The Spanish at San Pedro and San Pablo

By Pete Cacicedo




In the 16th century California was thought to be an island, possibly separated from Asia by the legendary Strait of Anian, somewhere in the mysterious north.Knowledge of California advanced so haltingly that not until 1705 did there appear a map that showed the reality: California was not an island, as previously thought, but a peninsula - Baja California - directly attached to the land mass above it, called Alta, or Upper California.

The cartographer who drew this map was Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary whose character and skills were to help shape the future of both Californias. Thanks to Father Kino's labors, a stable and productive series of outposts existed on New Spain's northwest frontier, including missions in Mexico, Arizona and throughout forbidding Baja California. The Baja missions, each one an oasis in a desert wilderness, could not have survived their infancy had not Kino kept up a steady stream of supplies from his thriving missions in Sonora. Shipment of such goods across the Gulf of California was always risky because of the fierce currents' and frequent storms. Needing a better supply route, Kino explored northward to the head of the gulf until 1702 when he realized that California was not an island, but a peninsula. His subsequent map showed that both Alta and Baja California should, in theory, be reachable from Mexico by land.

But no land route was blazed to the Californias in his time. When Kino died in 1711, there was no one of his caliber to follow his lead. California lay forgotten until foreign threats prodded the Spaniards into action.

In the 1760's, Spain became alarmed by reports of English and Russian shipping activities near the west coast of North America and, especially by Russia's declared intention to establish settlements along the coast. Obviously, Spain must occupy and secure her neglected Pacific frontier particularly Alta California, which was virtually unexplored. All the Spaniards knew was that there were two promising bays: San Diego, discovered in 1542, and Monterey to the north, first charted in 1602 by the Spanish navigator Sebastian Vizcaino. The founding of mission colonies in these and adjacent areas would presumably discourage foreign intruders.

Don Jose de Galvez arrived in Mexico in 1765. As visitador, or visitor-general, his primary function was to oversee royal revenues and government operations in Mexico, but he was also charged with protecting Spain's possessions to the north. In 1768, with the approval of King Charles III, Galvez quickly began organizing an expedition of exploration and colonization, with parties to proceed by both land and sea. Two small ships sailed from La Paz in southern Baja, loaded with supplies, soldiers, artisans and a few Franciscan priests - destination San Diego. Meanwhile, two groups would travel overland from the Baja missions of Velicata and LoretoI heading north for a rendezvous with the ships at San Diego.

Galvez named Gaspar de Portola y de Rovira, the newly appointed governor of Baja California, to command land operations and coordinate the expedition. Fray Junipero Serra, father-president of the Franciscan friars, who had recently taken over the work of the Jesuits in Baja California, was to serve as spiritual leader.

The two ships, carrying the bulk of the supplies, set sail in January and February 1769, on what was to be a cruelly difficult voyage. The San Antonio sailed too far north and reached San Diego only after 54 days at sea. The San Carlos made even more serious navigational errors and took 110 days for the trip. A third vessel, the San Jose, which sailed in June to join the others, never did arrive: it simply disappeared.

By land, an advance party of 25 leather-armored soldiers, three muleteers, and 42 Indians armed with axes, picks and shovels headed north to break trail. The company reached San Diego on May 14, 1769, Six weeks later, Portola and Serra arrived with their party: 10 soldiers, two servants and 49 Baja California natives. Between them, the land expeditions had used almost all of the supplies of the Jesuit missions along their route; many of the overland travelers had fallen by the wayside hungry, ill and discouraged. One thing was clear: The Baja missions did not have the productive capacity to support the would-be colonists of Alta California.

When the survivors met in San Diego on July 1, the outlook was grim. All but two crew members of the San Carlos had died of scurvy, and everyone else on board was incapacitated by scurvy and dehydration. Among the few healthy survivors were Don Pedro Fages, a fiery Catalan infantry officer, and some of his soldiers. Eight men of the San Antonio complement were dead, and nearly all of those still alive were ill.

On July 3 a hopeful salute was fired; Father Serra raised a cross, said mass and led in the singing of the Te Deum. Soon afterward he began construction of the mission - San Diego de Alcala.

As Serra set to building the San Diego mission, Portola headed north to find the second of the Spaniards' two immediate objectives in California, the harbor of Monterey. Traveling slowly northward, the party reached the point where they expected to find Monterey. The broad bay they gazed upon, though in fact it was Monterey, did not seem to match the descriptions of early mariners. They pushed onward. Weeks and miles later, they reached a magnificent body of water, a great sheltered bay that sailors had so far failed to discover because of its narrow entrance. Portola mistakenly assumed it was part of a vaguely known bay to the north that, on November 7, 1595, a friar aboard the Spanish galleon San Augustin had named "La Bahia de San Francisco" The Bay of St. Francis, now known as Drake's Bay. And so Portola alluded to this newly discovered body of water as La baia de San Francisco, San Francisco Bay, a name that has remained even after his error was discovered.

