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--Historical Chronology--
This chronology always will be a "work in progress."  HSSC invites your additions and corrections. E-mail us at webmaster@socalhistory.org.  In compiling this list of significant dates in the history of Southern California, with occasional references to events in the United States and the world at large, we gratefully acknowledge the following sources:

Carruth, Gordon, The Encyclopedia of American Facts and Dates, Harper & Row, 1989

Clark, David L., Los Angeles : A City Apart, Winsor Publications, Inc., 1981

Longstreet, Stephen, All Star Cast: An Anecdotal History of Los Angeles, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977

Engstrand, Iris H.W., San Diego : Gateway to the Pacific, Pioneer Publications, 1992

Los Angeles Business Journal , July 19, 1999

Los Angeles Times Magazine , January 10, 1999

Newmark, Harris, My Sixty Years in Southern California, Houghton-Mifflin, 1916

Pitt, Leonard and Dale Pitt, Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County, University of California Press, 1997

Robinson, W.W., Los Angeles : From the Days of the Pueblo , California Historical Society, 1981

Many thanks to Jon Wilkman, Board Member for the Historical Society of Southern California, for his effort and time in originally compiling this resource.

Below is the timeline between 1492 and 1850.

These other timelines will soon be available:


  Quick buttons to specific dates:  

Timeline Span: 1500-1850


An estimated 300-500 Native American Indians are living in what is now Los Angeles County. The region has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. Native American populations in what is now the United  States are estimated at 1,000,000


Hernan Cortez conquers the Aztecs in what is now Mexico and proclaims the authority of Spain in the region


Franciso Vasquez de Coronado explored what is now the American Southwest, possibly reaching as far as present-day Blythe, California


Search for the mythical realm of " California" began with a seaborne expedition led by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo. On the journey up the coast, Cabrillo encountered the Los Angeles basin. Because of numerous Native American campfires, he referred to it as "The Bay of Smokes". Since the advent of the region’s infamous “smog,” commenters have referred to Cabrillo’s observation as the first reference to the interplay of the region’s geography and climactic condtions that influence its air quality..

September 28
Cabrillo dropped anchor near present-day San Diego


Sir Francis Drake explored the California coast just north of San Francisco Bay


Explorer Sebastian Vizcaino encountered some California coastal points including San Diego and Monterey


Jose de Galvez is appointed Viceroy General. He was the ultimate planner and "father" of future exploration of California. Galvez encouraged the settlement of California in order to fend off potential British and Russian claims on the territory.


Gaspar de Portola appointed Governor of California and Fr. Junipero Serra, leader of missionary activities


July 1
Exploring sites for future colonial outposts, Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra reached what is now San Diego

July 16
Serra erected a brush shelter that has been called California’s first church. Mission San Diego de Alcala was eventually built on the same site.

August 2
Portola and Serra reached what is now Los Angeles. As California’s first governor, Portola named the river that flows through the basin Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de Porciuncula. Father Juan Crespi, traveling with the group, commented on the excellence of the site for a settlement.

November 1
The party reached what is now San Francisco Bay


Founding of Mission San Antonio de Padua

September 8
Mission San Gabriel, the fourth California Mission estab1ished by Father Junipero Serra


Juan Bautista de Anza opened an overland route connecting Sonora, Mexico to southern California.


The San Diego Mission moved to its present site


Felipe de Neve appointed governor of Baja and Alta California with the assigned task of establishing more settlements in the region.

November 4
Approximately 800 local Kumeyaay Indians attacked San Diego, killing one priest and burning mission buildings. The presidio survived. The attack was a response to missionization and the loss of Native way of life.


Franciscans baptize their first Indian converts at the newly rebuilt San Diego Mission

Founding of Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Gabriel is moved to its present site


August 26
Governor Felipe de Neve selected a possible site on the banks of the Porciuncula River for a civilian settlement. The site named El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, also known as Los Angeles. (Correctly pronounced Los Ang-hell-ess)


July 17-18
De Anza’s overland route between Mexico and Alta California is closed because of repeated attacks by Yuma Indians.

September 4
The Pueblo of Los Angeles is officially established. Settlers recruited in Sinaloa and Sonora villages of Mexico arrived in June and continued to trickle into the new Pueblo until October. Forty-four in all, the pobladores were of African, Indian and Spanish descent.


The rancho period began in the Los Angeles area with the granting by Governor Pedro Fages of the first three land concessions, ranchos San Pedro, San Rafael and Los Nietos. In time, the pueblo was surrounded by ranchos and came to serve as a social and trading center


Jose Vanegas, an Indian, was appointed Los Angeles’ first alcade (mayor).

