By Elias J. Cota
EDITOR’S NOTE: For many years, the story of the Linares child the “first white child” born near what now is Warner’s Ranch on Christmas Eve of 1775, was firmly imbedded in the history — or folk-lore of California. In fact, when Winifred Davidson discovered that the Ortega child was baptized at the Mission San Diego de Alcala some months earlier, she had difficulty in getting the facts published — (“Oh, our first white child — born on Christmas Eve — such a beautiful story! So romantic! Why spoil it?” — etc., etc., etc.) Nevertheless, the California Historical Society published the facts of the baptism of Joseph Francisco Maria de Ortega in February of 1775. In due course a bronze plaque was cast to commemorate the birth as California’s first although Mrs. Davidson had clearly stated that the first white child “…may have been Joseph Francisco Maria de Ortega…” and not that he was definitely the first one.
Comes now Elias J. Cota, who, in doing research on his own ancestors, turned up a baptismal record on Juan Joseph Garcia, baptized at the Mission San Luis Obispo on November 11, 1774, some three months before San Diego’s “first” white child.
Wives and daughters of Capt. Fernando Rivera y Moncada’s soldiers, recruited by him in Sinaloa in 1773, were escorted by Lieutenant Ortega from Loreto and Velicata, along with his own family. They arrived at San Diego on Sept. 26, 1774. It could be that his wife’s brother-in-law Juan Diego Verdugo also came with him – and there were the Lugos, Beltrans, Antunas, Garcias, etc., who are really the very first Spanish families, women and children, to come to Alta California. This was some two years before Anza’s trek of 1776.
There were two Jose Francisco Maria de Ortegas. San Diego’s “first white child” married Maria Francisco Yorba on April 23, 1811. He was a soldier and prominent, and died rather early in his 40s, I think. Some Ortega records say that the other one was born at San Diego in 1780, although I have been unable to find any such baptismal record. He married Magdalena Cota, daughter of Guillermo Cota, on April 3, 1817. As a child he and an older brother Juan were taken to Mexico when his father was sent back to Loreto as commandante. Later they returned to California. After his death around 1833, his widow Magdalena was re-granted the Ortega lands in Santa Barbara.
Working on this lead about the marriage of a Cota girl, I consulted Leon Rowland’s Los Fundadores (family founders), published by the Academy of California Church History, at Fresno, California, in 1951, where I found a reference to Felipe Santiago Garcia, one of Rivera’s soldiers. It states that he came up from Sonora in October of 1774 with his wife, Petra Alcantara de Lugo, and that a son, Juan Jose, born in November of the same year, was said to be the first white child born in California.”
Although he is listed as a soldier, Garcia was the master blacksmith at the Mission San Diego de Alcala, but was transferred from there to San Luis Obispo soon afterward. Those mission records now are preserved by the Diocese of Monterey- Fresno, at Fresno. A translation of the baptismal record is as follows:
On the 11th day of November of 1774 in this Mission of the Glorious San Luis Obispo, I performed the ceremonies as prescribed by the Ritual, to a baby boy, baptized in case of necessity and named Juan Joseph – a legitimate son of Phelipe Garcia, a soldier of this Department and of Petra de Lugo, his wife — In witness whereof I sign —Father Pablo de Mugartegui
The notation of a baptism “in case of necessity” indicates that they feared that the child was dying. The cross in the margin of the record, near the number of the entry and the words “De Razon” (non-Indian), is said to have been used to signify that the person had died. But whether he died or lived on, Juan Joseph Garcia appears to have been born some months ahead of San Diego’s own “first white child,” the son of Lieutenant Ortega.
As evidencing the early widespread interest in San Diego’s prospects for important water-borne commerce, an eastern capitalist, in the early eighties, wrote to the Chamber of Commerce inquiring as to the feasibility of establishing a line of steamers to navigate the San Diego river! He must have read that thrilling boys’ book by G. A. Henty, in which that prolific English writer depicted the truly remarkable adventures of two of his “lads” in a search for gold, begun by a canoe trip up that same river. That book, I believe, was called, The Golden Canyon. A paragraph in an early issue of the Union said:
“Articles of incorporation were filed (March 14, 1873) to make the San Diego river navigable as far as El Cajon and possibly somewhat farther. Object, to bring wheat and other crops from that region for shipment. No detailed plans, but consider digging of hundreds of artesian wells in river-bed above El Cajon and turning water into river. Also vague idea of extending river by tunnels and canal clear to Colorado river.”-H.C.H.
Dia 11 de Novembre de 1774 en esta Iglesia del Glorioso San Luis Obispo Supli las ceremonias [que] prescribe el Ritual aun Nino baptizado en caso de necesidad y llamado Juan [Joseph] hijo legitimo de Phelipe Garcia Soldado de este Departmento, y Petra de Lugo su Mujer. Y [para quel conste lo firmeFr. Pablo de Mugartegut
Photostat and transcript of the Garcia baptismal record [image above]