The following excerpts are taken from the Report of Archaeological Investigations at Sanchez Adobe Park Historic District dated August 1979.

The first Europeans to visit San Pedro Valley was a party under the command of Gaspar de Portola. Portola departed San Diego on July 14, 1769 accompanied by Lieutenant Pedro Fages and six of his leather jackets, the engineer-diarist Miguel Costanso, Fray Juan Crespi, Fray Francisco Gomez, Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada, Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega and twenty-three soldiers, fifteen Baja California Indians, ten muleteers to manage the pack train and two servants to wait on the leaders. A total of 63 men entered the San Pedro valley on October 31 st, 1769, Father Crespi described the landscape: "The valley has a great deal of reed grass and many blackberries and roses; there are a few trees in the beds of the arroyos, and some moderate-sized willows, but on the hills there was not a single tree to be seen except some on a mountain range which encircles this bay."

In the Fall of 1774 an expedition under Captain Rivera and Father Palou was sent north, following an inland route, in search of a good site for a presidio and mission on the newly discovered bay of San Francisco. Following several encampments throughout. the bay area the party finally camped in the area of Lake Merced on December 4. The following day the party began their return to Monterey and traveled ".... by the beach road followed by the expedition of the year 1769". The following comments were made by Father Palou upon arriving in San Pedro Valley: " ....we stopped about one in the afternoon in a canyon of the valley near an arroyo of running water, one of the two in the valley from which the lake is formed~ It is well covered with tule, and on its banks there are some willows and blackberry brambles.

The beds of both arroyos are the same; and on the slopes of the hills I saw here and there a live oak. If the place had timber it would be suitable for a mission, on account of its proximity to the mouth of the port, for it does not lack land, water, or pasture for cattle."

Spanish explorers, including Father Francisco Palou, returned to the San Francisco Peninsula by the inland route in 1775 and again in the spring of 1776, without visiting the San Pedro Valley. In the summer of 1776 they came north to build the presidio and mission at San Francisco.

The following excerpts from the annual report of December 31, 1782 indicate that they were having difficulty feeding people (at San Francisco) and that young baptized children continued to live with their parents in their home villages. " ••• and for the gentiles of the neighboring villages who came to be converted it will be indispensable to sow seed in a place more than 4 leagues (10.4 miles) from the mission, which has now been found to be very appropriate, with good earth, enough water, and free from the winds .... "

After nearly 10 years at San Francisco, Father Palou returned to Spain at the end of 1785. The remaining priest, Father Pedro Benito Cambon, and his assistant, Father Miguel Giribet, faced three important problems in 1786. Most of the potential new converts lived in villages at least an overnight journey to the south. Secondly, the local vicinity of the mission had proved inadequate to raise enough crops for the growing mission population.

Finally, there was disease in the mission village, perhaps as a result of the inadequate food supply. The crude death rate for the mission jumped to 15.5% from previous levels of 7% to 11 % of the live population at the mission during 1785. Father Palou had remarked in 1774 that San Pedro Valley would be a desirable place for a mission if it had timber, "for it does not lack land, water, or pasture for cattle." His idea was brought into reality in the spring following his departure. Construction of the outpost was begun in 1786.

By December 1786 six (6) rooms with whitewashed, mudplastered, palisades walls, roofed with mud and thatch were completed including a chapel and granary. They formed two sides of a quadrangle. Approximately 10.5 acres of small corn and 4.5 acres of beans were sown. Another 8.75 acres were being cleared for wheat. The records do not separate that year's harvest from that of the mission.

By December 1787 three (3) additional rooms with whitewashed, mudplastered, palisades walls, roofed with mud and thatch were completed forming a third side of the quadrangle. Approximately 6.9 acres of corn were planted yielding about 112 bushels, and almost 29 acres of wheat were planted. No wheat harvest is reported. Frequent and severe rains ruined most of the wheat. Bears ruined much of the corn crop and frosts damaged the fodder.

The new outpost soon solved the problems of inadequate food supplies and distance from new sources of converts. By the end of 1787 the priests indicated that there was a surplus of crops that could be increased if there was a market for their sale. In 1786, the crude death rate for the entire mission population decreased dramatically to 7.5%. It may be that the epidemic of 1785 had run its course in 1786 since the new food supply from the outpost would not have been ready until the fall harvest and was probably not a factor in the decrease in the number of deaths. It is possible that there were unhealthy living conditions at the village in San Francisco, which was much larger than the villages in which the Indians were accustomed to live, and that such conditions were alleviated by the removal of a large workforce to the new outpost at San Pedro.