September 9
Official titles to lands in the pueblo were conveyed to the settlers on orders of Governor Fages.


Jose Vicente Feliz took charge charge of the pueblo as comisionado .


April 30
George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States.


America ’s first census reported a US population of 3,929,625 including 697,624 slaves. Philadelphia was the largest city with a population of 42,444. The population of the Pueblo of Los Angeles numbered 139


Population of presidio at San Diego included 112 men and 85 women. 15 Indians worked as servants


Francisco Reyes, of African, Indian, and Spanish ancestry and thus representative of Alta California’s multi-cultural population, served the Pueblo of Los Angeles’ as alcalde

British Captain George Vancouver visited San Diego harbor on his return from explorations in the northwest. He reported to London that the port was poorly defended


September 8
Father Francisco de Lasuen founded Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana, in what is now the northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley.


Mission San Luis Rey de Francia founded


The population of the pueblo of Los Angeles: 315

The first American ship, the brig Betsy, entered San Diego bay to take on wood and water


"The Battle of San Diego." Harbor guns fire on the American brig Leila Byrd, on suspicion of smuggling activities


The first local orange grove, described as six acres and 400 trees, was planted on the grounds of the San Gabriel Mission. These were not navel oranges—those came later.


The first American, Capt. John Sahler, visited the Pueblo of Los Angeles. He was aboard the ship Lelia Byrd, the brig that had been fired on in 1803 in San Diego, which was on a return voyage from Hawaii to New England. There was a close connection between California and Hawaii even in the early years of the 19 th century due to commercial trading between the US, China, and European countries. Hawaii was a stopover for vessels on their way to China. On their return, ocean currents often moved theim in the direction of California.


The third U.S. census reveals an American population of 7,239,881. The population of the Pueblo of Los Angeles is 354.

In Mexico, Fr. Miquel Hidalgo y Costilla urged Mexican independence from Spain


The first elected ayuntamiento (common council) of Los Angeles took office

December 8
A severe earthquake struck southern California. A large portion of the new church at Mission San Juan Capistrano was destroyed, killing 40. (The church’s Great Dome was reconstructed and opened to the public in 2005.) Missions at San Diego, San Gabriel and San Fernando were also damaged.


Because of flooding, the Plaza, the center of the Pueblo of Los Angeles, was moved to higher ground northwest of its present location. In the process, a site for a Plaza Church was selected

First non-Spanish European foreigner, Jose Antonio Rocha of Portugal, arrived in Los Angeles.  Later, a Russian trader arrived and was imprisoned


Los Angeles ’ first school was opened by retired soldier Maximo Pina.


Francisco Avila began construction of his adobe home adjacent to the Plaza in Los Angeles. Today it stands as one of the structures at the popular destination Olvera Street


Grants are given to three retired soldiers to graze cattle on land in what is now Los Angeles County; before this point, only a few such grants were made. The rise in the number of land grants was due in part to the rising conflict between settlers and the Church over the latter’s control over so much of the land and wealth of the region. In the years after 1821 even more rancho land grants were made after Mexico gained its indepdence from Spain and the Church’s power diminished even more.


Pueblo of Los Angeles population is 650.


Mexico wins independence from Spain and so California enters a period of turbulent governance by a succession of governors, many of whom favor either northern or southern California, to the detriment of the other. Other governors come to the region with little knowledge of or respect for the Californio culture (see entry for 1831) that has developed during the years when California was a distant outpost of the Spanish empire, far from Mexico much less Spain.


December 8
The new church on the pueblo of Los Angeles plaza was dedicated


Captain Francisco Maria Ruiz received the first private land grand in San Diego County


First Act of Mexican government toward the secularization of the Franciscan missions.


A major flood changed the course of the Los Angeles River, moving its outlet to the sea, from the present location of Marina del Rey to San Pedro.

The capital of California moved from Monterey to San Diego


Council bans gambling, prostitution and blasphemy in Pueblo of Los Angeles

Jedediah Smith and his band of fur trappers reach Los Angeles overland from the United States. They spend the night in the Avila Adobe on the plaza. Smith’s party were the first Americans to travel overland to California, but were party responsible for trapping beaver almost to the point of extinction in California. Although Smith and his party were first greeted with warmth, the Mexican government came to fear that they represented American scouting efforts and they were expelled from the region the next year, 1827. The town of San Dimas pays homage to Smith and his contribution to California history through a statue of the explorer located on the corner of Walnut and Bonita.



John Temple and George Rice open an American-style general store on the southern edge of the pueblo of Los Angeles.

