photos adapted from District of Sooke Website
Early Spanish explorers perform official ceremonies called “Acts of Possession” in order to claim newly discovered land for their King. These legal ceremonies are developed and refined over time in order to avoid conflict, potential war, and to reach common understanding between nations over land claims.
In May of 1790, Spanish commander Manuel Quimper receives instructions from his superior Francisco de Eliza to explore and claim Juan de Fuca Strait in the name of Carlos IV King of Spain. Quimper performs (and documents) Acts of Possession in Sooke, Royal Roads, Esquimalt, Discovery Bay, and Neah Bay, claiming these lands for Spain.
Acts of Possession are performed, according to special guidelines, in front of witnesses and under the highest of authority of Catholic Spain—in the name of the Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and the King—and are documented by a scribe and signed by the commander in charge. A template is followed in order to ensure land claims are recognized the eyes of other nations. All present are asked if there are any objections to the transaction, and the ceremony, full of Catholic symbolism and held in Spanish, begins with a procession of instruments and song. The crew, a priest, a scribe, and witnesses march from the shoreline up a hill (an easily visible point of land), where they raise a cross made from trees. To name and alter the land in some way is important. At times, they move rocks, plant or build something, scatter sand, or drink the local water, thereby claiming all the land and waters around. A plaque written in latin (a language of authority) is placed at the cross as a reminder to others of their claim. Written into the record are the names of the authority figures present, the name and kind of the ship they travelled in, where it sailed from, and important dates associated with the Act of Possession.
The document below (written in Spanish) is a copy of the Act of Possession performed at Sooke, or Puerto de Revilla Gigedo (as named by the Spanish), signed by Commander Manuel Quimper, and witnessed by: the first mate, Gonzalo Lopez de Haro; the second mate, Juan Carrasco; and the scribe, Estevan Bañales. This document was copied in Mexico 12 January 1791, by Antonio Bonilla.
Quimper manuscript from: Box 43, Folder 14. Estado. Expedicíon de Manuel Quimper y Francisco de Eliza al Descubrimiento del Estrecho de Fuca. Archivos General de Indias, Imágenes 25–27, Seville, Spain. 9 November 2017.
Sooke (Puerto de Revilla Gigedo)
Royal Roads (Rada de Valdés y Bazan)
Esquimalt (Puerto de Córdova)
Discovery Bay (Puerto Quadra)
Neah Bay (Nuñez Gaona)
Quimper manuscript. Box 43, Folder 14. Estado. Expedicíon de Manuel Quimper y Francisco de Eliz al Descubrimiento del Estrecho de Fuca. Archivos General de Indias, Imágenes 25–27, Seville, Spain. 9 November 2017.
Seed, Patricia. Ceremonies of possession in Europe's conquest of the New World, 1492-1640, 1995. quod-lib-umichedu.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/cgi/t/text/pagevieweridx?c=acls;cc=acls;q1=Acts%20of%20Possession;rgn=full%20text;idno= heb01808.0001.001; didno=heb01808.0001.001;view=image;seq=00000011# . Accessed 11 November 2017.
Scott, William Henry. “Demythologizing the Papal Bull ‘Inter Caetera.’” Philippine Studies, vol. 35, no. 3, 1987, pp. 348–356. JSTOR,www.jstor.org/stable/42633027.
Wagner, Henry R. “Creation of Rights of Sovereignty through Symbolic Acts.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 4, 1938, pp. 297–326. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3633982.