The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1972, Volume 18, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor

By Ignacio del Río Chávez
Translated by Arturo Jiménez-Vera

Jose de Galvez, Visitor General of New SpainThroughout its history Baja California, the elongated peninsula whose name was picked from chivalric fantasy, has been the subject of the most varied and contradictory arguments. Reports began to accumulate describing it equally as an extremely desolate and poor territory and as a land that promised incalculable wealth. Little by little since a group of excited Spanish seamen first arrived on its shores, the truth about Baja California had to clear away a thick mixture of myths and disproportionate concepts.

Although its wild, rough and desert-like nature certainly provoked a good deal of disillusionment and frustration, curiously enough it also served as an incentive to inspire hope and even to formulate liberal Utopian codes. There, where everything had to be developed, man found a challenge for his creative imagination. Cortés, Fray Antonio de la Ascensión, Eusebio Francisco Kino and Juan María de Salvatierra, each with his own characteristics, belong to the group of California Utopians. We have not hesitated to place together with them with the same rank of dreamer Don Jos&eeacute; de Gálvez.

Commissioned by Carlos III to apply in Nueva España a series of reforms whose purpose was to reorganize the administrative setup, especially in business matters dealing with land, the visitador Gálvez arrived from Europe in July, 1765, prepared to fulfill his duties with the greatest rapidity and efficiency.1 The extensive powers with which he was invested gave him the authority necessary to prescribe all measures that he deemed proper and to demand exact compliance to them. Spain had decided to engage in a great struggle for modernization and seemed little inclined to make concessions that would slow this down. Nevertheless, the old and powerful interests that formed part of the very same imperial structure could not be removed merely by picking up one’s pen and proclaiming reforms; thus, the work undertaken during the wise regime of Don Carlos repeatedly had to compromise urgent necessity with political prudence.

Shortly after his arrival Gálvez began to become acquainted with the difficult situation prevailing in the Interior Provinces, those vast northern regions where a state of chronic war with the rebellious Indians was accompanied by the problem of an inadequate army, led by officers who handled public funds unscrupulously. The visitador decided to put an end to that chaotic state of affairs and made preparations for an expedition that he decided to lead himself. The trip included, at least in its first stage, the provinces of Sinaloa, Baja California and Sonora.

We will omit the details of his march since we are concerned with examining the work that he performed on the peninsula of Baja California, where be arrived on July 5, 1768, after a difficult sea voyage. His arrival took place only a few months after the Jesuit priests bad abandoned their peninsular missions due to the decree of the Spanish government banishing them.2 This circumstance left in Gálvez’s hands the complete reorganization of the province, because each time that the Jesuits left their missions the system of government that they had established completely collapsed. We will discuss this more later, but we would like to point out now that the situation then confronted by the visitador made him believe himself presented with an extraordinary opportunity to put into practice without restrictions of any kind all of the reforms that he carried in his portfolio. The only interests that would have resisted him had disappeared with the expulsion of the Jesuits. In this way Baja California became the ideal place for reform. For that matter, the orders and decrees issued by Gálvez to reorganize life on the peninsula can be regarded as an idealized expression of reform. This official was carried away to such an extent by his eagerness to renovate that his many dispositions, although unfeasible for the most part as practice demonstrated, undoubtedly form a social plan that treads on the soil of Utopia.3

The Immediate Past


Before beginning to analyze Gálvez’s brief control in Baja California, it is fitting to summarize the events in the immediate past which the visitador tried to negate at all costs with his edicts and his work.

From the very moment that the first sea voyages through the Pacific began to take place the Spanish monarchy took great interest in extending its permanent domain to the territories in the Western part of North America due among other reasons to the natural impulse to expand, the need to establish a seaport for vessels coming from China, and the powerful necessity to populate the area in order to protect it from eventual threat from other nations, especially England. The presence of English corsairs in the Pacific and the fear that a waterway might exist in the North that would facilitate traffic from British ships forced Spain to concern herself seriously with his undertaking.

Beginning in the first half of the sixteenth century voyages of exploration were initiated to the coasts of California. During that century and the following one many plans were brought into being to establish colonial settlements on these coasts. However, no attempt succeeded because of the remoteness of the province and the barrenness of the land. The continued failure of such expeditions gave the Jesuits an opportunity to seek and obtain permission to undertake the conquest themselves without utilizing economic assistance from the Royal Treasury; they realized that in 1685 the King had ordered that no more capital be invested in such expeditions so as not to freshly burden the resources of the public treasury with contributions which, as previous experience seemed to show, proved completely unprofitable.

In 1697 the Jesuits were able to obtain from Viceroy Sarmiento y Valladares permission to attempt to convert Baja California to Christianity, thanks to their offer to finance their trip with private contributions. In the Viceroy’s office where the permission was granted, the fathers were authorized to take the soldiers they needed and whose expenses they could pay; for this reason, the soldiers were to remain subordinate to them.4 Toward the end of that same year the Jesuit Juan Maria de Salvatierra landed in Baja California in order to establish the first of the Order’s peninsular missions.

