Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
El Presidio Real de San Francisco, 1776
(Including El Cuartel de Sonoma, 1835)
by Justin Ruhge
 
 

The establishment of another presidio north of the Monterey area was not in the original plans of the Spanish Monarch. Spain had no knowledge of the large body of water to the north. Vizcaino era maps did refer to a river at the location of the Golden Gate but it was not explored and the location was passed by. That all changed on July 14, 1769. After establishing a precarious hold in San Diego, Portola took a small party north in search of Monterey. An advanced party under Sergeant Jose Ortega, a criollo born in Guanajuato in central Mexico who would be destined to serve at the garrisons of San Diego, Monterey, and Santa Barbara during his career, reported that they had seen a "brazon del mar" - an arm of the sea. The Spanish explorers noted this chance sighting. In 1770 Don Pedro Fages took it upon himself to forage a land route to the north. Fages and a handful of lancers, along with some muleteers, rode to the Santa Clara Valley. From there they went east, encamping near the present city of Alameda. By November 28th, the men viewed a large "bocana" or estuary mouth. Not being able to cross the Punta de los Reyes, Fages halted and then made his way back to Monterey. In March of 1772 Fages again returned north with six soldiers, a muleteer, a Native American servant and the Majorcan-born Fray Juan Crespi to gain a clearer understanding of the large body of water to the north. From the east bay they saw the Farallons and three islets within the bay that someday would be known as Alcatraz, Angel Island and Yerba Buena. Armed with this added intelligence, Fages's party concluded its journey with a report and chart that prompted additional interest in the region.

Having read these reports, Father Junipero Serra began to lobby the viceroy for two more missions in the vicinity of what came to be called the Port of San Francisco, one in the Santa Clara Valley and one at the opening to the bay. Don Pedro Fages felt that he did not have enough soldiers to support another missionary program. However, Viceroy Antonio Bucarelli y Ursua championed Serra's cause, relieving Fages and replacing him with Capitan Fernando Xavier de Rivera y Moncada as military comandante of Alta California. Fages was sent off to the Apache wars in Arizona.

Charged with another survey of the "Port and River of San Francisco", Rivera commanded 16 lancers, a muleteer, two servants and one priest, another native of Majorca, Fray Francisco Palou. The 21 riders left Monterey on November 23, 1774. By December 4th, they halted at "a long lake ending down at the shore" (now Lake Merced in the southwestern part of San Francisco). Rivera continued on with Palou and four troopers until they reached either what now is called Land's End or perhaps present-day Point Lobos, where they set up a cross. The next day they headed home making their way to Monterey by December 13th.

The result of this exploration was a plan and program to settle the area south of the Golden Gate with a presidio and a mission. This was the northernmost area of the Spanish possessions over which they could exercise any control. The Spanish had no ships stationed in the area with which to go further north and provide any meaningful control across the Bay.

To facilitate his plans, Viceroy Bucareli turned to Captain Juan Agustin Bautista de Anza of the Tubac Presidio, in present day Arizona, to found the presidio and provide the Christianized Mexican Native American settlers for the missions. His effort to do so has already been discussed in detail in the earlier introductory portion of the "presidio" section of this volume.

In the meantime, 30-year-old Juan Manuel de Ayala played another role in preparing the way for Spanish settlement in northern California. As the skipper of the packet San Carlos, Ayala sailed from San Blas with supplies for the proposed colony. His other duties included the charting of the bay and its shoreline, and ascertaining whether a navigable passage existed to the inland waterway from the sea. Finally, Ayala sought to learn whether a port could be established there. On August 4, 1775 the San Carlos arrived just outside the present day Golden Gate. The next morning, Ayala sent his first pilot, Jose de Canizares, into the harbor with a longboat. That evening he followed, anchoring somewhere near what became North Beach. This was the first European ship to enter this great bay. During the next 44 days Ayala and Canizares completed a thorough reconnaissance before heading back to Monterey on September 18th. Shortly thereafter, Ayala enthusiastically reported the fine harbor presented "a beautiful fitness, and it has no lack of good drinking water and plenty of firewood and ballast." He also concluded that it possessed a healthful climate and "docile natives lived there". A chart of the Bay of San Francisco was prepared by Jose de Canizares.

The de Anza party of 240 settlers and 1,000 head of domestic stock reached Monterey on March 10, 1776. On March 23rd, Anza left his weary fellow sojourners at this location and took an advanced party from Monterey to select the new outpost of the empire.

According to an account kept by Fray Pedro Font, on March 27th, "the weather was fair and clear, a favor which God granted us during all these days, and especially today, in order that we might see the harbor which we were going to explore." After a march of four hours, they "halted on the banks of a lake or spring of very fine water near the mouth of the port of San Francisco," today's Mountain Lake. This spot afforded a resting place for the tired riders. Then, Anza took Font, another officer, and four soldiers to scout further. Going to the northernmost tip of San Francisco Bay's peninsula and looking down from White Cliffs, Anza had seen enough. He ordered the party back to camp. There, Font set down his somewhat over-optimistic impressions: "This place and its vicinity has abundant pasturage, plenty of firewood, and fine water, all good advantage for establishing here the presidio or fort which is planned. It lacks only timber, for there is not a tree on all those hills, though the oaks and other trees along the road are not very far away. Here and near the lake there are "yerba buena" and so many lilies that I almost had them inside my tent." Font continued and, for one of the first times, clearly used the term San Francisco as the name of the great bay: "The port of San Francisco.is a marvel of nature, and might well be called a harbor of harbors, because of its great capacity, and of several small bays which it unfolds in its margins or beach and in its islands."

On March 28th, Anza returned to the Cantil Blanco (White Cliffs) of the previous day to erect a wooden cross. This was at or near the present day toll plaza on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. This action marked the formal act of possession for Spain. Anza also selected the ground where the cross stood as the spot for a presidio to protect the region. Then the party further surveyed the immediate area. Fray Font recorded: "On leaving we ascended a small hill and then entered upon a mesa that was very green and flower-covered, and an abundance of wild violets. The mesa is very open, of considerable extent, and level, sloping a little toward the harbor. It must be about half a league wide and somewhat longer, getting narrower until it ends right at the white cliff. This mesa affords a most delightful view, for from it one sees a large part of the port and its islands, as far as the other side, the mouth of the harbor, and of the sea all that the sight can take in as far as beyond the farallones. Indeed, although in my travels I saw very good sites and beautiful in all the world, for it has the best advantages for founding in it a most beautiful city, with all the conveniences desired, by land as well as sea, with that harbor so remarkable and so spacious, in which may be established shipyards, docks, and anything that might be wished. This mesa the commander selected as the site of the new settlement and fort which were to be established on this harbor: for, being on a height, it is so commanding that with muskets it can defend the entrance to the mouth of the harbor, while a gunshot away it has water to supply the people, namely, the spring or lake where we halted. The only lack is timber for large buildings, although for huts and barracks and for the stockade of the presidio there are plenty of trees in the groves."

Neither Font nor Anza, however, would have to wrestle with the actual establishment of a settlement since both men left the bay area for Monterey on April 5th, arriving there some three days later. By April 14th the two men departed, once again this time setting out for Mexico, where Anza would receive another promotion and a new assignment destined to take him away forever from California.

