- Historic Sites
1796 Two Hundred Years Ago
California’s First Illegal Aliens
October 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 6
On October 29 the Otter , out of Boston, dropped anchor at Monterey, becoming the first American ship to visit California. Trade with foreign vessels was forbidden by the Spanish authorities, but Gov. Don Diego de Borica was happy to supply water and wood for cooking after the Otter ’s captain, Ebenezer Dorr, Jr., showed his passport from President Washington. Dorr also asked permission to drop off eleven stowaways from the British penal colony at Botany Bay, Australia. When it was refused, Dorr landed them secretly under cover of night before departing on November 6. Borica was put out at having his hospitality abused, but Dorr had no choice; his ship carried a crew of only twenty-six, and the extra passengers would have overtaxed her resources. Things worked out for the best, however. Borica put the stowaways to work as carpenters and blacksmiths, and they did such a good job that he was sorry to see them deported to Cádiz by official edict the following autumn.