From the very beginning two distinguishing details characterize this event and the mission organization that was initiated with it: the work was privately funded; and the priests had been given authority over the military. The first resulted in the formation of The Pious Fund of California, supported by gifts from private parties and directly administered by representatives from the missions; the second created an unusual situation as it placed in the hands of the religious order both ecclesiastical and civil power. As a result, the missionaries in Baja California had the means to establish a regime in which the interests of the missions would predominate over any others.5

The privilege of having the peninsular army at their orders was retained by the Jesuits during their stay in Baja California except for a short period of five years, despite the fact that after 1701 the Royal Treasury took charge of paying the soldiers’ salaries. In the final years they placed in the hands of the captain of the garrison the power to hire and dismiss soldiers but actually maintained their influence over the commanding officer. Because of this, they were able to organize the province in a mission-type structure and enact prohibitions, like the one against pearl diving, which tended to safeguard the regime’s original highly Christian intention, they thought, of preventing the influence of material aspirations. Strict control was exercised over the soldiers, even to the extreme of effecting the banishment from the province of those who in the eyes of the Jesuits did not conduct themselves satisfactorily.

The Indians of Baja California, who lived in a semi-nomadic manner devoted to hunting, fishing, or harvesting wild fruit, became bound in general to the missions peacefully and without major problems. In the missions they were taught religion and introduced to profitable work, such as farming, cattle raising and skilled crafts. However, one obstacle prevented the Indians’ complete integration into a more settled way of life: the inability of the missionaries to permanently feed all of the surrounding population. This forced them to adopt a system of alternate visits according to which the Indians had to be present at the mission in small groups and only for several days so as afterwards to return to the hills and relinquish the place to other people. This system ended in subjecting the Indian to a constant change in his way of life which was highly injurious to him because it kept him from becoming completely settled, but, on the other hand, rendered him unfit to exist in accordance with his old customs. Also, the Jesuits refused to distribute land to the Indians individually because they believed that the natives were not ready for this.6

It may be said that finally the work of the mission was half accomplished. The Indians came in contact with farming activity and in general with civilization, but not to the extent necessary to abandon their wandering. They were acquainted with Christian doctrine, spoke Spanish, and could live under a different form of political organization from that which they had in the pre-mission era; however, constant change in these aspects as well did not permit these cultural acquisitions to operate in a permanent and effective manner. To all of this must be added the slow diminishment of the Indian settlers, caused by the diseases that the soldiers and seamen carried. Syphilis, measles, smallpox and other similar illnesses grievously destroyed the natives, even making entire Indian nations disappear almost completely.7

If the great obstacles to success for the pre-Jesuit expeditions had been geographical isolation and the poverty and barrenness of the land, the Jesuit missionaries knew how to turn these seemingly adverse circumstances to their favor. The province’s isolation enabled it to function in a more free, autonomous manner, and to control to a certain point communications with the continent; the poverty of the land obstructed private settlements. Both points were flagrantly opposed to the policy of the Crown. However, an unexpected change in the situation of the mission, which the civil authorities regarded as a transitory state, gave way to criticisms, suspicions and accusations.

The reports against the Jesuits of Baja California came from soldiers who were unhappy about the influence of the missionaries and from colonists who in the final years succeeded in settling on the fringe of the mission establishment. Among other things, the Jesuits were accused of taking advantage of native labor, hindering the advancement of the white settlers and keeping the Indians in complete ignorance regarding royal sovereignty. The interests of the colonists came into serious conflict with those of the missionaries since the latter considered themselves owners of most of the land and, in addition, monopolized consumer goods.

The Baja California missions turned out to be an outrageously bad investment for Spain-and one which there was little or no chance of recovering. Repeated orders were initiated to promote Spanish colonization on the peninsula, the only guarantee for possible revenue for the public treasury. However, without openly opposing this, the Jesuits always had excuses at hand to defer the formation of towns of gente de razón, or Hispanized people. Under such circumstances the taxes that the Spanish government received from the royal duty on pearls and silver were incomparably less than the expenses of maintaining the province’s army.

Such was the situation when the banishment of the Jesuits took place. Now the reason that the departure of the Jesuits was to mark a radical change in peninsular life may be understood.

The Reasons for Introducing Sweeping Changes

The problem could not be resolved by a simple exchange of people. It was necessary to reorganize the province upon completely new foundations that would guarantee the protection of the Spanish government’s interests as well as the future prosperity of its inhabitants. This was what José de Gálvez understood, and all of his decisions were intended for this purpose.

The prospect never ceased to spur his imagination. Placed in the critical situation of giving form and meaning to the life of the Baja California community, Gálvez’ tried to determine the future of the province, laying a foundation of rules and orders that very frequently became divorced from reality and excessively idealistic.

