San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco

The Presidio of San Francisco

On the 17th of September 1776, Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga founded the presidio of San Francisco, as related in chapter VI, and on the 9th of the following month, the mission of San Francisco de Asis, the religious services being conducted by Fray Palou assisted by Frays Cambon, Nocedal, and Peña. The mission was located on the ojo de agua Arroyo de los Dolores, the site selected by Colonel Anza near the Laguna de Manantial afterwards known as the Laguna de los Dolores, hence the name which the mission came to be called—Mission Dolores. The report of the store-keeper (guarda almazen) on December 31, 1776, shows a force of thirty-eight men, including officers, eight settlers (pobladores), thirteen sailors and servants, two priests (Palou and Cambon), and one store-keeper, Hermenegildo Sal: total sixty-two men at the presidio and mission. The servants included mechanics, vaqueros, etc., and four sailors landed from the San Cárlos to assist on the buildings and in digging ditches to bring water from the stream. During the winter the adobe walls of the presidio were begun, and in January 1777, Moraga founded the mission of Santa Clara. In November of the same year he founded the pueblo of San José Guadalupe, taking the settlers from the soldiers and pobladores of San Francisco. In April 1777, the presidio was honored by a visit from the governor, Felipe de Neve, and in October the good padre presidente, Fray Junípero Serra, made his first visit to San Francisco, arriving in time to say mass in the mission church on October 4th, the day of Saint Francis. On the 10th he was taken to the presidio and for the first time looked upon the blue waters of the Golden Gate. Standing upon the summit of the Cantil Blanco he exclaimed: "Thanks be to God, now has Saint Francis, with the holy cross of the procession of the missions, arrived at the end of the continent of California; for," he added with pious pleasantry, "to get any further it will be necessary to take to the water.”

The first child born in the new establishment was to the wife of the soldier, Ignacio Soto. The babe was hastily baptised, ab instantem mortem, and named Francisco José de los Dolores Soto. The first burial was on December 21, 1776, being that of María de la Luz Muñoz, wife of the soldier José Manuel Valencia. The first marriage was that of Mariano Antonio Cordero, a soldier of the Monterey company, with Juana Francisca Pinto, daughter of the soldier Pablo Pinto, married, November 28, 1776. The mission church was a temporary affair made of wood with a thatched roof. The foundation of the permanent church was laid with appropriate ceremonies in 1782. It was built of adobe and the roof was covered with tiles; it was commodious and handsomely decorated, and held five or six hundred persons. It still stands (1911) as originally built except that the adobe walls are protected with a wooden covering.

On July 13, 1785, Moraga died and Lieutenant Diego Gonzales, who came with Rivera in 1781, was appointed temporary comandante. Gonzales remained about a year and a half when he was sent to the Sonoma frontier under arrest for irregular conduct. The presidio was in charge of Ensign Sal as acting comandante until the arrival of Lieutenant José Darío Argüello June 12, 1787. Argüello remained in command until March 1, 1806, with occasional tours of duty elsewhere during which Sal took his place as acting comandante. In December 1790, the presidio had one lieutenant, one ensign, one sergeant, four corporals, twenty-eight privates, three retired soldiers—invalidos, one prisoner, and three servants; a total, with their families and the missionary priest, of one hundred and forty-four souls. This is the first census of San Francisco. It includes the mission guards of Dolores and Santa Clara, but does not, of course, include the Indian neophytes of the mission. In 1791 Argüello was sent to Monterey to relieve Lieutenant Ortega, leaving Sal as acting comandante at San Francisco. It was during this period that Vancouver arrived and was entertained by Sal.

Hermenegildo Sal was a native of Villa de Valdemora, Spain, born in 1746, and probably came to California with Rivera in 1773. He was corporal in the Monterey company and witnessed Rivera's signature to the first land grant in California, November 27, 1775. He was made sergeant March 19, 1782; ensign, May 29, 1782; lieutenant, April 27, 1795, and comandante of Monterey from September of that year until his death, December 8, 1800. Sal was an excellent officer, a strict disciplinarian, the best accountant and the clearest headed business man in California. During the greater part of his service he acted as habilitado—the accounting officer of the company. His accounts are in good order and are beautifully written. Vancouver was greatly pleased by Sal's hospitality and he speaks in the highest terms of the comandante and his wife, of the decorous behavior of their two daughters and son, and of the attention that had evidently been paid to their education. Sal's wife was Josefa Amézquita. His daughter, Rafaela, married Don Luis Antonio Argüello. Josefa married Sergeant Roca. Two sons entered the military company of San Francisco and both died early.