Father Font was another of the gifted Franciscans to chronicle early California history, but only for a short period because he was there in connection with the second Anza expedition. Born in Gerona, Catalonia, he came to Mexico in 1763. Within a decade, he moved to Sonora as a missionary among the Pimas. Upon his return with Anza in 1776, he went to Ures. There the priest completed the short version of the diary that gained him fame, the longer edition being completed in 1777. Three years later, Father Font died at Caborca. Font included a map of the Port of San Francisco in his diary.

Thus it fell to Anza's second-in-command, Jose Joaquin Moraga, to lead the final leg of the colonizing expedition northward. Setting out from Monterey on June 17, 1776, some 193 settlers (both soldiers and civilian, some with families and other single adventurers) made ready for a new life. By June 27th, this contingent under Moraga arrived in the Bay Area and halted at the site of what became the Mission Dolores. There the group rested and waited for supplies which the San Carlos carried. The next several weeks passed with Moraga actively exploring the region. On these forays he concluded that a plain to the southeast of the Cantil Blanco seemed more advantageous for a military outpost. Indeed, Moraga realized cold fogs often shrouded this windy spot favored by Anza. Consequently, he may have desired a slightly milder climate than the exposed cliffs selected by Anza. Certainly he sought convenient sources of water, which he found on "a good plain in sight of the harbor and entrance, and also of its interior. As soon as he saw this location the lieutenant decided that it was suitable for settlement." With this in mind, Moraga relocated the main force to the spot he selected. On July 26th Moraga's main force arrived at a clearing overlooking the bay and immediately began work on a chapel and some crude shelters for the garrison.

Moraga served both as comandante and habilitado of the Presidio of San Francisco from its founding until his death on July 13, 1785. The son of Jose Moraga and Maria Gaona, he hailed from Mission Los Santos Angeles de Guevavi, in today's Arizona, and was born on August 22, 1745.

In the early stages the main priority was to survive while awaiting sea borne supplies. During this time Moraga's force remained in its rudimentary encampment without any special military preparations. That situation changed when the San Carlos finally arrived on August 17th. After the ship's captain, its pilot and the ship's chaplain came ashore, they concurred with Moraga's selection for the fort and presidio. With this, the pilot Canizares laid out: "A square measuring ninety-two varas (ninety yards square each way) with divisions for church, royal offices, warehouses, guardhouses and houses for soldier settlers, a map of the plan being formed and drawn by the first pilot." To expedite construction a squad of sailors and two carpenters joined in to complete a warehouse, the comandancia and a chapel while the soldiers worked on their own dwellings. On September 17, 1776 with sufficient progress being made, the San Carlos crew joined the soldiers and citizens and four missionary priests at a solemn high mass. The ceremony of formal dedication was followed by the singing of the Te Deum Laudamus accompanied by the peal of bells and repeated salvos of cannon, muskets and guns. The roar and sound of the bells doubtless terrified the heathens, who did not allow themselves to be seen for many days.

The Royal Regulations of 1772 required that the presidios be constructed of adobe brick. This was a suitable material and design for presidios on the Southern Spanish Provincias Internas but it was never suitable for the northern climate of Monterey or San Francisco with their high winds and heavy rains. The Moroccan design was meant for the arid climate but the Spanish bureaucracy could not adjust to geography. Wooden or stone buildings were more appropriate for those climates. However the Spanish soldiers followed orders and planned a design with an adobe wall and bastions that followed the 1772 regulations. Consequently, from the beginning the San Francisco Presidio was subject to continual rebuilding. The Presidio was dependent on the supply ships from San Blas for basic food needs and there were often food shortages.

In mid-June of 1778 the ship Santiago arrived after a 3½ -month voyage from San Blas but did little to reduce the shortages of food. In fact, the demands increased by the 1777 order to found the pueblo on the Rio de Guadalupe. Work at the Presidio was delayed so Moraga could spend much of his time in the autumn of that year establishing the civilian settlement. Five settlers with their families and nine soldiers with some knowledge of farming left San Francisco in November 1777 for the site of the new town to the south. The governor selected San Jose de Guadalupe from Loreto as the name for the settlement. The Hispanic male population in the San Francisco district increased by almost a third during the year due to those associated with the presidio and missions; however only two new soldiers joined Lieutenant Moraga's military force.

Circumstances continued to undermine efforts toward improvements in the first years. When the new governor of both Californias, Felipe de Neve made an inspection in April 1777, he noted that while Moraga began work on enclosing the quadrangle with a wall, the completed comandante's quarters and warehouse, both of adobe, appeared to be very substantial, a finding which tended to indicate that Moraga's 1776 plan reflected what he had hoped to construct rather than what had been built. Neve found all other structures to be "mere huts." Consequently, the governor ordered future construction to be of adobe built atop stone foundations. Unfortunately, this prescription came too late. During the winter of 1778-1779, the Presidio suffered heavy damage from the weather. Severe storms, especially in January and February, destroyed a major part of the palisade walls, the warehouse and a casa mata, this last-named structure possibly standing outside the quadrangle near the entrance to protect the gate. By 1780, none of the buildings erected in 1778 and little of the walls stood, having been toppled by the intense rains and strong winds.

Neve, born in Baylen, Kingdom of Andalusia in 1728, became the first Governor of both Baja and Alta California to reside in Monterey, which then became the capital when he relocated there on February 3, 1777. A lieutenant colonel when he first came to Monterey, Neve received his promotion to colonel on January 5, 1778. On September 10, 1782 he terminated his governorship in California and assumed the position of Comandante-Inspector of the Provincias Internas. By August 12, 1783, he rose to Comandante General of this same jurisdiction, having gained his brigadier generalcy earlier that year. Neve died on August 21, 1784 at Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de Carmen de Penablanca, Nueva Vizcaya.

Further damage to the Presidio occurred on October 11, 1779. In September 1778 the Spanish ships Princesa and Favorita, under the command of Lieutenants Igancio Arteaga and Juan Francisco de la Bodega Y Quadra, arrived at San Francisco on a return trip from explorations to the northwest coast. They laid over for about six weeks while the men recuperated from scurvy. During this respite at the Presidio a fire destroyed the hospital tent used by the two crews and gutted one of the houses.

Another problem, which undermined the morale and discipline on the Spanish frontier, was due to Spanish white supremacy and social inequality. Any enlisted man who could show an official certificate attesting to his pure white ancestry (criollos or peninsulares) could be granted the status of a soldado distinguido and assume the honorific title of "don" along with enjoying certain other privileges, which included the right to wear swords such as those carried by officers, exclusion from menial labor, and extra considerations for promotions. At San Francisco usually only sons of officers qualified for this distinction since regularly the enlisted men were mestizo, mulatto, or of other mixed blood. This represented one example of the class distinctions based on European or colonial heritage which grew up in Spanish California and throughout Spain's New World holdings. In the end this discrimination was one factor that led to the Mexican revolution of 1810 and 1822.
The decade of the 1780s saw few improvements to the buildings at the Presidio of San Francisco. In a few cases the soldiers had to build palisade huts for their families when their adobe houses did not stand up well in unfavorable weather. By this time, one account indicated that the Comandante lived in an adobe while four walls of varying heights from 2.5 yards to 4 yards surrounded the compound, which also enclosed a stone facility and palisade with earth structures that served as stores, the church and habitations of the garrison. This undistinguished record resulted from a lack of timber and tules near the post, poor quality adobe and a shortage of skilled workmen among the 15 to 20 soldiers, who with their families, regularly made up the garrison during the late 1770s and early 1780s.

