The founding of the settlements in Alta
California was the result of two movements in Spanish history.
The first was to settle the California territory from Cabo San
Lucas in Baja California and to the north with missions with which
to christianize the Native Americans and the second was the outgrowth
of concerns by the Crown that these areas might be encroached
upon by other foreign powers such as France, England and Russia
if not settled and strengthened with military establishments.
The efforts to settle Baja California occurred long before the
push to Alta California began. Most of the Spanish knowledge of
the Californias was based on the Cabrillo expedition in 1542 and
the Vizcaino Expedition in 1602. The returning Manila Galleons
provided some additional information.
The now famous Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco
Kino, a native of the Italian Tyrol, was sent over from Sinaloa,
Mexico to what is today La Paz in 1683 to establish a mission.
The Spaniards had considerable trouble with the Indians and were
forced to withdraw to Sinaloa, Mexico. Another attempt was made
the same year at what is now San Bruno just north of Loreto. Father
Kino reported he had baptized four hundred Indians. Ever restless
and with an inquiring mind, Father Kino was the first white man
to cross from the Gulf side to the Pacific side of Baja. In 1685
a decision had to be made to abandon the mission.
Father Kino's explorations in Baja and his
later journeys in 1701 and 1706 down the Colorado River to the
Gulf of California convinced him that Baja was a peninsula and
not an island, as had been believed for hundreds of years. His
maps of Primeria Alta remained the basis for maps of the region
until the 19th Century. In his explorations, Father Juan Maria
Salvatierra, a native of Milan, Italy accompanied him.
In 1697 the Spanish government turned over
the Baja missionary field to the Jesuits. To support their endeavors,
the Jesuits, with the aid of Father Juan de Ugarte, who became
its treasurer, founded the now famous Pious Fund raised from the
gifts of devout Christians in both Old and New Spain. The Jesuit
fathers were given complete authority; even the military must
bow to their decisions. Father Salvatierra was appointed Superior
and arrived at Loreto in October 1697 with three Christian Indians,
a handful of soldiers and sailors, and the leader of the military,
Captain Romero. The march northward along the Pacific coast by
friars and soldiers had begun.
A chain of seventeen Jesuit missions beginning
near Cape San Lucas and stretching north almost to 30° N.
Latitude were the achievement of seventy-two years. In the beginning,
the Jesuits' main purpose was to Christianize the Native Americans.
Then the Spanish government asked them to locate suitable ports
of refuge for the Manila Galleons. Consequently, the Jesuits were
not only religious pioneers but explorers as well. They were to
open the way to San Diego.
The mother mission at Loreto was founded
in the first year and remained the capitol and base of the only
presidio until 1736, when a second presidio was established at
La Paz, later to become the capital of the peninsula. To Loreto
came the supply ships, battling the dreaded Gulf storms. Many
of them were lost in the early years and the Jesuits came close
to starvation. But somehow they hung on. Loreto was their base
and its church their spiritual center. The original mission endured
until 1830. The present church structure dated from the year 1752.
Everywhere the missionaries went in Baja, they encountered Native
American tribes. It appeared that the peninsula was well populated
despite the very difficult and harsh living conditions encountered
by the missionaries. Many of the tribes did not take well to the
attempts of Christianization and rebelled, killing all Christians
and destroying some of the missions. However, the Jesuits persevered
and founded their last mission fifteen miles from San Luis Gonzaga
Bay in 1767.
Without any forewarning, the Jesuits were told to leave the missions. Sealed instructions from Charles III, King of Spain, opened by the Viceroy of Mexico, Francisco de Croix on June 24, 1767, called for the arrest of all Jesuits in colleges and missions and for their removal to Vera Cruz for deportation. The job of expelling them from Baja was given to Don Gaspar de Portola, the newly appointed Governor of California. The Spanish government gave no public or official reasons.
