The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

Historia Natural y Cronica de la Antigua California. Adiciones y Correcciones a la Noticia de Miguel Venegas. By Miguel del Barco. Edited with a Preliminary Study by Miguel Leon-Portilla. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autonoma, 1973. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Maps. 464 pages. $10.00.

Reviewed by W. Michael Mathes, Professor of History at the University of San Francisco and a frequent contributor to this Journal. Professor Mathes is a specialist in the history of Baja California. His most recent publication is The Conquistador in California: 1535. The Voyage of Fernando Cortes to Baja California in Chronicles and Documents (Dawson’s Book Shop, 1973).

In recent years the discovery of historical manuscripts of the magnitude of that of Miguel del Barco has indeed been a rare occurance. Found in the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emannuele in Italy in the Fondo Gesuitico, Barco’s Historia has been published for the first time by Dr. Miguel Leon-Portilla in a carefully researched and annotated edition.

The labors of Father Barco began in Baja California in 1738, and terminated with the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from New Spain in 1768. During his thirty years of service on the peninsula, principally at Mission San Francisco Javier Vigge, Barco compiled extensive data on the natural history, ethnology, linguistics, and mission history of the region. In exile in Bologne, he maintained an active correspondence with his fellow expulsos, among them Francisco Javier Clavijero who, not having served in California, based his Historia de la Antigua o Baja California upon Barco’s manuscript.

Initially planning to correct and augment the Noticia de la California of Miguel Venegas and Andres Marcos Burriel, neither of whom had been in California, Barco went much further. Apart from his corrections and additions, he produced a lengthy and detailed study of the natural history and ethnology of the peninsula, as well as an up-dating of the mission history of the area subsequent to 1757, the date of publication of Venegas’ Noticia.

This first edition of Barco contains the complete text of the “Natural History,” the “Chronicle of Old California,” and the “Corrections and Additions” to Venegas, as well as seven letters from Barco to his colleagues from the Bancroft Library, Berkeley, Archivo General de la Nacion, Biblioteca Nacional and Archivo Historico de la Provincia de Mexico, Mexico. The work is precisely edited and annotated by the emminent historian Miguel Leon-Portilla, who has preceded the texts with a detailed study of Barco and his work, and an extensive bibliography of manuscript and published sources. An analytical index, maps, and plates are also included.

The importance of this new publication cannot be overestimated. As the source for Clavijero it supercedes that classic; based upon personal observations it surpasses Venegas-Burriel; and in breadth it exceeds the work of Taraval, Linck, Consag, Piccolo, Salvatierra, and Ducrue, among others. Thus, of the major chronicles of Baja California, Barco ranks clearly along with Kino and Baegert, although the latter based much of his Nachrichten upon Venegas, and is the most important extensive contribution to the field of Jesuit mission history in Baja California to come to light in many decades. Nicely printed and bound, this volume belongs in all collections of Baja Californiana and is a basic source for the historian of the peninsula.