San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco


STILL later than Old California, and upwards of two hundred years after its first discovery, New or Upper California, was first settled. The Spanish Court, afraid, as of old, lest some of the other maritime nations of Europe should settle on the north-west Coasts of America, and induced by other political reasons, alluded to in the previous chapters, sent instructions to the Marquis de Croix, then viceroy of New Spain, to found missions, and presidios for their military protection, in the ports of San Diego and Monterey, and at various other parts of the country. This was accordingly done, with the aid of the church, in 1769, and following years; and immediately, in gratitude or in terms of special agreement, both the spiritual and temporal government of the country were put under the control of certain monks of the Order of St. Francis, two being placed at the head of each mission established. Presidios, in addition to those at San Diego and Monterey, were subsequently formed at Santa Barbara and San Francisco. Father Junipero Serra,—a man of the Salva-Tierra and Kino stamp,—was the first presiding missionary; and under his immediate auspices the mission of San Diego was founded in 1769, being the earliest.

Without dwelling on the successive establishment of the other missions, let us say a few words upon that of San Francisco. The missionaries, in proceeding northwards, with the intention of reaching Monterey, happened to take the eastern side of the range of mountains which borders the coast north of San Diego, which place they had just left, after establishing its mission. They undesignedly passed by Monterey, and journeyed on till they reached the magnificent bay and harbor which are now called San Francisco; and which are said to be so named from the following circumstance:—Father Junipero, on leaving Lower California, had received instructions from the visitador, or inspector-general of the Spanish Government, respecting the names of the proposed missions, and the saints careftilly selected from the calendar, to whose special patronage they should be entrusted; but among them the name of St. Francis did not happen to occur. “What!” exclaimed the good missionary, surprised and shocked at such an insulting neglect, “is not our own dear Father, St. Francis, to have a mission assigned to him?“ To this remonstrance, the visitador calmly replied, “If Saint Francis wish a mission, let him show you a good port, and then it will bear his name. When accordingly the missionaries, in their progress northwards, discovered the spacious bay mentioned, they cried out, “This then is the port to which the visitador referred, and to which the saint has led us—blessed be his name!” And forthwith they named it San Francisco Bay, in compliment to their patron and guide. They next set up the usual cross, took formal possession, and returned to San Diego, where they arrived on the 24th January, 1770. From any thing that can be certainly learned of the proceedings of previous travellers and voyagers, this seems the true and first discovery of that great bay—nearly two hundred years after Sir Francis Drake was reputed to have visited it.

The mission itself of San Francisco was only founded in 1776, though it had been projected ever since the discovery of the bay, about the end of October, 1769. On the 27th June of the first mentioned year, an expedition which had started by land from Monterey, arrived on the borders of a small lake,—the same which is now called “Washerwoman’s Lagoon,”—near the sea-shore, from which it is separated by a low sand-hill. This is situated towards the northern extremity of the Peninsula of San Francisco, and the surplus waters of which discharge themselves into the strait that connects the bay with the ocean, and which was afterwards called the “Golden Gate.” The neighborhood of this lake promised to be the best spot for establishing the mission; though it was subsequently planted about two miles to the south. A store-ship had previously left Monterey with the necessary supplies for the wants of the missionary band. Some soldiers, and a few families from Sonora, as intending settlers, had accompanied the expedition. They carried with them a number of black cattle and sheep, horses, mules, field and garden seeds, and other necessary means of stocking and making the settlements a profitable investment. While waiting the arrival of the store-ship from Monterey, which, owing to foul winds, did not take place till the 18th August following, the expedition began to make preparations for their permanent abode by cutting down timber, and selecting what appeared to be the most eligible site for a settlement. On the 17th day of September, solemn possession was taken of the presidio—” the day,” according to Father Palou, the historian of the achievements of Father Junipero, “being the festival of the impression of the sores of Saint Francis, the patron of the port. After blessing, adoring, and planting the holy cross, the first mass was chaunted, and the ceremony concluded by a Te Deum; the act of possession in the name of our sovereign being accompanied with many discharges of artillery and musketry by sea and land.”