The mission fields of Baja were turned over
to the Franciscans with the departure of the Jesuits on February
3, 1768. They took over fourteen Jesuit missions of which they
were to transfer all but one to the Dominicans in 1774. Later
the Dominicans were to extend the Baja mission chain to La Frontera,
the territory north of San Fernando. They founded seven missions
between 1774 and 1797 and two more in the 19th century, one in
1814 and the other in 1834. By then this chain begun in 1697 stretched
to within fifty-five miles of present day San Diego.
The successor to the leader of the Jesuits
was the Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, Doctor of Theology,
born in the town of Petra on the Spanish island of Mallorca. After
years of study and teaching in Mallorca, Father Serra decided
to go to the missions in Mexico to serve the church. He and a
number of his monastic associates arrived in Vera Cruz, Mexico
on December 6, 1749. He was 36 at the time. Father Serra served
in Mexico for 19 years from 1750 to 1768. He and his associates
served in many areas of Mexico establishing many missions and
building a number of churches, which are still used today. Father
Serra also taught at the College of San Fernando in Mexico City
in between assignments in the missions.
Father Serra and fifteen other missionaries
said farewell to the College of San Fernando and sailed for Baja
California, arriving at Loreto on April 1, 1768. Father Serra
was now 55 years old.
At this same time in history the second
major influence for the occupation of the Californias began to
take shape in the form of action by the Crown. This was the perceived
threat that the other European powers might take action to settle
the Spanish territory of Alta California.
The Russians had been exploring, beginning
in 1725, the northern edges of the Spanish claims in Alaska under
the direction of Captain Vitus Bering. During the reign of Catherine
II (1729 to 1796) the first permanent settlements were begun on
Kodiak Island. Further exploration continued to the south from
1741 to 1765.
In the 1760s, a Spanish work that was circulating
through Europe heightened apprehensions. Entitled Noticia de la
California, it was published in Spain in 1757 with all proper
permissions but anonymously. The Jesuit Andres Burriel had prepared
it from an earlier unpublished manuscript of Padre Miguel Venegas
and other material. Although the book was a defense of the Jesuits
and their work in Lower California, it went much further. It attempted
to show the importance of the Jesuits in the whole frontier enterprise
of New Spain, continental and peninsular. Burriel spoke of possible
future mission projects in the north for which their cooperation
would be vital. He emphasized the importance of Spanish strength
on the peninsula to protect homebound Manila Galleons and to extend
the frontier to the coast of that other California: San Diego,
Monterey and Mendocino. A first English translation of this work
appeared in London in 1759. Soon there were Dutch, French and
German translations. All this flurry of non-Spanish interest in
the Californias roused Spanish apprehensions. All these concerns
galvanized the Spanish into action. It was decided to occupy and
settle Alta California without the usual first exploration. The
driving force of all this action was the king's Visitador, Jose
de Galvez, assisted by Mexican Viceroy Francisco de Croix. In
1767 the port of San Blas was established to support by sea the
actions that were taking shape. By October 1768 word arrived that
Charles III (Carlos III) supported the plan to occupy Alta California.
The King's proclamation was as follows:
"The High Government of Spain being informed of the repeated
attempts of a foreign nation upon the northern coasts of California
with aims by no means favorable to the Monarchy and its interests,
the King gave orders to the Marques de Croix, his Viceroy and
Captain General in Nueva Espana, that he should take effective
measures to guard that part of his dominions from all invasion
and insul." The plan was to move north to found the harbor
and build the presidio of Monterey with San Diego to be the intermediate
base between it and Loreto. Jose de Galvez was to plan the expedition.
A combination of soldiers and settlers was to hold the country
and, with missionaries, were to convert the Native Americans.
At Loreto there was a presidio with a garrison
of three dozen men commanded by the Baja California veteran, Fernando
Rivera y Moncada. The governor, Captain Gaspar de Portola, like
the friars, was a recent arrival. Galvez had crossed over to Baja
to survey the conditions there. He arrived in July of 1768. It
was immediately clear that the poor conditions of the missions
in Baja would not allow them to support the planned developments
in Alta California. The northern developments would have to be
supplied from San Blas. However, at the time, the newly arrived
Franciscans were the only source of missionaries around for support
of this project. Accordingly, Galvez talked with Father Serra
about obtaining his support on such short notice. Father Serra
accepted the new role of Presidente of the missions of Alta California.