By December 1788 two rooms of adobe construction had been started but completion was not accomplished before the winter weather set in. The exposed walls were covered with thatch to protect them from the elements. Cultivated land reached 80.75 acres which yielded the following harvest: 379.2 bushels of wheat, 334.4 bushels of barley, 28.8 bushels of peas, 48 bushels of beans and 800 bushels of corn, for a total harvest of 1,590.4 bushels.

By December 1789 the two rooms started in 1788 were completed and the final room, a large granary was erected of adobe, forming the fourth side of the quadrangle. There are no agricultural reports for this year in the mission records.

The priests reported construction of additional drainage ditches in their year-end report of 1790. After that year, the annual mission reports ceased to mention the outpost. However, other reports confirm continued mission related activity at San Pedro until the year 1828.

According to a 1791 report by Governor Fages " ... the fathers of the mission of San Francisco have made a new and formal foundation at seven leagues distance, keeping there perhaps the larger part of the neophytes, without further notice ..... " Although mention of additional construction stopped in 1791, the number of baptisms which actually took place in the "church" of the outpost rose to 70 from a previous average of 13 per year.

The mission outpost did continue to exist after 1792, although the staff of Indian people at the site appears to have been minimal. There were only a few register entries at San Pedro in 1793. The last recorded baptism at the site occurred on April 14, 1793 and 11 burials are recorded. Nine in the spring and two in the fall. This suggests a temporary increase in neophytes staying at the site for spring plantings and fall harvests. These are the final baptism or burial register entries in the mission records which seem to indicate that although the site continued to be a viable source of supply for the mission, ecclesiastic activity had ceased. No longer was a priest making the weekly journey from Mission Dolores to San Pedro to administer his ecclesiastic duties.

As the stock of the Presidio and the Mission multiplied in the 1790's, grazing land on the peninsula (San Mateo-ed.) became a problem. A representative of the Viceroy sent a report to Mexico in 1796 which included the following excerpt about the land problem: ".... not even the horse herd has enough to eat and it is unavoidable that it be taken about 4 leagues (10.4 miles) for its sustenance, to a place called San Bruno. Because it (San Franciscoed.) is only dunes of sand and do not even produce fodder, the mission livestock must roam 6 leagues (15.6 miles) in quest of sustenance. There is not enough water to support a population, nor wood, nor good air. A town could be built no less that 14 leagues (36.4 miles) distant. Well, there is, however, a place called San Pedro, alias Mussel Point. It is the support and being of the Mission of Our Father St. Francis, without which it would be impossible (for the mission-ed.) to subsist."

This excerpt indicates that San Pedro remained an important outpost of Mission Dolores in 1796, despite the lack of recorded ecclesiastical activity. A child "born at the Ranch of the Apostles San Pedro and San Pablo on the 22nd of said month" was brought for baptism at Mission Dolores on the 26th of September,1798 (MOB 1796). Other recorded baptisms of children born at San Pedro include September 1, 1799 (MOB 1993) and December 1, 1799 (MOB 2003).

The following statement by Josef Arguello described the grazing lands of both mission and presidio in the year 1798. " .... The areas that the mission held and maintained for breeding livestock and some plantings: namely a place called San Pedro where there are various herds of large livestock five leagues (13 miles) south along the coast. .. " Other locations at which livestock is kept are mentioned including EI Pilar and San Mateo. ".... Besides these places, it (the mission-ed.) maintains its large livestock at the places of 'The Saltflats', 'The Visitation', 'Lake Merced', and 'San Bruno' .... "

Father Martin Landeata wrote the following about land use on the San Francisco Peninsula in 1800. " ... Tell Father Danti that there are many cattle but that 20 cows are killed each week. They say the sheep are 6000 head which are at San Pedro, since at San Mateo there is no land. At San Pedro this year much frijole and maize has begun to ripen .... "

An 1828 census that was taken by the military commander of the San Francisco Presidio included the following information about San Pedro: " ... Rancho San Pedro to the southwest 7 leagues for livestock and crops - 8 Indian men, 8 Indian women, 6 Indian. boys and 4 Indian girls .... "

Also in 1828, Father Tomas Estenaga of Mission Dolores reported to his superiors on the mission holdings. "....To the south, over the mountains on the coast, the mission has a ranch named San Pedro, with cultivation, the pastures for horned stock .... "

The lands of Mission Dolores were confiscated by the Mexican government in the year 1834. An inventory of mission possessions described a roundup area and a corral that were presumably in the "Pilar" area south of San Pedro. The inventory made no mention of the lands or buildings of the outpost itself. That is important because the Regalamiento which allowed the secularization of the missions called for the division of those mission properties that were being used by the mission on November 21, 1828 among the mission's Indian population.

A number of land-grant applications were filed for this land. The first two were filed under separate solicitations in 1835 by Guadalupe Barcena and Francisco de Haro. These were rejected. The land of San Pedro was granted to Francisco Sanchez by Governor Alvarado on January 26, 1839.