The walls of the presidio, begun by Moraga in the winter of 1776-77, were, at the time of Vancouver's visit, 1792, completed on three sides, but on the fourth, or easterly side, a compromise was effected by a palisade supplimented by bushes planted to cover its appearance. The adobe walls were fourteen feet high and five feet thick. About the beginning of the century the fourth, or east wall was completed to correspond with the others. In 1812 an earthquake threw down a large part of the eastern and southern walls and nearly all of the northern wall. It also ruined the church and a number of buildings within the enclosure.

The fort was built in 1794, on the site selected by Anza eighteen years before. The Punta del Cantil Blanco was a bold jutting promontory of hard serpentine rock about one hundred feet above high water. The fort was a formidable affair of adobe, horseshoe in shape, and pierced with fourteen embrasures lined with brick. It was about one hundred and twenty-five feet long by one hundred and five feet wide. The parapet was ten feet thick and in the middle of the fort was a barrack for the artillerymen. Eleven brass nine-pounders were sent from San Blas but I believe only eight of them were ever mounted. The fort stood on the extreme point of the rock, which, on the west, was sheer to the water. Vancouver, writing in San Francisco in October 1793, speaks of seeing on the beach eleven dismounted cannon, nine-pounders, with a large quantity of shot of two different sizes, and on the top of the cliff several Spaniards who, with a numerous body of Indians, were employed in erecting what appeared to him to be a barbette battery. The fort was finished in December 1794, and cost sixty-four hundred dollars. It was later rebuilt with brick. It was named Castillo de San Joaquin and was variously called by that name, the "Castillo," and "Fort Blanco." It was garrisoned by a corporal and six artillerymen. At Point San José (Black Point) there was erected in 1797 a battery of five eight-pounders for the protection of the inner harbor. In 1796 the force at the presidio was increased by a number of Catalan volunteers, part of a company of seventy-two men sent from San Blas at the request of Governor Borica.

In 1795 Sal was made a lieutenant and sent to Monterey, leaving Ensign José Perez Fernandez in charge as acting comandante until the return of Lieutenant Argüello in March 1796. Argüello remained in command until 1806, when he was sent to Santa Barbara and his son, Don Luis Antonio, reigned as comandante of San Francisco until his death, March 27, 1830. Don Luis was made a captain in 1818, and in 1822 was elected provisional governor of California by the diputacion, defeating by a small majority, José de la Guerra who was his senior in rank. Argüello served until the arrival of Governor Echeandía in October 1825, when he returned to his command at San Francisco. The last two years of his life he was only nominal commander, being relieved from active duty by Governor Echeandía. During Don Luis' absence at Monterey as acting governor and after his suspension in 1828, Lieutenant Ignacio Martinez acted as comandante. Martinez served until 1831 when he was retired with forty-one years service to his credit and was succeeded in the command of San Francisco by Ensign Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, then twenty-three years old. The force belonging to the San Francisco presidio had been from fifty-five to sixty men, guarding the missions of Dolores, San Rafael, San Francisco Solano, San José, Santa Clara, the pueblo of San José Guadalupe, and part of the time, the Villa de Branciforte and the mission of Santa Cruz. In 1830 the company had been reduced to about thirty men. Vallejo was elected member of the diputacion and during his absence Alférez José Antonio Sanchez acted as comandante, and after 1833, Alférez Dámaso Rodriguez. In 1835 Vallejo was made comandante of the northern frontier and removed his company to Sonoma, leaving Alférez Juan Prado Mesa in charge of San Francisco with a half dozen artillerymen. Later the regular troops were all withdrawn and the fort and presidio suffered to fall into decay: one old artilleryman, Corporal Joaquin Peña, being left as custodian of the government property. Peña's report of January 7, 1837, shows eight iron guns—three of them useless—eight brass guns—one useless—nine hundred and ninety-four balls, four muskets, one pistol, one machete, and a few musket balls and other trifles. Vallejo protested against the government's neglect and asked to have the fort repaired and a presidial company sent to garrison San Francisco but the most he could obtain was permission to repair the fortifications at his own expense. In January 1837, a company of milicia civica was enrolled in San Francisco, with Francisco Sanchez as captain, two lieutenants, two ensigns, and eighty-one men, among whom were William Smith and William Grey, presumably Americans, and William A. Richardson, Englishman. It does not appear that this company ever garrisoned the presidio or were assembled as a military body at San Francisco. In 1840 Vallejo, failing to receive any troops from Mexico, sent from his Sonoma force—still called the San Francisco company—Alférez Mesa with a sergeant and twelve privates to garrison San Francisco. Mesa [1] and his men appear to have been in garrison in 1841, in 1842, and perhaps, in 1843. After this there seem to have been no regular troops at the presidio. The walls were down and the fort was crumbling to ruins.

