The First City
California Governor Felipe de Neve established the first civilian town or pueblo in California on November 29, 1777. Founded near the southern end of San Francisco Bay, it was christened El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. Neve recruited the settlers for the pueblo from the nearby presidios of Monterey and San Francisco. The founders consisted of a mere fourteen men and their families.
San José, as the pueblo soon came to be known, began as a collection of adobe huts along the banks of the Guadalupe River. Little changed during the early years. The settlers of San José barely eked out a living and did not receive formal title to their lands until 1786. Over the next several decades, the pueblo grew slowly. In 1797 Mission San José de Guadalupe was founded about fifteen miles to the northeast. By 1848 the pueblo had about 700 residents and was the largest Spanish-speaking community north of Monterey.
El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula
To recruit settlers for a second California pueblo, Governor Felipe de Neve sent Captain Fernando Rivera to the colonial provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa. Rivera was authorized to recruit twenty-four married settlers and thirty-four married soldiers for the new pueblo. Even with the inducement of free land and supplies, Rivera could enlist only eleven families.
Disappointed but determined, Governor Neve personally surveyed several possible locations for the new pueblo. He chose a point near the Porciúncula River, about nine miles southwest of Mission San Gabriel. The pueblo was christened El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula. It soon came to be known simply as Los Angeles. The site had no harbor and no navigable river, but these were deemed not essential for the success of a small agricultural community.
No records survive of the actual founding of the pueblo on September 4, 1781. By 1784 the settlers had replaced their first crude huts with more substantial adobe houses and laid the foundations for a church and other public buildings. Six years later the pueblo had grown to 141 persons, of whom 80 percent were under sixteen. In the fields around the pueblo grazed three thousand head of cattle. By 1820 the pueblo had increased to about 650 residents, the largest civilian community in Spanish California.
African-American Founding Families
More than half of the original settlers of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles were of partial African ancestry. Many had been recruited from Sinaloa, a colonial province of New Spain where one-third of the population was of African descent. Several came from the Sinaloan pueblo of Rosario, a town in which two-thirds of the residents were mulatto.
According to the scheme of racial classification used at the time, the eleven founding families of Los Angeles in 1781 included the following:
Two families--Negro-Mulatto Two families--Indian-Indian Two families--Mulatto-Mulatto Two families--Spanish-Indian One family--Mestizo-Mulatto One family--Indian-Mulatto One family--Indian-Coyote (3/4 Indian, 1/4 Spanish)
Historian Rick Moss, curator of history at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, has calculated that twenty-six of the founding forty-four settlers were of African ancestry. "Thus, from the town's most humble origins, people of color were active participants in the development of Los Angeles."
Villa de Branciforte
The least successful of the early pueblos in Spanish California was Villa de Branciforte, founded in 1797 near the present-day city of Santa Cruz.
The pueblo was inspired by the viceroy of New Spain, the Marqués of Branciforte, and California Governor Diego de Borica. Their idea was to found a new type of pueblo in California using retired soldiers and their families. The soldiers would become self-supporting colonists and also provide a ready reserve of additional military forces to defend the province. Unfortunately, no retired soldiers could be induced to come to California.
The site for the new pueblo also was problematic. The governor selected a location adjoining the lands of Mission Santa Cruz, but the missionary priests bitterly objected. Also the funds for founding the town were hopelessly inadequate.
Nearly all of the forty original settlers of the pueblo were men convicted of petty crimes elsewhere in New Spain and banished to California. Not surprisingly, the pueblo did not flourish. In 1802 the government suspended all further support for Branciforte.
The pueblos of Spanish California were governed by various municipal officials. Initially the officials were appointed by the governor, but afterwards they were elected by the people.
The chief executive officer of a pueblo was the alcalde, an office that combined the functions of mayor and justice of the peace. The powers of the alcalde were almost unlimited within each pueblo but were subordinate to the governor's appointed military representative, the comisionado.
The alcalde served as the president of the local city council or ayuntamiento. The regidores, members of the ayuntamiento, managed the public business of the pueblo and the surrounding territory. The ayuntamiento passed ordinances for governing the pueblo and regulating municipal affairs in general.
Local governments reflected the ethnic diversity of the pueblos' citizens. Mulattos served as regidores in the pueblo of Los Angeles, and the pueblo's first alcalde was a mulatto, Francisco Reyes.