San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco

Colonization, 1769-1836

Before proceeding to the story of the formation of the modern city of San Francisco let us consider the method adopted for the reduction and settlement of the newly occupied territory and the administration of its affairs, temporal and spiritual.

In the scheme to colonize California the missions were to play an important part. They were intended from the beginning to be temporary in their character, and it was contemplated that in ten years from their foundation they should cease. It was supposed that within that period of time the Indians would be sufficiently instructed in Christianity and the arts of civilized life to assume the position and character of citizens; that these mission settlements would become pueblos, and that the mission churches would become parish churches, organized like other establishments of an ecclesiastical character in other portions of the nation where no missions ever existed. [1] The missionary establishments were widely different from the ordinary ecclesiastical organizations. They had for their object something more than the spiritual care of those connected with them. They were intended not merely to christianize but to civilize the Indians; to instruct them in the arts, and to guide their labors; and the charge was committed to priests who were specially trained in such work. The scheme was not a new one; it had been in operation in Sonora and Lower California for a hundred years, but it was expanded in California and its results, aside from its colonizing value, justified those who put it into operation." At the end of sixty years (1834) the missionaries of Alta California found themselves in possession of twenty-one prosperous missions, planted upon a line of about seven hundred miles, running from San Diego north to the latitude of Sonoma. More than thirty thousand Indian converts were lodged in the mission buildings, receiving religious culture, assisting at divine worship and cheerfully performing their easy tasks. Over four hundred thousand horned cattle pastured on the plains as well as sixty thousand horses and more than three hundred thousand sheep, goats, and swine. Seventy thousand bushels of wheat were raised annually, which, with maize, beans and the like, made up an annual crop of one hundred and twenty thousand bushels; while, according to the climate, the different missions rivaled each other in the production of wine, brandy, soap, leather, hides, wool, oil, cotton, hemp, linen, tobacco, salt, and soda. Of two hundred thousand horned cattle slaughtered annually, the missions furnished about one half, whose hides and tallow were sold at a net result of about ten dollars each, making a million dollars from that source alone, while other articles of which no definite statistics can be obtained doubtless reached an equal value, making a total production by the missions themselves, of two millions of dollars per annum. Gardens, vineyards, and orchards surrounded all the missions, except Dolores, San Rafael, and San Francisco Solano; the climate of the first being too inhospitable, and the two latter, born near the advent of the Mexican revolution, being stifled in their infancy. The other missions, according to their latitude, were ornamented and enriched with plantations of palm trees, bananas, oranges, olives, and figs, with orchards of European fruits, and with vast and fertile vineyards, whose products were equally valuable for sale and exchange, and for the diet and comfort of the inhabitants.

"Aside from these valuable properties and from the mission buildings, the self-moving or live stock of the missions, valued at their current rates, amounted to three millions of dollars of the most active capital, bringing enormous annual returns upon its aggregate amount, and, owing to the great fertility of animals in California, more than repairing its annual waste by slaughter.

"Such was the great religious success of the Catholic missions in Upper California; such their material prosperity in the year 1834, even after many depredations had been committed upon them by the first governors of the regime of 'Independence.’” [2]

After the conquest of California the absolute title to the land vested in the crown, and the Indians were recognized as the owners, under the crown, of all the land needed for their support. The missionaries had only the use of the land for mission purposes, namely: to prepare the Indians that they might, in time, take possession of the land then held in common. This accomplished, the missions were to be secularized and made pueblos and the missionaries returned to their convent. As the years rolled by the missions became wealthy and were indisposed to relinquish the power they had acquired. In their zealous efforts to protect the interests of their wards they claimed all the land, extending their possessions from one extremity of the territory to the other, making the bounds of one mission form those of another, and fighting every grant made to an individual. They held the Indians in subjection and were served by them without pay, receiving only food and a very limited amount of clothing. When it came to a division of the property under the orders for secularization, the Indians sold or otherwise disposed of their portions about as soon as they were put in possession. The entire scheme failed for the reason that the Indian's lazy, shiftless nature, further weakened by sixty years of slavery, made it impossible for him to assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The most important factor in the colonization of California was the soldier. The presidial soldiers were enlisted for ten years and on the expiration of this term of service they were entitled to land in such quantity as they could use. Failure to put land to use worked a forfeiture of the grant. In the expectation of turning the soldier into a settler, care was taken to select only those who would make good citizens, and usually married men were taken. Settlers were also enrolled and received rations, and pay for a specified period. They were required to live in the pueblos of the Spaniards, where to each settler (poblador) was given a building lot, a lot for cultivation, varying from seven to fourteen acres, the use of the common pasture lands for his cattle, and for the common use of all were the rights of Montes and Aguas—the woods and waters. In return, the settler was bound to hold himself ready to march at the order of the governor. In spite of the inducements thus held out but few settlers would come, and the government was dependent for population on the natural increase from the families of the garrisons. When the establishment of the pueblo of Los Angeles was ordered, Rivera was sent to enroll twenty-four married men, healthy and robust, likely to lead regular lives, and to set a good example to the natives. Extra inducements in the way of increased pay and other privileges were promised, but the best he could do was the collection of twelve men and their families; viz: two Spaniards, two negros, four Indians, two mulatos, one mestizo, and one "Chino.” [3] With this motley crew the famous pueblo of La Reina de los Angeles was founded. Three of these promising settlers were, within a year, pronounced worthless, their property was taken from them, and they were sent away.

