Serra’s San Diego – Occupation of San Diego

July 1, 1983

The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Forward

MALLORCAN BEGINNINGS
TRAVELS IN MEXICO
OCCUPATION OF SAN DIEGO
PLANTING THE CROSS
SERRA AS FATHER-PRESIDENT
MOVING THE MISSION
INDIAN REVOLT
CONFIRMATION
SERRA’S FINAL DAYS
THE YEARS FOLLOWING
THE SERRA MUSEUM TODAY

OCCUPATION OF SAN DIEGO

When the Franciscans assumed control of the extensive but sparsely populated Baja California missions, Alta California was still solely in the hands of Indians. Despite the entry of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo into the port of San Diego in 1542, and the recommendation of Sebastian Vizcaino in 1603 that Monterey be occupied, Spain had chosen not to pursue settlement. By the late eighteenth century, however, the threat of Russian expansion south from Alaska, an increase in funds from Spain, and the zeal of Serra’s missionaries combined to spark a renewal of the northward thrust.

In mid-1768, while at the west coast port of San Blas, Mexico, Jose de Galvez, a high-ranking officer of King Carlos III, formulated a plan for occupation of San Diego and Monterey. With viceregal approval, Galvez selected the personnel and wrote out lengthy instructions to leaders of four separate expeditions designed to reach San Diego in 1769. He appointed Catalonian-born Gaspar de Portola, then serving as Governor at Loreto, as overall military leader and Father Junipero Serra as head of the new missions to be founded. Two small packetboats were fitted out at San Bias for the sea-going division. The San Carlos, commanded by Vicente Vila, left La Paz, Baja California, on January 9, 1769, and the San Antonio, under Juan Perez, set sail from the same port on February 15. After considerable delays from contrary winds and currents, both ships reached the port of San Diego by the end of April. A majority of crew members were suffering from illnesses.

The first overland party was led by Fernando de Rivera y Moncada, Captain of the Loreto presidio, with Father Juan Crespi as diarist. Father-President Junipero Serra accompanied the second overland group which, under the leadership of Portola, set out from Mission Santa Maria in May. Both expeditions drove pack animals with equipment, food and Indian personnel recruited from former Jesuit missions. Father Serra kept a diary en route noting, on May 14, the founding of Mission San Fernando Velicata – the only Franciscan establishment in Baja California. The swelling and sores on his legs and feet became extremely severe and hindered his travel until a black muleteer lessened the pain with an ointment generally used on the animals.