On September 4, 1781, Felipe de Neve, Spanish governor, established a colonial population of only 44 neighbors in New Spain (in the current state of California), in the region known by the natives as the Valley of Smoke. The Spanish Franciscans Junípero Serra and Juan Crespi had already established a mission in that place which they named Pueblo de la Reina de los Ángeles (the current city of Los Angeles). The largest city in the United States has a Spanish name and is a town: the Town of Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula, better known as Los Angeles California (Los Angeles California). The capital of this immense metropolitan area had a humble origin, when Governor Neve obtained from the viceroy of New Spain the title of “town” for a new colonial population of only 44 neighbors.
The beginnings of Los Angeles California
Ever since he conquered Mexico, Hernán Cortés wanted to explore the Pacific coast to the North. Already in 1533 he sent Fortún Jiménez, who discovered the California peninsula, the so-called Baja California or Mexican California. (Los Angeles California)
In 1540 Francisco de Ulloa wanted to go further north of Alta California, but his ship was lost without knowing how far it went. The first well-documented expedition to what is North American California took place immediately after, was that of Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a former soldier of Hernán Cortés who had established himself as a merchant in Guatemala. His dedication to trade did not mean that he ceased to be a man of action, and in 1541 he succeeded in getting the advance of Guatemala, the famous Pedro de Alvarado, commissioning him to explore the northern Pacific. He discovered a magnificent natural harbor, San Diego, and, on October 6, 1542, another harbor that he would call San Pedro, the current port of Los Angeles California.
However, it would not be until the second half of the 18th century when Spain undertook the colonization of Alta California – Baja California had been colonized since the early 17th century. The promoter of this policy would be the “general visitor” José de Gálvez, an effective politician and administrator whom Carlos III had sent to put order in the immense Viceroyalty of New Spain. The reason was that the presence of Russian ships approaching Alaska had been detected on the Californian coasts, and it was necessary to effectively occupy the lands discovered by Spanish navigators which, according to the international customs of the time, belonged de jure to the Spanish Empire. . In 1768, Gaspar de Portolá, from Lleida, captain of the army, was appointed governor of the two Californias and organized a double expedition by sea and by land.putting himself in front of the latter.
The journey took him to travel almost all of California, to San Francisco, close to the northern limit of the current North American State. With him were several Franciscans who had replaced the Jesuits in the missions of Baja California, expelled from Spanish territory by Carlos III. On August 2, 1769, Portolá arrived at the place where the town of Lo Angeles would rise and was received by an earthquake. From the beginning the hallmarks of Californian cities were established. With Portolá was a Majorcan Franciscan, Fray Juan Crespi, who would have a double role in the history of Los Angeles. In the first place, and despite the earthquake, he pointed out that this was a very suitable place to establish a population. And secondly, he named the watercourse that passed through there “Porciúncula River.”
Franciscans and Felipe de Neve
“Porziuncola” is a name that is closely linked to the Franciscan order. It means “bit” in Italian, referring to the small piece of land that they gave to Saint Francis to build his first church in Assisi. This humble temple, the headquarters of the Order and today absorbed by the gigantic Renaissance basilica, was dedicated by the saint to Santa María de los Ángeles, although it was commonly called the Porziuncola. Perhaps it was the earthquake they felt upon arrival that led Fray Juan Crespi to an association of ideas, since Assisi is a zone of seismic movements; the fact is that that distant first Franciscan church in Italy would determine the name of Los Angeles.
It was another governor, a very effective Andalusian from Bailén named Felipe de Neve who, taking up the suggestion of Fray Juan Crespi, settled a handful of settlers next to the Porziuncula and founded the town with royal approval. (Los Angeles California)
Neve had previously sent Viceroy Bucarelli a report of the following tenor:
“The habitable places that border the Camino Real from San Diego to Monterey with enough water to grow crops are the Santa Ana River, 28 leagues from San Diego, it has abundant water and it is not difficult to extract it as it shows, seven leagues is the San Gabriel River with a lot of water and land for large plantations, and to raise water was not very difficult. A league away from the Mission of this name, which does not use its waters because they obtain abundant and sufficient water for the lands of the various springs that flow at the foot of the mountains. 3 leagues from the Mission is the Porscone [sic] river with a lot of water that is easily accessible both for the banks and for the beautiful lands where we can make use of everything…. ”
“Attentive to everyone and to the urgency of encouraging all possible work, in these new establishments, I did not observe in these [lands] more than four places from which I can recommend moving forward, and these are the rivers of Santa Ana, San Gabriel, La Porscone and Guadalupe, the first three a short distance from Mission San Gabriel, the last near Mission Santa Clara; I did not observe any other place, so that if his Excellency ordered forty or sixty men from the fields and experienced peasants to be docked to populate the places mentioned, or better to divide them in two, that would be the Santa Clara river. and the one in Porsincula (Los Angeles) ”. Neve was already pointing out the site of the future city.
Settler families from New Spain
As he had promised, Viceroy Bucarelli proceeded to send several families of settlers from New Spain; Their surnames appear today on 9 plaques located in the Olvera square in Los Angeles and are the following: Lara, Mesa, Moreno, Rodríguez, Navarro, Quintero, Rosas, Vanegas and Camero. They would be the first settlers. The original nucleus was made up of only 9 families, with a total of 44 people. The composition of that original Los Angeles neighborhood was already a premonition of the cosmopolitan city, of the melting pot of races and cultures that is now Los Angeles.
Of the eleven male heads of households, there were two Spaniards, four Indians, one mestizo, two blacks, and two mulattoes. As for the nine wives, they were all mulatto or Indian, and the 16 children, a multi-ethnic product of all those combinations. This small town, around Olvera Square, is today the historic center of the city of Los Angeles, known as Olvera Street, where the aforementioned plaques are found. The composition of that original Los Angeles neighborhood was already a premonition of the cosmopolitan city, of the melting pot of races and cultures that is now Los Angeles California.