MicSem Publications

In the Wake of Foam and Blood

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ

1979 History

EDITOR 'S NOTE: The author introduces us to Lope Martin, the wily navigator, who altered the course of the San Lucas, a ship in Legaspi's expedition to the Philippines, and discovered the Marshalls. After being the first to return to New Spain via the northern route, he embarked again across the Pacific, but had his journey rudely interrupted at Ujelang in the Marshal Islands.

In late 1564, the sixth Spanish fleet left port to begin its voyage across the Pacific. Nearly half a century had passed since Magellan had first crossed those waters, and Spain had yet to found its long-desired colony in the East. There was a good deal that might have discouraged Philip II, who had succeeded Charles V to the throne in 1556. Besides the disappointing results of previous voyages, a new quarrel had arisen with Portugal over which of the European powers should have jurisdiction in the Philippines. Mounting evidence was beginning to persuade even the King's own cartographers that the Philippines lay outside the Spanish zone. Andres de Urdaneta, the pilot who had sailed with Loaysa in 1525 and since then taken the habit of an Augustinian friar, wrote the Spanish King as much in a letter that must have caused a considerable stir in the court of Madrid. But the imperial designs were not to be lightly discarded. Pepper prices were soaring in Spain, and with them the renewed interest in finding a spice-producing colony in the Orient. Even if that archipelago which bore the name of Philip II should not quite live up to Spanish expectations as the New Spice Islands, it could become a depot for trade with other parts of the East: "The Silver Islands," as Japan was sometimes called, and Cathay, whose potential was still largely untapped. As the fleet of four ships watched the mountain ridges of Mexico sink below the horizon, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi ripped open the sealed packet of instructions from the Spanish court and read his Secret orders. He was to make for the Philippines and find out which of the islands grew spices; those lands he was to colonize, sending back to Mexico samples of the "spices and other riches" that might be found there.

But it was not to be as easy as all that! Just ten days out of port, Legazpi was dismayed to find that one of his ships, the San Lucas under the command of Alonso de Arellano, had separated from the rest of the fleet and was nowhere to be seen. The San Lucas was easily the fastest sailor of the four ships and had pulled well ahead of the other ships on previous days, almost out of their sight. Legazpi had taken the pilot, Lope Martin, to task for this on more than one occasion, and could only conclude after he had lost the San Lucas that its maneuver was intentional. It probably was! Martin, it seems, had concocted a sinister scheme with a few of his shipmates to gain control of the San Lucas after he had shaken off the other ships in the fleet. They planned to turn it into a pirate vessel, evidently hoping to steer for the waters around the southern Philippines where they could make raids on the richly-laden merchant ships returning from the Moluccas. Until the opportunity came for the mutineers to make their move, however, they would have had to keep well out of the way of passing ships and, above all, prevent the San Lucas from accidentally being discovered by the rest of the fleet. With this in mind, Lope Martin brought the San Lucas down a few degrees from the usual track that Spanish ships followed to bring them directly to the Ladrones. Its new course he brought the small ship to a number of hitherto undiscovered islands in the Caroline and Marshall groups on a voyage that was the most eventful one yet made through these waters.

The Marshalls

The San Lucas was sailing before a stiff breeze one evening, a month after it had parted company with the rest of the fleet, when shoals showed up dead ahead. Martin dashed to the prow of the ship to size up the situation, and was almost swept overboard by a breaker. The ship, meanwhile, was brought hard around by the helmsman and managed to barely clear some vicious-looking rocks. The San Lucas stood well off until morning when the Spaniards discovered that they had almost run aground on a group of low islands which were very likely those of Likiep Atoll in the Marshalls. On the next day, January 7, 1565, the San Lucas came upon another atoll where they found anchorage. A sail appeared in the distance; the Spaniards made for it and found a canoe manned by two natives and a boy. When invited aboard ship, the native clambered up with no hesitation and received some small presents for their efforts. The Spaniards then followed them ashore to have a look around and, as it turned out, to meet their wives and children. These islands of Dos Vecinos (Two Neighbors) may have been Kwajalein. On the following day the San Lucas came to still another island-this smaller than the others and lying at about 8 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, possibly Lib, an island twenty miles south of Kwajalein. As they made for it, the natives swam out in great numbers towards the ship. One sight of the armed throng on the beach, however, was enough to dissuade Arellano from putting ashore. The natives swarmed all over the shore brandishing spears tipped with the tails of the stingrays, wooden clubs, and slingshots which they used with deadly accuracy. Since a force of only twenty men was aboard the ship, Arellano thought it better to leave the disposition of the people untested and hoist sail immediately. Putting behind him the Nadadores (The Swimmers), as he called this last island, he left the Marshalls to continue his westward course through the Carolines.

