Two hundred and fifty years ago, the Spanish-led Sacred Expedition to establish forts and missions in what was then called Alta California headed north from the tip of Baja.
The Russians are coming[hhmc]
Spain had laid claim to territory in what would become California, Arizona and New Mexico more than 150 years before the “Sacred Expedition.” The Sebastian Vizcaino expedition in 1602 was ordered to find safe harbors in Alta California for Spanish ships returning from the Philippines. The Vizcaino expedition along the California coast gave many places the names they have today, including San Diego, Monterey and Santa Barbara. The Spanish did not pay much attention to Alta California until they heard the Russians were making settlements in what is now Washington and Oregon.
King Charles II of Spain ordered that Spanish settlements were to be established near the harbors mapped by Vicaino in San Diego and Monterey. Spanish soldier Gaspar de Portola volunteered to lead the mission.
By 1802, the Russians established Fort Ross, in what is now Sonoma County, as their southernmost settlement in North America. The fortress flew the Russian flag until 1842. Fort Ross is a national historic landmark and state historic park.
Land and sea expedition[hhmc]
Two 72-foot ships set sail before two separate land groups left from Baja. The first ship, the San Carlos, left La Paz on Jan. 9, 1769, with 62 men. The captain had poorly drawn maps and took 110 days to reach San Diego Bay.
The second ship, the San Antonio, left Feb. 15, 1769, and reached San Diego in 54 days. Most of the crew on the San Carlos died along the journey and nearly all the crew on the San Antonio fell sick.
- March 24, 1769: The first of two overland parties leaves to build settlements in Alta California. The first, a group of 25 soldiers, several Jesuit priests and about 40 Christian Indians, is led by Capt. Fernando Rivera. Riveras party acts as scouts, clearing trails and building camps for the second land-based expedition. Riveras party arrives in San Diego on May 14.
- May 15, 1769: Portola, the Rev. Junipero Serra, 11 soldiers, five muleteers and 12 Christian Indians set out with 200 cattle plus 163 mules and some horses. They arrive in San Diego in June. The first mission in Alta California, the Mission of San Diego de Alcalá, and the military base San Diego Presidio are founded in July 1769.
- April 1770: Serra and Portola set off to establish a chain of missions and Portolá established the Monterey Presidio. It is unknown what the Native American population was before being exposed to European settlers in California. Some estimate the number to be about 300,000, and after the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, the Native American population was less than 30,000.
In September, the San Francisco Arts Commission voted to remove its “Early Days” sculpture, depicting a Native American at the feet of a Catholic missionary. A plaque was placed to explain why it was removed. In January, San Francisco voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.