liquors. That they should not be industrious, is not surprising; their government does not encourage industry. For several years past, the American trading ships have frequented this coast in search of furs, for which they have left in the country about 25,000 dollars annually, in specie and merchandize. The government have used all their endeavors to prevent this intercourse, but without effect, and the consequence has been a great increase in wealth and industry among the inhabitants. The missionaries are the principal monopolizers of the fur trade, but this intercourse has enabled the inhabitants to take part in it. At present, a person acquainted with the coast may always produce abundant supplies of provisions. All these circumstances prove that, under a good government, the California would soon rise to ease and affluence....
The conquest of this country would be absolutely nothing; it would fall without an effort to the most inconsiderable force....
Source: William Shaler, Journal of a Voyage between China and the North-Western Coast of America Made in 1804 (Claremont, Calif.: 1935).
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