One can distinguish a double purpose in the decrees of the visitador. On the one hand, he endeavored to gainsay the Jesuit-influenced past as a means of justifying his own reforms; on the other hand, he planned to regulate the new regime to the last detail, depending on the principles affirmed by the Crown at that moment and which, according to Gálvez’, had been ignored by the Jesuits previously. We will not concern ourselves with the negative aspects, magnified by political exigencies of the time; suffice it to say that in the opinion of Gálvez’ the members of the Jesuit Order were instigators of the most censurable crimes against the State, among which can be mentioned fraud, greed for power and, in the final analysis, treason against the interests of the Empire.8 His judgments about the Jesuits’ work in Baja California are truly unjust, especially because they only consider the outcome of their missionary work, which was certainly questionable, and ignore the intention that inspired them; in the same manner they attribute the failure to civilize the Indians exclusively to the Jesuit fathers, forgetting that the barrenness of the soil was also a significant factor.

Illustration from The Drawings of Ignacio Tirsch. To corroborate his severe indictment of the Jesuits and convince himself that his dream of the province’s success was perfectly feasible, Gálvez’ set out with an optimistic vision of the Indian and the economic potential of the region. Nothing could divert him from this conception, which he expressed in all of the reports that he sent to the capital of the Viceroy. This kind of thinking was the necessary premise of his whole ambitious program, and it did not matter that experience seemed to contradict his assertions; if at first sight the land appeared to be barren, the reason was that it had not been worked intelligently; if the Indian still behaved like a “second class citizen,” the reason was that he had not been given the opportunity to develop himself.9 Thus, the human and material wealth of this land was not a hypothesis to be proven but rather an a priori truth which he must believe so as not to invalidate his plans for the future of the area. Therefore, in an attempt to prove that he was not mistaken, he continually searched for evidence of wealth in Baja California, never admitting that it could be less than he had imagined before even coming into actual contact with the region.

“He wants the peninsula to be genuinely wealthy,” says the Spanish historian Luis Navarro Garcia, referring to this attitude of Gálvez, “and from el Cabo de San Lucas to the mission in Loreto he will look for or contrive anything that could become a source of revenue for the treasury, a fountain of prosperity for the province. If first he considers the mines, he will then turn to agriculture and later to fishing; he will finish by thinking that he has found a new kind of tar for ships, a new site for cultivating grain, and a deposit of the best flint in Nueva Españia.”10

Convinced that he was in a land of plentiful resources, he concluded that it would only be necessary to decree adequate standards of organization for the abundance to appear in all of its magnificence and to generously yield its fruits to the colonists and the State.

Moreover, he considered himself a kind of savior who had been sent there by Providence. He thought that his opportune arrival had prevented the complete ruin of the province and that he was obliged to correct all of its problems at their roots, doing so by taking advantage of the wealth that could be developed, bringing in new manpower and furnishing all inhabitants with legal and technical instruments to promote common happiness. All of this had to be accomplished hastily in the short time that he was to remain on the peninsula. Resolutions, laws and letters were then produced in a profusion that well indicate the visitador’s urgency to complete his work before returning to Sinaloa.

The First Measures to Effect Change

Several days after arriving and establishing himself in the colonial village of Santa Ana, the only town, in truth, that had not been founded by the Jesuits, he proclaimed his first decrees. In them he asked the Franciscan fathers who had been put in charge of the missions to immediately send a detailed census of the whole population, both native and white, as well as specific information on the customs of the Indians, their form of government, the property that they had and their eating habits. He asked for all of this, he said, so that his orders would be based on “a competent knowledge of the facts.11” The orders of Gálvez were carried out; however, the picture painted by the reports could not have been more disappointing. The missions to the south, which were looked upon as the best lands, were almost unpopulated while those to the north, in whose surroundings lived a relatively large Indian population, lacked the means to sustain their inhabitants. Everywhere in the peninsula the Indian continued living naked in the hills, suffering from hunger and misery without the presence of the Jesuits seeming to have left any perceptible mark on their way of life. The white population was extremely depleted and scarcely amounted to 500 people.

Confronted with all of this information, Gálvez was forced to realize that any program of economic development must, at the beginning, take for granted the settlement of a quite diminished native population. He was also aware that civilizing the Indians was not only a cultural problem but also a fundamentally economic one. He could not force the natives to live in villages if at the same time he could not supply them with adequate means to subsist. His first step, then, was to make each Indian into an economically productive subject who would be able to support himself and contribute with his work to the general prosperity.

Actually the missionaries had this same objective. However, the inconsistence of the traditional organization of the missions with this objective is what kept the Indian at the edge of colonial society and subject to an ecclesiastical guidance that retarded his development and prevented his later emancipation. Gálvez believed it expedient to give a new form to the function of the missions and decided to create a sufficiently flexible system in which the Indian, although temporarily in the care of the missionary, would also participate in his own economic activity so that his capabilities would develop to the greatest extent.

Taking advantage of Baja California’s varied physiographical features, Gálvez first tried to redistribute the Indian population, concentrating it in the places that had the best conditions and taking it from the areas that were incapable of comfortably maintaining their inhabitants.

