The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1977, Volume 23, Number 1
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

By David Piñera Ramírez.
Translated by Anita Alvarez de Williams

Images from the Article

Secular colonization in Baja California, that is, the manner in which the peninsula was populated after 1768, the year of the departure of the Jesuit missionaries, is a theme that has been only slightly studied.

It is well to be precise, explaining that by secular colonization we mean the permanent establishing of human nuclei in Baja California, independent of the missionaries and apart from missionary colonization which consisted of the populating of the peninsula by way of mission centers. Both forms of colonization were closely related to one another, so that if one cannot be understood, reference is made to the other. For this reason, before going into detail about the secular, we shall present a succinct description of the mission concept.

As is known, the Jesuit network of missions, which they directed for seven decades, was initiated in 1697 through stubbornly superimposing them upon the inhospitable land. The regime which they established in this isolated region had a peculiar physiognomy in which theocratic views were emphasized, since the Jesuits’ were the supreme authority in both temporal and spiritual matters.1 In this way they were able to structure the missions, following directives which aspired to create a unique Christianity, for they introduced communal working of land. The Indians did their agricultural work in groups, and the products of their labors were divided communally, all under the administration of the missionaries.2 This created a special kind of landholding, which may be called “missional possession,” as it always consisted of a state of being, since there existed no royal grant of land or anything similar giving title to the property to the missions, but rather they possessed areas by occupying them.3

It should be emphasized that the lack of food production in the mission centers caused by the arid lands obligated the Jesuits to adopt a system of alternating visits by the Indians to the missions. One group would be at the mission for seven days, and then depart for the mountains in order to provide space for another group.4

On the other hand, fearing that the missionized Indians might receive disturbing influences, the Jesuits opposed, as far as possible, the regional settling of people independent of the mission network, and, except for a few cases of miners and cattlemen who managed to infiltrate, in general terms, they exercised a jealous monopoly over the land.5 These limitations placed upon secular colonization produced serious conflicts with individuals and authorities, especially in the later Jesuit period.6 Employing various arguments, they also refused to give property rights in land to the Indians.

For these reasons, the missions constituted an exception within the framework of New Spain, and held back the peninsular growth of towns consisting of Spaniards and Indians who paid tribute to the Crown. Too, the Indian population which sustained the mission system declined considerably. It is calculated that before the arrival of the missionaries there were more than 40,000 natives on the peninsula and, in 1768 when they left, approximately 7,000 missionized Indians remained. Thus, for causes as yet insufficiently explained, the Jesuit period saw the dramatic paradox of the annihilation of the indigenous Californian, precisely the object of the fervor of the followers of Loyola.

For complex political reasons in Spain, in 1767 the expulsion of the Jesuits from all of the dominions of the King of Spain was decreed. This is explained in part by the absolute monarchy consolidated in Spain in the eighteenth century, when the Bourbons came to the throne. The strict centralization of power which they accomplished created an atmosphere in which the Society of Jesus, with properties in different countries and members of various nationalities, justifiably or otherwise appeared suspect of not being loyal to the King. Upon the expulsion of the Jesuits from Baja California, the viceregal authorities established a new order of secular power to which the Franciscans, who came to take charge of the missions, were subject. They no longer exclusively controlled the land; instead the secular authorities promoted the settling of private individuals, independent of the missions. A decisive and personal influence in the introduction of the new state of affairs was felt in the intervention of the Visitador General, Jose de Gálvez, who arrived upon the California coasts on July 6, 1768, with the ample backing of the Viceroy for promoting the reforms deemed necessary.

Gálvez was a very interesting person, but one whose importance in the historical development of Baja California has been overlooked. He was a dignitary of the Royal Council of the Indies and his philosophy was that of the Age of Reason. This logic illustrated his deep faith in the complete reorganization of society by rational means. It can be shown that Gálvez was an anti-Jesuit and that he held great freedom of initiative. He never hesitated to protect the Crown, and as a result gave greater priority to the royal interests than to others. When Gálvez reached the peninsula his primary function was to send two expeditions to the north to colonize what was later to be called New or Upper California. Nevertheless, once he landed he was overcome with the possible thought of creating, without any obstacles, a new society based upon his ideals.