Carolines: Truk Atoll

On January 17, land again appeared off the port bow; this time a high island rather than the low coral atolls that the San Lucas had just passed in the Marshalls. As the ship drew nearer, Lope Martin saw that it was in fact several high islands ringed by an enormous coral reef. The San Lucas had come upon the Truk lagoon. Hardly had the Spaniards worked their way through the reefs northeast pass when a large canoe drew up to the ship, the four natives from the canoe who boarded the San Lucas presenting the Spanish with the customary gifts: fish and a "dough-like food so foul-smelling that not a man aboard the ship could stay downwind of it" very likely preserved breadfruit. The natives made signs to the Spanish inviting them to put in alongside their island. When Arellano showed his willingness to comply with their requests, one of them remained aboard the ship to help pilot it through the shallows to the lee side of Toloas Island, one of the larger islands within the lagoon. The San Lucas had not quite made the anchorage when the Spaniards noticed with alarm hundreds of canoes from the surrounding islands full of men armed with lances, clubs and slings, rapidly bearing down on them. The Europeans could surmise that the host of shouting natives making for them were angry that the Toloas people had beaten them to the punch and were themselves intent upon taking the ship as a prize.

The San Lucas beat a hasty retreat through the shallow waters off Toloas, with one of the friendly natives who remained aboard taking the helm from time to time. When at last the ship had put a safe distance between itself and the pursuing canoes, the few Toloas men who had stayed aboard helped themselves to spoons and whatever other pieces of iron they could find and leapt into the sea close by the barrier reef.

But the worst was not over yet. Dusk was quickly falling and the San Lucas still had to pick its way through the reef-studded lagoon. With sail shortened now, the hostile canoes, which had by no means given up the chase, were closing in on the Spanish ship. The fastest of the canoes had already drawn up alongside the launch and the natives were busy trying to cut it loose, when Arellano ordered one of his men into the launch to drive them off. While the beleaguered seaman was defending himself from the blows of their clubs, the others in the canoes let loose with a volley of spears. Somehow they fell harmlessly to the deck without injuring any of the Spanish, and one of Arellano's men emptied his musket at the canoes. In the turmoil and shouting that ensued, Arellano ordered the rest of the sail raised and the San Lucas slipped away into the gathering gloom. No one aboard ship slept that night. As the San Lucas crept through the dangerous waters, always within earshot of the thundering surf on the reef, the sailors would peer uneasily from time to time at the ominous fire that blazed on the beaches of distant islands and listen for the sound of the strange native chants.

The night passed without incident. At daybreak the ship hoisted sail and made for the pass on the western side of the lagoon. To the surprise and delight of the entire ship's company there were no native canoes to be seen-at least not until the San Lucas was passing Tol, the westernmost of the islands in the lagoon. The ship was pointing toward the pass when about a dozen canoes came off the island, their occupants signaling the ship to turn about and put in for food and water. The weapons that the natives carried in their canoes were poorly concealed, however, and Arellano gave the order to load one of the ship's culverins with a stone charge and fire it at the lead canoe. The gunner scored a direct hit, at which the other canoes reversed direction immediately, leaving the San Lucas an unimpeded passage through the reef and away to the west.

