The Californias

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the Province of the Spanish Empire. For the region, see The Californias (region).
Map of New Spain following the split of the Californias in 1804.[1]

The Province of the Californias or The Californias (Spanish: Las Californias) was the name given by the Spanish Empire to the northwestern territory of New Spain, comprising the present day states of Baja California (Lower California) and Baja California Sur, both on the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico; and the U.S. state of California.[2] Administratively, the Province was part of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Californias was a single province until 1804 when Alta California (Upper California) province was created.


The missionary, colonial and administrative efforts focused exclusively on the Baja California peninsula and the area of the present American state of California, although the inland regions of upper Las Californias was not precisely defined. The 1781 Instrucciones and government correspondence establishing and managing the Californias and Alta California referred to Upper California as the areas to the west of the Sierra Nevada and the part of the Colorado River that flows through the Pimería Alta.[3] To the east the province was bordered by the gobernacion (province) of Sonora y Sinaloa, which included the settlements in Arizona. Further east was the province of Nuevo México. Because later 19th-century maps depict the Mexican territory of Alta California to include Nevada, Arizona, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming, these are often retroactively considered to be part of the original Californias in popular thought.[2]

Political organization[edit]

Much of the first organization of Baja California was done by Jesuit missionaries, who set out in the 17th century to convert and to politically and socially reorganize the Native communities of the region. The Jesuits' efforts to establish their network of missions were backed by the presence of Spanish soldiers stationed in forts (presidio)s, but the missionaries had control of the civilian government[citation needed] until their expulsion in 1768. Once the missions and the Native communities organized around them were successfully established, secular settlements of Hispanic peoples from other parts of northern New Spain were created. This process was first carried out during the 17th and 18th centuries in Baja California, and was repeated in the late 18th century in the area that is today the State of California.

The Californias fell under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Guadalajara in judicial matters. In 1776 the Californias became part of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas. In 1786 an independent intendancy was set up for the Californias to administer government and military finances, but the office was merged with the governorship a few years later. In 1804 the crown established two governorships for the region[citation needed], one for Baja California and another for Alta California, that is, the remaining areas in the mainland to the north.

First explorations and early history[edit]

The first recorded Europeans to sight the California region sailed in La Concepción in 1533 under the pilot navigator Fortún Jiménez in an expedition organized by conquistador and New Spain administrator Hernán Cortés. Jiménez reached La Paz, where they tried to establish a small colony. In 1535 Cortés himself participated in a second expedition, which explored the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California).[4] At the time of Cortés's expeditions, the region was occupied by a wide variety of Indigenous peoples. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's 1542 expedition, commissioned by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, was the next to reach the area sailing via the Pacific Ocean following the coast of the Baja California peninsula to a point beyond 40° North latitude. He named the discovered territory "Nueva California" (New California) as opposed to "Vieja California" (Old California), which were the coasts of which had already been sailed and explored.

The second half of the 18th century brought about changes in policy for several reasons. First was foreign powers, especially the Russian, and to a lesser extent British, incursions into the north of the region in pursuit of fur trade. At the same time the administration of the area was revitalized by the Bourbon political reforms carried out under José de Gálvez, who was first a visitador to the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later the Minister of the Indies. Finally, another drastic change came when the crown ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Spanish territories in 1767. The Franciscans were selected to take over the missions in Baja California. When the Franciscan Junipero Serra was chosen to accompany the Portolá expedition in 1769, Dominicans replaced the Franciscans in Baja California, and the Franciscans were charged with establishing and administering the new missions in Alta California.


The Californias Spanish colonial coat of arms. The simplified version (without the crown) is the coat of arms of Baja California Sur

For almost a century, the missionizing effort, carried out by the Society of Jesus- Jesuits, was confined to Baja California. The first mission in Baja California, the short-lived Misión San Bruno, was established in 1683, but the first successful mission was established in 1697 with the Misión de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó in Loreto. The first secular Hispanic settlement in the Californias was Loreto, which became the first capital of the territory.

Following the exploration of Alta California, first by Portolá in 1769, and founding of the first missions and presidios, colonists were recruited and sent north to help build the necessary structures, and to establish civilian pueblos at San Jose (1777), Los Angeles (1781) and Branciforte (1797). Others came to claim large royal land grants (ranchos).


The southern part of the territory was referred to at times as "Vieja California" (Old California) or Baja California (Lower California). The northern part became known as "Nueva California" (New California) and later Alta California. The exact border between the missionary orders' territories in the Californias was established in 1773 by Francisco Palóu on a line close to the present United States-Mexico border. It ended at the Pacific coast in the area of Playas de Rosarito, about 20 mi (25 km) south of the current international border. The first border was at Punta El Descanso, today occupied by the Centro Histórico y Cultural Calafia. It was later moved in 1778 to the Rosarito Creek. Direction of the Franciscan, the Upper California missions fell first to Junípero Serra, and after his departure in 1773, to Francisco Palóu.

Alta California[edit]

1847 map of Mexico. Alta California is depicted with a north-eastern border at the meridian leading north of the Rio Grande headwaters.[5]
Main article: Alta California

Alta California was formed as a separate "missionary order" region, but was not separated administratively, when Spain expelled the Jesuits from its colonial territories in 1767. The Jesuits' existing Baja California missions were given briefly to the Franciscans. When the Portola expedition was initiated, the Baja missions were turned over to the Dominicans to operate, while the proposed missions in Alta California were to be developed by the Franciscans, led by Junipero Serra. The first Alta California mission was Mission San Diego de Alcalá, in 1769.

