San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco


WE shall now return to the progress of the Spaniards in discovering and settling the coast of California :—In 1596 Gaspar de Zuniga, Count de Monterey, then viceroy of Mexico, received an order from Philip II. to make farther discoveries and settlements on the coast of California. The visit of Drake, and his naming and claiming the country as first discoverer, for Queen Elizabeth, had struck the inhabitants of the coast lower down with consternation; and already Englishmen, particularly the famous Thomas Cavendish, and others, had fortified themselves on the coast, and molested the rich Spanish ships which yearly sailed between the Philippine Islands and New Spain, and which generally made the coast of California about Cape Mendocino. At that period, there was much talk of a north-east passage from the Pacific to the old world by the Straits of Anian (Behring’s Straits), and the Spanish Government in Europe was considerably alarmed lest the English should, by that probable route, strike a deadly blow at their unprotected colonies on the west coast of the Americas. An expedition to make fresh discoveries was accordingly undertaken, and put under the command of General Sebastian Viscaino, a man of great and tried abilities.

View in the Interior of California.Viscaino accordingly sailed from Acapulco, but does not appear to have proceeded far northwards; for, in the same year (1596), we find him returned to New Spain. Want of provisions and unfortunate disputes with the Indians, produced this speedy result. The Spanish Government, however, was keeping the matter in view. In 1599 another order was dispatched from Europe to Count Monte-rey to fit out a new expedition for the purposes already mentioned. This again was placed under the command of General Viscaino. In May, 1602, Viscaino, in pursuance of his instructions, sailed from Acapulco, and proceeded northwards till he reached the forty-second degree of latitude. Up to the twenty-sixth parallel, he appears to have surveyed the coast minutely; but between that degree and the most northern limits of his voyage, he seems to have been satisfied with merely keeping the land in sight. He discovered the ports of San Diego and Monterey, which latter was so named in honor of the viceroy. Still not a word of San Francisco Bay. Indeed it is quite evident that up to this period that great harbor had escaped the observation of all the navigators who had attempted to explore the coast. Viscaino, excited by his imperfect discoveries, and full of hope of making more important ones on a fresh expedition, solicited the viceroy for permission to pursue it at his own expense; but the viceroy referred him to the Court at Madrid, who seemed to have taken the business into their own hands. Viscaino therefore visited Spain, and pressed his suit, but in vain. At last, in 1606, after Viscaino, wearied and sick at heart with “hope deferred,” had retired, moody and discontented, to Mexico, another ordinance was issued by Philip, commanding a fresh expedition of discovery and settlement to be undertaken. The conduct of this was bestowed upon Viscaino, who accepted the charge with alacrity; but before any progress was made in the matter, he was seized with a fatal distemper. After his death nothing was done or said about the expedition.

Various attempts on a moderate scale, partly by adventurers at their own cost, and partly under royal ordinances, were subsequently made to prosecute the survey and settlement of the coast. In 1615, in 1633 and 1634, in 1640, 1642, 1648, 1665, and 1668, several fruitless efforts were made for these purposes. In the interval, the public mind was filled with magnificent views of the wealth of the scarcely discovered country. It was known that pearls, of great beauty and value, were found at various places in the gulf and along the coast. Perhaps also the glowing statements made by Sir Francis Drake of the golden sands and other mineral riches which he saw there, helped to fire the imaginations of the Spaniards. Omne ignotum pro magnifico. California was long viewed as the Dorado of New Spain; and was believed not merely to be abounding in pearls and gold and silver, but also in diamonds, and all manner of other precious metals and gems. Our own days have justified these sparkling fancies, though scarcely perhaps in the exact manner and localities of which the old Spaniards dreamed.

In 1677, instructions were, after long and mature deliberation, sent by the Court at Madrid to Don Francis Payo Enriquez de Rivera, archbishop of Mexico, and viceroy of New Spain, to undertake afresh the survey, conquest and settlement of California; and that Admiral Pinadero, who had previously carried on some private expeditions for the same end, at his own cost, should be employed in the affair;—that, if he declined, the business should be offered to, and managed by others, also at their expense, under certain specified conditions ;—but that, if no volunteer came forward, the undertaking should be conducted at the cost of the Crown. The enterprise fell to Admiral Don Isidro Otondo and Antillion, who signed an instrument for that purpose, in December, 1678, which was approved of at Madrid on 29th December, 1679. By this deed, the spiritual government was conferred on the Jesuits and Father Eusebio Francisco Kühn,—a German by birth, called by the Spaniards Kino, and who was a distinguished member of the Society of Jesus. This seems the origin of the connection of the Jesuits and priest class with California. Otondo and his Jesuits put to sea from Chacala, in May, 1683, and sailed up the gulf. During two years the admiral and his missionary priests, who had meanwhile learned the native languages, met with various success among the Indians of the peninsula, many of whom they succeeded in converting to Christianity. However, they occasionally found rebellious tribes; and on the whole, were unable to make any serious impression on their minds, or to establish any permanent settlement of importance. This was caused indeed more by the natural barrenness of the country, and the difficulty and expense of supporting existence there, than by the vicious habits of the natives, who are described as a simple, inoffensive and feeble race, more prone to consider their white visitors as absolute deities on earth than as invaders of their territorial rights.

