Chapter 2: Spanish San Diego
1. Why did the Spanish decide to settle San Diego?
In the last part of the eighteenth century the Spanish crown decided to finance the settlement of Alta California primarily for strategic political reasons, to establish a viable claim to this area in order to oppose the Russians and other European powers. Additionally the California port at Monterey would provision the valuable Manila Galleons as they made there way south to Acapulco laden with riches from Asia. Of course the church wanted to expand their missionization endeavors as far north as possible. Baja California had already been colonized with a string of missions and presdial outposts before the first settlements in California.
The Spanish sent four expeditions to converge on San Diego two by land and two by sea. The first arrival was by Juan Perez's San Antonio in early April 1769. A few weeks later the second ship arrived, the San Carlos commanded by Vicente Vila. This early contingent of soldiers, sailors, some Indians from Baja California, some tradesmen, two priests, and a doctor brought the Eurohispanic population to a few more than a 100. When they arrived most of the sailors were sick with typhus, a disease transmitted by lice and fleas. Unfortunately San Diego is well suited for such vermin and within the next few weeks more than half of the men died on shore in a tent camp set up for them. On May 14 the first overland expedition of soldiers arrived at San Diego, commanded by Rivera y Moncada. Fr. Juan Crespí and a contingent of Christianized Indians from the southern missions accompanied the soldiers. They had marched overland up the Baja Peninsula from Loreto. Soon after their arrival the commanders decided to abandon the beach and find a more permanent settlement. It was Pedro Fages who picked the new location, a hill overlooking the bay and the nearby river.
Finally on July 1, 1769 Fr. Junípero Serra and Captain Gaspar de Portolá's expedition arrived. Besides the contingent of soldiers they also brought forty-four Christianized natives from Baja California. Only 126 of the total of 219 explorers and settlers who had arrived in the last three months were still alive. Given that the first priest had arrived almost four months earlier, it is highly unlikely that the first mass conducted in San Diego was given by Fr. Serra. Nevertheless Serra along with three other priests presided over the first mass on the new location, on July 16, 1769 and this was to be the official "birthday" of San Diego. Those who remained alive on this date were a contingent of about forty, described by Bancroft as, "
Captain Vila, Surgeon Prat, the mate Cañizares, three friars, a guard of eight cuera soldiers, five convalescent Catalán volunteers, a few sick sailors, five able seamen, a carpenter and blacksmith, three boy servants, and eight Lower California Indians."
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