He immediately left to conduct a survey of the church vestments
that could be spared by the existing missions in Baja to support
the new missions in Alta California. Rivera y Moncada scoured
the countryside for horses, mules and support equipment. Galvez
sent word to San Blas for the two ships that had been built for
this project to load and sail to La Paz as quickly as possible.
The expedition to Alta California consisted
of four parts. Portola was the titular head of the expedition.
Father Serra was to head the missionaries. Lieutenant Pedro Fages
was to be chief of the military expedition going by sea and was
to retain command of the soldiers on land until the arrival of
Portola. The 200-ton San Carlos and the 80-ton San Antonio were
to take the supplies, 25 Catalonian soldiers who had embarked
from Cadiz, Spain and part of the colonists by sea to San Diego.
Portola and Rivera were to lead a land expedition in two sections.
A third ship, the 50-ton San Jose, was to bring the remaining
The San Carlos sailed from La Paz on January
9th commanded by Vincent Vila and carried a total of sixty-two
persons. On board was the Spanish Royal engineer, Miguel Costanso,
who was to mark the map and ports and lands that might be discovered
and to lay out the plan for the presidio at Monterey; the physician
and surgeon Don Pedro Prat; the captain of the Catalonians Don
Pedro Fages; and a Franciscan chaplain named Fray Fernando Parron.
The San Antonio, carrying a crew of 26 and two more Franciscans,
with Captain Don Juan Perez, former master of a Manila Galleon,
in command departed on February 15th. The land expeditions started
from a gathering place named Velicata, near the present site of
El Rosario, in northern Baja, where a new mission was to be established.
Captain Rivera and Father Crespi left on March 24th and Captain
Portola and Father Serra followed on May 15th.
The Spanish could be well organized and
effective when properly motivated. Their speed in this case was
surprising and commendable. At his sudden departure after only
one year in Baja, Father Serra had founded one mission and started
one church, at San Fernando on the Pacific Coast, before leaving
to organize the missions in Alta California. The Spanish were
stepping off into the unknown with coastal information obtained
in 1602 by Vizcaino and a brief land expedition by Jesuit Father
Linck in 1766 to the north of San Borja. The Spanish were not
faint-hearted or inexperienced but were stepping into a new world
with years of experience in operations on the borderlands.
The land portion of the expedition proceeded
with relative ease but the sea operations were a disaster. The
main problem was the time of year. The San Carlos departed for
the sail north in January during the stormy season on the coast
of California. In addition the strong currents and winds blowing
to the south along the coast required that the ship sail far out
to sea to tack to make headway north. The San Carlos beat its
way north for four months. Due to the ancient charts, the ship
missed the San Diego Harbor and meandered through the Santa Barbara
Channel as far as San Miguel Island. Finally, the captain realized
that they had gone too far north and the latitude readings on
the 1602 charts were too high by one degree. The journey of about
1,400 miles had taken its toll in lives also. The sailors' nemesis
in those days was scurvy, brought on by the lack of vitamin C
present in fresh vegetables and fruit. After 110 days, the San
Carlos reached the entrance to the San Diego Harbor. The date
was April 28, 1769.
The San Antonio had already arrived on April
11th after a 54-day journey with many of the same navigation problems
and scurvy among the men on board. These were the first European
ships to arrive in this harbor in 167 years.
The first effort was to find water, which
was accomplished with the help of the local Native Americans who
inhabited every area of this place. Next, a hospital was constructed
on shore and the sick men taken there from the ships. By May 12th,
only 20 of the original 90 persons on the two ships were able
to conduct any work. Each day more men died.