Nor was the attempt to establish the Villa de Branciforte more successful. A miserable band of vagabonds was collected at Guadalajara and sent up to Monterey on the transport Concepcion. They arrived May 12, 1797, [4] and the villa was founded some time in July. There were nine of the founders; one had a wife and five children and two others brought wives. They were a worthless lot and continually in trouble with the authorities. Later the village became the home of many retired soldiers. The site selected for the Villa de Branciforte was across the river from Santa Cruz, and there it was founded despite the protests of the padres, who did not wish a pueblo of Spaniards so near the mission. It was named in honor of the Marquis de Branciforte, viceroy of New Spain and now forms a part of the city of Santa Cruz. This ended the attempts of Spain to form pueblos of Spaniards in California. In all, three were founded, viz: San José de Guadalupe, in 1777, a description of which is given elsewhere, [Note 22] La Reina de los Angeles in 1781, and La Villa de Branciforte in 1797. All the other pueblos were grown from mission and presidial sett1ements.

To encourage the cultivation of the soil the viceroy, as early as 1773, authorized the comandante of California to distribute lands to such persons, either natives or Spanish, as were worthy and would devote themselves to agriculture or stock raising; and later, when discharged soldiers began to apply for land, Governor Fages was authorized to grant tracts of land not exceeding three sitios [5]—thirteen thousand, three hundred acres—on conditions which included the building of a stone house on each sitio and the keeping of at least two thousand head of live-stock. These conditions were not well regarded and but few grants were applied for before the close of the eighteenth century. Besides, the grants were made subject to the requirements of the missions. Thus a portion of the land granted to the soldier, Jose Manuel Nieto, by Fages in 1784, was taken from him in 1796, on the demand of the padres of San Gabriel who claimed it for their neophytes; and in 1797, when the mission of San Fernando was established, Los Encinos, the rancho of Francisco Reyes, was taken from him for the use of the friars.

Each governor of California endeavored to overcome the backwardness of the province in respect to population, and between 1792 and 1794, a number of artisans were imported to instruct the inhabitants in various trades. They were brought under contract for four and five years and every effort was made to induce them to remain, but most of them returned to Mexico. The friars received the benefit and their neophytes were taught the trades of mason, carpenter, tanner, weaver, shoemaker, etc.

During the last decade of the century Mexico began sending her convicts to California. This undesirable class of settlers was unwelcome and the Californians bitterly resented the action of the Mexican authorities. Their protests were unheeded and the convicts continued to come, though never in large numbers and I do not find that they made much impression upon the character of the population. Under the rule of Borica, 1794--1800, an attempt was made to import young marriageable women as wives for the settlers, especially for the convict settlers, as the padres objected to the convicts marrying the native women. Later the governor asks that one hundred young, healthy women be sent him for wives for the pobladores. These women did not come, but there were sent some small shipments of foundlings, both boys and girls, who were distributed among the families of the different presidios.

The colonization of California was very slow and in 1790, the only year in which I have a full padron of the territory, the entire population, not counting aborigines, was but 989 souls.

Why was it that in a country so blessed as California with a fertile soil, an agreeable climate, and all the conditions that go to make life easy and comfortable, the efforts to colonize it should meet with such difficulty? We find two obstacles to success: first, the prohibition of trade with the ships on the coast deprived the settlers of a market for their product, and, second, it was not to the interest of the missions to promote colonization. By the end of the century Spain had established in California eighteen missions, each without settlers, but each intending to become a pueblo, and each entitled under the law of Philip II, to four leagues of land. In addition to the missions were the three pueblos of Spaniards referred to, containing an aggregate of less than three hundred souls. Emigrants would not come. The pay and the rations offered only attracted the worthless and indolent. The mission scheme had failed. The vast missionary establishments absorbed the lands, business, and capital of the country and all interests were held under ecclesiastical sway; there was no individual enterprise and immigration was discouraged. The power of the padres was such that they not only dictated the religious policy of the country but even interfered with its civil management. All proposed grants of land were submitted to them and they virtually dictated where and to whom lands should be given.[6] In 1794, Colonel Costansó, the engineer officer who, as ensign, had accompanied Portolá on his famous march to Monterey, was sent to California to investigate conditions and ascertain the reason for the lack of progress in the settlement of the country. His report condemned the mission plan so far as the colonization of the country was concerned. He said that missions many years old still remained in charge of friars and presidial guards; there were no ship owners on the Pacific coast; no trade in the South Sea and therefore no revenue; a lack of population, and the province was a great expense to the crown. There were no inducements to the farmer and stock-raiser, for no trade was permitted with either foreign or Spanish ships, but only with the regular transports. He said that settlers of Spanish blood should have been mingled with the natives from the beginning, and that every ship should bring a number of families supplied with proper outfit.

