List of Governors of California before admission

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This is a list of the Governors of early California, 1769–1850, before its admission as the 31st U.S. state. Founded by Gaspar de Portolá at San Diego and Monterey, the vast country was a sparsely-settled Spanish colony for 53 years, until 1822.

After Mexico's independence from Spain and until California's revolution of 1836, California became a far-flung federal territory of the United Mexican States (UEM). California did not support Mexican independence. Moreover, as ill-will between her and Mexico grew, California charged Mexico with neglect, with sending north small bands of convict settlers, and with despotism. These feelings led to revolution, which achieved concessions and degrees of independence from Mexico.[1][2]

Then in November 1836, the Californian Diputación formally declared independence from Mexico.[3] The result was that Mexico acknowledged California as a "free and sovereign state."[4][5][6] However, rivalry between Northern and Southern California led to civil war. This ended when Gov. Alvarado appealed to Mexico for California to confederate with Mexico with all the rights under the Mexican Constitution of 1824, thus retaining its sovereignty. However, conflict with Mexico resumed.

By 1846, all ties with Mexico were cut and California became a nominally independent republic—the "Bear Flag Republic"—when Mexican military protection was replaced with American military protection. Californians won full U.S. citizenship in 1848, and California was admitted as the 31st united state on September 9, 1850.[7] Californian government continued without interruption, and Peter Burnett, the last governor before California's union with the U.S., became the first governor after.

For governors of the state after admission in September 1850, see List of Governors of California.

Gaspar de Portolá i Rovira, founder and first governor of California
Pedro Fages
José Castro
Juan Bautista Alvarado
Pío Pico
Peter Hardeman Burnett

Colony, 1769–1822[edit]

With two ships, the San Antonio and San Marcos, and two companies of soldiers, Gaspar de Portolá founded the Spanish colony of New (Nueve, later Alta) California at San Diego, the first city (July 16, 1769), and at Monterey, the first capital (June 3, 1770). Fr. Junípero Serra founded the first of 21 church missions on cattle ranches at San Diego, too, so expanding Christian civilization on the west coast of the continent.

Flag of Spain.svg
  1. 1769–1770: Gaspar de Portolá
  2. 1770–1774: Pedro Fages
  3. 1774–1777: Fernando Rivera y Moncada
  4. 1777–1782: Felipe de Neve
  5. 1782–1791: Pedro Fages
  6. 1791–1792: José Antonio Roméu
  7. 1792–1794: José Joaquín de Arrillaga (acting)
  8. 1794–1800: Diego de Borica
  9. 1800: Pedro de Alberni (acting)
  10. 1800–1814: José Joaquín de Arrillaga
  11. 1814–1815: José Darío Argüello (acting)
  12. 1815–1822: Pablo Vicente de Solá

Territory, 1822–1836[edit]

Californians bitterly opposed Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, and not until 1822 was the old flag lowered. Spain could no longer afford to govern her most northerly colony and Alta California became a nominal protectorate of her neighbor far to the south. Luis Argüello became the first native Californian (Californio) governor in 1822, inaugurating a rocky relationship with Mexico lasting to the present day.[8][9]

Flag of Mexico (1823-1864, 1867-1893).svg
  1. 1822–1825: Luis Antonio Argüello
  2. 1825–1831: José María de Echeandía
  3. 1831–1832: Manuel Victoria
  4. 1832: Pío Pico
  5. 1832–1833 (north): Agustín V. Zamorano
  6. 1832–1833 (south): José María de Echeandía
  7. 1833–1835: José Figueroa
  8. 1835: José Castro (acting)
  9. 1836: Nicolás Gutiérrez (acting)
  10. 1836: Mariano Chico
  11. 1836: Nicolás Gutiérrez (acting)

Sovereignty, 1836–1846[edit]

In the Revolution of 1836, California's Diputación (Legislature) and Governor Alvarado declared independence[10]—as a "free and sovereign State"[11]—from Mexico and backed it up with an armed brigade of Tennessean-born settlers led by Isaac Graham. It did not become a Department at that time. However, some Southern Californians were jealous of Northern Californian leadership and from 1837 to 1838, Carlos Carrillo, claiming to be governor in Los Angeles, with Juan Bandini led a bloodless civil war. That ended when Gov. Alvarado proposed confederation—for the first time—with Mexico under the liberal Constitution of 1824.[12][13]

California Lone Star Flag 1836.svg
  1. 1836–1842: Juan Bautista Alvarado
    1837–1838: Carlos Antonio Carrillo (rival)
  2. 1842–1845: Brigadier general Manuel Micheltorena
  3. 1845–1846: Pío Pico

Republic, 1846–1850[edit]

For some time, both Spanish and Anglo Californians had sought confederation with the U.S. Relations with Mexico never stabilized and in 1846, on the eve of the Mexican–American War, the Bear Flaggers declared independence permanently. From then on, the California Republic was neither ruled by Mexico nor admitted into the United States. Meanwhile, during the war against Mexico, John C. Fremont and Archibald H. Gillespie offended Californian honor. These offenses were satisfied with Don Andrés Pico's victory over a U.S force at San Pascual. This was followed directly by the grant of full U.S. citizenship to Californians at Cahuenga. In addition, California was afforded American military protection against the enemy. On September 9, 1850, the California Republic was finally admitted into the U.S. without ever having been demoted from a republic down to a U.S. Territory.

US Cav 35.svg
  1. 1846: Cdre. John Drake Sloat
  2. 1846–1847: Cdre. Robert F. Stockton
    1846–1847: Gen. José María Flores (rival)
  3. 1847: Gen. Stephen W. Kearny (appointed)
    1847: Col. John C. Fremont (pretended)
  4. 1847–1849: Gen. Richard Barnes Mason
  5. 1849: Gen. Persifor Frazer Smith
  6. 1849: Gen. Bennet C. Riley
  7. 1849–1851: Peter Hardeman Burnett (held office for a year before the California Republic was admitted into the U.S.. Burnett was a civilian and so he was not part of any military.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California. 978-1135657727
  2. ^ Book explains California's Revolution of 1836 in more detail, including California's first Constitution.
  3. ^ Book explains California's Revolution of 1836 in more detail, including California's first Constitution.
  4. ^ Robert R. Miller. Juan Alvarado, Governor of California, 1836–1842. University of Oklahoma Press. 1998
  5. ^ [1] Note that independent California is recognized as a fully formed Department, with its own Assembly, Departments were the equivalent of states and sent their representatives to Mexico City. Baja California borrows and maintains the title of "Free and sovereign state" to this day.
  6. ^
  7. ^ At the start of the Bear Flag revolt against Mexico in 1846, land surveyor Capt. John C. Fremont on the frontier sent his companion William B. Ide over to Sonoma, California and jailed Spanish Californians who had advocated voluntary union with the USA. Fremont's attempts to conquer California for himself led to a conviction of mutiny in court-martial, Gen. Kearney of the US Army presiding. While this was going on, Californians sought union with the US and freely continued to elect their own civil officials.
  8. ^ Bancroft
  9. ^ Historia de California
  10. ^ Declaration of Independence of California, 1836
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^ Juan Bautista Alvarado, Historia de California, 1876. Vols. 3 & 4
  13. ^ California Military Museum, "Vallejo"