José Castro

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For other people named José Castro, see José Castro (disambiguation).
José Castro
Jose Castro.jpg
Mexico 20th Governor of Alta California
In office
Appointed by José Figueroa
Preceded by José Figueroa
Succeeded by Nicolas Gutierrez
Personal details
Born 1808
Monterey, California
Died February 1860
Profession Soldier
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Allegiance Mexico
Service/branch Mexico Mexican Army
Rank Tnte corl.gif Lieutenant Colonel

José Antonio Castro (1808 – February 1860) was acting governor of Alta California in 1835-1836,[1] and Commandante General of the Mexican army in Alta California at the time of the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt and the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.


José Castro was a Californio, born in Monterey, California. As a young man, Castro was a vocal and active supporter of Californian self-rule and semi-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.[1] Along with Juan Bautista Alvarado, he was a vocal proponent of California-born governors and sought a semi-independent status for Alta California.[3] He was a chief participant in the overthrow of Governor Nicolás Gutiérrez in 1836,[3] becoming self-proclaimed Commandante General and Governor[1] of Alta California. Opposition from southern areas convinced Castro to relinquish his claim, but he was then officially appointed Governor in 1837.

Under Governor Alvarado, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo became Commandante General, and Castro became Lieutenant-Colonel of militia in 1837-38. Once again he was appointed First Member of the Diputacion as well as Prefect of the Monterey District. In 1839, Castro was granted (by Alvarado) Rancho San Justo, one of three ranchos attached to Mission San Juan Bautista, after the secularization of mission property by the Mexican government in 1833-35.

In 1840, Castro arrested about 100 foreigners living in California and transported them to San Blas, an action that caused an international diplomatic incident known as the "Graham Affair". In 1844-45, he became a leader of the revolt against Governor Manuel Micheltorena, once again becoming Commandante General of California, checking John C. Frémont's movements, and leading Alta California forces against the Americans.[3]

His father José Tiburcio Castro was a soldier, member of the diputacion (Alta California legislature),[1] the administrator of Mission San Juan Bautista after it was secularized, and grantee of Rancho Sausal. His father used his authority to distribute mission lands to relatives and friends. He gave his son land on the San Juan Bautista plaza, where he built an adobe house in 1841. Castro used the house as an administrative base for his military operations, and as a residence for his secretary.[2]

During the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 and Mexican-American War that followed, Castro was the commanding general of Alta California. After Mexico ceded Alta California to the United States at the close of the war, Castro left for Mexico in August 1846, where he resided in Sinaloa. He returned to California in 1848, during the California Gold Rush. By 1853, he returned to Mexico where he was appointed governor and military commander of Baja California.[2]

After the U.S.-Mexican War, José Castro gave his adobe house in San Juan Bautista to an Irish American immigrant, Patrick Breen. Breen and his family were surviving members of the Donner Party. They arrived at San Juan Bautista in February 1848, nearly a year after completing their journey through the Sierra Nevada. The Breens were the first English-speaking Americans to live in the town. Castro allowed them to live at his house until they could afford to buy it from him.[2]

One of Patrick Breen’s teenage sons made a fortune as a gold miner and purchased the house from Castro in 1854. 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.[2]

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.

Castro never surrendered his Mexican citizenship nor military rank. In February 1860, Castro was assassinated by the bandit Marguez.


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. ^ a b c d Killea; Lucy Lytle (October 1966). "Journal of San Diego History". San Diego Historical Society. 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. 

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