In 1782 Moraga was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. The crown also approved $1,200 expenditure for the Presidio of San Francisco's construction some six years after the fact. As this amount had been spent long before, the troops and servants would be reimbursed for their labors. In many instances big and small, the home government moved at a snail's pace.

The chapel was completed in 1784 but a gale blew down one corner of the presidial square. Moraga's effort to build a guardhouse during the same year came to a similar end when the strong winds of October destroyed the partially completed structure because the men wanted for proper materials to tie down the roof and brace the walls.

Moraga toiled as the first Comandante of the San Francisco Presidio until his death on July 13, 1785. On that day, the command passed to Lieutenant Diego Gonzalez, who reported from Monterey, while the alferez of the company, Ramon Lasso de la Vega, became the new habilitado. Both men experienced considerable trouble during their assignments at San Francisco. Before coming to his new post, Gonzalez had been arrested once for a variety of minor offenses. At San Francisco he continued his irregular conduct despite reprimands and warnings from the governor. Finally Nicolas Soler, the Adjutant-Inspector, ordered Gonzalez's confinement. After two or three months under house arrest, Gonzalez went to Sonora.

Alferez Ramon Lasso de la Vega succeeded Gonzalez, followed by Alferez Hermenegildo Sal. Jose Dario Arguello followed him, after an equally negative rating as the previous two comandantes.

Jose Arquello was born in 1753 in Queretero, Mexico. He became a soldier of the Regiment of Dragoons of Mexico on September 20, 1772, serving in expeditions against the Apaches and helping to found settlements along the Colorado River. On July 14, 1781 Alferez Arguello arrived in San Gabriel. He assisted in the founding of pueblos in Los Angeles and San Buenaventura. On February 9, 1787 he gained promotion to lieutenant and eventually reached captain on December 1, 1806. In California he first served at the Presidio of Santa Barbara, being posted there even before the fort's construction. Arguello remained at Santa Barbara as Alferez until his promotion to lieutenant took him to San Francisco as comandante. His tenure lasted until 1806 when, as a captain, he left and took command of Santa Barbara from 1807 through 1815. From July 24, 1814 through August 30, 1815, he served as Governor ad Interim of Alta California and then became Governor of Baja California from 1815 through 1822. He retired in 1822 in Guadalajara where he died sometime between 1827 and 1829.

Besides their duties at the Presidio a small detachment of escoltas was stationed at each of the missions where they protected the missions and missionaries. The soldiers assisted in overseeing the neophytes at their daily chores and kept guard even during church services. The corporal sometimes served as the mission's majordomo and took charge of criminal justice, punishing minor offenses, making investigations and sending periodic reports and suspects for more serious matters to the Presidio. At the mission, soldiers lived in a common barracks arrangement if single, and in small quarters if married. Bachelors gave their rations to the spouses of their married comrades. The wives prepared the meals as well as assisted with other domestic chores. The same circumstances existed at the Presidio of San Francisco.

If not sent to the mission, soldiers carried on numerous other tasks. A noncommissioned officer (comisionado) provided a similar function for the Pueblo of San Jose to that of the corporals overseeing the mission escoltas. Other men carried messages, dispatches and the mail, much as pony express riders would in a later U.S. era. Some guarded officials as they traveled in the district or looked after prisoners assigned to public works. Sentry duty, usually given out as a punitive measure to those who had committed some minor infraction, was a regular requirement with an average stint being three hours at a time. Exploration parties and expeditions against the local Native Americans took up considerable energies, too.

When not occupied in strictly martial pursuits, the men watched over the growing herds of livestock at the Rancho Del Rey where their vaquero functions extended to roundups, branding, castrating bulls, and slaughtering. Each presidio maintained a Rancho Del Rey to provide fresh meat to the troops and their families. Each presidio had its own brand for the cattle. Likewise, they maintained plots for vegetables, as well as worked at various other food production-related tasks. They gathered wood and performed different jobs to help maintain their families. Those with skills of carpenters, smiths, tailors, shoemakers and potters found ample extra work, as these craftspeople were in short supply in California. Individuals without specialized trades might hire on as common laborers, although much of this type of work went to prisoners or Native Americans who performed either for pay or as unpaid captives. Moreover, if a soldado distinguido had to do fatigue duty, he supposedly received an additional bonus of ten reales in advance. At a later date when some men refused to do such manual labor because Arguello did not have the funds to pay them, the comandante placed the strikers in the stocks, evidently they did not remain there for very long, especially since one of those who led the "no pay, no work" faction was Arguello's young brother-in-law.

With many problems, the grand vision for the Presidio waned as the decade of the 1780s came to an end. Its defects as a barren site with harsh climate and remote location from the rest of New Spain weighed heavily against the garrison's success. In fact, the adjutant-inspector of California even advocated the abandonment of the site but this suggestion went unheeded. The need for an outpost to protect the northernmost missions and the strategic position of San Francisco Bay made it impossible to entertain the withdrawal of the troops. Yet, after more than a dozen years of precarious existence, San Francisco stood as an impotent sign of defense rather than a bastion of empire. Subsequent events would espouse the sham in the not-too-distant future.




Drawing of the San Francisco Presidio by Acting Comandante Hermenegildo Sal. See below for explanation. BANC MSS C-A 6 pg. 234

 
 

In March 1791 Lieutenant Jose Arguello relocated to Monterey. Hermenegildo Sal and Jose Perez Fernandez managed the affairs of the Presidio through to 1796. Ex-governor Fages made a visit to the Presidio during the spring of 1791 while the supply ship Aranzazu arrived during the summer. On September 25th Sal led a party to Santa Cruz to dedicate the new mission there.

In his March 4,1792 report to Governor Jose Antonio Romeu, Sal includes a drawing of the presidio describing the "as built" structures at that time. Sal describes the on-going work and the continued futility of building with mud and adobe in the northern climate. What is built one day is washed away the next. On December 29,1792 Sal wrote to the new Governor at Monterey Arrillaga, "The labor spent on the Presidio is incredible and yet there are now but slightly more or less buildings than at first."

In 1792 the Presidio had just one three-pounder brass cannon. Sal felt that he needed 10-12 cannon to defend the harbor from foreign attack. The Spanish had supplied California with twenty-three bronze cannon, large and small, as part of the stores brought with Portola.

On November 14, 1792 Captain George Vancouver arrived at Yerba Buena Cove in the ship H.M.S. Discovery. Sal used his lone cannon to welcome them with two salutes from the same gun. Vancouver was warmly received by the Spanish and given food, wood and water. Vancouver's visit was part of a world tour, which included surveying the Spanish holdings in California and to assessing their strengths. Vancouver's comments about the San Francisco Presidio which he visited on November 17 appeared in his report to the Admiralty on his return to England as follows: "We soon arrived at the Presidio, which was not more than a mile from our landing place. Its wall, which fronted the harbor, was visible from the ships, but instead of the city or town, whose lights we had so anxiously looked for on the night of arrival, surrounded by hills on every side, excepting that which fronted the port. The only object of human industry, which presented itself, was a square area, whose sides were about two hundred yards in length, enclosed by a mud wall, and resembling a pound for cattle. Above this wall, the thatched roofs of their low small houses just made their appearance. On entering the Presidio we found one of its sides still unenclosed by the wall, and very indifferently fenced in by a few bushes here and there, fastened to stakes in the ground. The unfinished state of this part afforded us an opportunity of seeing the strength of the wall, and the manner in which it was constructed. It is about fourteen feet high, and five feet in breadth, and was first formed by uprights and horizontal rafters on large timber, between which dried sods and moistened earth were pressed as close and as hard as possible, after which the whole was cased with earth made into a sort of mud plaster, which gave it the appearance of durability, and of being sufficiently strong to protect them, with the assistance of their firearms, against all the force which the natives of the country might be able to collect." Vancouver correctly states that the Presidio is adequate to defend against the "natives of the country" but would not withstand an assault from a European force, for which it was never intended.