On July 1, 1846, Frémont with twelve of his men crossed over from Sausalito in the launch of the Moscow and spiked the guns of the Castillo de San Joaquin and then returned whence they came. Brown asserts it was a bold deed. [2] Frémont says that as they ascended the hill several horsemen were seen hastily retiring, while Brown says that there was not a Spaniard nearer than the Mission Dolores (four and a half miles). [Note 40]

After raising the American flag in San Francisco Captain Montgomery remained in command until about December 1, 1846, when he was succeeded by Commander Joseph B. Hull of the Warren, Lieutenant Watson of the marines retaining the command of the troops on shore, succeeded later by Ward Marston, captain of marines on the flagship Savannah. Marston was commander of the force that marched against Sanchez in the Santa Clara campaign of January 1847. He was succeeded by Robert Tansill, lieutenant of marines on the man-of-war Dale. In March 1847, came the Stevenson regiment and companies H and K were sent to garrison the presidio under command of Major James A. Hardie. After the volunteers were mustered out in August 1848, Hardie resumed his position in the regular army—lieutenant of Third artillery—and remained as commandant of the presidio with a small force of the First dragoons. By order of Colonel Mason Captain Joseph L. Folsom, assistant quartermaster, laid off a reserve for military purposes embracing the presidio and Point San José (Black Point). This reserve, as described by Captain Folsom in his report of June 23, 1848, was bounded by "a line drawn north sixty degrees west and tangent to the eastern extremity of Alcatraz island to the summit of a high ridge of hills running sensibly parallel to the bay. The line extends five thousand two hundred and fifty-three feet from the bay of San Francisco to the summit of the hills, and thence south forty-two degrees west to the Pacific ocean. From this point on the coast the boundary runs along the beach to the old fort at the entrance of the harbor, and thence, still following the beach, to the point of departure." [3] The boundaries of this reserve may be sufficiently indicated for general purposes by a line drawn from the foot of Jones street to the summit of the Clay street hill at Clay and Jones streets, thence southwesterly to the ocean which is reached at Lawton, or L street, a most royal demesne of about ten thousand acres. Captain Folsom, in the concluding paragraph of his report says: "Should it ultimately be found that the reserve is unnecessarily large, it can be relinquished in part when no longer wanted." A map of this reserve, as surveyed by Lieutenant William H. Warner, United States topographical engineers, is given herewith.

Previous to the laying out of this reserve, Mr. Thomas O. Larkin of Monterey, notified Colonel Mason, governor of the territory, on June 16, 1847, that he was, by purchase from Don Benito Diaz, owner of two leagues of land near San Francisco running from Laguna de Loma Alta (Washerwomen's Lagoon) to Punta de los Lobos, embracing the old presidio and castillo, for many years abandoned, deeded and granted on the 25th of June 1846, to said Diaz by Pio Pico, governor of California, and on the 19th of September same year, sold and conveyed by Diaz to Larkin for a valuable consideration. Larkin further notified Governor Mason that, in going over the land the previous May, he found that some troops of the United States government were in possession of the presidio; that they were living there; that they had torn down some of the buildings to repair others, and in some cases were putting new roofs on the houses. Larkin protested against his property's being used without his consent, or without compensation, and against damages sustained now or hereafter.

In proof of his claim Larkin offered the following documents:

Grant of two leagues of land known as the Punta de los Lobos, comprising all that property on the San Francisco peninsula lying north of a line drawn from the Laguna de Loma Alta to the Punta de los Lobos, signed by Pio Pico in the city of Los Angeles, June 25, 1846.

Deed from Benito Diaz and his wife, Luisa Soto, for above grant to Thomas O. Larkin, in consideration of one thousand dollars in silver coin, signed in Monterey before Walter Colton, alcalde, September 19,1846.

Certificate of claim of Thomas O. Larkin to the aforesaid grant, signed by Washington Bartlett, alcalde of San Francisco, October 6, 1846.

These documents bore the following endorsement:

"The United States troops are in possession of the presidio and old fort at the entrance of the bay of San Francisco, which are claimed by Mr. Thomas O. Larkin as his property.

"Without making any decision for or against the soundness of Mr. Larkin's title as exhibited by this paper, the possession held by the United States will not operate to the prejudice of any just claim to said property held by Mr. Larkin.

"Monterey, September 3, 1847.
"R. B. Mason,
"Colonel 1st Dragoons, Governor of California.”

