Timeline of San Diego History: 20,000 BC-1798

20,000 BC
Hunting peoples of northeast Asia follow herds of Caribou, bison, and mammoth across the present day Bering Strait, which at several points in this period is a grassy plain a thousand miles broad. They then move south along ice-free corridors into the American continents. Anthropologists believe that humans first settled in the San Diego area as early as 20,000 years ago along the coast and 12,000 years ago in the desert.

12000 BC to 7000 BC
Original inhabitants of the San Diego area are now known as the San Dieguito people. The earliest cultural group, dated at about 7500 B.C., is referred to as the San Dieguito Paleo-Indian, which researcher Malcolm Rogers described in 1929 as a “scraper-maker culture.” The Rogers site is above the San Dieguito River east of Rancho Santa Fe.

7000 BC to 1000 BC
La Jollan people assimilate the original San Dieguito people (or evolve from them). Today’s La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club is neighbor to a major archeological site from this period.

1000 BC to 1000 AD
Yuman-speaking peoples intrude and assimilate La Jollan cultural group. Diegueños, the Indians nearest the San Diego Mission and most of the central San Diego area, are of Yuman stock, as are the Kamia and Yuma tribes to the east. Indians gather acorns and grind them into flour, from which they make a healthy mush. Archaeologists have found evidence of ceramics, cremations, pictographs, stone tools, clay-lined hearths and elaborate stone walls, some built for defense and others for irrigation.

1000 AD to 1600 AD
Yuman and Shoshonean groups migrate to northern San Diego area. Shoshoneans occupy almost a third of California. In the northern San Diego area Shoshoneans comprise the Luiseño in North County, Cahuilla in the far northeast, east of Mount Palomar; Cupeño in a small region around Warner’s Springs; Ipai or Northern Diegueño, from the San Dieguito River Valley to Mission Valley; and the Ipai or Kumeyaay from Mission Valley to Ensenada. The eastern limit is approximately around the Salton Sea and Salt Hills in Imperial County and, in Mexico, the Cocopa Mountains.

Columbus discovers the New World.

Vasco Núñez de Balboa is the first European to gaze on the Pacific Ocean.

Hernán Cortés first meets Moctezuma in the great city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). Two years later, he returns to conquer Tenochtitlan.

Cortés lands at La Paz in Baja California and establishes a temporary colony there.

September 28, 1542
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sails his flagship, the San Salvador, from Navidad (Mexico) into San Diego Bay on September 28, under the flag of Spain. He comes ashore, probably near Ballast Point on Point Loma. He names his discovery San Miguel and declares it a possession of the King of Spain. Cabrillo dies in the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara less than four months later. At this time the native population of San Diego area (estimated at 20,000) includes Luiseño, Cahuilla, Cupeño, Kumeyaay, Northern Diegueño Indian groups. Indians gather acorns from at least six species of oaks, collect fresh fruits and vegetables, hunt and fish.

November, 1602
Sebastian Vizcaíno arrives with his flagship “San Diego”, sent north by Spain from Navidad in Mexico. Vizcaíno surveys the harbor and what is now Mission Bay and Point Loma, naming the area for the Spanish Catholic saint San Diego de Alcalá. He maps the coastline as far as Oregon and gives many locations the names by which we know them today.

November 12, 1602
First Christian religious service of record in California is conducted by Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, a member of Vizcaíno’s expedition, celebrating the feast day of San Diego. A meeting follows the Mass, and later Indians appear with bows and arrows, but the Spanish offer gifts and communicate with sign language. The encounter ends peacefully.

Jamestown becomes first permanent English settlement on the banks of Virginia’s James River.

Mission at Loreto, the first of 23 in Baja California, is established by Jesuit missionaries.

Mission at La Paz in Baja California is established.

Jesuits are expelled from all Spanish territories. Gaspar de Portola is appointed governor of California.

Inspector General Jose de Galvez organizes expeditions from Baja (Lower) California to settle Alta California. The Russians are beginning to colonize the northern reaches of the West Coast, and the Spanish wish to protect their claim to Alta California. Only secondarily is this a move to Christianize native peoples. The plan is to establish a mission at San Diego, then head north for Monterey. Five groups are to meet in San Diego – two travel by land and three are sent by sea.

Jan 9, 1769
The San Carlos, first of three ships laden with soldiers, personnel, agricultural and church supplies, departs from La Paz. The San Antonio leaves later, followed much later by a supply ship, the San Jose, which turns back.

