Rosaura Sánchez's Telling Identities contains this statement:

Except for two very brief periods, the California territory had no ships of its own to travel up and down the coast or to San Blas and the Sandwich Islands, although there were small sailboats and rowboats for short-distance travel.

So who owned an ocean-going ship and when? Sánchez treats the matter as well known, so perhaps the answer is in Bancroft, but her description isn't detailed enough to follow up.

Possibly related: Which trade ship did not return to California from China?

1 Answer 1


One instance of Mexican California operating an ocean-going vessel can be read in the article concerning John B. R. Cooper. Cooper went to California in the ship Rover in 1823, which he then sold to the California Governor, Luis Arguello:

Cooper made arrangements to sell the Rover to the government of newly-independent Mexico, which as yet had no ships on the Pacific Coast with which to maintain contact with Alta California. To help cash-poor California governor Luis Arguello pay him for the ship, Cooper agreed to stay on as captain and enter the lucrative China trade, twice carrying Californian and Hawaiian goods to Canton and returning with Chinese manufactured goods.

The Rover is discussed in Bancroft's History of California 1801-1824 as well:

Arguello sent his newly purchased schooner the Rover with a cargo of skins including 300 otters obtained from the Russian contract and tallow enough to properly ballast the vessel to China under the command of Captain Cooper her former owner.

Cooper is also listed here as being in command of the Mexican government Schooner California in the years 1838,1841,1842. Many other ships on this list are listed as 'Mexican', but each individual ship would need to be researched to learn if they were based in Mexican California or in Mexico itself. A couple in the list seem to have been built in California between 1831 and 1834 however:

  • Guadalupe , California built schooner by Joseph Chapman at San Pedro.
  • Refugio (Mexican), built at San Pedro.

The source for the San Francisco history page is listed as:

  • Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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