Since his purpose was to bring the Indian completely into the mainstream of civilized life, he also considered the need to increase the number of immigrants from the interior who would contribute their knowledge and experience to the new social experiment and serve as an example to the natives. Already upon leaving Mexico City he had thought of bringing in skilled workers to develop the mines. As a result, he arranged for the transfer of some families from Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí whom, according to his secretary, he proposed to place in charge of the sources of gold and silver in California.12 However, these settlers changed their minds at the last moment and returned to the towns from which they had come despite the good salaries that they had been promised in the King’s name. As a substitute for them, Gálvez; would later arrange with the Governor of Sonora to obtain up to 150 Yaqui Indians who would voluntarily come to the peninsula with the incentive of applying themselves to pearl diving and mining. Furthermore, he would permit the free access of colonists, provided that they were well mannered and willing to work.

Illustration from The Drawings of Ignacio Tirsch. One of the most important aspects of the subsequent legislation of Gálvez is undoubtedly that which refers to the ownership and development of the land, a problem that he tried to solve by means of a series of specifications that affected in its entirety the regulation of property on the peninsula. In his procedure in this field visitador invoked the principle of absolute royal sovereignty over land and subjects and in effect declared that all Baja California land primarily belonged to the King, who in every case had the power to grant it freely to private individuals without losing, in doing so, his right of eminent domain. In accord with this principle, private property, rural as well as urban, would remain at all times subject to the highest interests of the Crown.

To get out of difficulties resulting from any possible interference from the previous legal regime and to remain in a position to form according to his own free will the new organization of the province, Gálvez disavowed all of the land titles that had been issued by the authorities ‘during the Jesuit rule, arguing that the fathers of the Society of Jesus had usurped authority which lawfully and solely belonged to the King.13 On these bases he proceeded to regulate everything concerned with the social and economic organization of the province.

It is fitting to note that one of the fundamental characteristics of Gálvez’s project is that it tried to resolve the traditional antagonism between the interests of the missions and those of the state. In order to do this the visitador resolved to open the channels of contact between the missions and the rest of the colonial system; he went so far as to plan a type of mission that would be highly penetrable and open, in contrast to the ancient system that tended to keep the native community isolated. Few are the differences that one observes between the organization established for the Indians and the one designed for the white colonists; moreover, one notices a certain parallelism between them that truly constitutes an original innovation within the Spanish colonial system.

All of this required a revision of the missionary’s role in the provincial organization, a reconsideration of the limits of his jurisdiction and a definition of the relationship of his authority to that of the civil leaders. If the religious orders had previously held in their hands governmental powers, now they were considered completely subordinate to the political officials. Civil power became dominant enough to limit the priests’ rights to govern the Indians of the missions and to deny them every right to intervene in public matters unless they happened to be consulted. Gálvez told one of the new civic leaders that you should give “your orders in a direct manner where and as you wish because your superior royal authority depends only on His Majesty and [on] those who represent him in these colonies; you need not comply with the directions of the reverend fathers who administer the missions.14” He did not delay in facing the missionaries, but rather imposed upon them obedience to civil power.

Before the visitador arrived in California, orders had been given to the soldiers to take charge of the tangible assets of the missions so that the new missionaries would act exclusively in the capacity of spiritual directors without meddling in economic affairs. However, soon the disadvantages of this measure became manifest, for the military administration resulted in disaster and threatened with even greater ruin the property that belonged to the mission settlement. It was then necessary to restore to the missionaries the power to assume responsibility for the missions’ material assets although precise limitations were established as to their rights in agreement with the new emphasis that the government was about to take.

The establishment of the first parish in the colonial village of Santa Ana can also be construed as a means of reducing the operations of the missionaries and as the initial step toward the future secularization of the missions. And perhaps the same purpose led Gálvez to suggest the establishment of a brotherhood whose confreres, members of every social class in the province, would voluntarily dedicate themselves to converting the heathens.

The New Organization of the Indian Villages

Don Josés idea regarding the way in which the Indians from the missions ought to live can clearly be seen in the directions he formulated to organize the settlement of the south, the first region on the peninsula with which he became acquainted.15 The document deals with a great variety of things, such as the distribution of land and lots, economic activities, the government of the various Indian nations, the means for their protection and even the design and arrangement of their villages. It is worthwhile for us to begin by specifying its contents.

The visitador started by determining what was relative to the arrangement of the mission town. In the same manner as was traditional in all Spanish towns, the church and the school of catechism were to be downtown and in front of them a public plaza of ample proportions. Radiating from this initial nucleus, the streets would be planned “drawn in a straight line and from fourteen to sixteen rods wide”; main roads, he said, necessary for “the ventilation, comfort and health” of the town.

At the same time lots ten rods in width and twenty in depth would be distributed gratuitously to all Indians who were heads of families so that they would construct their homes there “in uniformity” and with the proper partitioning of the rooms inside; so that the parents would not sleep next to their children or the females be mixed with the males. He decreed by law that the Indians must keep their beds “clean and above the ground so as to keep them free,” he affirmed, “of the contagious illnesses that harass them and of the stench that they acquire by sleeping on the floor and receiving humidity from the ground.” The owners of the lots would be obligated to plant in front of their houses two shady fruit trees so that besides serving as a protection from the sun’s intensity they would beautify the town. Indian widows whose children were minors, orphans without mother and father, the handicapped and the sick would likewise dwell in homes that the community would be obliged to build for them as an act of social service.

