Reprinted with the permission of The SAR Magazine, Winter 1999 Vol. XCIII, No. 3.

By Compatriot Granville W. Hough
This painting depicts the 1776 Portola Expedition arriving at San Francisco Bay as related in the accompanying article. (Courtesy the San Mateo Historical Museum.)

The Portolá expedition from the top of Sweeny Ridge

Spain declared war on England 21 June 1779 and continued operations against England until a truce was declared before the general peace treaty of 3 September 1783. King Carlos urged his soldiers and sailors to attack the English wherever they appeared. During this period, he reinforced the California frontier settlements of New Spain, established a new pueblo at Los Angeles, a new presidio at Santa Barbara, a new mission at San Buenaventura, and two pueblo/missions at Yuma. The 250+ soldiers who served in California specifically focused on warding off English claims and expected advances.


The NSSAR on 20 March 1998 recognized the contributions of Spanish soldiers in California by accepting two of their descendants, Stephen Darrell Machado and Peter David Hill, as SAR members. This places the service of Spanish soldiers in California on the same plane as those who served under Governor Galvez of Louisiana (discussed in the Fall, 1996, issue of this magazine.) It means these soldiers were also honored in the NSSAR delegation's 1997 visit to Spain to commemorate Spanish officials who supported the American Colonies (reported in the Summer, 1997, issue of this magazine.)

We know the families of 220 of . the soldiers who served in California, and their descendants await our contact and assistance in becoming SAR members.


To put the Revolutionary War period in California into better focus, one must review how Spain and England were naval rivals for 200 years prior to that time. In 1579, after successfully raiding Spanish treasure ships, Sir Francis Drake explored the west coast as far north as the 48th parallel off present day Washington state. He could not find the Northwest Passage back to England and returned south to refit at Drake's Bay. After refitting his ships, he sailed west to become the first English sea captain to circumnavigate the globe. Before he left Drake's Bay, he mapped the area and claimed it all for England, naming it Nova Albion. Drake's Bay is now considered to be one of the smaller bays north of San Francisco Bay, but the Spanish were never sure what Drake had found. So the English had a claim to the west coast which annoyed Spain for over 200 years.


To the Spanish, their dominions stretched from Saint Augustine on the Atlantic to the Straits of Juan de Fuca on the Pacific, then north to Alaska. Then, in the Seven Years War from 1756 until 1763, the English sent a fleet around South Africa and Southeast Asia to capture Manila. This was very alarming to the Spanish Crown, because the Crown's sustaining sources of wealth were the Manila galleons bringing the treasures of the Orient across the Pacific to Acapulco, then across Mexico, and on to Spain. In another naval action, English naval forces took Havana. At the end of the war, Spain gave up East and West Florida, plus other possessions, to get back Havana and Manila. This war wiped out the French colonial empire in America and left Spain facing England all along the Mississippi River and across the continent to the Pacific where English maps labelled the shores Nova Albion.

Spanish leaders believed they had to take action to protect their Northwest borders and their Manila trade. Immediately after the Seven Years War, they began to reform and strenghten their defenses. They moved to settle Alta California with the traditional prongs of military presidios, religious missions, and civilian pueblos. This would nullify the English claims to the west coast and give a safe harbor for Manila galleons. King Carlos III sent his personal representative, Jose Galvez, to New Spain to determine what could be done and then do it. Galvez first had to develop a support base for sea supply and protection. He chose San Bias, then in New Galicia, now in Nayarit, as the naval base, and began to build ships there. By 1769, he was ready for the first colonizing effort. This was followed by three other colonizing expeditions. Each is of interest because some soldiers from each finished their service, retired, and became the builders of California. Portola's Expedition established the Presidio of San Diego (1769) and the Presidio of Monterey (1770), discovered San Francisco Bay (1769), and explored the coastal areas and the northern Central Valley.

From this effort came the missions of San Diego (1769), San Carlos (Carmel) (1770), San Antonio (177 1), and San Luis Obispo (1772).


Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada made a recruiting trip to Mission Loretta and brought up 51 people plus families of those already in Alta California. Mission San Juan Capistrano (1776) was established after this effort. 1774-1776 - Lieutenant Colonel Don Juan Bautista de Anza's exploratory expedition of 1774 followed by his colonizing expedition of 1775/76 brought in enough people, livestock, and materials to make California almost self-sufficient and establish a new presidio at San Francisco (1776), new missions at San Francisco (1776) and Santa Clara (1777), and the first pueblo at San Jose (1777). 1781 - Captain Rivera y Moncada's recruiting efforts in Sonora and Sinaloa brought in settlers and soldiers to establish the second pueblo at Los Angeles (1781), the fourth presidio at Santa Barbara (1782), and the ninth mission at San Buenaventura (1782). Most of the livestock for these groups was lost at Yuma.


While making the California settlements, Spanish leaders were watching the English navy to see what would come next. They soon learned that Captain James Cook had moved into the South Pacific between 1769 and 177 1, mapped new lands, including New Zealand and Australia, and had learned more about the South Pacific down to Antartica than anyone else had ever known. The Spanish stepped up their own exploration of the Pacific Coast, going as far north as they could. Then, on his second voyage between 1772 and 1775, Captain Cook explored the Central Pacific and continued his mapping of New Zealand and Australia. This must have made the Spanish very nervous, as he was nearing the sea lanes for the Manila galleons.

