After the visit of Vancouver
to Alta California in 1792-1793, the subsequent publication of
the journals of the voyage in Europe; the argument between Spain
and England over the northern boundaries of the Spanish claims
in northern California; and the wars between France, Spain and
England, Viceroy Revile Gigedo instructed the Governor of Alta
California to provide additional fortifications at the harbors
of the major presidios. These were considered to be Monterey,
San Francisco, and San Diego. At a later date not specified by
history, a fort was also added at Santa Barbara. The Spanish used
the word "Castillo" which means castle or redoubt or
fort in English to describe these installations.
The history of the forts
in California is quite variable. In general, a fort of some unique
design complemented each presidio. The information about each
depended on the particular installation - most is known about
San Francisco, the least about the Santa Barbara Fort. The Spanish
realized that their holdings were lightly defended. In 1793 the
Viceroy assesses the problem as follows: "At Monterey there
were "eight guns and three swivels, all in good conditions";
at Santa Barbara, "two guns and one swivel"; at San
Diego, "Three guns." But at Santa Barbara and San Diego
the guns were dismounted and without artillerists", from
California Under Spain and Mexico-1535 to 1847 by Irving B. Richman,
Don Miguel Costanso of the Royal Engineers made the original recommendations for the forts in 1794 upon the request of the Viceroy Marques de Frankfort. They are as follows:
Costanso is recommending
a greatly increased cost and personnel to the Viceroy. While not
mentioned in the original proposals, a fort at Santa Barbara was
added at a later date. One additional observation by Costanso
pointed out that even with the new forts, Alta California was
too vast to defend from foreign invaders. The best solution, Costanso
pointed out, was a greatly increased program of Spanish colonization
of the Californias, which could not, therefore, be easily conquered
by the invaders. This latter recommendation was not followed as
history has shown us.
Work on the recommended
forts began under the control of the local commanders and with
local labor, neither of which knew much about constructing forts.
San Francisco and Monterey were the first two forts to be constructed.
In 1796, the Royal Engineer Alberto de Cordoba was sent to California by the Viceroy to assist with the construction of the forts and to found the Villa Branciforte at or near Santa Cruz. Cordoba improved the fort at San Francisco and established the battery at Yerba Buena. He helped lay out the fort at San Diego and may have provided plans for the Santa Barbara fort but none have been found to date. Cordoba returned to Mexico in 1798.