Spanish and Mexican California
Founding of the City of Angels
By Mark J. Denger
California Center for Military History
It was not until January, 1769, before a small Spanish vessel, the SAN CARLOS, sailed from La Paz for Alta California to establish a settlement in San Diego. The expedition, headed by Jose de Galvez and Gaspar de Portolá, landed in San Diego in March, 1769. With them, Father Junipero Serra (1), a devoted and eloquent priest of the Franciscan order, set out on his historic mission –the first settlement in California.
In 1769, the Spanish occupation of California vested title to all land in California in the King of Spain. This was accomplished by the announcement of Gaspar de Portolá at San Diego, and was followed by the establishment in Alta California of presidios, missions and pueblos.
About the middle of July of 1769, Gaspar de Portolá left San Diego with a company of sixty-four persons, soldiers, mule-drivers, a few Indians and two priests. Fray Juan Crespi was the diarist of the expedition. This company of men, many whose names were to become famous in California history, arrived at the friendly Indian village of Yabit, or Yang-na on August 2, 1769. This day being the feast of Our Lady of the Angels. Hence, the place would become known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula –The City of Angels.
Looking out over the vast plain toward the south and west Crespi wrote: "This plain has all the requisites of a large settlement." Twelve years later, on September 4, 1781, the pueblo of Los Angeles would be founded at the same place.
In 1771, a company from the Mission San Diego founded the Mission San Garbriel Arcangel –not the present one, but the old mission on the banks of the San Gabriel River. Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, the godmother of the Pueblo de Los Angeles, was founded on September 8, 1771, the birth date of Carlos III. A single supply ship, which sailed from San Blas, Mexico, would deliver their cargo to the presidio from where it was distributed to the mission. This proved inadequate for the needs of the Mission San Gabriel, and the following year, after the Mission San Gabriel was established, a warehouse about 40 miles from the mission was built at a place called San Pedro (2) –marking the humble beginning of what would become the port of Los Angeles.
The mission was reestablished at a site five miles southwest of the present one on the banks of the San Gabriel River (3), where two padres erected a great cross, hung their bells in a tree, raised and decorated an altar, and founded the Mission.
Under Spanish rule foreign vessels were prohibited from trading directly with any California port except Monterey. This rule, proving inadequate, two supply ships per year, laden with goods from Spain's House of Trades, were later permitted to exchange their cargos for hides and tallow from the missions. Nevertheless, during this period of settlement, San Pedro received a couple of foreign visitors who were making scientific voyages of the Pacific. The French Comte de la Perouse (4) was the first visitor in 1786. British Captain George Vancouver (5) stopped by several times in 1792 to 1794.
On September 4, 1781, the Governor of Alta California, Felipe de Neve, arrived at the Indian village of Yang-na. No casual act was this –as Los Angeles was planned by Governor Neve as an agricultural village of which the Province, still largely dependent on erratic services of supply ships from Mexico, was in critical need to make California self-supporting.
Over a year had been spent in Mexico recruiting eleven families from the provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa to become the first settlers of El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula (the town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels). After one hundred days of travel on horseback, 500 miles of it, through the dust and heat of the desert peninsula of Alta California lay behind the forty-four humble people (eleven men, eleven women and twenty-two children) (6), who would become the founder of the pueblo.
The site had been previously laid out with a Plaza (7) in the center and extending three miles in every direction. Lots were assigned the settlers around the Plaza, and agricultural lands in the outside territory. As had been anticipated, the pueblo of Los Angeles became a nucleus of colonial growth. Retired officers and soldiers, Spanish families of distinction, were attracted to Los Angeles. The land round about it was parceled into huge ranchos with names as alluring as that of the pueblo itself –San Pedro, Palos Verdes, San Rafael, Santa Monica, La Brea, Los Feliz, Santa Ana, and many others.

(1) Father Junipero Serra was born Miguel Jose Serra 24 November 1713 at Petra on the Island of Majorca. He died 28 August 1784 and is buried at the mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. On 14 September 1730 he entered the Franciscan Order. He received a Doctor of Theology degree from Lullian University at Palma and, in 1749, joined the missionary college of San Fernando, Mexico. In Mexico he sustained a leg injury which plagued him the rest of his life; but he continued to travel by walking. He served in the missions, eventually finding himself superior of a band of fifteen Franciscans for the Indian Missions of Lower California. In 1769 he joined Portolá's land expedition to Upper California. In May, in Lower California, he established the Mission San Fernando de Velicatá. He arrived in San Diego on 1 July and on 16 July founded the first of the 21 California missions where he ministered until his death.