To the Western Carolines

The Spanish ship was not long in making land again. The morning after it left Truk, it came upon three tiny islets arranged in a triangular shape around a lagoon: the atoll of Pulap. By this time the San Lucas was badly in need of wood and water, not to mention food; so the ship hauled in under the lee of the island and prepared to send a boat ashore. Again the Spanish saw what looked like the entire population throng to the shore with their weapons in hand. Any fears that the Spaniards may have had, however, dispelled when two of the native chiefs came aboard ship, offered the assistance of their people in helping them take on wood and water, and willingly remained on the ship as hostages while a young seaman went ashore with three canoes of natives to fetch water. When the lad returned, he was so enthusiastic about the beauty of the island and the friendliness of the people that the ship's launch set out for shore with a party of ten men. The two chiefs in native canoes led the way and when they had beached their canoes they made impatient signs to the Spaniards to land at the same spot. The officers hesitated when they came to a reef that they judged risky to cross with a fully loaded boat. A moment later their hesitation turned to apprehension when they watched the natives split into small groups and take cover behind trees with spears in hand. They could only suspect the worst and brought the launch about to return to the ship.

It was not long before a number of natives came out to the ship to inquire why the Spaniards had not come ashore. They insisted that they carry the water jugs to the island in their canoes so that they could fill them for the Spanish, but wanted a few of the Spanish to come with them. When they agreed to leave a couple of natives aboard the ship as hostages, three of the Spaniards jumped into the canoes and headed for the shore with the natives. Two of the Spaniards in the lead canoe had already reached the island and gone ashore as the canoe carrying the third sailor was just approaching the opening in the reef. The seaman in it suddenly saw his two crewmates dash out of the woods to the water's edge with a number of natives in close pursuit. He watched in horror as they were clubbed to death in the shallow water and their bodies dragged back ashore. Panic stricken, he seized a paddle and began swinging wildly at the natives in his canoe, yelling at them to turn the canoe around and make for the ship. When they came at him with clubs, he pulled a dagger from his belt and killed two of them; the others leapt out of the canoe and swam for their lives. The sailor turned the canoe around and made for the ship amid a hail of stones hurled by the natives in nearby canoes.

Meanwhile, the two natives who had been kept on the San Lucas, only too well aware of what was happening, jumped overboard and swam desperately for shore. A few of the Spaniards bounded into the ship's boat to pursue the swimmers. When they saw that there was no hope of overtaking them before they reached shore, a marine took aim with his musket and shot sending a ball through the head of one of them, killing him instantly. Then they picked up the injured sailor, still paddling furiously for the ship, more dead than alive. Feelings ran intense among the Spaniards at the loss of their shipmates, and Arellano called on a landing party to go ashore with him to avenge their deaths. The ship's boat put out and skirted the reef looking for a passage to shore, but the party soon concluded that the boat could not get to shore without running the risk of having its bottom ripped out on the rocks, and so returned to the ship. Their memory was honored in the name that would appear on future charts, Los Martires (The Martyrs). Arellano had no recourse but to weigh anchor and sail on, leaving his two dead crewmen unavenged.

Some measure of vengeance was soon granted the Spanish, as it appeared. When they sighted the small island of Sorol three days later, they were greeted by the usual sight of armed men along the beach. By this time, though, they were wary enough of islanders to avoid the main island, and instead made for a tiny uninhabited islet close by. Although they had understandably developed a distrust of crowded beaches, they still were sorely in need of water and wood to continue their voyage. As they anchored, two canoes approached the ship from a distance, the occupants armed in the usual way. Even when Arellano signaled them that he wanted to take on water, the natives continued to shout and brandish their weapons. By this time the patience of the Spaniards was wearing rather thin. But the ever resourceful Lope Martin, who was never without a ready stratagem for just such occasions, leapt to the poop deck, dropped a red jacket in the water and bade the natives to come pick it up. As one of the canoes pulled up alongside the ship to do so, a crewman reached out and yanked up a young native by the hair. Almost simultaneously the muskets were fired at point-blank range at the canoe near the ship, while the culverin was emptied at the other canoe. The discharges did great damage, Arellano tells us, but "not as much as the natives deserved for their evil designs." The islanders, some of them seriously wounded, abandoned their canoes and swam for shore. The Spanish seized the canoes and the weapons in them for firewood, which was still in short supply aboard the San Lucas. As for the captured young man, his hair was cut, and he was given the Christian name Vincent and a pair of pants to make him decent.

