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Chapter IV

California Under Spanish Rule

With the landing of Serra and Portolá at San Diego in 1769, began the Spanish period of California. The chief events of this period are in a pith, the following: The establishment of the missions, the christianizing of the Indians and the exploration and colonization of California. It is from the Spanish period that the history and standing of California date. The ten Spanish Governors of California as well as the officers of the Army and Navy were men of honor and ability, and the record left by the Spanish settlers is one of which any country might be proud. During the Spanish period the geographical lines of California were settled and her harbors surveyed[4]. It was during this period that most of the present cities of California were founded, Spain following the plan of building the towns around the missions. The first Governor, Don Gaspar de Portolá, was a great and good man as well as a brilliant officer, gentle and reasonable in every respect, he was beloved by all; to him California owes the discovery of San Francisco Bay, and the great co-operation he gave to Junipero Serra, as well as his reverent esteem for this saintly man has endeared his memory to every true Californian, and immortalized his name in Spain. After a period of two years in office Portolá went to Mexico, then under Spanish rule, and from there returned to Spain.

Portolá was succeeded by Gov. Felipe de Barri, who after three years was removed from office on account of infringing on the rights of the missionaries and siding with Captain Rivera Y. Moncada who was a somewhat arrogant man, who also on several occasions infringed on the rights of the missionaries; but the faults of the latter have been very exaggerated by some historians, namely, some declare that he was ex-communicated from the church on account of insolence to the missionaries, whereas there is no record of such a fact. Excepting their officiousness and arrogance, Barri and Rivera were moral and able men.

Barri was succeeded by Felipe de Neve, a statesman, scholar and worthy governor who at once declared himself the friend and protector of the missionaries. It was Governor de Neve who drew up California's first code of legislation dated from the "Royal Presidio of San Carlos at Monterey" in June 1779. This code known as the "Reglamento" is regarded by capable judges as a most remarkable and valuable document. It was also Governor de Neve who founded the present city of Los Angeles, the original name of which was Neustra Señora de los Angeles, later shortened into Los Angeles. The towns of San Jose and Santa Clara also owe their foundation to de Neve, who selected the location of these cities around the mission sites. After eight years of office de Neve was marked for higher honors, and was succeeded by Governor Pedro Fages.

Governor Fages was a good and energetic man, but better fitted for the army than for the state; he was noted for his lofty principals of morality. Fages resigned his office and returned to Spain; he was not a tactful ruler, but like many others his name has suffered at the hands of unscrupulous writers. Fages was succeeded in 1790 by Governor José Antonio Romeú, a bright and able but very sickly man. Dr. Pablo Soler the excellent physician and surgeon of the Province of California was unable to help him; and Romeú died in Monterey in less than two years of office.

José de Arrillaga was the sixth governor. This governor was a finished general, and placed the presidios of California on a solid basis; he was painstaking and careful of detail. He resigned on account of private business affairs but later returned as he was reappointed governor of California.

The seventh governor was Diego de Boríca. Around this Governor cluster many beautiful pages of Spanish history in California; his was a character as gentle, religious and home-loving as he was scholarly and tactful. It was under Boríca's administration that the boundary lines of Upper and Lower California were clearly defined. Boríca, however, was not a man who courted public life or honors, and resigned his office, returning to Spain with his charming wife and daughter who always longed for their mother country.

Before leaving Boríca did a good service to Spain and California in recommending the reappointment of José Joaquin Arrillaga. Arrillaga continued to organize strong military defenses for California. He served as Spanish Governor of California fourteen years, and first of all declared himself on all occasions "a loyal son of the Church." He died at Mission Soledad on July 25, 1813, and was buried there. The only Spanish Governor to be buried in California.

The ninth Spanish Governor was José Dario Arguello, who was in office one year, the interval between the death of Arrillaga and the advent of Pablo Vicente de Solá the last Spanish Governor of California.