One of his first reforms, dictated on August 12, 1768 in Real de Santa Ana, modified the existing conditions of land ownership. The general purpose of this decree was to create new towns based upon the Spanish system, thereby diminishing the importance of the missions. To accomplish this goal, Gálvez introduced the private ownership of land. Land was given without charge to the soldiers stationed at the missions and generally to any Spaniard of good moral character. To accommodate this new land reform, the necessary lands were taken from acreage owned by the missions. In the text of his decree, Gálvez became so engrossed in details that he specifically ordered that “every settler should have… two axes, a hatchet, a hammer, a machete, five sheep, five chickens and one rooster.”9 The following October he issued another decree calling for the civilizing of the indigenous inhabitants according to the western manner. As illustrated earlier, Gálvez had detailed plans which included the Indians, and as a result tried to convert them into citizens by removing them from the tutelage of the missionaries. To accomplish this goal, Gálvez ordered the formation of Indian towns similar to Spanish ones, whereby the Indians received private property to use for homes and cultivation. The only restriction he placed upon them was that they were prohibited from selling the land. Gálvez thought that by this action the Indians would settle down, thereby ending their semi-nomadic lives. He also recommended that the Indians learn useful trades, and that they be permitted to work in the mines and engage in pearl diving, activities previously prohibited by the Jesuits.

Diligently, Gálvez proceeded to concede land grants, and the respective concessions may be found in the Archivo Histórico “Pablo L. Martínez” located in La Paz, Baja California Sur. The accompanying analytical charts describe the concessions granted between 1768 and 1772, the period in which Gálvez and other authorities were issuing them.

In the Archivo Histórico a title was located which may very possibly be the first one issued in the Californias. It has to do with a grant of land located in Todos Santos which Jose de Gálvez gave to Hilario Carrillo on August 12, 1768.11 The orders are dated exactly the same day, and the grant that Gálvez presents states: “According to the conditions which I have agreed upon in my orders for this date.” That is to say, as soon as he signed the orders, Gálvez granted the title to Carrillo, and since there cannot have been any titles prior to the order, we can deduce that Carrillo’s is the first one.

Despite Gálvez’ efforts, his decrees and land grants failed to create the utopian world he envisioned. The towns of Spaniards and Indians of which he dreamed never took form. The prosperity which he predicted was not reached. On the contrary, the conditions of misery for which the Jesuits were severely criticized continued or were expanded. The Indians, in spite of its prohibition, sold the lots which were given to them and continued their hungry wanderings in the mountains; they were not converted into the western citizens Gálvez hoped to create. Gálvez, then, gave up his hopes of creating a new society in California in accordance with his philosophical ideals. Shortly after he left California, he fell “victim to an illness which deprived him of his mental faculties.”12 Apparently the nine months he spent on the peninsula were intensely unnerving psychologically.

Nevertheless, it must be recognized that in certain aspects Gálvez did make important contributions despite the views of some historians. He definitely introduced private ownership of land, and, although his Orders of August 12, 1768 were not successful in creating towns with all of the characteristics proposed, in practice it became the legal norm by which land titles were authorized for a period of 60 years, since no other laws were known in this region until 1830. Further, by means of the expeditions he sent to Alta California from the southern peninsula he initiated colonization there. The Franciscans were in charge of the missions left by the Jesuits for four years, dating from 1768. They were succeeded by the Dominicans who stayed on the peninsula for 80 years, during which time they founded some new mission centers in the north. Actually, both orders accomplished what the mysticism of the followers of Loyola did not. Under their direction, the missions functioned under the same economic system that was established by the Jesuits: Communal working of the land by alternating visits by Indians, this because it continued to be impossible to feed them all continuously in the Mission Center.13 For this reason, the process of the extinction of the indigenous people and the consequent decline of the missions continued.

Apart from mission life, secular colonization was slowly expanding by means of a considerable number of property titles which local authorities authorized based on the instructions of Gálvez, measures which were not particularly agreeable to the Dominicans, since they did not look with favor upon owners of private property. When Mexico became independent of Spain, the new regime began outlining its policy for colonization. The Law of Colonization14 began to be applied in the peninsula in 1830, and was based firmly on making government lands available for private ownership. This increased the number of land-holders, who used the lands they received for agriculture and cattle raising. These private owners were later to be the key to the definitive population of Baja California. They were naturalized Mexicans and people of mixed blood, rather than Indians, and the Indians continued in the same cultural poverty from which they suffered upon the arrival of the first missionaries. Victims of their inability to adapt to western ways, extremely susceptible to syphilis and other illnesses, they were condemned to extinction. With them, the mission centers also came to an end, since it was obvious that without neophytes, it was not possible to have missions.