Vancouver's party inspected the inside of the Presidio and then made a three-day journey to Missions Delores and Santa Clara, from November 20th to 23rd. Vancouver's party was the first foreign power to penetrate into the Spanish hinterlands in California. The British expedition departed on November 26, 1792 for Monterey. The Governor ad interim, Jose Arrillaga reprimanded Sal for allowing the British such freedom to inspect the Spanish possessions.

Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga came from Aya, in the Basque Province of Guipuzcoa, where he was born in 1750. A bachelor, he came to Nueva Espana as a member of the Volunteer Company of the Presidio of San Miguel de Horcasitas in Sonora, serving there from May 25, 1777 through March 30, 1778 when his promotion to alferez brought a transfer to duty in Texas. He continued to rise in rank. As a captain, he transferred to the Presidio of Loreto in Baja to assume dual assignments as commander of that post and as lieutenant governor of the Californias, assignments he held from 1783 through 1792. On April 9th of that year he assumed the position as Governor ad Interim of the Californias and remained in this capacity until May 14, 1794 when Diego de Borica replaced him. Again, between January 16,1800 and March 26, 1804 he fulfilled this same duty. In between time, he continued as lieutenant governor and commander at Loreto. He became a lieutenant colonel on December 15, 1794 and a colonel sometime in 1809. Arrillaga died at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, Alta California on July 24,1814.

As a result of the English visit and despite the censure from Arrillaga, Comandante Sal received long overdue support to strengthen the presidial district. The viceroy had selected a fortification at the site originally chosen by Anza in 1776. By 1793, a temporary earthwork with six mounted guns had appeared on this site. This structure was to be replaced by a more permanent work consisting of 10-foot thick embrasures on the seaward side of adobe faced with brick and mortar. Behind this stood an esplanade on which the heavy guns with their four-wheeled siege-type carriages rested. The esplanade, made of heavy timbers, had a plank flooring about 20 feet wide, held together by nine-inch spikes. On the land side, the walls of unfaced adobe stood only five feet thick. There lighter guns on two-wheeled carriages sat on the ground.

Superintendent of construction for the Department of San Blas, Francisco Gomez, provided his expertise. Master gunner Don Jose Garaicochea directed the placement of the cannon. These men and three sawyers had come up from Mexico aboard Aranzazu originally bound for Bodega Bay before being reassigned to the Castillo. Antonio Santos also arrived with the ship and took charge of the manufacture of tile and burnt brick. The master worked with Christian Native Americans provided by the missions and non-converted native people brought up from the area around Santa Clara. Woodchoppers went into the hills west of San Mateo for timber, going a distance of more than 10 leagues to secure the redwood. It took about a week to bring back the lumber (weather permitting) while 23 yoke of oxen hauled the material northward. Additionally, the laborers made many bricks and tiles before the rains halted work in January 1794. In early March 1794 when the rains ceased, efforts resumed and continued throughout the year. With all the heavy masonry and timberwork completed and after an expenditure of 6,400 pesos 4 reales and 7 granos, the new Castillo de San Joaquin was dedicated on December 8, 1794.

As mentioned earlier, one of the duties of the Presidio was to provide protection for the missions from the Native Americans. However, that was easier said than done. In 1795, the number of troops stationed in the presidia district was Lieutenant Jose Arguello, one sergeant, four corporals and 31 soldiers scattered over this large area. With these figures, little wonder that in September 1795, 280 neophyte men and women felt confident enough to run off from Mission Dolores. Their numbers included several who had lived at the place for a long time. Troops could do little to respond, and lacking a sufficient force to pursue these runaways, recapture proved all but impossible. Native Americans living at Mission Santa Clara also tried to escape but efforts were made to retrieve them. The captives faced whippings and a month of labor at the Presidio, probably wearing shackles for the duration of their punishment.
On June 27, 1795 the new Governor Diego de Borica visited San Francisco and recommended that a new presidio be built at the present site of Fort Winfield Scott and the old location abandoned. No action was taken.
Borica was a Basque who came from Bizcaya. He became a cadet in the Infantry Regiment of Seville at 21. He served in this unit from March 15, 1763 through July 31, 1764 when his appointment as a lieutenant of Infantry Regiment of America brought him to New Spain. For a decade he served in Mexico until a transfer to the cavalry in 1774 brought him to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thereafter, he performed a number of duties, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant colonel on February 5, 1785 and only 12 days later became a colonel. Borica came to California as governor, a post he held from May 14, 1795 through January 6, 1800. He returned to New Spain on a leave of absence because of ill health and died in Durango on July 19, 1800.

Spring of 1796 saw the arrival of the special infantry unit from Spain called the Catalonian Volunteers. Most of the unit of 75 men arrived aboard the Valdes and San Carlos with their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Pedro de Alberni. The catalyst for this activity was the beginning of the war between Spain and France that began with the rise of republicanism and Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Volunteers were to support the leather-jacketed soldiers in their efforts to control the Native Americans, help settle the land and assist in the construction of new coastal batteries to protect New Spain from possible attack from France, England or Russia.

Alberni was born about 1745 in Tortosa, Catalonia. His military life began in 1757 while he was but 12. By 1762, he served as a cadet in the Second Light Infantry Regiment of Catalonia. Over the next five years he rose to second sergeant and first sergeant. With that rank, he volunteered for service in the New World, where he went in 1767 as a sub-lieutenant in "the newly organized Company of Catalonian Volunteers." After a stint in Sonora on campaigns from 1771 to 1781, Albrni served in the garrison at Guadalajara in Jalisco and Mesa del Tonati in Nayarit. In 1782, Alberni assumed command of the Volunteers. At that point his rather ordinary career transformed into a more important one. After eight years as captain of the company, he and his 80 men received orders for Nootka where they were to guard Spanish vessels and reestablish fortifications. Alberni received the title of comandante of arms and governor of the fort. Alberni's two years in the Northwest demonstrated his many abilities. He returned to New Spain where he attended to his family and soldierly duties until 1795. In that year war with France stimulated action on Spain's part to send reinforcements to California. In 1796, Alberni headed some 75 men and became the commander at the San Francisco presidial district. As a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish army he was the highest-ranking man in the Californias. He remained in the Bay Area until 1800 when he relocated to Monterey as comandante. Alberni died there on March 11, 1802 from dropsy, leaving all his estate to his widow.