On June 6, 1847, Captain Folsom in a report to Major Thomas Swords, quartermaster, expressed his opinion against the validity of Larkin's title for the following reasons:

That the fort and presidio were on the land claimed; that they had been occupied by troops up to within four or five years and that one or more old Mexican soldiers continued to reside there; that he was assured by General Vallejo and Colonel Prudon that it was contrary to the organic laws of Mexico to sell or convey away any lands which might be wanted for "forts, barracks, field-works, and public purposes for defence"; that the title was not approved by the departmental assembly, as required by law; that the alcalde of the district had not certified that the grant could be made without prejudice to the public interest, as required by law; that Pio Pico, the governor, was not in Los Angeles on June 25, 1846, when the alleged grant was signed; but had left Los Angeles June 17th or 18th and did not return until July 15th, being at Santa Barbara on June 25th.

Henry W. Halleck, brevet captain of engineers and secretary of state, in an exhaustive report to Governor Mason on the laws governing the granting or selling of lands in California, dated March 1, 1849, rejected the claim of Larkin as against the law, practice, and precedent of the Mexican government. [4]

On the 28th of November 1848, the president of the United States appointed a joint commission of navy and engineer officers for an examination of the coast of the United States lying on the Pacific ocean. Among the duties of the commission was the selection of points of defence.

Now enters upon the scene Mr. Dexter R. Wright, who produces a deed from Thomas O. Larkin and wife to the Rancho Punta de los Lobos, dated September 29, 1846. Why Larkin should claim on June 16, 1847, to be owner of the land deeded to Wright eight months before, does not appear.

On the 28th of December 1849, General Riley, commanding the Tenth military district, advised the war department that the reserve made by Captain Folsom was greater than was required for military purposes; that the owners of the Rancho de los Lobos were willing to give the land occupied by the presidio and fort and the adjoining ground to the United States for purposes of fortification, and he thought it would be advisable to relinquish all the land that might be found unnecessary for military purposes, the designation to be made by the joint commission of navy and engineer officers.

On the 31st of March 1850, the joint commission recommended the reservation of the following tract of land on the San Francisco peninsula for military purposes.

"From a point eight hundred yards south of Point José (Point San José) to the southern boundary of the presidio along that southern boundary to its western extremity, and thence in a straight line to the Pacific, passing by the southern extremity of a pond that has its outlet in the channel between Fort Point and Point Lobos."

The land thus described was reserved by President Fillmore, November 6, 1850.

On the 5th of April 1850, Mr. Dexter R. Wright entered into a bond in the sum of fifty thousand dollars for the faithful performance of his agreement to convey to the United States the presidio and fort tract and reservation and Point San José, in consideration of the relinquishment by the United States of all "control, occupation, and military possession" of the remainder of the Rancho de los Lobos; a very clever scheme to secure government recognition of his title. In the bond the presidio reservation is described as follows:

Beginning at a point on the crest of a high hill, southeast of the presidio and marked by a stake which was established in the presence of Captain E. D. Keyes, Captain H. W. Halleck and D. A. Merrifield, Esq., on the 3d day of April, 1850; thence running in a northerly direction parallel to Larkin street, in the town of San Francisco, to low water mark on the southern shore to the entrance to the bay of San Francisco; then running along the low water line of said bay and of the sea to the mouth of the outlet of the pond between Battery Point and Point Lobos and southwest of the said presidio; thence along the middle of said outlet and pond to the extremity of said pond; thence in a northeasterly direction to the point of beginning.

This was the presidio reservation secured to the government by Lieutenant-colonel Juan Bautista de Anza when, on March 28, 1776, he erected a cross on the Cantil Blanco and directed the fort to be built on the point and the presidio under the shelter of the hill; his act creating, under the laws of Spain, a military reservation of three thousand varas—fifteen hundred and sixty-two and a half acres. The boundary lines of the Spanish presidio are those of the presidio reservation to-day with the exception of eighty feet cut off from the eastern frontage by an act of congress on May 9, 1876, and given to the city of San Francisco for a street.

In November 1849, Captain E. D. Keyes, Third artillery, had succeeded Major Hardie in command of the presidio and on April 27, 1850, under orders from General Riley, he withdrew the military forces under his command to the reserve as described and bounded in Wright's bond, with the exception of those stationed at Point San José.

On April 28, 1850, General Riley transmitted to the Adjutant-general a copy of Wright's bond, concurring with the opinion of the joint commission that the arrangement with Wright secured to the United States all the land that would ever be required for military purposes on the south side of the entrance to the bay of San Francisco, and recommended approval by the secretary of war.