The Portola expedition, composed of both military and missionary personnel, set the pattern for Alta California colonization. The first military bases (presidios) were established concurrently with the first missions, at San Diego and Monterey. Later presidios at San Francisco and Santa Barbara extended military coverage to the entire string of 21 missions.

As mandated by the Laws of the Indies, Gálvez's plans also included secular municipalities called pueblos or, in one case, a villa. Each pueblo had a Cabildo (council) The pueblos were established settlers recruited from more established provinces of New Spain (mainly from Mexico), and by retiring soldiers who were encouraged to stay in California. These were supplemented by smaller numbers of convicts (again mainly from Mexico), sometimes given a choice of prison or California. The first pueblo in Alta California was the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe in 1777, followed by the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1781. The Villa de Branciforte was the last, established in 1797. Other settlements formed around the presidios in Monterey and Santa Barbara. Spanish land grant Ranchos were the third part of establishing a proactive presence in northwestern New Spain. These large grants usually went to retired presidio military officers, political leaders and top-level administrators.

As Alta California developed and gained a larger Hispanic population, the need for a separate government became apparent. In 1804 the two areas were separated and Baja California peninsula and Alta California given separate governors.[6] Some sources credit Diego de Borica with defining Alta and Baja California's official borders.[7] José Joaquín de Arrillaga was the last governor of both areas (1800-1804) and the first governor of Alta california alone (1804-1814).

With the Mexican War of Independence won in 1821, the two provinces became territories - not states like most other areas of Mexico, due to their small populations. In later years, a desire for increased autonomy led to several attempts by the Alta Californians to gain independence from Mexico. Following the secularization of the missions in the 1830s, the number of land grant ranchos increased dramatically as former mission lands were partitioned.


Two decades later, as a result of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexico permanently lost Alta California in 1848. The new areas acquired by the United States continued to be administered as territories, with the exception of California, which sprang into statehood a mere 2 years after annexation in 1850. But by the early 20th century all had become states. Mexico reorganized the Territory of Baja California into two territories in 1931, North Territory of Baja California and South Territory of Baja California. By the end of the 20th century each territory would become a state, Baja California in 1952 and Baja California Sur in 1974.

1847 map of Mexico.[8]


  • 1533- First European landing "in California" on the lower Baja California peninsula by Fortún Jiménez.
  • 28 September 1542- First European landing near upper California by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in Ensenada (in Baja California).
  • 4 November 1595- Sebastián Rodríguez Cermeño claims the Pacific coast for Spain.
  • Approximately 100 years of inactivity and no presence in Baja California, and 200 years of inactivity or presence in Alta California.
  • 1697- Jesuit Missions erected in southern Baja California.
  • 1768- Spanish settlement begins in Alta California.
  • 3 June 1770- Governorship established for Las Californias Province.
  • 1786- Intendancy of Las Californias Province established.
  • 1804- Separate administrations for Alta California and Baja California Provinces.
  • 11 April 1822- Both provinces become part of the new independent nation of Mexico, now as the territories of Baja California and Alta California.
  • 2 February 1848 - Alta California territory ceded to the United States—the term "Las Californias" and "Alta California" no longer formally used with this area. ("Alta California" became simply "California" and given definite borders. It was also subject to primarily anglophone American rule. The rest of Alta California became parts of various American states, such as Arizona and Nevada.)

Spanish Governors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Antonio García Cubas. Atlas geográfico, estadístico e histórico de la República Mexicana. J. M. Fernández de Lara, 1857.
  2. ^ a b José Bandini, in a note to Governor Echeandía or to his son, Juan Bandini, a member of the Territorial Deputation (legislature), noted that Alta California was bounded "on the east, where the Government has not yet established the [exact] border line, by either the Colorado River or the great Sierra (Sierra Nevadas)." A Description of California in 1828 by José Bandini (Berkeley, Friends of the Bancroft Library, 1951), 3. Reprinted in Mexican California (New York, Arno Press, 1976). ISBN 0-405-09538-4
  3. ^ Chapman, Charles Edward (1973) [1916]. The Founding of Spanish California: The Northwestward Expansion of New Spain, 1687-1783. New York: Octagon Books. pp. xiii. 
  4. ^ Mathes, W. Michael. "An Historical Survey of the Missions". (La Paz: Aristos, 1977). Retrieved on 2008-08-09.
  5. ^ Map of Mexico. S. Augustus Mitchell, Philadelphia, 1847
  6. ^ Altable, Francisco (2002). "Los años de la gobernación de California: Los gobiernos de Arrillaga, Goicoechea y Argüello". In González Cruz, Edith; Altable, María Eugenia. Historia general de Baja California Sur: Los Procesos Políticos 2. La Paz: Seminario de Investigación en Historia Regional, Universidad Autónoma de Baja Califorinia Sur. p. 181. ISBN 970-722-199-2. 
  7. ^ "California Under Spanish Rule". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  8. ^ Mapa de los Estados Unitods de Méjico. J. Distrunell, New York, 1847.