March 24, 1769
Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada departs Velicata, near the present site of San Rosario, leading a land party of 25 soldiers, 3 muleteers with a packtrain of 180 mules. With Franciscan Father Juan Crespi and about 50 Indians, they hike the rugged desert trail up the Baja peninsula. Father Junípero Serra departs from Loreto Mission March 28, suffering from a painful leg infection. He meets up with Captain Gaspar de Portola at the frontier mission of Santa Maria on May 5th. They travel to Velicata and depart for San Diego on May 15, with the second land party.

April 11, 1769
The ship San Antonio sails into San Diego Bay, after a 54 day journey, and anchors just inside Ballast Point. The San Carlos arrives two weeks later, adverse winds having prolonged her trip to 110 days. Some of the crew had died and most are sick with scurvy. A canvas hospital is set up on the beach.

May 14, 1769 
The advance land party of military men, natives and Franciscan brothers, including Father Juan Crespi, reaches the shores of San Diego Bay, where they find 21 sailors and some military men have died, the rest ill with scurvy. A new camp is established on Presidio hill near the present site of Old Town. There is a large Indian village nearby in present-day Mission Valley.

June 27, 1769
Portola and Serra, with the second land party, reach Rosarito after an arduous trip of more than three months from the Loreto Mission. Portola pushes ahead to arrive at San Diego on June 29 with a small group, followed two days later by Father Serra.

July 16, 1769
Mission San Diego de Alcala is officially founded on Presidio Hill, the first of a chain of twenty-one missions to be established along the California coast.

March 19, 1770
The ship San Antonio brings much-needed food and supplies to San Diego and takes some people back to what is now Mexico.

December 16, 1773
The Boston “Tea Party” revives American passions about the issue of taxation without representation. Samuel Adams and other local patriots, masquerading as Mohawk Indians, board three British ships and empty 342 chests of tea into Boston harbor.

August, 1774
The Mission is relocated six miles east of the presidio complex to the present site of Mission San Diego de Alcala, near the Diegueno village of Nipaguay.

The Presidio is designated a military outpost separate from the direct administration of the Presidio of Monterey. Work continues on a larger stockade and the garrison is increased to about twenty five men.

September 26, 1774
The first colonists arrive in San Diego, escorted from the Baja California Mission San Fernando Velicata by Sergeant Jose Ortega of the Presidio.

November 4-5, 1775
Indians surround Mission San Diego de Alcala, set fire to its fragile wooden structures and attack a small contingent of stunned Spaniards. Father Luis Jayme and two other Spaniards are slain and the survivors withdraw to the presidio six miles west.

January 4, 1776
Juan Bautista de Anza arrives at San Gabriel Mission with colonists destined for Monterey and San Francisco. Within a week, de Anza comes to San Diego, where he is joined by Lt. Governor Rivera y Moncada in an investigation of the recent Indian attack upon the Mission.

July to October, 1776
Father Serra returns to San Diego aboard the San Antonio on July 11. Mission buildings are rebuilt with the help of Indians and sailors from the San Antonio who make adobe, dig trenches and gather stone.

The Thirteen Colonies declare their independence from Great Britain.

The first major group of non-soldier settlers arrives at the Presidio and sets up housekeeping in the new adobe fortress.

Juan Pantoja y Arriaza, pilot on La Princesa, charts San Diego Bay and indicates place names on map.

Father Junípero Serra, 70, dies at Monterey, having founded nine missions in 15 years.

Two French ships arrive in San Diego.

American ship Columbia circumnavigates the globe and stirs interest in California.

The Presidio population now numbers more than 200, including soldiers, civilians and children.

George Vancouver arrives on the British ship Discovery, the first foreign vessel to enter San Diego Bay.

Manuel de Vargas, pioneer school teacher, opens the first public school.

Spanish begin construction of Fort Guijarros, with crude barracks, at the base of Ballast Point on Point Loma, in hopes of defending San Diego from ships entering the bay. The fort, made of adobe and armed with a 9 pound cannon, is completed in 1797.

San Diego mission becomes most populous in California with 1,405 Indians.

June 13, 1798
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is founded by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. The 18th of the 21 California missions, it is named after Saint Louis IX, King of France. It grows quickly to become the largest mission with a peak population of nearly 3,000 during the 1820s.