Spanish and Mexican California
California Becomes a Province of the Mexican Empire
By Michael R. Hardwick

In the early nineteenth century, news usually traveled slowly along the rutted, dusty, and dangerous roads that began in Mexico City and ran north to the edge of New Spain. No well-established routes connected the isolated frontier provinces of Alta California, Sonora, New Mexico and Texas with one another.

In the spring of 1821, a stunning piece of news moved quickly north. A Spanish officer, Agustin de Iturbide declared Mexico’s independence from Spain. (pp1, David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier 1821-1846) Mexico raised the standard of revolt against Spain on the night of September. 15-16, 1810. The struggle for independence terminated with the signing of the Treaty of Cordova, August 24, 1821. (pp 102, Mission Santa Barbara 1782-1965, Maynard Geiger, OFM)

Texas, the frontier province closest to Mexico City, first received the news. On July 19, 1821, San Antonio severed its connection with the Spanish Empire. On September 3, 1821, the comandante of the presidio of Tucson swore allegiance to the new government. Following suit on September 11, 1821, officials administered the oath of allegiance at the palace of governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (pp. 5-6, Weber)

Iturbide’s imperial regency, established in September, was not announced in California before the end of 1821. On Mach 16, 1821, governor Sola communicated news of independence to the various comandantes in California, whom he summoned to a junta at Monterey.

Father Mariano Payeras represented the interests of the missions and neophytes. Additional junta members were: Captains Guerra of Santa Barbara and Arguello of San Francisco; Lieutenants Estrada of Monterey and Estudillo in place of Captain Ruiz of San Diego; Captains Portilla and Navarrete of the Mazatlan and San Blas companies; and lieutenant Gomez of the artillery, being also commander of the post of Monterey. On April 11, the oath was taken with all due solemnity; first by the members of the junta at Sola’s house, and then by the troops in the plaza. This was followed by religious services conducted by Padre Payeras. The day was closed with visas and firing of guns and music and illuminations in honor of independence. The oath was taken at Santa Barbara April 13, probably at San Francisco about the same day, and at San Diego the 20th. (pp 451-2, Bancroft, Vol II, 1801-1824). In Santa Barbara, Francisco Ortega was chosen as elector de partido from Santa Barbara and five missions to elect a deputy to the court at Mexico. The election sent Sola to that office. (Pp. 19, Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura, California, Storke, Yda Appis,1891).

All that had been previously ‘royal’ now became ‘imperial’. The term Presidio real now became Presidio imperial. California was the object of much suspicion and fear in Mexico. Rather strangely no news had been received about the reception of independence there. The loyalty of the Franciscans to Spain was well known. The wealth of the missions was exaggerated, and it was feared that California might be made by Spaniards a center, or starting-point, for a reactionary movement. For these reasons it was deemed best to send an agent of the regency to ‘foment’ a spirit of independence, to obtain an oath of allegiance, to raise the new national flag, and in general supervise the putting in working order the new machinery of constitutional government. The commissioner was to proceed first to Loreto and thence by sea to Monterey. (pp 455-6, Bancroft)

On August 9th, the new imperial flag made its first formal appearance in California in the form of a pattern. Governor Sola obtained the pattern in Santa Barbara from the brig San Francisco de Paula. As early as July 13th, Capt. Ruiz writes from San Diego that a new Mexican flag is being made, though both cloth and colors are scarce.

When the change of flag ceremony took place in Monterey, the old flag was lowered and the imperial banner of Mexico was unfolded to the breeze amidst thunders of artillery, noise from drum and fife, and shouts of "Viva la Independencia Mejicana! Viva el Emperador Agustin I.!" The Indians are said to have been delighted at the substitution of the eagle for the lion. Exact dates are unknown for the change of flag ceremonies at the four presidios. It is presumed that the ceremonies occurred in late September or early October. Bancroft states that Guerra was absent from Santa Barbara when the ceremony took place there. Manuel Cota and another man allegedly refused allegiance. Santa Barbara may not have had a Mexican flag for its ceremony. (pp 27, Old Spanish Santa Barbara, Walter Tomkins) In San Diego the Mexican flag was raised as well as possible without a flagstaff. The soldiers in San Diego complained that there was no distribution of money, and that the next day all soldiers had to cut off their quenes, to the great disgust of themselves and of the women. (pp 459, Bancroft)


The Author

Michael Hardwick graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1972 with High Honors. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with graduate work in Public Administration from University of Redlands.

While in college, Mike did some of the original archaeology on the Presidio in Santa Barbara. In the 1970s he established the archive at La Purísima Mission State Historic Park and was a State Park Ranger Intermittent there for five years. Mike served on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for 17 years. During that time he acted as Treasurer of the Trust, chaired the Archive Library, Descendants and Genealogy Committees, and was a member of the Reconstruction Committee.

As a living history enthusiast, Mike was a Civil War reenactor for six years and was a member of the Santa Barbara Civil War Council. He was instrumental in founding Los Soldados del Real Presidio de Santa Barbara in 1990 and is currently an active Soldado in that group. He established a Web site for Los Soldados and has written several papers on Spanish Colonial Military History.

Michael currently does a living history impression of Phelipe de Neve, first governor of the Californias, 1777-1782. Appointed the Soldados National Spokesperson for the Gálvez project, Mike orchestrated an impressive ceremony in October of 2003, which paid tribute to Bernardo de Gálvez as part of a Hispanic-American Heros Series sponsored by Somos Primos, Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research.

Mike’s interests are varied. He served on the La Purísima Mission Advisory Committee. He is on the Santa Barbara Mission Museum Board. He belongs to CMSA (California Mission Studies Association) and has published an extensive bibliography on Presidios and Soldiers of Northern New Spain on their WEB site.

Mike is currently working on the beginnings of horticulture in California and is actively researching that topic. He has recently published, Changes in Landscape, The Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions, which is available through the bookstore at the Old Mission, Santa Barbara, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA. 93105. He is participating with others in a heritage plant project at Mission Santa Barbara and hopes to enlarge and republish his book.

Mike is a Vietnam Era Veteran. He spent six years in the Navy and was with the Commander of Seventh Fleet on the Flagship, USS Oklahoma City during the years 1968 – 1969. He retired from the County of Santa Barbara as a Senior Systems Analyst in 2002. He was a County employee for 26 years. As a data processing professional, Mike taught for a number of years in the SBCC Adult Education Program. He holds a California Community Colleges teaching Credential.

He may be reached at



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Updated 8 February 2016