CALIFORNIA (KTXL) – During the second half of the 18th century, the United States was fighting for its independence from Great Britain, but what was happening at that time out west in what would later become the state of California?
Although the southwest had been inhabited by Indigenous populations for thousands of years, Spain would claim Alta California as their territory in 1542 after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed in Santa Barbara, but the colonized would not venture into their new northern territory for another 200 years.
Not until the end of the Seven Years War (1756-1763) did Spain decide to venture north of the present-day Mexican state of Baja California as tensions between Spain, France and Britain, the main European land holders of North America, lowered.
In 1769, an expedition of two land parties and three seagoing parties embarked north from Baja California.
The first of California’s modern cities to be established was San Diego in July 1769 when the governor Gaspar de Portola established the Presidio of San Diego and friar Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Diego de Alcala.
A year later the second Presidio and the second mission were founded in Monterey in June 1770 by Portola and Serra.
Just five days before the United States Declaration of Independence would be signed, a mass was held at la Laguna de los Dolores on June 29, 1776 that would mark the founding of San Francisco.
The future location of Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge first saw European settlement in March 1776 when frontier soldier Juan Batista de Anza and a small party reached the tip of San Francisco Bay.
Anza would return to Monterey to gather colonists to make the return trip to San Francisco to begin its colonization.
One of Anza’s lieutenants Jose Magara and Father Palou brought the settlers back to San Francisco in March 1776 and in October 1776 Serra visited the newly constructed mission to officially dedicate it as Mission San Francisco de Assisi.
San Jose was the first town in the Spanish colony Nueva California after it was founded in November 1777.
During the remaining decades of the 18th century and the earlier decades of the 19th century the missions would serve as places where Franciscans would attempt to convert California’s Native populations and prepare them for life in a European colonized society.
It would also bolster the power of coastal Native tribes as they built a relationship of trade and commerce with the Spanish. The new technologies and wealth would allow these coastal tribes to have great leverage over inland tribes.
This prolonged interaction with European settlers would come at a cost though, as at least 50% of the Native population, around 150,000, would die by the time the Mexican government ended the mission system in 1834.
Warfare did contribute to a number of these deaths, but the largest contribution of deaths amongst the Native peoples would be from diseases brought by the Europeans.
By the end of the Spanish mission system, 21 missions were constructed along the Baja California and California coast with four presidios.