On June 19, 1850, the following endorsement was made on General Riley's letter by G. W. Crawford, secretary of war:

"The agreement is disapproved. The acceptance of a quit claim to a parcel of land now, as I think, rightfully in the possession of the United States, might afterwards prejudice the right of the government to the remainder of the freehold embraced in the Diaz grant.
G.W. C."

The Diaz grant was finally rejected by the land commission, and thus was ended a most impudent attempt to grab several thousand acres of San Francisco's choicest residence district. I do not know how far Larkin was concerned in the fraud, but he made a claim for the property and fought for its possession. He was, in any event, unfortunate in his association with Benito Diaz. Another grant, for which Larkin was claimant before the land commission, was the orchard lands of the Santa Clara mission, sold to Castañada, Arenas, and Diaz. The claim was rejected on the ground that the deed was fraudulently antedated.

The stake Captain Keyes placed on the crest of the hill to mark the southeastern corner of the presidio reservation was replaced in May 1850, by a cannon set in the ground and from this cannon Captain Keyes ran a line northerly to the bay, parallel to the line of Larkin street, and put up a fence on that line. The bearing of this fence was found to be north, seven degrees and thirty minutes west. The area of the reservation as described in the Wright bond and enclosed by Captain Keyes, was determined by Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, United States engineers, to be fifteen hundred and forty-two 60-100 acres.

On October 27, 1851, the joint commission of navy and engineer officers modified their recommendation of March 31, 1850, and in accord with their report, President Fillmore on December 31, 1851, modified his order of November 6, 1850, to embrace in the reservation, only:

1st. The promontory of Point José (Point San José) within boundaries not less than eight hundred yards from its northern extremity.

2nd. The presidio tract and Fort Point, embracing all the land north of a line running in a westerly direction from the southeastern corner of the presidio tract, to the southern extremity of a pond lying between Fort Point and Point Lobos, and passing through the middle of said pond and its outlet to the channel of entrance from the ocean. [5]

The act of congress of May 9, 1876, giving to the city of San Francisco eighty feet of the eastern frontage of the presidio reservation for a street, determined the fence of Captain Keyes to be the eastern line of the presidio, and the fence was set back eighty feet in accord therewith. It has now been replaced by a stone wall. In making his survey Keyes did not conform to the line parallel with Larkin street but ran easterly of said line thereby making a considerable reduction in the size of the city blocks abutting on Lyon street. The cannon planted by Captain Keyes was on what is now the northeast corner of Pacific avenue and Lyon street.

In 1849 some repairs were made to the presidio to render it habitable and four thirty-two pounders and two eight-inch howitzers were mounted on the old fort. In May 1851, General Persifer F. Smith was succeeded in command of the Third division by Brevet Brigadier General Ethan A. Hitchcock, who removed the division headquarters to Benicia. In 1853 Lieutenant-Colonel Mason was engineer in charge of the work at Fort Point; Mason died and was succeeded by Major J. G. Barnard. The old fort was taken down and some of the material used in the new construction. The site was cut down to the water's edge and a new fort, Winfield Scott, succeeded the Castillo de San Joaquin. In 1857 Brevet Brigadier General Newman S. Clark, who succeeded Major General John E. Wool in command of the division of the Pacific, returned the division headquarters to San Francisco where it has since remained. The command in California has been held by some eminent soldiers; among them, Albert Sidney Johnston, Edwin V. Sumner, George Wright, Irwin McDowell (1864-65 and again 1876-82), Henry W. Halleck, George H. Thomas, George M. Schofield (1870-76 and again 1882-83), O. O. Howard, and Nelson A. Miles.

The ancient presidio is no longer protected by its fourteen foot adobe wall, but its quadrangle is the parade ground of the post, and is lined on two sides by the chapel, officers' club, guard house, offices, and officers' dwellings.

1. Juan Prado Mesa was grandson of Corporal José Valerio Mesa of Anza's company. He received a wound from an arrow in a fight with Indians from which he died in 1846. [back]
2. Early Days. Chapter ii. The extracting of the spikes caused Lieutenant Misroon an infinite amount of trouble. Captain Phelps filed a claim against the United States government for ten thousand dollars for conveying Frémont across the bay from Sausalito. [back]
3. Rudolph Herman Company vs. City and County of San Francisco. Agreed Statement of Facts. 13-14. [back]
4. Doc. No. 17. 131-182. [back]
5. Rudolph Herman Company vs. The City and County of San Francisco. Agreed Statement of Facts. 5-165. [back]
Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.


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