After these ceremonies, the harbor was surveyed, both from the shore and by means of a launch, from the water; when it was ascertained that there was only one outlet to the sea, that by which the store-ship had entered. On the 9th day of November—being the day of Saint Francis—a similar ceremony was performed on taking possession of the mission; when, as Father Palou remarks of the establishment and consecration of the mission and church of San Fernando, “the want of an organ and other musical instruments was supplied by the continual discharge of the fire-arms during the ceremony, and the want of incense, of which they had none, by the smoke of the muskets.” No doubt the pious priests thought this was a pretty way of pleasing the Omnipotent. Certainly it was one admirably suited to enchain the minds of the scared natives. The white “sorcerers” were clearly more clever than the brown ones. This mission subsequently bore the name Dolores, in commemoration of the sufferings of the Virgin.

Mission Dolores, or Mission of San Francisco.The Fathers showed much good taste in selecting the site of the mission buildings, which was a small fertile plain, embosomed among gentle, green-clad hills, little more than a mile from the shore and about two miles from the centre of the present city of San Francisco. Several tiny rivulets of clear, sweet water, met about the spot, whose united streams were conducted to the bay by one larger creek, known by the name of Mission Creek. Farther north the land was one continued succession of bleak sandhills, among which the present city is situated. An exception, however, must be made of the spot where the presidio was established, which indeed was very prettily and agreeably situated. A small cove lay to the eastward of the presidio, within the narrow entrance to the bay, where good anchorage ground and shelter could be had. This was the original port of the mission, though latterly the cove of Yerba Buena, a few miles distant, and within the bay itself, was more frequently adopted as a harbor.

On the arrival of this expedition at the bay, many of the natives had affectionately approached the missionaries with demonstrations of peace, and all the signs of extreme pleasure at their appearance; but before the ceremonies alluded to—the imposing chanted masses and Te Deums, and still more wonderful salvos of artillery and musketry—had been played, the whole of the natives who had inhabited the place, having been surprised by an unfriendly tribe, suddenly disappeared. This untoward circumstance somewhat delayed the conversions, the first baptism having taken place only on Saint John’s Day, December 27th, of the same year.

The names and foundations of the various missions, up to 1803, according to the authority of Humboldt, taking them in their order from south to north, with their respective Indian populations at the close of 1802, are as follows: —

Foundations. Missions. Males. Females. Total.
1769 San Diego 737 822 1559
1798 San Luis Rey de Francia 256 276 532
1776 San Juan Capistrano 502 511 1013
1771 San Gabriel 532 515 1047
1797 San Fernando 317 297 614
1782 San Buenaventura 436 502 938
1786 Santa Barbara 521 572 1093
1787 La Purissima Concepcion 457 571 1028
1772 San Luis Obispo 374 325 699
1797 San Miguel 309 305 614
1791 Soledad 296 267 563
1771 San Antonio de Padua 568 484 1052
1770 San Carlos de Monterey 376 312 688
1797 San Juan Bautista 530 428 958
1794 Santa Cruz 238 199 437
1777 Santa Clara 736 555 1291
1797 San José 327 295 622
1776 San Francisco 433 381 814
Total 7945 7617 15562

NOTE.—Forbes gives this table as taken from Humboldt; but there is a slight discrepancy in the two sets of figures. It is possible that the English translation is incorrect. Forbes’ table distinguishes the males and females which Humboldt’s does not. Forbes’ table is therefore adopted with some verbal corrections from Humboldt direct. This translation, or the original work itself, has various discrepancies in its figures. For instance, it talks of the population being 15,562, at one place, while in its table, for the same year, the figures summed up, make 15,630.

These populations include only the converted Indians, who were attached to the missions. There are no statistics which can be relied upon as to the numbers of wild Indians,—or gentiles, as they were called by the Spaniards. Indeed as these gentiles were naturally of an emigratory habit, roaming from place to place in search of game, or in pursuit of hostile tribes, they could scarcely be classed as among the permanent inhabitants of any particular district of country. It was estimated by Humboldt that, in 1802, the number of whites, mestizoes and mulattoes, and who lived either in the presidios or in the service of the monks, was only about thirteen hundred. These were the gente de razon, or rational creatures of the country, in contradistinction to the natives, who were considered only as bestias, or beasts.