When Governor Solá took office in 1814, California had already bloomed into a garden of beautiful men and women, many of them from the mother country, others their children born in this distant province of Castile. Also many Yankee, Russian and English trading ships came to California then, and the Spanish presidios were the scenes of many brilliant dances and entertainment's. These foreign vessels were always welcome; while the Governors were careful that the power of Spain was not infringed upon, perfect courtesy and friendliness was always maintained by both Spaniards and visitors. Thus when Governor Solá arrived to take his office he was given a royal welcome. Of course, it was in Monterey that every governor took up his residence (at the Royal Presidio) and their first act was to attend Solemn High Mass at the Royal Chapel of San Carlos of Monterey. Solá was no exception to the rule; amid salutes from the cannon of the Presidio and the cheers of loyal subjects, by the Catalonian cavalry, and their officers in their gorgeous velvet uniforms, gold swords and plumed hats, Solá proceeded to the Royal Chapel where the Franciscan Fathers awaited him in their priestly vestments. Three days of carnival followed, but on the second day Governor Solá withdrew from the festivities, made the Stations of the Cross[5] which the fathers had erected between Monterey and Carmelo, and on reaching San Carlos of Carmelo was shown to the tombs of Junipero Serra, Juan Crespí and Francisco de Laséun. Here the Governor knelt and remained long in prayer.

In California Solá found a pleasing contrast from the conditions of affairs he had seen during his sojourn in Mexico. In that country clouds of revolt against Spanish rule were rapidly gathering. California he found intensely loyal to the Crown. The neophytes and converted Indians greatly touched his generous soul, and the beauty of the country delighted him. Solá was in office eight years; his work was well done, and if California was lost to Spain under his administration, no less credit can be given to his ability and high principals of honor. Many times did Solá quell disturbances from revolutionary vessels which landed in Monterey from Mexico, and several attacks from pirates, and many a noble act is recorded of this loyal governor as well as of the no less loyal Spanish subjects of the Province. If the Mexican Government supplanted Spanish rule and "laid desolate" much of the work done by this brilliant period of California, we repeat it was due to no treachery or cowardice of Solá and his compatriots as we shall see elsewhere in this sketch. Spain came into possession of California with honor, maintained it with honor, and after her three-fold honorable policy of exploration, colonization and christianizing of its heathen natives, left it with honor, but her monuments remained. If a few political troubles and abuses existed, they pale before the light of the myriad of great deeds and purposes, and where is the country or people who are utterly flawless individually? No cruelties or uncleanness can ever be proven against Spain or her people here. Spanish society and refinement was the first which California saw; under Spain were thousands of Indians rescued from savagery, and under Spain was California made known to the world, as well as discovered. Under Spain too were the first land grants made to her subjects in California.

Some historians and casual observers are inclined to blame Spain for not having lent more aid to her loyal California colonies and enabled her presidios to have more and better fortifications. But let us examine these points more coolly. First of all this province was far away from the mother country, means of travel and communication were then far different from what they are now, and Spain was also busy with political troubles at home; she had always sent her most representative men as governors and officers, her settlers were no less worthy, most of them coming here with no "empty purse" as adventurers, but were men of education and standing in their country. The galaxy of saintly missionaries is superfluous to mention, so above are they of the least sting of reproach, and lastly so clean are the pages of Spanish history in California that no serious student of whatever race or creed he or she may be, can but deplore the calumnies that have at times been hurled at this golden period of California history. It was from the Spanish period of California that the present capital of the state dates having been named Santisimo Sacramento (Most Holy Sacrament) in honor of the Eucharistic Presence of the Altar. Thus we see the vein of piety of the Spanish settlers who gave names of religious significance to so many of the towns they founded, and even to their land grants. In fine these sterling men were worthy compatriots of those giant men and women which have appeared at different times in Spain. We refer to Saints, Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Dominic, Theresa of Jesus and a myriad others, also to the fair array of kings and queens, poets, artists, explorers, whose illustrious names would fill volumes.

When treading El Camino Real and kneeling by the sacred tombs of Junipero Serra and his hero band of soul-conquerors we may well recall that passage of the beautiful Hymn of the Knights of Columbus.

"Brothers we are treading
Where the saints have trod."

[4] Alberto de Cordoba, an excellent engineer, surveyed the Harbor of San Francisco in 1813, at the request of Governor Boríca.

[5] A Catholic devotion in honor of Our Saviour's Passion.

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