The land parties fared much better. The
party of 83 led by Captain Rivera and Father Crespi arrived at
San Diego on May 14th after two months on the unmarked trails.
They passed through hundreds of miles inhabited by thousands of
When they arrived at San Diego there was
great celebrating. With the larger group at San Diego, it was
decided to move the camp from near the water's edge to higher
ground on a nearby sloping terrace north of the river. This was
to be the area which became the first mission and later presidio
in Alta California. The area below this hill was forested and
peppered with Native American villages.
The fourth party of 60 led by Captain Portola
and Father Serra arrived at San Diego on July 1, 1769. The land
frontier of Spain had been pushed north about 500 miles in six
On July 3rd, Father Serra raised a cross
on what has become known as Presidio Hill and gave a formal beginning
to the first mission of Alta California.
The area was heavily wooded and well watered
by the San Diego River. Father Serra found it to be everything
he had hoped for at the start of the missions in Alta California.
The party of explorers now had to take stock
of their situation and make new plans. Again, the purpose of this
whole mission was to go north to the harbor of Monterey and establish
a presidio and mission there. San Diego was a convenient harbor
and meeting station for the first phase of the expedition. These
were the instructions of the King and it was not good to disappoint
After a "Junta" the assembled
forces were broken up into three groups. The San Antonio under
Captain Juan Perez and eight sailors were to sail to San Blas
to report on the problems and to seek aid for those remaining
sick. She sailed on July 9th. There was still hope that the San
Jose would arrive and save the day, but this was never to happen.
The ship was lost.
Captain Portola would push on to Monterey.
With him would go the main body of the group made up of the two
army engineers, Fages and Costanso; Rivera and six surviving Catalan
volunteers, Sergeant Ortega and twenty-six soldiers, Fathers Crespi
and Gomez, seven muleteers, fifteen Baja Native Americans and
two servants. This group left on July 14th for the now historic
trek north 600 miles to the Golden Gate.
Left behind to secure the first location in Alta California were the San Carlos with Captain Vila and the second pilot, Jose Canizares. On shore were the Fathers Serra, Juan Vizcaino and Fernando Parron, Dr. Prat, a handful of soldiers to guard the camp, a corporal, a blacksmith, a carpenter, one servant, eight Native Americans from Baja and a number of sick.
With this small remaining band an enclosure
or stockade was built of cut trees and thatch for roofs on small
huts and a church. On August 15th, the local Native Americans
seeing their weakened condition, attacked the sick and dying band.
This was to be a recurring event throughout the history of the
Spanish and Mexican occupation of the Native American territory.
The indigenous people did not like their treatment at the hands
of the European invaders.
The arrival of the Europeans spelled disaster
for the Native Americans. They were a Stone Age people and no
match for the invaders who were already in the Iron Age, had cannon
and firearms, horses and the wheel, and were masters of civic
organization. The Native Americans continually fought between
tribes and were experts in the use of the bow and arrow and the
"throwing stick" or "boomerang". They lived
by foraging, gathering and hunting. They lived together in families
and clans in huts and went naked. There was no cloth with which
to cover themselves. Their only motivation in this respect was
to keep warm. Going naked was natural in their eyes. The two cultures
could not be farther apart. Disease and then enslavement by the
Spanish was to lead to the eventual extinction of the Native Americans.
In the meantime, the Portola group had reached
the area of the Bay of Monterey but did not recognize it as such.
Father Serra placed a cross at the place called the Bay of Pines.
This area was reached after 38 days on the trail. On October 31st,
Portola realized that they had gone too far north, when they recognized
the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes. On November 1st, Sergeant
Ortega advanced to the shores of San Francisco Bay, the first
European to see it.
With a sense of disappointment and failure,
Portola decided to return to San Diego. His 74-man expedition
reached there on January 24, 1770.