In 1802, the total Indian population connected with the missions, when they were eighteen in number, as shown by the above table, amounted to 15,562. In 180, Humboldt says, that the Indian population was 13,668, and in 1790, when the missions were eleven in number, it was 7748. La Pérouse, in 1786, when there were only ten missions, estimates the converted or domesticated Indians at 5143. These figures show a very rapid increase of population, or rather of conversions, in so few years. The real increase of population, however, would have been considerable among the gente de razon had not the traditionary customs or laws, which regulated the Spanish presidios for ages, stood in the way of the settling of the white population. The governing priests were jealous of their white subjects (the people of reason), and wished only a tame Indian population, who were supposed unable to reason. Therefore the soldiers of the presidios were not allowed to establish themselves as colonists, nor was any building permitted to be erected in the neighborhood of these fortresses. Indeed no marriages were tolerated among the soldiers, without the consent of the Spanish Crown, and such consent the Fathers hindered as much as lay in their power. Notwithstanding these impolitic restrictions, the fertility and pleasantness of the land were so great as gradually to draw a small number of white settlers from other provinces of New Spain; and although grants of land could only flow from the Fathers themselves, yet, either through favor or direct interest, such grants were occasionally obtained, though generally the land thus given lay at a considerable distance from the missions and presidios.

(left) Wahla, chief of the Yuba tribe, civilized and employed by Mr. S. Brannan; (center) a partly civilized indian; (right) a wild indian; from daguerreotypes by Mr. W. Shew.The Indian population attached to the missions were meanwhile becoming an industrious, contented and numerous class, though indeed, in intelligence and manly spirit, they were little better than bestias—beasts, after all. Generally speaking, the Indians along the whole north-west coast of America were a very inferior order of beings to the great tribes who inhabited the Atlantic border; and, in particular, the different races who dwelt in California were but poor wandering clans who subsisted on what they could procure by hunting and fishing, and on the fruits and grains which grew spontaneously; but they knew nothing of the arts of agriculture, or even of a pastoral life. They might properly enough be compared to the aborigines of Australia or to the Hottentots, or, perhaps, even the Bosjesmans of Southern Africa, who have been considered the most barbarous and brute-like people on the earth. On this subject, Humboldt remarks that “the Indians of the Bay of San Francisco were equally wretched at that time (the establishment of the missions), with the inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land.” Venegas has said of the aborigines of the peninsula, who closely resembled their brethren in Upper California, that “it is not easy for Europeans who were never out of their own country to conceive an adequate idea of these people. For even in the least frequented corners of the globe there is not a nation so stupid, of such contracted ideas, and weak both in body and mind, as the unhappy Californians. Their characteristics are stupidity and insensibility, want of knowledge and reflection, inconstancy, impetuosity and blindness of appetite, an excessive sloth, and abhorrence of all fatigues of every kind, however trifling or brutal; in fine, a most wretched want of every thing which constitutes the real man and renders him rational, inventive, tractable, and useful to himself and society.”

The worthy Father Michael certainly paints, in dull enough colors, his protégés and converts. It may be farther remarked, that the Indians appear to have had little or no notion of religion, although they seem to have had a kind of sorcerers among them, who amused or terrified themselves and their patients with sundry superstitious observances. Some writers, such as La Pérouse, say, that they had no knowledge of a God or a future state; others simply call them idolaters. The natives around San Francisco Bay appear to have burned the corpses of their people, while other tribes, more to the south, always buried theirs. Occasionally, they appear to have eaten pieces of the bodies of their more distinguished adversaries killed in battle, although this was probably only to insure, as they imagined, that a portion of the brave spirit and good qualities of the slain should enter into and be incorporated with their own systems along with the literal flesh of their antagonists.

These notices and the extracts previously given from the voyages of Drake and Cavendish, abundantly establish the fact of the wretched state of humanity in California. And so it might have been till doomsday, had not a new people appeared on the scene. The Spanish population, and the Fathers, could not, or would not, as truly they did not, as we may afterwards see, do any thing to promote the happiness of the human race in the country. Men feed the ox and the sheep for their milk and fleece, the hog for his flesh, the ass for the strength of his back, and all for their increase; so did the Fathers feed their Indian converts, and find abundant profit in their labor and personal services, whom they left, as they perhaps found, if they did not transform them into moral beasts, just as tame, dull and silly, dirty, diseased and stupidly obstinate as the other brutes named.  Meanwhile, the little independence, natural intelligence and superiority of mind and character which even the rudest savages possess over the lower creatures were gradually sapped and brushed away, and the Christian converts left ignorant, superstitious and besotted, having neither thoughts nor passions, strength nor will, but at the command and beck of their spiritual and temporal teachers and masters. Better, a thousand times, that the missions and all their two-legged and four-legged beasts should be ruthlessly swept away, than that so fine a country, one so favored and framed by bountiful nature for the support, comfort and elevation of her worthier children, should longer lie a physical and moral waste—a blotch on the fair face of creation.