Then they heard of the third voyage, which left in 1776 to find the Northwest Passage, which the Spanish had been searching for without success.

Captain Cook's maps showed suitable bays in Nova Albion for refitting. For the Spanish, this voyage would call for direct infringement on their territory. In early 1779, two armed frigates were sent from San Bias to the northern coasts to map and claim the land and look for foreigners. Even though war had not started, the Spanish believed they could seize any foreign ships in their domain. They did not find Captain Cook; indeed, he had been killed in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) by the time the Spanish ships were underway. The Spanish actually did not learn where Captain Cook had been until his ships returned to England and the results were published. The two frigates went as far north as they could, mapped and claimed the land, and returned in July, 1779 to San Francisco. When they learned of the impending war with England, they completed their mapping of San Francisco Bay and returned to San Bias.


When war was declared, the first priority went to protecting Manila. The entire effort at San Blas was redirected, and the supply ships which had been supporting Alta California were sent permanently to Manila, along with funds to reinforce the harbor defenses there. The armed frigates were refitted for Manila support or kept close at hand to defend San Bias. There was little supply support for Alta California in 1780 and none at all in 1781. California was expendable, but Manila was not.

It was in this environment that a hasty decision was made to establish armed pueblo/missions at Yuma. These semi-forts would protect an overland supply route to California and expedite settlement. So the experimental pueblo/missions of Purisima Concepcion and San Pedro y San Pablo near Yuma were established in 1780, with inadequate funding. These installations took over the best Indian lands and tried to convert the Indians, who had thought the missions would bring them many gifts and material goods. Instead, the Indians found themselves feeding and working for the settlers and missions.

Before the new missions had harvested their first crops, Captain Rivera came through in 1781 with a large group of settlers and soldiers from Sinaloa and Sonora, with additional livestock. Soon after he got to Yuma, he sent the soldiers and settlers on to San Gabriel, but stayed back himself with a small contingent to fatten the livestock so it could cross the California desert. He allowed the livestock to eat the Yuma bean and wild grass fields, destroying their winter food supplies. The Yumas were so enraged about losing their best land and winter supplies that they rose up in rebellion on 17 July 178 1. They destroyed the missions, killed at least 55 adults, including priests, soldiers, settlers, and Captain Rivera's contingent, and captured and enslaved 74 others. In one battle, 25% of all Hispanic people in Alta California had disappeared. Of course, the Yumas got all the livestock of the settlements and the herds of Captain Rivera.

Despite three punitive expeditions, the Yumas remained unconquered, and the missions were not rebuilt. By 1782, it was clear there would be no overland passage to Alta California, and that the land would have to become self-sufficient or be supported by sea again. What hurt most in 1780 and 1781 was not having any clothing, medicines, building materials such as nails and iron, or agricultural tools such as hoes, shovels, or plows, or new weapons. Sea supply began again in 1782.


Even though there was no California economy, every soldier, Spanish male over 18, and neophyte Indian male over 18 were asked to make a voluntary contribution to defray expenses of the war with England. This was done in 1782 and later, with the last contribution in 1784, after the war was over. These contributions of about a week's pay were two pesos per soldier or adult Spaniard and one peso per Indian neophyte. Though these contributions were not available to the war effort before hostilities ceased, they do represent the effort made in California to support the war. King Carlos III in his declaration of war also asked the priests to include prayers for the success of the war, and Fray Junipero Serra instituted the prayers in Alta California, which were repeated for the duration of the war.

Another wartime inconvenience came from Commandante General Teodore de Croix of the Provincias Internas of New Spain, which included California. When de Croix learned that British Admiral Hughes had departed England in March, 1779, with a fleet to operate on the west coast of America, he warned Governor Felipe de Neve of California on 25 August 1780 to take precautions. That merely caused those on sentry duty to pay more attention to the seacoast. Later, in September, 1780, when de Croix expressed concern about the safety of the horse herds at the Presidios, Governor Felipe de Neve of California ordered all livestock to be moved inland, thus depriving any British landing force of transportation or food.

This affected every soldier who had to go each day into the hills to search for his mounts. Non-military historians have laughed about this precaution, but de Croix was dealing from the experience of having lost 10,000 horses and mules to Apache raiders in a few years from his Presidios across northern Mexico. If the Apaches could successfully capture a presidial herd, the soldiers would be dismounted and could not pursue. (One noted raid at Tubac on 7 September 1775 almost stopped the Anza colonization expedition. Apaches drove off 500 fresh horses which Col Anza was depending on for his march across the California desert. The horses he had were worn out from the trip across the Sonoran desert. As a consequence of the raid, most of the men and women had to ride double with smaller children on tired and weakened horses across the California desert.)