(2) Known as the old embarcadero of Mission San Gabriel, the padres very early had built a warehouse at a place called San Pedro. Described in length in Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast," the warehouse would one day furnish more hides than any other on the coast. Don Abel Stearns would purchase the old warehouse, in 1835, going on to build an active settlement.
(3) Annual floods caused the padres to move the "Mision Vieja" or the "Old Mission" in 1776 to its present site, where several chapels and buildings were successively erected. Here the Pobladores, founders of Los Angeles, rested after their long journey from Mexico, and from this place they started out on the morning of September 4, 1781, to found the new city. Two of the most notable men of early California days were Fray Jose Maria Zalvidea, and Mayordomo Claudio Lopez, under whose guidance Mission San Gabriel became famous as the wealthiest and most prosperous of all the Franciscan Missions in California.
(4) Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de la Perouse, was born on 23 August, 1741 near Albi, France. He entered the Navy when he was fifteen, and fought the British off North America in the Seven Years' War. Later he served in North America, India and China. In August 1782 he made fame by capturing two English forts on the coast of the Hudson Bay. The next year his family finally consented in his marriage to Louise-Eléonore Broudou, a young creole from modest origins he had met on Ile de France (present-day Mauritius). He was appointed in 1785 to lead an expedition to the Pacific. His ships were the ASTROLABE and the BOUSSOLE, both 500 tons. They were storeships, reclassified as frigates for the occasion. La Pérouse was a great admirer of James Cook and was well-liked by his men. Among his 114 man of crew there was a large staff of scientists: An astronomer, a physicist, three naturalists, a mathematician, three draftsmen, and even both chaplains were scientifically schooled.
(5) George Vancouver was born in 1758. An English navigator and explorer, he began his career in the Royal Navy, serving under Captain James Cook on his second and third voyages. In 1791 he was appointed to command an expedition of discovery of the northwest coast of America, setting sail in the Discovery and the Chatham. He reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca in May of 1792. After surveying this area he moved on to Puget Sound where he made extensive surveys. This area is named after Lieutenant Peter Puget of the Discovery. Sailing north Vancouver discovered that Vancouver Island was actually separated from the mainland, and that the body of water they were sailing in did not lead to a northwest passage. In the area of Point Grey and Burrard Inlet Vancouver met with Valdes and Galiano, and they proceeded together sailing northward as far as Queen Charlotte Sound. Vancouver then sailed down the west coast of the island to accept secession documents from the Spanish who had occupied the territory since 1789. Vancouver is credited with completing the circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. His accomplishments are remembered in the naming of Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver.
(6) Upon the order of King Carlos the III of Spain, Felipe de Neve, governor of the Californias, recruited twelve families to establish an agricultural colony in Alta California, El Pueblo la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula. They were: Manuel Camero, wife Maria Tomasa; Jose Fernando de Velasco y Lara, wife Maria Antonia Campos, children: Josef, Julian, Maria, Juan, Jesus, and Maria Faustina; Antonio Mesa, wife Ana Gertrudis Lopez, children: Antonio Maria, Maria Paula; Jose Moreno, wife Maria Gertrudis Perez; Jose Antonio Navarro, wife Maria Regina Dorotea Gloria de Soto y Rodriguez, children: Josef Maria Eduardo, Josef Clemente, Mariana Josefa; Luis Quintero, wife Maria Petra Rubio, children: Maria Conception, Maria Tomasa, Maria Rafaela, Josef Clemente, and Maria Gertrudis Castelo, adopted; Jose Alejandro Rosas, wife Juana Maria Rodriguez; Jose Antonio Basilio Rosas, wife Maria Manuela Calistra Hernandez, children: Alejandro, Josef Maximo, Josef Carlos, Antonio Rosalino, Josef Marcelino, Juan Esteban , Maria Josefa; Jose Vanegas, wife Maria Bonifacia Maxima Aguilar, son Cosme Damien, Flores, and adopted daughter, Maria Antonia Josefa Pinuelas; Pablo Rodriquez, wife Maria Rosalia Noriega , daughter Moaria Antonia.
(7) La Plaza Vieja de Los Angeles, with a bronze statue honoring the Founder of Los Angeles in its center, is a monument in itself, and it marks the birthplace of the City of Los Angeles.
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Updated 8 February 2016