Spanish Period 1769-1810


Spain's interest in the New. World began when the fall of Granada in January or 1492 ended 800 years of Moslem domination. Thus freed and united, the Spanish had time and energy to listen to ChrIstopher Columbus's notion that he could reach the Orient by sailing west. Instead, of course reached America in the fall of that year. His discovery served as the springboard for a whole group of explorers and adventurers, and settlement of the New World soon began.In 1493 the first Spanish settlement was made on the island of Espanola (Hispaniola) in the West Indies. This was the only Spanish settlement in the New World until between 1500 and 1511, when additional settlements were made on Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Isthmus of Panama. The pattern of Spamsh conquest and development extended rapidly from these bases to the eastern shores of the Americas, to inland Florida, and along parts of the Gulf Coast, as the search for gold and for a westward route to the Orient continued.

By August of 1521, the Spaniards under Hernan Cortes had conquered Mexico CIty and from there spread their control over central and southern Mexico. In 1532 and 1533 Cortes sent ships northward along the Pacific coast of Mexico to explore what was thought to be an island (Baja California). Following a report of the discovery of a large quantity of pearls, Cortes sailed northward to La Paz In. 1535. Few pearls were found, and little came at Cortes's attempt to establish a settlement there.

The Spanish quest for riches and especially for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola, which were believed to contain vast treasures, prompted continued exploration. On September 28, 1542, San Diego Bay was discovered by Juan RodrIguez Cabrillo, who became thereby the first European to reach Alta California. Cabrillo continued to explore the seacoast northward, but stormy weather drove him back to San Miguel Island, where he died on Janaury 3, 1543. His lieutenant, Bartolome Ferrelo continued exploration to Cape Mendocino, where stormy weather and sickness among his crew forced him to return to Navidad.

By the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish interest in further exploration and conquest In the Americas had slackened. This disinterest was due In part to the failure to discover riches, in part to the rapid development of rich stiver mlnes in northern Mexico, and in part to the demands ot establishing settlements in New Mexico. Further, trade had been established with the Philippine Islands, and riches from the Orient were already being carried on galleons sailing to New Spain from Manila.

During this period, colonies were being established in the St. Lawrence and Mississippi valleys by the French, and along the Atlantic seaboard by the British. Sir Francis Drake and other adventurers on the high seas were harassing Spanish shipping, and after rounding the Horn to become the flrst Englishman to sail the Pacific Ocean, Drake intercepted and .captured the annual Philippines-to-Acapulco silver galleon off the coast of Californla.

As a result of the intrusion of the other European nations into the Pacific Ocean, the Spaniards moved to settle California. In 1769 ships and land parties set out for San Diego from La Paz, Velicata, and Loretto in Baja California. The four parties, which included Captain Gaspar de Portola, the Franciscan Father Junipero Serra, some soldiers, and about 44 Christian Indians, met at San Diego Bay on July 1,1769, and took formal possession of the surrounding territory (Alta California). Shortly thereafter, a presidio and mission were built at San Diego.
Portola and his men continued northward to discover the Bay of Monterey, arriving later at San Francisco Bay. A presidio was soon established at Monterey; and in 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza, who had traveled overland from Sonora with a group of colonists, established a presidio at San Francisco.

Father Serra established missions where there were numerous Indians to convert to Christianity and the Spanish way of life. The missions were located a few days' walk apart on land that was suitable for raising crops and livestock, and that contained adequate supplies of water for irrigation and domestic use. By the time of his death in 1784 Father Serra had directed the construction of 9 missions. Serra's work was continued by Father Fermin Lasuen, and the last of the 21 missions was completed at Sonoma in 1823.

Settlement of California by the Spaniards reiquired cooperation between the religious and the military, and the presidios located at strategic sites along the coast provided protection for the missions as well as for Spain's territorial interests.

The first of three civil pueblos, which were central communities in administrative districts, was built at San Jose in 1777; Los Angeles was built in 1781; and Branciforte, in 1797. Branciforte has disappeared almost without a trace, its remnants having been absorbed into the nearby Santa Cruz mission. (According to 1975 census figures, Los Angeles is now the most populous city in California; San Jose is fourth.) Each pueblo was granted 4 square leagues of land (an area approximately equal to 36 square miles). TI)e public buildings, settlers' homes, and the parish church were built around a central plaza. Spanish plazas still exist in some old Califor-
nia towns.

Pueblo settlers were either retired soldiers or recruits induced from the northern Mexican provinces with gifts of a house, land, livestock, tools, and an allowance of clothing and supplies for five years. In return, the settlers had to help develop the community by building roads, churches, and town buildings, and by helping to till the public lands.

Livestock ranching was a natural outgrowth of abundant grazing lands, a large supply of Indain labor, and the repoduction of the small heard of cattle brought to San Deigo in 1769. The first grant of land was made to a prospective rancher in 1775, but no large grants were made until 1784, when Rancho San Pedro was granted to Juan Jose Dominguez in recognition of his services as. a sergeant in the Spanish army. Rancho San Pedro Included all of the Los Angeles Basin from Torrance to the Los Angeles River and the entire Palos Verdes peninsula, including the present harbors of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Only 25 to 30 ranchos were in existence at the close of the Spanish period in 1821. Many more land grants were made during the Mexican period that followed.