José Castro

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José Castro
Jose Castro signed.jpg
Interim Governor of Alta California
In office
29 September 1835 – 1 January 1836
Appointed byJosé Figueroa
Preceded byJosé Figueroa
Succeeded byNicolas Gutierrez
Governor of Baja California
In office
Personal details
Monterey, Alta California, New Spain
(now California, U.S.)
DiedFebruary 1860 (aged 51-52)
Baja California, Mexico
Military service
AllegianceMexico Mexico
California Lone Star Flag 1836.svg Alta California
Branch/serviceMexico-branch-colour Cavalry(blue).gif Cavalry
RankTnte corl.gif Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/warsBattle of Providencia
Revolution of 1836

José Antonio Castro (1808 – February 1860) was a Californio politician, statesman, and military leader who served as acting governor of Alta California in 1835, and military commander under governor Juan Bautista Alvarado after November, 1836.[1] He was also Commandante General in northern California during the Bear Flag Revolt.


José Castro was a Californio, born in Monterey, California when it was under Spanish colonial rule. His father José Tiburcio Castro was a soldier, member of the Diputación (territorial legislature), mayordomo (administrator) of Mission San Juan Bautista after it was secularized, and grantee of Rancho Sausal.

As a young man, Castro was a vocal and active supporter of Californian self-rule and full independence from Mexico.[2] His first public office was as secretary to the Monterey ayuntamiento (town council). In 1830, Castro was arrested for his opposition to the Mexican governor of Alta California. By 1835 he was Vocal Primero (First Member) of the legislature and acting governor. Along with his brother-in-law Juan Bautista Alvarado, he was a vocal proponent of California-born governors and sought a semi-independent status for Alta California.[3]

A long period in which far-away Mexico neglected California and sent up scandalous and incompetent governors culminated with six chief executives taking office in Monterey in 1836 alone. In November, 1838, Castro helped lead the overthrow of newly-appointed Mexican Governor Nicolás Gutiérrez,.[3]

An end to the rebellion was negotiated, and Alvarado became the legitimate governor from 1837 to 1842. Castro served under Alvarado as Lieutenant-Colonel of militia. Once again he was appointed First Member of the Diputación as well as Prefect of the District of Monterey. In 1839, governor Alvarado granted him Rancho San Justo, which included the settlement surrounding Mission San Juan Bautista. The grant followed the secularization of the mission by the Mexican government in 1833, which privatized former mission lands. Castro built an adobe house on San Juan Bautista Plaza in 1841. He used the house as an administrative base for his military operations, and as a residence for his secretary.[2]

Back in 1840, Alvarado had arrested about one hundred Americans in California and transported them to San Blas, an action that sparked an international diplomatic incident known as the "Graham Affair". By 1844–45, Castro was a leader of the new revolt against Governor Manuel Micheltorena, once again becoming Commandante General under new governor Pio Pico.[3]

During the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 and Mexican–American War that followed, Castro was the commanding general of Alta California. When California joined the United States in August 1846, Castro left for Baja California, taking up residence in Sinaloa. Castro returned to Alta California in 1848.[2][4]

In February 1848, after the Mexican–American War ended, José Castro opened his adobe house in San Juan Bautista to an Irish settler, Patrick Breen. Breen and his family were surviving members of the Donner Party. They arrived at San Juan Bautista nearly a year after surviving their arduous journey over the Sierra Nevada. The Breens were the first English-speaking Americans to live in the town. Castro allowed them to live at the house until one of Patrick Breen's teenage sons made a fortune as a gold miner and purchased the house from Castro in 1854.[2] Castro left California for Baja California in 1853 where he was appointed governor and military commander.

The Breen family established a working ranch and an inn. Guests included gold rush prospectors and Helen Hunt Jackson, author of Ramona (1884). She began writing her famous novel about Spanish California while living in San Juan Bautista in the early 1880s. The Breen family owned the house until 1935, when the State of California bought the property and it became part of the San Juan Bautista Plaza Historic District.[2]

Castro never surrendered his Mexican citizenship nor military rank. In February 1860, Castro was killed by Manuel Marquez, in an incident variously described as an assassination or a barroom brawl.[5]


The Jose Castro House in San Juan Bautista is now a National Historic Landmark. Castro Street and the Castro District in San Francisco are named for him.


  1. ^ Killea; Lucy Lytle (October 1966). "Journal of San Diego History". San Diego Historical Society. Archived from the original on April 11, 2005. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e "José Castro House San Juan Bautista, California". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 26 August 2016. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c Grafe, Ernest. "Intrigue and Confrontation; The Castros of California" (PDF). Grafe. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  4. ^ "California and the Indian Wars, José Antonio Castro, Commandante-General and Acting Governor of Alta California". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department.
  5. ^ Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1906). History of California: 1801-1824. W. Hebberd. p. 752. In '60, while holding this office, he was killed in a drunken brawl — or, as some say, assassinated — by one Manuel Marquez. His widow, Modesta Castro, was still living in Cal. as late as '77.

This article incorporates content in the public domain from the U.S. National Park Service and The California State Military Museum.