Outside of the city limits proper the farm land and pastures would be managed according to two different systems: communally and privately. The best lands in terms of irrigation and weather and the closest to town would be worked collectively in order to obtain the means to maintain the mission and support those who for reasons of age or health were unable to work. In the same manner a piece of land four hundred rods in length by two hundred rods in width would be cultivated; the produce from this would be sent to the King in acknowledgement of their dependence on him. The remainder of the usable land would be distributed for private cultivation,

Each head of a family must receive free title to a piece of irrigated land and temporary ownership of two others, each to measure fifty square rods, with the provision that the oldest Indians would have first choice. On this land the visitador recommended that in addition to corn they ‘plant cotton and fruit trees as well as prickly pear cactus, the cultivation of which Don José, certain that this locale offered optimum conditions for its growth, proposed to introduce. As a means of stimulating the Indians and rewarding their industriousness, another piece of irrigated land that the community had previously cleared would be distributed to those who cultivated their land with the greatest effort. If the land at their disposal was insufficient to meet the needs of the people, they must begin to clear other land and prepare it for cultivation by digging artesian wells. The mission would be in charge of providing the Indians with tools for this kind of work to the extent that they were able to pay for them with the yield of their harvests.

Ownership of the distributed land would be conditional in every way; indeed, it would be subject to a series of precisely determined stipulations. Urban lots as well as those in the rural area would always be untransferable and could not be encumbered for any reason, not even for a pious cause. The land could be inherited but not divided;16 therefore, a landowner with a number of children would have to choose the one to whom he wished to leave his property from among them without injuring the others, who might acquire land through marriage. All endowments would have to be legalized, thus recording suitable titles to the property which would be registered in the Population Index so that if the natives misplaced their records they could easily obtain certified copies.

The Indians who were fortunate enough to receive these allotments would be obligated to put a fence around their land and cultivate it year after year as well as to build their homes within a certain period of time under penalty of losing title to their property. In order to help them support themselves, they could participate in the recovery of wild cattle and sheep that had been hiding in the country since the Jesuit era. Each one was given the incentive of receiving the first head of cattle or sheep that he domesticated and half of those that he caught afterwards with the understanding that he could not kill them, and on the condition that he keep them in a pasture. As a result, the Indians would be able to possess cattle and sheep, but not horses and mules, which the laws of the Indies prohibited them to own individually and whose possession was reserved for the community. Gálvez said that in order to guarantee the equal and collective enjoyment of the livestock no one could have more than thirty head of each kind, except that one could own up to one hundred pigs due to their usefulness in fighting locusts. Because of this the mission would distribute to each head of a family a sow with the recommendation that they take good care of her and try to mate her. If owning livestock was a right that could be exercised with discretion, on the other hand, each family was obligated to have in its home at least six chickens, one rooster and two turkeys.

The missionaries were advised to see that the Indians divided their workdays between farming for the community and that which they did in their own cornfields, provided that they would devote at least half of their working time to the latter. The women could not help the men in the fields. Instead the priests would try to have them learn cooking, weaving, spinning or any other skill befitting their sex. In the beginning the community would furnish them with rations of corn for the family to eat until their husbands learned how to cultivate the fields and harvested their first crops.

The Indians would be entitled to devote themselves to business; they could carry their products to the town’s weekly market and sell them under the supervision of the royal judge, who would see to it that no one was cheated. When it was not necessary for them to work in the community cornfields or to care for their own pieces of land, they would be assigned to crews to work in the mines so that they could learn this trade and benefit from another source of income. Gálvez advised that in such cases they should be paid in money for their day’s work according to a regulation he would make so that no one would “cheat or harm” them.

From among the Indians who were bachelors and orphans six or eight of the most capable and diligent would be chosen to receive instruction at the missions in mechanical arts and useful trades. Another four or six people would be assigned to learn about cultivating and raising corn so that later they could teach the others.

As for the manner of government, the Indians would continue to be under the spiritual guidance of the missionary and to depend upon his help and direction; however, they would have their own leaders as well. In contrast to the Jesuits who were accustomed to appointing those who would guide the Indians, Gálvez decreed that the leaders were to be freely and democratically elected by an assembly that would meet the first day of each year and in which all people over twenty-five years of age would participate. Furthermore, it was stated, in order to prevent power from remaining too long in the hands of one person, the leaders would remain in office only one year and could only be reelected one other time. Their function would be to correct the Indians’ domestic crimes and with the missionary’s consent apply light punishments. Only the royal judge could try major crimes. Furthermore, an Indian who did not speak Spanish could not be elected to a position of leadership or hold any other public office in his community.

These were the principal points of the document. In them one can observe the preoccupation of the visitador with giving a new context to mission administration. Don José remained firmly convinced that with these provisions he was resolving the Indians’ economic problem at the same time that he was ensuring their protection in case of abuses on the part of the Spanish colonists.

