On November 9, 1891, William H. Pratt, U. S. Surveyor General for California, authorized J. Alexander Forbes, Keeper of Spanish and Mexican Archives for the District of California, to collect all public Spanish records of the former governments. These documents were to be deposited in the Department of the Interior, Office of the U, S. Surveyor General for the District of California, in San Francisco. Forbes proceeded to the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego with the act of Congress in hand. Attached were the provisions of the act of Congress of May 18, 1858. (11 stat. 289)
The Keeper of Spanish and Mexican Archives was also instructed to “demand and secure the Spanish and Mexican archives in the Clerks Office,” and to ascertain whether any archives were in the possession of individuals such as “Pio Pico, Chas. H. Forbes, Juan De Toro, William Jenkins, or Antonio F. Coronel.”
On September 5, 1857, Judge Benjamin Hayes, recognizing the value of these records, painstakingly compiled a 264 page index of the San Diego Archives. (Typescript copy in the Serra Museum). Hayes wrote that he thought that such a record might one day be useful to persons interested in history.
When Alexander Forbes arrived in San Diego, Johnstone Jones, District Attorney, examined the credentials of Mr. Forbes, and the Act of Congress, and turned over to him all those of a date earlier than the year 1850. On November 20, 1891, Forbes returned to San Francisco with those records of the Alcalde and Ayuntamiento, depositing them in the Surveyor General’s Office.
Unfortunately for history, the earthquake and fire which occurred in San Francisco in 1906 destroyed most of the precious records. Only those which were in a fire-proof iron safe escaped destruction-yet these were badly charred and remained in storage until 1937. In that year the United States Cadastral Engineer of the General Land Office at Glendale, California, sent them to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for repair and lamination. A recent inquiry of the National Archives brought the startling, but happy news, that among those records saved were copies of the outgoing correspondence of the First Alcalde (later Juez de Paz) of San Diego (154 pages), and the Official Correspondence of letters of of the Alcalde and Ayuntamiento (252 pages).
These records, so vital to the understanding of the political, legal, social, religious and economic aspects of early San Diego, were microfilmed and received recently by the San Diego History Center. The Security Title Insurance Company graciously provided xerox copies for use in the Serra Museum Library. We invite and encourage the use of such records which cover the period 1830-1850. Reproduced are several examples of the material received.