To forestall the inevitable end of their
small band from famine, scurvy and further attacks from the Native
Americans, Captain Portola decided to send Captain Rivera down
to Baja to obtain more cattle and a pack train of supplies. He
left on February 10th. Further discussion resulted in the decision
to leave San Diego and return to Baja if the San Antonio did not
arrive by March 19th. On that day preparations were made to depart,
when late in the afternoon the sails of the San Antonio were seen
passing San Diego. Captain Perez was told at San Blas to proceed
directly to Monterey to assist Portola and Serra who were supposed
to be there by then. However, on the way they stopped for water
in a harbor along the coast near Point Conception, where the ship
lost an anchor, and learned from the Native Americans that the
expedition had gone south months before. Perez raised a cross
at Monterey and left a note for Father Serra. Four days later
the San Antonio reached San Diego with the needed supplies, saved
the expedition and changed the history of California. Father Serra
got his wish to establish the first mission in Alta California.
Many more had died of scurvy on the San Antonio on its voyage
south and return voyage north. The expedition had taken its toll
to establish Spanish rule in Alta California.
A junta was called to decide the next steps
to be taken. Engineer Miguel Costanso reviewed the charts of the
coast with Captain Vila on the San Carlos and Captain Portola.
He pointed out the error in latitude that was made by Vizcaino
in 1602. Because of the error in navigation tables used in those
days, the latitudes were recorded higher than today so they were
looking for Monterey Bay in the wrong latitude.
The landmarks did not agree with the modern
latitude readings for the same reasons that the latitude readings
the Englishman Francis Drake recorded in 1579 were too high. As
a result of this meeting, everyone agreed that they had been at
Monterey or the Bay of Pines. It was decided to make another land
trek there and to send up the San Antonio with the supplies.
Father Serra and Engineer Miguel Costanso
sailed on the San Antonio on April 16, 1770. They arrived on June
1st after a month and half of tacking into the wind on the beat
north. Father Juan Crespi made this second land trip with Captain
Portola. After a relatively easy land trip, they arrived on May
23rd. One sailor had died of scurvy.
The founding of Monterey was celebrated
with a mass by Father Serra, followed by the firing of cannon
and rifles. A cross was raised and the dead sailor buried under
it. The officers then proceeded with the acts of taking formal
possession of the country in the name of the King, unfurling and
waving the royal flag, pulling grass, moving stones and other
formalities according to law. The next day the fort and mission
were established with the name of the King and the Viceroy, San
Carlos de Monterey. Father Serra made his headquarters at Monterey
instead of returning to San Diego.
The achievement of saving San Diego and
the founding of Monterey had to be reported to the Viceroy as
soon as possible. A soldier, Josef Velasquez, and an unknown sailor
volunteered to make the ride back to Loreto to make this announcement.
They arrived at Todos Santos on August 2nd. On July 9th the San
Antonio left Monterey with Captain Portola and the engineer Miguel
Costanso who had prepared the detailed reports of the Native Americans
and the topography of the new land. Captain Pedro Fages was left
in charge. With the winds and currents on its back, the San Antonio
sailed south the 1,700 miles to San Blas in 24 days, arriving
on August 1st. Upon arrival, Captain Portola sent his message
to the Viceroy. The message by way of Loreto had not yet arrived.
There was great celebration at the news throughout Mexico. A bulletin
was issued by the Viceroy to inform the entire world that the
boundaries of the Spanish empire had been extended with this expedition,
even though there were only 40 people at Monterey and 23 at San
Diego. Everyone received kudos, from Galvez to Viceroy Marques
de Croix and Portola.
Portola, who became a famous figure in California
history, was to be seen no more. He had completed his assignment.
Born in Catalonia of noble rank, he had seen military service
in Italy and Portugal, as well as in the New World. In 1776, he
was appointed Governor of the City of Puebla. He returned to Spain
in 1783 where he died in 1786.
The Viceroy provided for support of the
new establishments and directed that five more missions above
San Diego be established as soon as possible. San Fernando College
in Mexico City was asked to supply 10 more Franciscan fathers
for these missions besides 20 more for the old and new missions
of the peninsula.