Astronomy professor Paulo Afonso has presented a study for scientific review that contradicts the theory that João Rodrigues Cabrilho, the first European to arrive in California in 1542, was born in Spain instead of Portugal.

Presenting several documents, the professor argues that Cabrilho was born in Portugal and later became a naturalised Spanish citizen in order to work for the Spanish crown. “That, in my opinion, is the most likely hypothesis”, said Paulo Afonso, based in Sacramento, California.

Cabrilho, a historical reference of the community in San Diego, was considered Portuguese until new research by researcher Wendy Kramer in 2015 concluded that he was Spanish, as there are documents where he is described as a native of Palma del Río, in Andalusia.

“There is no document that says that Cabrilho was born in Spain”, said Paulo Afonso. “Nowhere is it proven that Cabrilho was born in Palma del Río”.

“Born” in Portugal

The professor has been investigating the case for over two years and has gathered dozens of primary and related documents that contradict the theory. The confusion, he argues, is due to the difference between “natural” and “born”.

“I understand, on a simplistic and primary analysis, that the person reads natural and thinks that he is born, and this is often the case. But in the particular case of Cabrilho there are other data”, indicated Afonso.

“At that time, in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was known that natural and born were things with different legal meanings,” he explained. Someone could be born in one country and a native of another, in the sense of later naturalization.

The professor points to the fact that Antonio de Herrera yTordesillas, a Spanish chronicler and historian of the 16th/17th centuries, wrote that Cabrilho was Portuguese.

This fact was considered an error in the research that attributed Spanish origin to Cabrilho. “That is, to adjust the simplistic model they ignore fundamental data”, criticised Paulo Afonso.