New quarters were erected along the east side of the Presidio walls for the Catalonians. Along with Alberni the viceroy sent the military engineer from the Royal Corps of Engineers, Alberto Cordoba. Cordoba spent two years helping to improve the fortifications in Alta California. He recommended rebuilding the Presidio in San Francisco on another location and assisted with the founding of the Villa Branciforte, a fortified pueblo at Santa Cruz. With his help the San Francisco Castillo de San Joaquin was improved and fortified but Cordoba felt that the location and construction were useless for defense of the entrance to the Golden Gate. Cordoba recommended a counter battery across the Golden Gate and another battery further along the bay.

Spain and France settled their differences but fighting between Spain and England resumed in late winter 1797.

The second San Carlos, alias El Filipino was lost in a storm in the Bay on March 23, 1797. The ship broke up on the shore. The three new cannon for the Castillo were off-loaded and left on the shore before this mishap. The original San Carlos used in the Portola Expedition had been lost at sea two years earlier.

In May 1797 the supply vessels, Concepcion and Princesa arrived and contributed to local defenses by using their sailors to help rebuild the Presidio and the Castillo. These sailors received two extra reales a day as additional pay.

The counter battery recommended by Cordoba was not built but the Bateria de San Jose at Yerba Buena composed of five small guns of no use at the Castillo were placed in a small enclosure of eight embrasures between April and June 1797.

In the spring of 1800, Alberni took several of his infantrymen and their families to Monterey. Their relocation left the outpost with a token force of 13-foot soldiers, five gunners and no soldados de cuera at the San Francisco Presidio. The post reverted to a semi-caretaker status and a hardship assignment.

In 1799 the Americans began to arrive. The first "Boston Men' sailed into port aboard the armed merchant ship Eliza. In 1803 the Alexander followed by the Hazard arrived at San Francisco. The latter carried 22 cannon and 20 swivel guns with a crew of 50 to man them. The Spanish had no more than eight men in the garrison. In addition the remaining Catalonian Volunteers were ordered back to Mexico.

Native Americans continued to revolt and to be arrested by the escolta and made to work on the Presidio or Castillo. On March 10, 1806 Luis Arguello became comandante of the Presidio. Don Jose Arguello transferred to Santa Barbara.

During the winter of 1805-1806, members of the Russian settlement at Sitka suffered near starvation and scurvy. The imperial inspector visiting the colony at the time, Chamberlain Nikolai Patriotic Rezanov, resolved to sail to California to get food for his men. The Russian ship Juno arrived at San Francisco on March 28,1806 with a load of merchandise to be used in trade for food supplies for its scurvy-ridden crew and the colonies to the north. The Russians were instructed to anchor in front of the Presidio. The Russians and Spanish could not understand each other's language but found Latin to be a common language that both could understand. The ship's doctor and naturalist, G.H. von Langsdorff, was not impressed with the Presidio. He described it as having "the appearance of a German farmstead rather than a fort." The first known rendering of the Presidio was prepared by Langsdorff and published in the journals of the voyage.

Alfrez Arguello informed Rezanov that he was forbidden to trade with the Russians. However, he had notified the governor and arrangements might be worked out to provide needed supplies. In the meantime the Presidio presented the ill crew of the Juno with cattle, sheep, onions, garlic, cabbages and several other sorts of vegetables and bread to combat the effects of poor nutrition. The fresh food restored them to good health and gave an indication of the potential bounty of the area for agriculture.

After ten days passed, Governor Arrillaga made his way to San Francisco with an entourage that included Lieutenant Jose Arguello. When Arrillaga arrived, a salute from the guns of the fort and the battery greeted him, the booms from the cannon hidden further within the harbor surprising the Russians since the Yerba Buena battery could not be seen from the anchorage. Later, the Russians managed to have a closer look at this emplacement. Renzanov made the following comments in his report: "Weak as the Spanish defenses are, they have nevertheless increased their artillery since Vancouver's visit. We later secretly inspected the battery (Yerba Buena). It has five brass cannons of twelve-pound caliber. I heard that there are several guns in the fortress (the Castillo). As I have never been there and in order to disarm suspicion did not allow others to go either, I do not know if there are more or less guns there."

Further surveys by the Russians indicated that the north shore of the Bay offered some excellent positions for forts that could control the entrance without any danger of retaliation from the Spanish battery as the proposed sites for Russian defenses rose higher than those of the Spanish on the south side of the harbor and also was out of range. The Russians could not help but notice that a ship could slip past the Castillo's guns by hugging the out-of-range northern shore as it entered port. In the meantime talks continued with Governor Arrillaga to arrange a mutual trade agreement. At the time the viceroy opposed commerce with foreigners.

 
 
This is the first known work of art to provide an elevation of the Presidio of San Francisco. It appeared in 1806, based upon the earliest Russian visit to the port. Credited to George von Langsdorff, it depicted a group of structures huddled together in an irregular fashion (not unlike a German farmstead) with no visible outer protective walls on the east and north Sides. As indicated by this piece of art, little major vegetation grew on the surrounding hills. A low sandy dune below an abrupt rise that formed a plain on which the outpost stood also was evident.
Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.
 
 

Rezanov became romantically involved with Donna Conception Arguello and requested permission of marriage. This event led to one of California's memorable love stories. A marriage contract was drawn up but no marriage could be performed until Rome authorized the union because Rezanov was not a Catholic. As a result of this arrangement, Governor Arrillaga agreed to permit trading with the Russians. As the world now knows, Rezanov was killed in a horse riding accident in Russia while on his way to obtain the Czar's permission to marry Donna Concepcion. The bride never heard of these events until late in life. She had spent her single life waiting for Rezanov to return.

The Juno's crew filled the ship's hold with provisions. They made ready to sail in the third week of May, leaving 11,174 rubles (an estimated $24,000) worth of goods in exchange for 2,000 bushels of grain, five tons of flour and other edibles. As the Russian ship sailed out of San Francisco Bay, she exchanged cannon salutes with the Spaniards at the entrance to the harbor. The Russians' last glimpse of the Spanish settlement was the large group on the high white cliff - Governor Arrillaga, the whole Arguello family and many others all waving goodbye with hats and handkerchiefs.

In 1809, the Russian-American Company began fur-collecting activities from an initial base at Bodega Bay. Local soldiers arrested Alaskan Indians caught chasing sea otters and fur seals in the Bay. Likewise deserters from the Russian base appeared in the presidial district. The Spanish promptly took them into custody.

During the French invasion of Spain, the soldiers in California, like Spanish Americans generally, remained loyal to the imprisoned Spanish royal family. To assure continued support however, the authorities required the men to take an oath of allegiance to Ferdinand VII.

With the mother country under Napoleon, political unrest heightened in Central and South America. The effects made their way to San Francisco. In 1810, insurgents on the high seas captured supplies and equipment destined for California. From this date until the end of the Spanish period in California, the soldiers never again saw their pay. The semiannual supply ships, called memorias, rarely made the trip to California, dictating that the presidios had to rely on foodstuffs from the missions.

All during the early part of the year 1811, many Russian-directed Native Americans appeared around the bay. Mission Native Americans sent out to report on the interlopers' activities spied 130 canoes in the vicinity of the harbor's entrance, all hunting fur seals. The Russian supply ships for the fur-collecting expedition anchored in Bodega Bay. Some time during July the intruders left the area and were not seen again until the following year.