The definitive colonization of the peninsula was, then, the work of naturalized citizens, descendents of Spanish soldiers, sailors, farmers and cattlemen who had been in the region since the colonial era. It was also the work of mestizos, those individuals who were the result of mixtures originating on the mainland of the country, but without any blood relationship with the indigenous people of California, since these always constituted a separate sector. These new Baja Californians dedicated themselves to the hard work of agriculture or to raising cattle in the rough, rude lands of the peninsula, and they congregated in the populated areas that were originally founded by the missionaries. They did not form totally new population centers, but rather they replaced the old mission centers in a new and secular way. Thus, we see that mission colonization, which introduced western culture toward the end of the seventeenth century, in time gave way to secular colonization on lands the former had occupied. For this reason the peninsula has the special flavor of the missions, plus the strongly felt presence of men forged by a rough land which must bear fruit generously when worked with perseverance.



1. For an extensive study of mission organization see: Ignacio del Rio, El Régimen Jesuítico de la Antigua California (Mexico: Tésis Profesional, UNAM, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, 1971).

2. Miguel del Barco, Historia Natural y Crónica de la Antigua California, edicion y estudio preliminar de Miguel León-Portilla (Mexico: UNAM, 1973), pp. 324-325.

3. David Piñera Ramirez, La Tenencia de la Tierra en Baja California. De la Epoca Prehispánica a 1888 (Mexico: Tesis Profesional, UNAM, Facultad de Filosoffa y Letras, 1975).

4. Ignacio del Rio, El Regimen Jesuítico, p. 64.

5. Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas, 7, f.73-v/75.

6. Expediente formado por el Capitán Rivera y Moncada en relación al litigio, 1766. Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas, 7, f.69-94, f.72.

7. Ernesto Lemoine Villicaña, “Evolución demogrifica de la Baja California,” Historia Mexicana, IX (octubre-diciembre, 1959), pp. 249-268 and 252. Also, Francisco Xavier Clavijero, Historia de la Antigua o Baja California (México: Editorial Porrua, S.A., 1970), p. 230.

8. This concept is more fully expressed in: David Piñera Ramirez, La Tenencia de la Tierra en Baja California, pp. 107-130.

9. The instruction appears in: Ulises Urbano Lassépas, Historia de la Colonización de la Baja California y Decreto de 10 de marzo de 1857 (México: 1859), pp. 189-192.

10. Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas, 120, 1°. de octubre 1768, fs. 64-69.

11. Archivo Histórico “Pablo L. Martinez,” de La Paz, Baja California Sur, Ramo La Colonia, 1768-1821, Aspecto Economico, legajo 9, documento 1.

12. Ignacio del Rio, “Los Sueños Californianos de Don José de Gálvez,” Revista de la Universidad de Mexico, XXVI (número 5 enero de 1972), p. 17.

13. Fray Luis de Sales, Noticias de la Provincia de California. 1794, Madrid (Colección Chimalistac, 6) José Porrúa Turanzas, 1960, pp. 35, 148.

14. The law was promulgated on August 18, 1824 but not placed in effect until November 21, 1828 and not received in the distant Californias until 1830. For the terms of the laws see: Francisco F. de la Maza, Código de Colonización y Terrenos Baldíos de la República Mexicana, años 1451-a 1892 (México: 1893).


David Piñera Ramirez, a Mexican citizen, is Coordinator of the Historical Research Center in Tijuana, Mexico which is sponsored by the National Independent University of Mexico and Independent University of Baja California. Mr. Pinera obtained an M.A. in history from UNAM, where he also has fulfilled studies towards a Ph.D. One of his primary fields of interest is the history of land holding in Baja California. The article published here was presented in May of 1976 to the Fourteenth Symposium of the Cultural Association of the Californias in Tecate, Mexico.