Legazpi Sails On

While the San Lucas was dodging shoals and native islanders in one harrowing escapade after another on its voyage through the heart of the Caroline and Marshall Islands, Legazpi was leading the other three ships of the fleet on a less troubled passage west. Just four days after Arellano's first landfall in the Marshalls, Legazpi's fleet came upon an island at which most of the men went ashore, much to the terror of the native population who fled in panic at their landing. Not long after, however, the natives returned to receive presents from the hand of the Spanish commander and to carry on trade with the ship. Entirely unknown to the islanders, Legazpi's grandson, Felipe de Salcedo, and the Augustinian Friar Urdaneta were ashore taking formal possession of the island in the name of the King of Spain. When they returned to the ship later in the day, they carried with them branches of trees and some vegetation that they had cut in token of the occupation of this Isla de los Barbados (The Island of the Bearded People). On successive days Legazpi discovered four more island groups, all of them seemingly uninhabited, and passed on without incident. His ships then climbed to the latitude of the Ladrones, making Guam on January 22 where Legazpi himself went ashore to take formal possession of the island on behalf of the Spanish crown and to attend a Mass celebrated by Urdaneta to solemnize the event.

The natives of Guam unfortunately, could not be persuaded to behave like loyal Spanish subjects. In the days that followed they persisted in filching nails and whatever else on the ship might happen to catch their fancy, thus living up to the reputation as Ladrones, which they had earned some time before. Each day the uneasiness of the Spaniards grew, the more so as their landing parties returned with regular reports that they had been stoned while looking for water. Finally a young seaman who had been accidentally left ashore by a landing party was found murdered the next morning, his body pierced with spears and his tongue ripped out. Vengeance was swift and brutal. With a party of a hundred armed men, Legazpi put the torch to all the palm-thatched huts and outrigger canoes that he saw and summarily hanged the four natives who were unlucky enough to be caught by his party. On this unhappy note, the Spanish commander ended his eleven-day visit in the islands that he had just claimed for his Sovereign and then departed for the Philippines.

Arriving at Samar in the eastern Philippines on February 13, Legazpi spent the next two months scurrying about in search of food, inquiring where valuable spices were produced, making diplomatic overtures to petty chiefs, and deciding where he should establish the command post for the new colony that he was to found. In late April his fleet reached the coast of Cebu where he was met by two thousand armed warriors. A display of his artillery quickly dispersed the force that had gathered to oppose him, and Legazpi landed without opposition to take possession of the archipelago in the name of Philip II of Spain, thus beginning a colonial rule that was to endure for more than three centuries.

Arellano and the San Lucas never did fall in with the rest of the expedition. The San Lucas had arrived in the southern Philippines just two weeks before Legazpi's ships, but had run down the coast of Mindanao to seek anchorage in the Davao Gulf where they lay waiting over a month for the fleet.

In early March, Arellano brought the ship northward through the Philippines on a fruitless search for the rest of the fleet. Finally, on April 21, the San Lucas cleared the Philippines altogether and steered to the northeast to find a sailing route back to New Spain. Within a short time they had been driven by heavy winds as high as 40° north latitude where the crude charts they carried showed them to be somewhere in the interior of China! Arellano turned the ship eastward and sailed easily across the Pacific, with the steady westerly of those latitudes astern. Twelve weeks after they had departed the Philippines, the crew of the San Lucas sighted the coast of North America. The ship had become the first European vessel to make the return crossing of the Pacific, arriving just two months ahead of Legazpi's flagship San Pedro, which the Augustinian friar-navigator Urdaneta had successfully guided along the same route under orders from his commander. The San Lucas and San Pedro had demonstrated the practicability of return voyages between the Philippines and America, and for two and a half centuries thereafter Spanish galleons would sail in the track laid down by these two ships.