What sort of people were the California soldiers? The Regular Army nucleus until 1774 was the Catalonian Bluecoats, the Free Company of Royal Catalonian Volunteers, recruited in Catalonia in 1767. With names such as Domingo Aruz, Pedro Fages, Manuel Butron, and Antonio Yorba, they were typically literate, dedicated, disciplined ' proud ' and fearless. They set the example for the soldados de cuero "leather jackets, " presidial soldiers who filled the ranks. The latter were less literate and more prone to go AWOL (absent without leave) back to Mexico; many, however, such as typical enlisted men Jose Maximo Alams, Roque Jacinto de Cora, and Jose Manuel Machado rivalled the Catalonian Bluecoats in their valor and devotion to duty. Some of the Mexican-bom officers such as Lieutenant Jose Francisco de Ortega or Ensign Juan Pablo Grijalva were natural leaders who served with much distinction.


Where did the soldiers serve? Fray Junipero Serra had Fray Francisco Paton prepared a description of all installations in both Baja and Alta California in early 1784. The list was made to show how the missions were supporting themselves, plus supporting the pueblos and the presidios.

From this list we know there were 204 soldiers assigned to Alta California's four Presidios. From the 54 assigned to San Diego, six each had duty stations at missions of San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, and San Gabriel. (At the missions, they guarded the priests and church property, served as instructors and policemen to the Indian neophytes, and witnessed church events such as marriages and baptisms.) Four soldiers from San Diego were assigned to the Los Angeles pueblo (where they guarded the property, kept the records, and served as policemen.) This left 32 within the Presidio, where their primary activity was training, with breaks for going on punitive expeditions, returning escaped neophytes to the missions, dispatch duty, and escort duty. Each soldier had six horses and one colt, all having to be broken or trained to work. Each day one was kept in the Presidio, saddled and ready to go, when the soldiers were not actually training with them. The others were in the presidial herd.

From the 54 soldiers of Monterey, six each had duty stations at missions of San Luis Obispo, San Antonio, and San Carlos, and two were at San Jose, leaving 34 at Monterey, one of whom was Governor of the province. From the 33 at San Francisco, six each had duty stations at Missions Delores and Santa Clara, and two at San Jose pueblo. From the 63 at Santa Barbara, 17 were on duty at Mission San Buenaventura because of the large Indian population and possible uprising. Twelve were held at the Presidio for later service at Mission Santa Barbara and a third Channel mission.

The 20 soldiers (17 killed) with the Yuma pueblo/missions in 1781 were from the Presidios of Arizona and Sonora, as were about 150 soldiers who took part in punitive expeditions against the Yumas in 1781, 1782, and 1783. Those killed with Captain Rivera in 1781 included 5 recruits who had just reached California plus 10 from California Presidios.

In the San Bias naval support for Alta California, the three frigates each had crews of 72 persons, and the two packetboats had crews of 41 persons. In its exploration of the Northern Pacific in 1779, the frigate Princessa lost 7 of its crew to scurvy and berriberri. The sailors were from San Bias (in Nayarit) and surrounding areas. Names of about one-third have been recovered.

Life of the soldiers during this period was anything but easy. The pay was low and there was little to buy. There were times of near starvation, scurvy, and death from 1769 onward. In the 1769 search for Monterey Bay, the expedition had to eat its own mules, leaving it with little transport. Once Monterey presidio was established, the garrison was from time to time on rationed bear meat from bears killed by the Commander, Lieutenant Pedro Fages. Fages was such a stern taskmaster in the building of Monterey and the missions that his fellow Catalonians filed complaints against him, both in and out of military channels. Fray Serra went to Mexico City and got him replaced in 1774, but he came back its Governor of Alta California in 1782 to replace Governor Neve, who had been promoted.


Some historians have stated that Californians were blissfully unaware of the conflict on the East Coast. That may be true, but they were very, very aware of the War with England. The very existence of colony was to preclude or offset English encroachment on Spanish territory and trade. During the war, they went without essential supplies for clothing, medicine, building, agriculture, and weapons for almost two years. Everyday when soldiers went to find their mounts in the foothills, they were reminded of the War with England. Every day they saw their nearly naked children, they were reminded there were no supply ships because of the War with England. Every day they worked with wooden tools in their garden plots, they were reminded they had no iron because of the War with England. When they gave a week's wages to defray expenses of the war, they hoped their effort would hasten the end of the war. When they went to church on Sundays, they heard prayers for success of the holy war against the infidels of England. Perhaps they added their own prayers for the souls of their kin who died at Yuma. If they were indeed unaware of the conflict on the East Coast, it was because they had their own War with England; but there was no bliss in it.

This enlightening article was authored by California Society Compatriot Granville W. Hough, assisted by his daughter N.C. Hough; she performed invaluable research and editing services. Membership Chairman for the South Coast Chapter, he holds the Meritorious Service and Liberty Medals in recognition of his exemplary recruitment activities. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy in 1943 and graduated in 1946, subsequentally serving as a Regular Army Officer in Artillery and Intelligence units until retirement in 1968. Compatriot Hough taught management at California State University, Fullerton from 1968 until retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1992. Among his advanced degrees, he holds a PhD in Public Administration. His daughter is a professional secretary and researcher.


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The SAR Magazine
Winter 1999