The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1996, Volume 42, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Notes

Stephen A. Colston, Book Review Editor

Citadel on the Channel: The Royal Presidio of Santa Barbara, Its Founding and Construction, 1782-1798.

  By Richard S. Whitehead. Edited, with an epilogue, by Donald C. Cutter. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. 220 pages. $34.50 (cloth).

The last of Alta California’s four presidios was established at Santa Barbara in 1782. Avocational historian Richard S. Whitehead (1907-88) had a genuine passion for the history of this fortification. A former president of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Whitehead set for himself the mission to assemble copies of archival resources documenting the history of this presidio, and then to use these resources as the basis for writing a detailed history of this facility. He labored on a draft for six years, but regretfully died before he could complete his study. Donald C. Cutter, one of the more prominent scholars of Spanish Borderlands history, was commissioned by the Santa Barbara Trust to edit Whitehead’s manuscript for publication.

Whitehead’s study is a detailed account of the initial Spanish settlement at Santa Barbara and, most particularly, of the designs, methods, and materials used to construct California’s fourth presidio. Significantly, this book goes considerably beyond being a narrative construction history of this military installation. Whitehead has infused his account of lime and tiles with the building blocks of social history by telling the stories of those who were associated with the presidio. Some of these stories are about the individuals who were the prominent members of the Spanish colony, such Felipe de Antonio de Goycoechea, a comandate of the presidio. Yet other stories are of the natives who, though seldom identified by name in the Spanish documents, comprised the labor force that constructed the presidio.

By his successful melding of the construction and social history of California’s fourth presidio, Whitehead has made an important contribution to the history of Spanish Alta California. It may only be regretted that a similarly comprehensive study of Spain’s first presidio in Upper California — that constructed at San Diego — remains to be written.