California was divided into four presidial districts. The military establishment, at the end of the eighteenth century, consisted of a lieutenant-colonel, who was the governor, four lieutenants, four ensigns, one surgeon, six sergeants, sixteen corporals, and two hundred and eighty-two privates. This small force had to guard a coast line of six hundred miles, four presidios, three pueblos, and eighteen missions. The territory included within the jurisdiction of these missionary settlements was never definitely settled and very seldom even defined. Some boundary lines were usually recognized, but about all that is certain in this respect seems to be that the jurisdiction of the missions extended from one mission to another so that no portion of the coast country could be said not to be included in some one of them. The designs of the government of Spain were often interfered with by the religious power which it fostered. On the 4th of January, 1813, Spain passed a law expressly requiring that all vacant lands and all lands for municipal uses in her provinces beyond the sea, except commons necessary for villages, should be reduced to private ownership; and that in disposing of lands the settlers in the towns should be preferred over others. On the 13th of September, 1813, Spain passed another law expressly requiring that all her settlements beyond the sea should be taken from the control of the priests wherever they had been for ten years under their charge; that the missionary priests should immediately cease from the government and administration of the property of those Indians, leaving it to them to dispose of it through the medium of their ayuntamientos, [7] and requiring the superior political authority to name the most intelligent among the Indians to direct the disposition; and also again requiring that the lands be distributed and reduced to private property conformably to the law of January 4th. From this will be seen the intentions of Spain in regard to the missions. At the date of the decrees Ferdinand VII was a prisoner in Paris in the hands of Napoleon; upon his release, on the 22d of August, 1814, he repudiated these, with other acts of the Spanish córtes; but they were all revived by the revolution of 1819, and this one was in force when on the 27th of September, 1821, Mexico achieved her independence.

Of all the aborigines of America, the Indians of California were perhaps the least capable of exercising the rights and privileges of citizenship, and the education they received from the friars was not of a nature to prepare them for such a responsibility. Nevertheless, Mexican independence was promptly followed by an order to liberate all pueblo Indians of good character and grant to them lands for their maintenance. It was ordered that the salaries paid the missionary priests ($400 per annum) should be stopped; that the mission settlements should be formed into pueblos with a curate for each; that the country should support its own priests, and that liberal donations of lands should be made to the pueblo Indians, who were supposed to be able to maintain themselves. But the Indians for the most part were mere slaves. The order for their sudden liberation proved disastrous and had to be modified. The reglamento of November 21, 1828, provided that the lands occupied by the missions should not be colonized at present. Some provision had to be first made for the Indians. This was a stay of proceedings and the rule of the friars continued. On the 17th of August, 1833, the Mexican congress passed a law on the basis of the Spanish law of January 4, 1813, to force the mission settlements from the control of the priests, to organize local civil governments, and to grant the lands they occupied to settlers. This act was supplemented by another, November 4th, of the same year, authorizing the government to transport emigrants from Mexico to settle upon these mission lands of Alta California. On the 16th of April, 1834, another law on the same subject was passed requiring all the missions in the republic to be secularized.

In all, these acts of the Mexican congress for granting lots to settlers, the rights of the Indians were to be respected. The territorial diputacion of California declared on October 21, 1834, that all the property, real and personal, of the missions belonged to the converted or pueblo Indians, and that they were its only owners. General José Figueroa, the able and upright governor of California, mindful of the rights of the pueblo Indians who had created the wealth of the missions, published on the 9th of August, 1834, a reglamento giving effect to the law of 1833, to begin the conversion to the missions into pueblos. He decreed that to the head of each family, and to every man over twenty-one years of age whether the head of a family or not, should be given a lot of land, irrigable or otherwise, not more than four hundred nor less than one hundred varas square, from the common land of the missions; and in community, a sufficient quantity of land should be allotted to them for pasturage and for watering their cattle; that ejidos (common lands) should be assigned each pueblo and, when convenient, propios [8] also; that they should receive one-half of all self-moving property (live-stock), and one-half or less of all chattels, while instruments and seeds were to be divided among them in proportion to their needs. The rest of the property was to be retained by the government for the support of the churches, schools, etc., and the cost of administration of the missions.

1. Judge Aipheus Felch, of the Land Commission: Opinion in re Petition of the Bishop of California. [back]
2. John W. Dwinelle: The Colonial History of the City of San Francisco, page 44. [back]
3. A Chino is the off-spring of a Salta Atras and an Indian woman. A Salta Atras is the off-spring of white parents having a trace of Negro blood—whether Moorish or other crossing. (Chas. F. Lummis.) [back]
4. The colonists of Branciforte and those of Los Angeles were paid $116. per year for two years and $66. for the next three years, besides the live stock and implements furnished them. [back]
5. Sitio: one square league—4438.68 acres. [back]
6. Colton: Three years in California, 440. Forbes: Hist. of Cal., 133, 209. [back]
7. Ayuntamiento: town council. It was composed of one alcalde, two regidores (councilmen) and a sindico-procurador (city attorney). For a large town, the number of alcaldes and regidores was increased. [back]
8. Propios, were such lands, houses, and other properties of pueblos and cities as were rented and the proceeds thereof applied in the payment of municipal expenses. [back]
Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.


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