Spanish ship of the seventeenth century, and coast of California.The Spanish Court, which appears to have been drawn into a large expenditure by this expedition, and by another, which immediately followed, conducted by the same parties, soon got tired of the subject, and judged the conquest and settlement of the country to be impracticable. They declined, therefore, to prosecute the undertaking farther; but knowing the political importance of having it somehow accomplished, they recommended the Society of Jesus to finish it, and offered that body large annual subsidies from the royal treasury in aid. The Society, after discussing the “estimates” of Admiral Otondo and Father Kino, and their own “ways and means,” respectfully rejected the royal proposal; and thus a measure which had been agitated for nearly two hundred years, and of which all admitted the political importance, while the personal and pecuniary reward of success was believed to be immense, was abruptly brought to a close. So doubtful, expensive and dangerous did the undertaking appear, that the Crown refused the petition of Captain Francisco Luzenilla to attempt it at his own expense. In the year 1694, indeed, a royal license was granted to Captain Francisco Itamarra for making a descent at his own risk and charges; but he had no better success than his predecessors.

The missionaries, who had accompanied the expeditions of Admiral Otondo, were now drafted to different places elsewhere, although many of them deeply regretted that the rich harvest of heathenism should be so suddenly and unexpectedly abandoned just when the sickle was sharpened and the laborers were in the field. They had labored with great industry to accomplish an object toward which they looked forward with anxious hopes, which they now saw would never be realized. They thought that their Indian conversions would, sooner or later, have extended over the whole tribes in California, had they been enabled to retain settlements there; while it was more than probable that their new converts would relapse into their old idolatry on the departure of their spiritual teachers. Without detailing, therefore, the various steps taken by the Fathers to preserve and advance their spiritual ascendency in California, it may be sufficient to say, that Father Kino, who had these conversions much at heart, met with Father Salva-Tierra, a man, like himself, of great enthusiasm for the Catholic faith, and of untiring courage, and much benevolence and sweetness of disposition. These two men,—particularly the latter, who had chosen St. Francis Xavier as his model,—were the true apostles of California. Somewhat later, Fathers Francisco Maria Piccolo and Juan Ugarte associated themselves with these pioneers of Christianity and civilization. Their biographies would make an indispensable and most interesting chapter in the early history of Lower California, but are out of place in this short summary of the progress of discovery and gradual settlement of the general country. It is sufficient to observe that their pious zeal urged them on against every obstacle—the unwillingness of their own Society of Jesus—the indifference of the Court, when it had to advance the whole funds—the delays of officials—the poverty of their own means, and the fewness of their coadjutors. At last, the eloquence and pertinacity of Father Salva-Tierra kindled some life among the superiors of their order and in a few wealthy laymen. The last assisted the Society by large donations; and soon subscriptions began to pour in from the general public, to promote the pious work of conquering California to Christianity. A crusade—peaceful, if the devil got frightened and retired from the contest; but warlike, if need were—was proclaimed; and all were invited to support the scheme by pecuniary means, while the Spanish Government supplied the necessary soldiers to protect the Fathers, and execute their decrees and those of heaven. It was all, in terms of the motto and ruling spirit of the Society, ad majorem Dei gloriam; and great indeed would be the reward in heaven of the patrons of the business. After many hardships, and a slow, painful progress, the Jesuit missionaries succeeded in planting various missions over the whole peninsula. Aided by subscriptions from the pious, and donations from the Crown, they were enabled to give the simple Indians daily food and a scanty raiment, and soon, with unwearied patience, converted them into excellent and faithful servants and devout Christians. They had no more sense than mere children, and they were accordingly treated as such. Like children, they were always believing and obedient. Ignorant and helpless, they were slaves both in body and mind, and knew no will but that of their spiritual and temporal lords.

Father Salva-Tierra, in 1705, was chosen provincial of his Order in Mexico, and thus absolutely governed the country both in spiritual and temporal things. It was in 1700 and 1701, by some accounts, and in 1709 by others, that, in the course of several journeys undertaken for the purpose, Father Kino discovered that California was united with the main land. We have seen that this fact was known as early as 1541, where it appears a peninsula in the map of Castillo; but somehow the circumstance had been unaccountably forgotten, and the contrary was almost universally believed.

In 1767, the Fathers lost the missions, in consequence of an ordinance issued by Charles III. for the instant and general expulsion of the Jesuits from all the Spanish dominions. This stringent decree was immediately obeyed in the Mexican provinces, where the Jesuits were arrested without delay, and hundreds of them shipped off to Europe. They were succeeded in California by a body of Franciscan Friars from Mexico; but these in turn were soon superseded by the Dominican Monks, who still retain possession of the country.

The population of Lower California was never great, and towards the end of last century was rapidly diminishing. Humboldt, in his “Political Essay on New Spain,” estimates that the population, in 1803, did not exceed nine thousand of all races,— somewhat more than the half of which number consisting of the domesticated converts of the Fathers. The missions had then been reduced to sixteen. Mr. Alexander Forbes, in his “History of Upper and Lower California” (London, 1839), estimates the total population, in 1835, not to exceed fourteen or fifteen thousand. Compared with New California, the old country of that name is a dry and barren land—with a serene and beautiful sky, indeed, but with a rocky, or sandy and arid soil, where rains seldom fall, and vegetation is consequently of little account. Such a country could never become very populous, either in a savage or a civilized state.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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