But another race was destined soon to blow aside the old mists of ignorance and stupidity, and to develope the exceeding riches of the land, which had lain, undisturbed and concealed, during so many ages. The Spaniards had scarcely proceeded any way in the great work,—if they had not rather retarded it,—when the Anglo-Saxons, the true and perhaps only type of modern progress, hastily stepped in, and unscrupulously swept away both their immediate forerunners as effete workers, and the aborigines of the land, all as lumberers and nuisances in the great western highway of civilization. This highway is fated to girdle the globe, and probably, in the course of a few centuries, will join the original starting-point in the natal home of the “Pilgrim Fathers” in old England. The “pioneers” of California are our “Pilgrim Fathers,” and there need be not the slightest doubt but that the empire, or rather the great union of peoples and nations in the Pacific will soon—perhaps in fifty years, perhaps in a century—rival, if not surpass the magnificent States of the Atlantic. Indians, Spaniards of many provinces, Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, Malays, Tartars and Russians, must all give place to the resistless flood of Anglo-Saxon or American progress. These peoples need not, and most of them probably cannot be swept from the face of the earth; but undoubtedly their national characteristics and opposing qualities and customs must be materially modified, and closely assimilated to those of the civilizing and dominant race. The English in India have already shown how a beginning may be made; the Americans, on the California coasts, and farther west, will still more develope the modern system of progress. People may differ in opinion as to the equity of the particular steps attending the process, and many honest folk may even doubt its ultimate benefit to mankind; yet that some such grand result will hereafter be evolved from the energy and ebullition of the American character, and from the peculiar circumstances of American position in the world, must be evident to all who take a dispassionate and unprejudiced view of the matter.

Not only are Japan and China much nearer to the Californian coast than India is to England; but with the aid of steam the time for accomplishing the distance is immensely reduced. In the palmy days of the English conquests in India, her ships took several years to make the voyage out and home. Now, the ocean steamship may traverse the whole northern Pacific from California to China, and back again, within two months! Indian sepoys fought the battles of England against their own countrymen. Chinese sepoys may do the same for Americans. China, like India, has been long used to, and its national spirit broken by the usurping governments of foreign races. And even while we write, its extensive dominions are being separated by a wide-spread and hitherto successful rebellion, into detached kingdoms under the sway of military chiefs. These, standing alone, and mutually jealous of their conquering neighbors, may be easily played off one against another, by a white people skilled enough to take advantage of circumstances and direct the moves of the political chess-board. So it was with the English in India; and so it may be with the Americans in China. Only give us time. England has not been very scrupulous in her stealthy progress over Hindostan, Ceylon and Birmah. Then neither need America fear her reproaches, if she, in like manner, acquire, conquer, or annex the Sandwich Islands, the Islands of Japan, those of the great Malayan Archipelago, or the mighty “Flowery Empire “itself. A few more years, and a few millions of Americans on the Pacific may realize the gigantic scheme, which even our fathers, on the Atlantic border, would have laughed at as impossible and ridiculous. The railway across, or through the Snowy and Rocky Mountains, which will bind all North America with its iron arm into one mighty empire, will facilitate the operation. And then SAN FRANCISCO—in the execution and triumph of that scheme, will assuredly become what Liverpool, or even London is to England, and what New York is to the Middle and Eastern States of America—a grand depot for numberless manufactures and produce, and a harbor for the fleets of every nation. Long before that time, the English and American peoples will have finished the last great struggle which must some day take place between them for the commercial and political supremacy of the world. It is more than probable that the hosts of English from India, and Americans from California, will meet on the rich and densely peopled plains of China, and there decide their rival pretensions to universal dominion. Whatever may, in 1854, be thought of the relative strength of the two nations, it appears very evident to the people of America, that the natural increase of their population must necessarily make them victors in the end.

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

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