Back Across the Pacific

But the saga of the Legazpi expedition was not yet over. Soon after the return of the San Pedro, authorities in New Spain decided to dispatch another ship to bring Legazpi supplies, ammunition and military reinforcements for his campaign in the Philippines. The San Jeronimo was gotten out of dry-dock and sent off for this purpose under the command of Pedro Sanchez Pericon. Captain Pericon was a forbidding soul: "a miserable melancholic enemy of kindness who delighted in solitude," in the words of one of the men who served under him. Even worse, he was thoroughly without good judgment and a poor leader of men. To serve under him as his pilot was chosen the wily Lope Martin, not so much for his proven ability as a navigator as to provide a convenient excuse to get him back to the Philippines where he would have to answer to Legazpi for the separation of the San Lucas the year before. This mismatch of the ship's officers was patent. It must have been with some foreboding of what was to come that the San Jeronimo's company of 170 left Acapulco on May 1, 1566.

Within just a few days of the ship's departure, Pericon had managed to alienate almost every man on board. His heavy-handed treatment of soldiers and crewmen alike did little to win their respect for him and his 25-year old son who sailed with him. The only apparent object of his affections was a horse that he had stabled in the bow of the ship and which his men grumbled, received better treatment than any of the ship's company. None of the men under him could have wept inconsolably, then, when they were told on the morning of June 4 that the captain and his son had been killed in their sleep the night before. Behind the deed was Lope Martin, as given to intrigue as ever, and two fellow conspirators. At their invitation, the soldiers chose their Chief Sergeant as the new captain of the ship, but his command was destined to be even briefer than Pericon's. Not three weeks after the mutiny, the newly appointed captain was clapped into chains while drinking in his quarters one evening, marched to the yardarm and hanged, and in a needless display of cruelty cut down while still alive and thrown overboard. Lope Martin now became the self-appointed captain of the vessel and there was nothing to prevent him from carrying out his long-cherished plan of bringing the ship down to the trade lanes near the Moluccas and preying off Portuguese shipping for a livelihood.

Martin kept the San Jeronimo on a westward course and soon found himself in the Marshall Islands, as he had the year before with Arellano. First he sighted a small chain of uninhabited islands, then another group of islands from which a canoe of natives came to gaze at the ship while keeping a respectful distance. Two days later he found a third group at which he anchored to get water and food and received the same kind of warm welcome, with singing and dancing, that Saavedra had been given at his Los Jardines (The Gardens). That same evening the company returned to the ship and Martin pressed on towards Guam.

It was towards dusk on July 6 when the San Jeronimo lurched suddenly towards some barely visible reefs off its port bow. Martin took the wheel from the helmsman and swung the vessel hard over, steering through a narrow passage into the Ujelang lagoon. The next morning the ship's company found themselves in the midst of calm waters surrounded by islands and reefs. The ship came to anchor off a particularly attractive little island where the men found deserted huts, a source of fresh water and all the coconuts that they could have wanted. Martin decided that this idyllic spot was a perfect place to rest for a few days before resuming his voyage. All that the Spaniards needed to round out this pleasant existence were a few natives to do their fishing for them and a handful of women to serve their pleasure in other ways. Whenever Martin or any of the men made for one of the native canoes that they occasionally spotted, however, the frightened islanders would sail off in great haste.

The company of the San Jeronimo passed several leisurely days on their island paradise, soon to become for many of them a prison. As might be expected in these circumstances, quarrels arose among the mutineers and mistrust grew daily. One day two of the company who were out of favor with the mutineers duped some of the crew into taking them back to the ship on the launch. Once on board, they joined forces with two of their supporters to retake the San Jeronimo. Within a matter of minutes they subdued the seamen who had been left to guard the ship, had the mutineers in irons down in the ship's hold, and were opening up the arsenal to arm themselves. The ship was theirs, and they shouted out to shore their intentions to leave the mutineers stranded on the island. During the next four days those who had taken the ship carried on negotiations with those ashore as to who would be permitted to leave with the ship. Food supplies were left on the island, in exchange for which the marooned mutineers handed over the ship's instruments and charts. Martin was helpless; there was nothing that he could do to persuade those aboard to change their minds. With sinking hearts he and twenty-six others watched from the shore as the San Jeronimo crawled out of the Ujelang lagoon on the morning of July 21, and slowly dropped over the western horizon.