The Organization of the Immigrants

Let us now see what was determined regarding the immigrants of European descent. As it was also necessary to give them the opportunity to work productively, they should likewise be entitled to receive grants of land and lots under conditions very similar to those that were set for the Indians. As it was established, each honorable Spaniard who requested it would receive a piece of land one hundred by two hundred rods, provided that he did not injure the natives who should have first preference in all cases.17 Those who constructed a workable deep well would receive as a reward two additional pieces of land, and if two people made a well, each would receive his own piece of land. All immigrants would also be given lots in the town on which to build their homes.

The urban and rural land grants that were made to the colonists would be subject to the same conditions of property ownership that were established for the Indian residents: property would be forever untransferable, undividable and hereditary. Anyone who encumbered his cornfields or urban lots with taxes, entailment, bond, mortgage or any other means would lose it all because of this unpardonable conduct. The authorities would take charge of granting it to another resident who might be more “useful and obedient.” Besides privately improving their property, the Spanish could also benefit by letting their livestock graze on communal land.

The colonists could keep all types of livestock, both cattle and sheep, in their pastures but a limit was set upon the number; it was stipulated that one must not have more than fifty head of each kind; thus, “The profit gained from the livestock may be distributed among everyone and the true wealth of the towns not be monopolized by a few inhabitants.”

The conditions for retaining title to their property were more strict for the colonists than the Indians. Although it is true that they were completely exempted from taxes for three years beginning from the date of their land grant, they were obligated within one year to build and occupy their homes and to encircle their property with shade or fruit trees; they were also supposed to have within a certain period of time at least twenty sows for breeding, a yoke of oxen, five sheep — or, lacking them, as many goats, two mares with their own brand on them, five hens and a rooster; in addition, they were obligated to own a plow, two plowshares to till the land, an axe, a hammer and a hunter’s cutlass.

Being of Spanish origin, these immigrants would have the right to enjoy military jurisdiction as members of the militia, provided that they had a horse, a rifle or shotgun, a broad sword and a shield in order to help when it was necessary to protect the region from an enemy invasion or an internal uprising.

The New Society

The fact that the property of the white people was also subject to all of these rules and limitations indicates Gálvez’s intention to keep individuals from becoming excessively rich. We must acknowledge that the society envisioned by Gálvez did not involve the definitive influence of one ethnic or social group over another. Although the native was still kept subject to a certain kind of guardianship, so too were the European settlers. The truth is that this act was more the result of a paternal protection that was quite characteristic, however, of the Spanish government. It was hoped that the colonist who immigrated to the province would arrive ready to personally work to cultivate his fields, without being forced to use Indian farmhands as would have happened in the case of large agricultural estates. The Spanish would continue to enjoy a few privileges that the general laws of the Empire denied the American Indians, such as the right to own mines or to active service in the army; but in everything else it is obvious that this law had not been enacted in accord with the old colonial definition of each Spaniard as a master of the Indians. As for the natives, land ownership would ensure their economic independence and, it was hoped, prevent their submission to immoderate exploitation by the Spaniards. In other words, the decrees of Gálvez almost go as far as to foreshadow the concept of an essentially equalitarian social conglomerate in which in every case leadership resides solely with the State.

Nevertheless, agriculture was only one revenue from economic activity. It was also necessary to promote other possible sources of wealth, such as mining, pearl diving and commerce. Gálvez brought to the peninsula one of the most famous Mexican scientists of the period, Joaquin Velázquez de León, whom he put in charge of modernizing the methods of operating the mines of Baja California in order to make them into true models for the Interior Provinces.18 Although Indians were not permitted to own mines, rewards were given to all who discovered a mineral vein. As indicated above, the visitador ordered Yaqui Indians to be brought from Sinaloa to work as laborers in the mines and to dive for pearls; he also ordered the establishment of a school of diving and seamanship in which forty Indian orphans at a time were to be taken from all of the missions and trained. In regard to commerce, he had the Viceroy permit two duty-free fairs to take place annually in Loreto so that duty-free merchandise could be brought in from Acapulco and San Blas. Furthermore, he tried to gather in the main warehouse all exportable products, such as wine, figs and raisins — the same products that were to be taken to Guaymas in the boats of the King to be retailed in Sonora. In order to facilitate all transactions, orders were repeatedly given that payments were to be made in coin, since up to then paper money had not circulated in Baja California.

It seems that Gálvez preserved for the State a decisive role concerning economic enterprises because, in addition to establishing monopolies of salt, tobacco, playing cards, gunpowder, stamped paper and mercury, all of which existed in many other regions, he founded two royal warehouses that were, in fact, to absorb commerce from the interior and undertook the development of a number of mines for the King.

