Apolinaria Lorenzana

LORENZANA, Apolinaria. Was one of the foundling children sent to California from Mexico in 1800, and lived in San Diego. The name, Lorenzana, was that of the archbishop of Mexico, given to all foundlings. She never married, but was very charitable and known as la Beata [the sister of charity]. She claimed the Jamacha rancho, but lost it. She was in San Luis Rey in 1821-30, and later assisted Father Vicente at the San Diego Mission. In later life she lived at Santa Barbara, was poor and blind and supported by charity. She dictated for Bancroft her memoirs.

[from Smythe, William Ellsworth. History of San Diego, 1542-1908. San Diego: History Co., 1907. (page 170)]

“Nineteen illegitimate children were sent from Mexico under the care of Madre de Jesus, nine boys under 10 years of age, and 10 girls, some of them already marriageable, who were distributed in respectable families in the different presidios.”

From state papers we learn that 21 children left Mexico City for San Blas and one died on the sea voyage. The expense is said to have been $4763. There was a plan to send 60 boys and the same number of girls. Two of the girls were married before the end of the year.

Considerable San Diego county history has gathered about one of these orphan girls who came with seven other waifs to San Diego. She was known as Apolinaria Lorenzana, named for the archbishop, as were all the ninos expositos. As an old lady she dictated her recollections: “‘On our arrival, el gobierno repartio los ninos como perritos entre varias familias’ – (The governor distributed the children like little dogs among various families).”

One historian says:

“Her mother came with her, but soon married an artilleryman and went to San Blas, so that Apolinaria never saw her again. The girl was placed in the Carrillo family, with whom she spent many years at Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Diego. Then she lived long at San Diego and other missions engaged in caring for the padres, tending the sick and teaching children. She soon gained the name of La Beata and has ever commanded the highest respect of those who knew her.”

In the third decade of the century she was at San Luis Rey mission, where she taught Indian women to sew. She was housekeeper for the padres and neophytes alike. She nursed the sick and now and then accompanied an invalid to Warner’s Hot Springs (Agua Caliente) for baths.

In 1840 Apolinaria asked for the rancho Jamacha and, having “obtained the necessary certificates from the padres” some years previously, the grant was confirmed to her by the land commission, but she lost it through “some legal hocus-pocus.” This ranch contained nearly 9000 acres. Another small tract was granted her in 1843 by Governor Micheltorena. This was El Rancho de los Coches, afterwards the home of “Don Juliano” Ames.

It was as a devoted church woman that San Diegans knew La Beata Apolinaria. One who remembered her 60 years ago said to me, “She was almost too good. She raised Indian girls for the church. When she baptized an Indian baby girl she always wanted it called Polinaria. If it was a boy she’d want him named Polinario.”

What became of the other San Diego waifs “de la cuna de Mexico,” distributed among families at the same time Apolinaria was received into the Carrillo home is unknown, but the fact that their origins were lost argues that they became identified with the households where they were reared. No doubt they received much the same kind though strict upbringing that legitimate sons and daughters knew. One Valeriana Lorenzana became the wife of the San Diegan Desiderio Ybarra; and we find in 1806 an entry, Maria Getrudis Lorenzana, “widow of Jose Murillo.”

[from Heilbron, Carl. History of San Diego County v.2: Biography. San Diego: San Diego Press Club, 1936. (pages 44-45)]

In the military colonies of San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco, women helped each other learn to read and write. Manuel Carcaba, quartermaster for California, recruited Apolinaria Lorenzana, an orphan girl from the Mexico City Lorenzana orphange in 1797. Apolinaria had learned her letters in her native town. She went on to teach herself to write in California, imitating the letters on whatever white paper she found discarded. While living in the house of Doña Tomasa Lugo, Apolinaria taught some girls “the doctrine” of the Catholic Church. Dona Josefa Sal, a widow friend who later took in Apolinaria, opened a school to teach girls to read, pray and sew. (18) Through the Catholic church, women made a powerful impact on community life, female Indian converts and the presidio-mission economy.

[by Kathy Hughart, University of San Diego]

Return to Biography.