In mid-1812 Arguello sent Gabriel Moraga with four men to explore the area for intruders. He discovered a Russian brigantine about 8 leagues north of Bodega. It carried 80 men from Unalaska and Kamchatka to the California site where Russians had already begun to construct a small fort (destined to become Fort Ross) some 150 yards square with cannon mounted behind the walls. In spite of the armament, Moraga noted the Russians treated the Spanish soldiers in a friendly manner.

Gabriel Moraga was only about 10 when the native of Santa Rosa del la Fronteras went with his father, Josef Joaquin Moraga to start a new life in California as part of Anza's Second Expedition. He joined the San Francisco Company as a private in 1783 when his father still commanded there. During his military career he rose through the ranks to sergeant and by 1806 obtained his commission as an alfrez. He would become a brevet lieutenant in 1811 and a lieutenant some six years later. By 1820 he boasted a 37-year record as a soldier and had served in 46 expeditions against Native Americans in the San Francisco, Monterey and Santa Barbara presidial districts where he served.

In 1813, Lieutenant Moraga again made his way to Fort Ross for exchange of views on occupation and to deliver 20 cattle and three horses. The Russians wanted to trade for food supplies in exchange for items needed by the Spanish due to the lack of supplies from San Blas.

During 1814 two British ships visited the port of San Francisco. The war between Spain and Britain was now at an end. One of the ships was the armed merchantman Isaac Todd and the other was the man-of-war Raccoon. The captain of the 28-gun Raccoon requested and received permission to repair his vessel at San Francisco, the ship having been damaged during the War of 1812 in an attack and capture of the American trading post at Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. Eventually the ship would be repaired in Marin County on the beach across from Angel Island, thereby giving its name to the body of water now known as Raccoon Straits. The 130 crewmen of the British naval vessel spent a month in the Bay Area. After buying provisions and a thousand pounds of gunpowder, Raccoon set sail for the Sandwich Islands on its mission to destroy American shipping.

In 1814, Lieutenant Moraga visited Fort Ross, after which he prepared a short report describing the fort. He observed that forty gente de razon and many Kodiak Native Americans lived there. A number of cannon guarded the place. The house built for the comandante and his pilot boasted a most remarkable luxury for the remote area - it had glass windows.

On this journey to Fort Ross, Moraga carried official requests, orders and threats warning the Russians to withdraw from Spanish territory. At the same time however, Moraga and the Russian commander made additional arrangements for what became an illegal, yet thriving, trade between the subjects of Spain and Russia, with the unofficial blessing of Governor Arrillaga. Consequently, the governor did not discourage the activity, which he regarded as a profitable channel for obtaining much needed supplies for his province. At least three Russian shiploads of goods were exchanged for foodstuffs at San Francisco during 1815. Both the interim governor, Jose Arguello, and the new one, Pablo Vicente de Sola, made feeble gestures in the direction of stopping the contraband exchange. Neither of them carried out any serious effort to enforce the orders of the Spanish government in this respect.

Pablo Vincente de Sola, a Basque from Villa of Nondragon, Viscaya, was born in 1761 into the Hidalgo class. From November 11, 1805 to February 20, 1807 this bachelor served as ad interim habilitado general of the Californias. On December 31, 1814 his appointment as Governor of Nueva California was made, although he did not reach Monterey to take charge until August 30, 1815. He remained in this office until late November 1822 when he set sail for Mexico. After that few details are known about this last Spanish governor of the province.

In 1815, the old chapel, which had been badly damaged by the 1812 earthquake, was torn down to the foundations. Work started on a provisional chapel until a new chapel could be completed in 1817. New roofs of tile finally replaced the old ones of tule, which so frequently had been destroyed by wind and rain. More significantly the Castillo was rebuilt into a completely new structure, based on a horseshoe design, in response to the Russian presence at Fort Ross.

In 1816, the American ship Prisionera visited California and traded tools for needed supplies.

On October 2, 1816, the Russian brig Rurik arrived and anchored in front of the Presidio. The world voyage, under the command of Lieutenant Otto von Katzebue of the Russian Imperial Navy, came as a scientific expedition but the visit to San Francisco no doubt also served as an opportunity to check on the power of the Spanish government in California.

Fortunately for posterity the Russians came to observe more than just the state of defense. They brought with them Dr. Ivan Eschscholtz, surgeon, Adelbert von Chamisso and Martin Wormskhold, naturalists and Louis Choris, artist.

Eschscholtz provided some of the first scientific information about the flora of present-day California. They identified and named species during the course of their work including Eschsholtzia Californica, the "Golden Poppy" which was to become the state flower.

The artist Choris provided the second rendering of the Presidio since the Renzanov visit.

The Spaniards and the Russians hoisted their respective flags and exchanged cannon salutes. After the ship anchored in front of the Presidio, the officers went ashore to meet Luis Arguello, Comandante. The Spanish commander sent some fruits and vegetables on board the ship for the crew and dispatched a courier to Monterey with the news of the visitors' arrival.

By October 4th the Russians had set up a camp on the shore in sight of the Presidio, which Kotzebue said still appeared as it had in Vancouver's descriptions. Vancouver's earlier reports had been circulated around Europe and were the reason for this and many subsequent visits to California by many of the European powers of the time.

Governor Sola requested of Lieutenant Kotzebue that Fort Ross be abandoned but the Russian refused. On October 28 flag-hoisting and artillery fire provided Rurik with an exciting departure from San Francisco after nearly a one-month stay. The visit of Rurik marked the end of opposition to foreign trade by Governor Sola. A critical need for supplies outweighed strict royal orders.

Many ships visited California in the five waning years of the Spanish government. One of these was the French merchant vessel Le Bordelais under the command of Lieutenant Camille de Roquefeuil of the French Navy in 1817. This vessel was sent on a voyage around the world between 1816 and 1819 by its government.

In 1818 Lieutenant Ignacio Martinez became the new comandante replacing Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga who was posted to Santa Barbara. A native of Mexico City, Martinez had entered the Santa Barbara Company some 25 years earlier as a cadet. He did not welcome the new assignment at first because he had to relocate with his four daughters but he and his wife had five more children, did so and remained in the Bay area for the rest of their lives. Martinez would hold many positions after leaving the military, including appointments at San Rafael and elsewhere. He died around 1850 at his ranch in Contra Costa County where the county seat was named in his honor.

On November 20, 1818 Hippolyte de Bouchard appeared before Monterey in the Argentina and Santa Rose de Chacabuco and proceeded to sack the Presidio. The San Francisco Presidio was asked to send reinforcements. However when they arrived they drilled but did not engage the enemy. As pointed out by Vancouver, the Spanish defenses could not withstand a determined attack from a European force. The government sent reinforcements from San Blas in the summer of 1819. San Francisco received 40 foot soldiers from the San Blas Infantry. In 1820, 20 artillerymen came from Mexico under sub-lieutenant Jose Ramirez. Their arrival represented the last important reinforcements to be sent from Mexico.

Two years later in April 1822, the Mexican Empire was formed under Agustin Iturbide. Don Luis Arguello, Comandante of the San Francisco District, remained in command. However in November 1822 Arguello became the acting governor of Alta California. A year later Agustin Fernandez San Vicente came from Mexico to replace him. Arguello returned to his position as comandante. With the fall of Iturbide from power in March 1823, San Vincente left California for Mexico. In January 1825 Arguello decreed that presidial company strength should stand at 70 to 75 soldiers, a considerable increase over previous official levels. The funds to carry out such well-meaning plans were nonexistent. To add further insult, pay continually fell in arrears. The Mexican government responded by issuing a cargo of paper cigars in lieu of cash.