Because both white and Indian settlers would have an opportunity to be employed either privately or in state enterprises, Gálvez thought that the complement to his previous provisions must be the regulation of wages, which he had already stated and effectively instituted. This interesting document is directed toward regulating labor relations with an obviously protective feeling concerning the workers.19 As it was affirmed in this regulation, the objective was to prevent fraud from being committed against servants and laborers and to prevent them from suffering from poverty and nakedness. All workers without exception must receive a weekly ration of grain and either 12 1/2 pounds of beef jerky or 25 of fresh meat in addition to their daily wages. A salary of eight pesos per month was set for miners, mine and field laborers, farmhands or mule drivers, cowhands and people in equivalent positions; four pesos for shepherds and assistant muledrivers; six pesos for adult Indians; and three for those less than eighteen years of age. However, it was recommended that the Indians be assigned to the easiest jobs. Foremen or managers in the mines should receive a suitable ration and salary which would be arrived at in agreement with their employers but which in any event could not be less than ten pesos per month. As for blacksmiths, carpenters and other public craftsmen who privately practiced their trades, it was stated that they could freely set prices for their work, but it was suggested that they keep their prices moderate because if they did not the royal judges would take charge of pricing their services.

Since in that province no one need lack a means of employment, the regulation positively prohibited vagrancy. Anyone who was a good-for-nothing or had the reputation of living “at the expense of other people,” whether he be Spanish, Indian or of “another race,” would be put in -jail for one month and fined twenty pesos. If the crime was repeated, it was added “the loafer will be sent to work for the government for two months, receiving his food but no salary, and then expelled from the province if he was not native to it, and if he was equivalent measures would be taken to serve as a lesson to him and as an example to others.” It seems that in Gálvez’s republic where everyone could have a job and enjoy prosperity only he who did not want to be happy would be unhappy.

Since the beginning of its colonization by the Jesuits, the village of Loreto had been the most important town on the peninsula despite the fact that it had never been inhabited by more than 400 souls. As a result of his work, Don José wanted to completely remodel this village, perhaps with the purpose of making of it a worthy expression of the general organization of the province. He dictated instructions for bringing in more people, set the bases for the distribution of its inhabitants and designed a plan indicating the dimensions of the streets and the position of the public plazas.20 There also plots of land were to be given gratuitously, and the residents would have to build their houses in accordance with certain general specifications among which he went so far as to indicate the color of the facades, the distribution of the interior rooms and even the material the floors should be made of. Continuing in this vein, the most minute detail was prescribed. The number of doors and windows facing the front of the house was specified as well as the distance between the trees that were to be planted for decoration; it was also determined who would have two-story houses. In the belief that all would be done according to the model, Gálvez ordered that the buildings which blocked the completion of the project be torn down and the owners of the demolished houses be given new homes.

The Dream Projects Do Not Work Out

Those who only heeded the resolutions of Gálvez would have thought that they guaranteed the future happiness of Baja California. However, the truth is that the only one who believed in their efficacy was the visitador himself. Neither the missionaries, the military nor the colonists were convinced about the wonderful solution. Gálvez himself began to modify some of his ideas before abandoning the peninsula. Concerning the Indians who were brought to the south to develop these lands where, according to the words of Don José, everyone could become rich, he began to say after a short while that they wanted to “eat a lot and not work at all.”21 Scarcely had they arrived at San José del Cabo when this same group was stricken with malaria, which left them unable to work. The lack of food was a constant problem, even forcing a company of riflemen that could not support itself to return to Sinaloa. The situation became so serious that in spite of a regulation that set their daily wages the Indians who were brought to work in the royal salt mines did so without being paid.

Nothing that Gálvez wanted to construct was effected according to the plans of the future minister of the Indies. Despite his many decrees and his great authority, he was unable to establish the marketing center that he had envisioned for Baja California. In the end, the Indians did not receive any land and continued living in the same way that the visitador had criticized so much; convinced that living on the peninsula was madness, the colonists began to return to the mainland. The public treasury did not perceptibly improve; the state’s warehouses were abandoned after a short while; the grain crop was a failure; the naval school did not work; within a short time the miners were begging in the missions. The pastor of Santa Ana disappeared without telling anyone; and the towns whose appearance and construction had been regulated in detail lacked the people who constructed and lived in them. There could be no miraculous solution for Baja California.

The fear that the Russians would begin to settle in territory that Spain considered to be under her sovereignty prompted Gálvez to prepare what became his most important and effective contribution to the province-the conquest of Nueva California. After having sent out the explorers, the visitador returned to Sinaloa only to be immobilized shortly afterwards, victim of a disease that prevented the effective functioning of his mental faculties. Meanwhile, the resolutions of Don José de Gálvez, the expression of a reformer’s dreams, began to gather dust in the archives of the capital of what was then called Antigua California.


1. Las instrucciones que se dieron a Gálvez para su visita, firmadas en El Pardo, Españia, el 14 de marzo de 1765, son transcritas por Herbert Ingram Priestley, Jos&eeacute; de Gálvez, Visitor-General of New Spain (1765-1771) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1916), p. 404-412.

2. Los misioneros jesuitas abandonaron la península el 4 de febrero de 1768. Uno de ellos, el padre Benno Ducrue, escribió un pormenorizado relato de la salida, que ha sido publicado recientemente en edición bilingue (latin-inglés): Ducrue’s Account of the Expulsion of the Jesuits from Lower California, introd. and ed. by Ernest J. Burrus (Roma-St. Louis, Mo.: Jesuit Historical Institute, 1967).