Abel Stearns, an immigrant from Massachusetts, settled in Los Angeles. A successful merchant, he married Arcadia Bandini, heiress to a large estate, and became the largest and most influential landowners in the region.


Pueblo population: 770, excluding Indians.


"The Battle of Los Angeles" pitted local residents , in favor of secularization of the missions, against Mexican governor Manuel Victoria. Victoria was defeated, although Angelenos remained Mexican citizens. In short, this was not a battle for independence from Mexico, but a struggle for greater control over regional affairs.


Guns outlawed in the Pueblo of Los Angeles


Capital of California returned to Monterey from San Diego


Formal secularization of the missions enacted. Secularization was a process by way of which mission property was divided between and distributed to the Native people from whom it had been taken and held in trust by the Church. The official legislation required that pueblos be established, Native people be given plots of land to farm or ranch, and mission churches be tuned into regular parish churches. Ultimately, the aims of secularization were not realized. Eight million acres of church-controlled land were distributed in 500 land grants to influential local families and individuals, including some "foreigners." In the process, thousands of mission Indians were robbed of their patrimony. It should be noted that the loss of Indian lands, and fears of what might become of them, was one of the primary reasons mission fathers resisted secularization of the missions. .


Luis Vignes planted the first orange orchard outside the Mission San Gabriel in Los Angles.

June 4
New civilian government approved in San Diego

Juan Maria Asuna chosen as first alcalde (mayor) of San Diego


The first American settler in San Diego, Thomas Wrightington of Fall River, Massachusetts arrived.

May 23
The Mexican Congress changed the designation of d Los Angeles, then the largest settlement in Alta California, from pueblo to ciudad making it the regio’s first city.

Abandoned by the secularization of the missions, a group of thirty-four ex-San Diego Mission families found their own pueblo, San Dieguito


Richard Henry Dana a student at Harvard takes time from school to sign aboard the brig Pilgrim. The ship was engaged in the hide and tallow trade, which was the mainstay of Calfiornia’s economy, providing hides for Britsh and American leather goods manufacturers, and tallow for candles, soap and other products in exchange for manufactured goods. He declared San Diego the best place for trading. He also visited Los Angeles, declaring its harbor a miserable mud hole.


The first official census recorded a population of 2,228 in Los Angeles and its environs, including 603 men, 421 women, 651 children, and 553 Indians. Among the population are "foreigners," including 29 Americans, 4 Englishmen, 3 Portuguese, 2 Africans, and 1each Canadian, Irishman, Italian, German, Scot, Norwegian, and Curacao native

Indian chain gangs used for forced labor in Los Angeles.

March 6
The Battle of the Alamo results in the defeat of American-born Texans by the Mexican General Santa Anna. Santa Anna’s goal was to try to re-take a key strategic location and to show those battling for independence that further resistance was futile. Ultimately, of course, the Texans won their independence from Mexico some six weeks after the Battle of the Alamo.

April 7
The first Vigilance Committee was formed in Los Angeles, a "police force" of local citizens assembled to apply “justice.” The result was the execution of Gervasio Alipas and Maria del Rosario Villa for the murder of her husband, Domingo Feliz. The two accused were taken from the legal authorities and shot. This represents the first of many such committees in the region’s history from the mid to the late 19 th century. See entries for 1853, 1871 and 1882.


Vincente Lugo built first two story house on the Plaza in Los Angeles.


Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast is published. It describes his travels as a seamen on a vessel engaged in the hide and tallow trade along the Pacific coast. Included is a description of his visit to the pueblo of Los Angeles. Of the Californios he had this to say: They are "thriftless, proud and extravagant, and very much given to game." The women "had but little education and a good deal of beauty."


The Workman-Rowland party, the first transcontinental immigrant wagon train, arrived in California. They settled near present day City of Industry. . At that time, in order to setlle in southern California, the Mexican government required immigrants to convert to Catholicism and learn to speak Spanish,. Only then could they apply for Mexican citizenship. Members of the Workman-Rowland group married into prominent Californio families, and become influential local citizens.

The first local commercial orange groves near Los Angeles were planted by William Wolfskill.


The first gold to be discovered in California is found by Francisco Lopez in Placerita Canyon near the present town of Newhall. Alfred Robinson delivered a sample to the Philadelphia Mint but the event had little impact.


Pio Pico elected Governor of California.

Los Angeles becomes the new capital of California.


May 13
As an expression of the prevailing belief that God ordained an American nation that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, a philosophy called “Manifest Destiny,” the United States declares war on Mexico. Making California part of the US is a goal of one of the chief proponents of this philosophy, President James K. Polk. .