This watercolor and pencil on paper view of the Presidio waspainted by Louis Choris, artist with the Kotzebue Expedition, on October 5, 1816. It shows improvements made since the previous Russian visit. The entire quadrangle is more regular and provides an enclosed compound, the east side is finally protected by a wall. Gardens behind the south wall and to the northeast have been fenced off and a corral appears just outside the main gate toward the northwest. The published version of this illustration shows a group of men and livestock, other horses grazing freely in the foreground, while a pair of mounted Soldados ride from the post. A group of Native Americans are shown gambling and Native American work-parties are guarded by the Leather Jacket Soldiers (Detail).
Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.
 
 
 
An 1820 drawing of the San Francisco Presidio, provided by Mariano G. Vallejo. See the detailed description below. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.
 

 
 

On February 6, 1824 Arguello reported to the minister of war in Mexico City that he would be obliged to muster out the entire San Blas and Mazatlan Companies as well as provisionally retire several presidial soldiers if money were not immediately forthcoming. Increasing numbers of men left the service voluntarily to take up what they hoped would be more lucrative employment on ranchos or at the Pueblo San Jose. Without loyalty and payroll benefits little remained to hold a soldier in the service of the Mexican Republic.

Otto von Kotzebue returned to San Francisco in 1824 and reported that little had changed since his last visit in 1816.

A second Russian ship, the frigate Cruiser, also visited in 1824. One of its officers, Dimitry Irinarkhovich Zavalishin commented as follows: "But as danger of attack from savages diminished or, at least, became to affect only the more remote missions, they (the Spanish) began to permit outside buildings at the presidios, and as a result it became necessary to make passageways through the heretofore blank outer wall. Lately, even Russian expeditions have had bakeries attached to the outer wall for the baking of both fresh bread and rusks for cruise. This is how San Francisco's presidio became a rather formless pile of half-ruined dwellings, sheds, storehouses, and other structures. The floors, of course, were everywhere of stone or dirt, and not only stoves but also fireplaces were lacking in the living quarters. Whatever had to be boiled or fried was prepared in the open air, mostly on cast brick; they warmed themselves against the cold air over hot coals in pots or braziers. There was not glass in the windows. Some people had only grating in their windows. The entrance doors to some compartments were so large that one passed from the interior courtyard to the outside through the wall on horse-back."

These comments point to a practice begun during the Spanish regime, commanders received permission to grant building lots to soldiers and other residents within the range of 4 square leagues, 2 leagues in each direction from the center of the presidio square. In 1825 American captain Benjamin Morrell indicated that 120 households lived in the district with approximately 500 gente de razon. Morrell also referred to the walls around the Presidio that stood 10 feet high made of freestone and surrounding the compound, the houses (in the Presidio) and church. Several frame structures were recorded which may have been built by the Russians.

The Royal Navy officer Captain Frederick William Beechey anchored his ship, H.M.S.Blossom at San Francisco on November 6, 1826. He immediately presented his papers to Comandante Don Ignacio Martinez. Beechey departed on December 28th but returned briefly in 1827. His comments were similar to others from Europe, in that he found an unimpressive group of buildings and low morale among the soldados.

The Mexican government had not missed the disarray and discontent, so obvious to Beechey and other visitors but the measures they were willing to take to improve defenses in their California outposts amounted to little more than rhetorical proclamations. The arrival of a new governor, Jose Maria Encheandia, and some reinforcements in the form of a 40-man infantry unit known as the Fijo del Hidalgo, bound for Monterey, caused ill will rather than increasing a sense of martial preparedness among the Californios who increasingly sawthemselves as a people apart from the Central Republic. This basic discontent led to the grass-roots revolt of the soldados at Monterey led by the dissident, Joaquin Solis from Mexico. They demanded not only back pay and back rations but also the removal of both the governor and the new comandante general. The revolt moved to San Francisco on November 5th, where Martinez was dismissed from his post as comandante. The rebellion came to an end in 1830. Sixteen of the major conspirators were sentenced to deportation. Governor Echeandia was replaced by Colonel Manuel Victoria. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was appointed comandante of the San Francisco Presidio.

 

The San Francisco Presidio in November 1826 From a watercolor drawn by Richard Brydges Beechey from the British Ship Blossom of the Beechey Expedition of 1826. The Ship is shown to the right in this view. The Mexican flag is shown in the middle of the Presidio. The east wall and most of the buildings erected by Comandante Alberni for his Catalonian Guards in 1796 have fallen into ruins in this view. The Marin Mountains are shown in the background. The Golden Gate is to the Left Background (detail). From San Francisco, 1806-1906, by Jeanne Van Nostrand, 1975, Plate 6.
Courtesy of The Book Club of California, San Francisco, California.


Vallejo joined the Mexican military on January 8, 1824 as a cadet at Monterey serving with the presidial company there for three years. He became a corporal in 1825, rather than advancing directly to ensign as had been the practice during the Spanish regime. The next year he went on to become a sergeant, proving "an apt student, who learned quickly, and had a great liking for discipline, authority, and activities of military life." On July 30, 1827 just a week before his 19th birthday, this aptitude and interest brought the young Vallejo an ensignship when a vacancy came open at San Francisco with the transfer of Santiago Arguello to San Diego. He would remain at Monterey until April 1830 when he joined the garrison in the Bay Area. Thereafter his career continued to move upward. At age 29 he earned a captaincy and by 1836 held a commission as a colonel. The man became a prominent figure in northern California history and enjoyed a long life.

Again a new governor was appointed. Jose Figueroa arrived in California in January of 1833. He was instructed to restore confidence in the Mexican Government, watch the Russians and American activities along the coast, and to move toward the secularization of the missions. The latter required the division of mission lands into self-supporting ranchos and the replacement of the Franciscan missionaries by regular parish priests. Seventy-five officers and men were assign to help carry out these directives.

In April 1833, Governor Figueroa ordered Vallejo to survey the areas north of the bay with an eye to the establishment of another outpost. Vallejo was given the title of Military Commander and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier. These titles were contained in a letter, which Vallejo kept secret, as requested, until 1847 when he revealed them to the American Occupation forces under General Kearny and caused them to be published in several newspapers probably to strengthen the legality of titles to lands he had granted. The letter set forth that the principal object of the northern expansion is to arrest the progress of the Russian settlements of Bodega and Ross. Two days later, Governor Figueroa authorized the establishment of a pueblo in the valley of Sonoma entrusting full responsibility for the new enterprise to the young lieutenant not yet turned twenty-eight. Along with this authority came the effort to build a barracks for the Mexican troops stationed there.

In 1834, Vallejo moved part of San Francisco's garrison to Sonoma after severe storm damage dictated another rebuilding, which never occurred because of lack of funds. Rains caused deterioration at the Presidio and near destruction of much of the Castillo. Toward the end of the year, Vallejo recommended that the unrepairable conditions made it desirable to sell off what could be salvaged at the Presidio to private individuals in order to obtain some back pay for the troops. The Presidio's stock could be transferred to Sonoma to start a national ranch there. The governor agreed to the relocation and the scheme to sell portions of the Presidio so long as a part of the reservation remained for a barracks to lodge troops.