3. Priestley, op. cit., p. 234-266, dedica un capitulo de su obra a estudiar la visita de Gálvez a Baja California. Aunque evidentemente conoció los dócumentos que aqui beneficiamos, parece ser que no dio gran importancia a los detalles tal vez porclue su interés se orientaba a analizar en general la obra del visitaclor en Nueva España.

4. Real provisión, México, 6 febrero 1697, publicada en Francisco Javier Clavijero, Historia de la Antigua o Baja California, introd. y ed. por Miguel León-Portilla (Méxicó Editorial Porrua, 1970), p. 89-90.

5. Para una visión de conjunto de los trabajos de los misionerosjesuitas en Baja California, vid. Clavijero, op. cit.; Miguel Venegas, Noticia de la California y de so conquista temporal y espiritual hasta el tiempo presente, 3 v. (México: Editorial Layac, 1944), y Juan Jacobo Baegert, Noticias de la peninsula americana de California, introd. de Paul Kirchoff, trad. de Pedro R. Hendrichs (México: Antigua Libreria Robredo de José Porrua e Hijos, 1942). Modernamente se ha ocupado del mismo asunto Peter Masten Dunne, Black Robes in Lower California (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968).

6. El autor de este artículo ha preparado on estudio sobre el sistema misional jesuítico de Baja California y sus consecuencias. Dicho estudio se ublicará próximamente por la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México con el titulo de El réjesuitico de la Antigua California.

7. Sobre el proceso de extinción de los aborigenes bajacaliforniatios, vid. S[herburnel. F. Cook, The Extent and Significance of Disease Among the Indians of Baja California, 1697-1773 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1937); Homer Aschmann, The Central Desert of Baja California and Ecology (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959), y Ernesto Lemoine, “Evolución demográfica de la Baja California,” Historia Mexicana, v. IX, No. 2 (Octubre-diciembre 1959), p. 249-268.

8. Decreto de José de Gálvez, Puerto de La Paz, 23 noviembre 1768, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), Archivo Franciscano (AF) 65, f. 232-234v.

9. Carta de Gálvez a fray Junípero Serra, Puerto de La Paz, 23 noviembre 1768, INAH, AF 65, f. 235-238v.

10. Luis Navarro Garcia, Don José de Gálvez y la Comandancia General de las Provincias Internas del norte de Nueva España, pról. de Antonio Calderón Quijano (Sevilla: Escuela de Estudios Hispanoamericanos de Sevilla, 1964), p. 169.

11. Carta de Gálvez a fray Junipero Serra, Real de Santa Ana, 12 julio 1768, INAH, AF 65, f. 174.

12. Juan Manuel Viniegra, Aponte initructivo de la expedición que el Ilmo. Señor Don José de Gálvez . . . hizo a la peninsula de Californias . . ., citado por Navarro, op. cit., p. 153.

13. Despacho del visitador, La Paz, 9 abril 1769, Archivo General de la Nación, México (AGNM), Provincias Internas 120, f. 7v. y ss.

14. Despacho de José de Gálvez, Cuirimpo, 14 mayo 1769, AGNM, Provincias Internas 166, 1. 155v.

15. Instrucciones de don José de Gálvez, Real de Santa Ana, 10 octubre 1768, AGNM, Misiones 12, f. 64-77.

16 It is worth while to call attention to the surprising coincidence between Gálvez’s treatment of property and modern Mexico’s common public land.

17. Instrucción de José de Gálvez, Real de Santa Ana, 12 agosto 1768, AGNM, Provincias Internas 166, f. 173v.-178.

18. Informe de Joaquin Velázquez de León, 9 febrero 1771, Biblioteca Nacional de México, Departamento de Manuscritos y Libros Raros, Fondo de Origen Ms. 58, f. 518v.

19. Reglamento de salarios y jornales, Real de Loreto, 29 abril 1769, AGNM, Provincias Internas 166, f. 169-172.

20. Instrucción de José de Gálvez, Real de Loreto, 29 abril 1769, AGNM, Provincias Internas 166, 1. 149-153v.

21. Carta de Gálvez a fray Francisco Palou, Puerto de La Paz, 28 marzo 1769, INAH, AF 65, f. 261.

Ignacio del Río Chávez, born in Mexico City in 1937, is a Professor of History and a full time researcher at the Institute of Historical Research in the prestigious National University, Mexico City — the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Professor del Río Chávez, who holds an M.A. in history (licenciatura) from the Universidad Nacional, is a specialist in the colonial history of northern Mexico and author of two forthcoming volumes to be published by the Universidad Nacional: Guia del Archivo Franciscano de la Biblioteca Nacional de México. Cajas la 50, and El Régimen Jesuitico de la Antigua California. A shorter version of the article printed here originally appeared in the Revista of the Universidad Nacional. An expanded version of the article was translated for the Journal of San Diego History by Arturo Jiménez-Vera.

Arturo Jiménez-Vera, a native of Chile, has lived in the United States since 1951. He received his Ph.D. in Spanish Literature from the University of Arizona and is presently an Assistant Professor at California State University, San Diego.