July 29
With John C. Fremont, Kit Carson and a battalion of soldiers aboard, the USS Cyane sailed into San Diego bay. They plant the American flag in the Plaza. There was little opposition to the takeover. After Fremont’s departure, local citizens returned the Mexican flag to the plaza

August 6
Landing party under Lt. Jacob Zeilin, USMC, from the USS Congress, seized San Pedro

August 13
Los Angeles taken by Lt. Archibald Gillespie and 50 marines

Counter revolt in Los Angeles; surrender of Lt. Archibald Gillespie's U.S. garrison. California retaken by the Mexicans.

Commodore Robert Stockton recaptured San Diego.

December 6-7
Under General Stephen Kearny, American troops defeated in Battle of San Pasqual by mounted lancers led by Andreas Pico, brother of Mexican Governor Pio Pico.

December 11
200 American reinforcements from San Diego helped Kearney and his men to safely travel to the new U.S. stronghold.


January 13
The Treaty of Cahuenga signed by Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Fremont and General Andrés Pico on the kitchen table of Tomás Feliz's six-room adobe house at Campo de Cahuenga in what is now North Hollywood. The treaty allowed the Californios who fought under the Mexican Flag to return home after giving up their artillery, and provided that all prisoners from both sides be immediately freed.

.Semi-monthly mails established between San Francisco and San Diego.

Two former fur traders, African Americans Richard Freeman and Allen B. Light settle in San Diego. In 1857 their simple adobe eventually became the American Hotel

First American alcalde (mayor) appointed in Los Angeles.

Inventory of Los Angeles Archives made.

United States troops capture Mexico City.


The first American census in San Diego taken reports "248 white residents, 248 converted Indians, 1,550 wild Indians, three Negroes and three Sandwich Islanders (Hawaiians)".


January 24
Gold discovered by James Marshall in Coloma, near Sutter’s Fort. This was the event that eventually fired the California Gold Rush.

February 2
Mexican resistance ended with the Treaty of Guadulupe Hildalgo signed in the town of Guadlaupe Hidalgo, north of Mexico City. Mexico ceded all land north of the Rio Grande River to the United States, more than half its territory.

September 6
State convention in Monterey. Six delegates from southern California attended. A new state constitution was adopted.


California is divided into twenty-seven counties.  Los Angeles County was established, consisting initially of 4,340 square miles. Later the county expanded to include Santa Barbara to the north and San Diego to the south for a total of 34,520 square miles


As "foreign" immigration increases in Los Angeles during the decade of the 185Os, many “foreign”--meaning Spanish-speaking—settled north of the Plaza to an area that became known as " Sonora Town," near the present-day Chinatown. Many of the settlers were refugees from the gold fields of northern California where they were the targets of violence and legislative forms of harassment, such as the Foreign Miners Tax, by American miners disgruntled by the Spanish-speaking miners superior abilities at finding gold. Many of those “foreign” miners had gained experience working in the mines of Mexico and Peru before traveling to California. This occurred at a time when it was becoming increasingly difficult to find gold easily, through panning, for instance. Instead, the most successful mining efforts were being undertaken by large mining companies with the resources to buy equipment and hire wage-earning miners.


The first federal census recorded a Los Angeles population of 3,530, including 2 Chinese, 344 Indians, 15 blacks. Foreign born total 699.


Rampant lawlessness gave Los Angeles the nickname "Los Diablos," the City of Devils, rather than City of Angels. In thirteen months there were forty-four murders, with no convictions.  It was also a time of great agitation about slavery, the issue that was shaking the nation.


Reverend J.W. Grier, a Methodist, conducted Los Angeles’ first formal Protestant services.


Alpheus P. Hodges, the first Euro-American mayor of Los Angeles’ was elected.


The total population of the new County of San Diego, including what is now Riverside and San Bernardino Counties was 798. The city claimed 650 residents


William Heath "Kanaka Bill" Davis laid out a 32 block townsite near the water in San Diego. This was the beginning of “New Town,” known at that time as “ Davis’ Folly.” Today t he oldest building in New Town San Diego is the William Heath Davis House, a pre-fab "saltbox"-style home shipped from the east coast and built in 1850. This house is only a house of the same style and age of Davis’ home, not his actual home which was located at State and F Streets. The house is open to the public today as a museum at 410 Island Ave.

March 27
City of San Diego was incorporated. . Joshua Bean, a former soldier, was chosen as the city’s first American mayor

April 4
City of Los Angeles was incorporated.



© 2006 Historical Society of Southern California