In 1835, Vallejo had transported not only the last of the San Francisco garrison but also his own family, to the new northern outpost. Soon the Presidio declined to a caretaker status. The movement to the north placed the Spanish closer to the Russians, provided a healthier environment for the troops and signaled a new approach to housing and organization, that of using barracks outside of walls and horse soldiers to provide the main defense along with infantry and field cannon, instead of fixed garrison defenses. Modern European armies were already organized in this fashion. Vallejo constructed two-story, wide balconied adobe barracks, which faced Sonoma's central plaza to house Mexican army troops. The construction took place in stages but was completed in 1840. Vallejo's family residence was a part of these buildings, which also included some of the vacated mission buildings. Called "El Cuartel" the barracks housed a maximum of 40 Mexican troopers. Vallejo kept the mission chapel active. A prominent part of his "Casa Grande" was a three-story tower, which he used to oversee rangelands and farms through a telescope. Several drawings were made over the years of these buildings.

In the years after 1835, more than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma with the object of subduing the Wappos, Cainameros, or Satisyomis Native Americans who more than once rose up and attempted to throw off Mexican domination of the country around Sonoma. Many of these expeditions were led by Vallejo himself but others were led by Vallejo's younger brother, Salvadore, or by Sem-Yeto, the tall chief of the Suisunes Native Americans whose Christian name was Francisco Solano, and who came to be one of Vallejo's closest and most valuable allies.

Movement to the north also coincided with the establishment of the Pueblo of Yerba Buena. The new settlement was destined to become the City of San Francisco. In 1834 the presidial-pueblo of Yerba Buena was set up with a six-man district council and an alcalde. A San Blas infantryman, Francisco de Haro, was the first to hold that position. The anchorage also moved to Yerba Buena as did some of the population who began to strip the main garrison and the Castillo as well of what little useful building materials they could find. However Vallejo did leave a detachment of six artillerymen under Juan Prado Mesa to maintain a token presence at the Presidio when the main force relocated to Sonoma.

A forecast of the interest of the United States in the California territory occurred in August 1834. Then the charge d'affaires in Mexico City approached the central government with an offer to buy the San Francisco Bay Area for $5 million dollars. The Americans wanted the harbor to serve as a base for American whalers in the Pacific. Mexican authorities gave consideration to accepting the offer but British diplomats finally convinced them to hold onto the territory.

Coastal fortifications, originally built to protect the population, had meanwhile all but disappeared. The artillery stood unused and uncared for although Vallejo recommended that the Castillo be rebuilt. As it was in San Francisco, only one artilleryman remained to man the last six cannon since Vallejo had ordered the relocation of several of the serviceable guns to Sonoma.

According to Bancroft's History of California, Vol. IV, pgs, 197-198 and 701, by 1841 only 24 artillerymen remained in all of Alta California and they had charge of 43 serviceable pieces and 17 useless guns along the coast. Eleven years earlier the ordnance inventory consisted of 54 cannon, three of 24 pounds, two of 12 pounds; 18 of 8 pounds; 19 of 6 pounds; 11 of 4 pounds and one of 3 pounds. Twenty-three of the guns were brass and 31 iron according to Bancroft, History of California, Vol. II, Pg. 673.

In the next few years as English, French, Swedish and American expeditions and travelers visited the San Francisco Presidio, all had about the same comments. The French government's representative, Duflot de Mofras in his book Travels on the Pacific Coast, Vol. I, Pgs 228-229, comments as follows: "the fort has been so completely abandoned that a ship could easily send its small boats over the shore below, and without attracting attention from the Presidio, carry off the cannon that could be rolled down the cliff. The Presidio of San Francisco is falling into decay, is entirely dismantled, and is inhabited by only a sub-lieutenant and 5 soldiers-rancheros with their families. The Castillo consisted of a horseshoe-shaped adobe battery with 16 embrasures for cannon. Only three obsolete guns and two good bronze pieces of 16 caliber, cast in Manila were in place, all on wooden gun carriages which date from 1812 and are partially decayed. In the center of the horseshoe, the barracks, used originally to house the soldiers, have fallen into ruins. No one lived there nor did a ditch or other protection to the rear exist to keep the place from being overtaken from the side should the battery be manned."

In 1843, a Swedish visitor G.M. Waseurtz af Sandels, " the King's Orphan", made two crude illustrations of the Presidio and the Castillo that are the last known before the American conquest. They illustrated the above comments by de Mofras, but show both to be occupied.

Russia withdrew from Fort Ross in 1841. In 1842 Mexico sent a new Governor with a ragtag army, Brigadier General Manuel Micheltorena. He lasted no longer than the rest.

Mexico's inability to protect California invited foreign seizure. In October 1842 Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones of the American Pacific Squadron landed at Monterey Bay and claimed Alta California's capital for the United States based on information that the United States was at war with Mexico. There was no opposition to this action. While this action was premature and the claim was surrendered in a few hours, it was the forerunner of future actions.

On the diplomatic side, in 1842 the United States sent John Slidell to Mexico City in order to reopen the negotiations that had broken off in 1835 for the purchase of the Bay Area. This time he was offering $25 million for all of the California territory. Once again Mexico refused the offer.

 
References: The following are references that were used and excerpted for the foregoing history of the San Francisco Presidio: History of California by H.S. Bancroft; Historic Resource Study El Presidio de San Francisco, A History Under Spain and Mexico, 1776-1848 by John Phillip Langelier and Daniel Bernard Rosen; San Francisco, 1806-1906, In Contemporary Painting, Drawings and Watercolors by Jeanne Van Nostrand; The Historic Presidio of San Francisco by Gordon Chappell, April 1981, National Park Service.; Sonoma Valley by Kathleen and Gerald Hill; Vallejo, Son of California by Myrtle M. McKittrick.
 




 
Sketches of the San Francisco Presidio and Castillo in 1843 by the Swedish Traveler, G.M. Waseurtz af Sandels, "The King's Orphan."
Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, California.


Yerba Buena in 1843 as drawn by the "Kings Orphan". The transition from The Presidio Dwelling to Open City Life is Well Underway Leading to the City of San Francisco. Shown in this early drawing are: 1) The Hudson Bay Company Building 2) Old Mill 3) G. Reynold's Residence 4) Capt. Antonio Ortega's Residence 5) Wm. A. Leidesdorff Cottage 6) City Hotel 7) Capt. Paty's Adobe Building 8) Juan C. Davis' Residence 9) Wm. A Leidesdorff Cottage 10) Sill's Blacksmith Shop 11) Jesus Noe's Residence 12) Old Adobe Custom House 13) Juan N. Padilla Residence 14) Leidesdorff Warehouse 15) W.H. Davis Store 16) Capt. Wm. Hinchley's Residence 17) Gen. M.G. Vallejo's Building
Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, California.
 
 
The Sonoma Barracks as they appeared in 1846. The Barracks were located Nmext to the Sonoma Mission.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library Hazard-Dyson Collection San Marino, California.
 
 
Exterior of the Barracks building (2009, Dan Sebby)
 
Interior of courtyard/corral of the barracks (2009, Dan Sebby)
 
 
 
Reproduced from Historic Resource Study, El Presidio de San Francisco, A History Under Spain and Mexico, 1776-1846, by John P. Langelier and Daniel B. Rosen, August 1992, Pg. 151.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco Presidio, California.

 

 

 
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016