Monterey: Center of Mexican California

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

Juan Cabrillo, a Portuguese captain sailing for Spain, entered Monterey Bay and claimed the area for Spain in 1542, just 50 years after Columbus’ maiden voyage to America. In 1602 Sebastian Vizcaino landed at Monterey, naming it for his patron, the count of Monterey. Vizcaino described a fertile land of mild climate with a “noble harbor.” By 1770 the Spaniards established northern California’s first nonIndian settlement at Monterey.

In 1770 Gaspar de Portola came by land to establish the settlement and a military garrison, or presidio. Though his 1769 expedition came down the Salinas Valley on the way to discovering San Francisco Bay, they missed Monterey Bay because Vizcaino’s described ideal harbor did not exist. When Portola’s second expedition reached Monterey by land in 1770, Father Junipero Serra soon arrived by ship to establish northern California’s first mission. In 1775 the provincial capital of California was moved from Loreto, Baja California to Monterey. Monterey remained the capital for almost 75 years. Juan Bautista de Anza made two overland trips to Monterey, in 1774 and 1776. On the second journey, he brought 247 settlers and 500 cattle to fill out the new town. As the official seat of government, Monterey was visited by French, English and American ships and emissaries between 1786 and 1796. Still, the town remained isolated, dependent on the two supply ships that arrived from Mexico twice each year. The isolated colonists frequently held fiestas and balls to pass the time. In / 804 Alta California was divided from Baja, with Monterey remaining Alta’s capital. When two Argentine ships attacked Monterey in 1818, they easily attacked, sacked and burned the poorly armed settlement, claiming it for the new Argentinian republic, but they left ten days later. Monterey really changed and began to prosper after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. Alta California affirmed its allegiance to Mexico in 1822, soon holding its first election and choosing its first native-born governor. Still, only 114 white civilians called Monterey home in 1826. When Richard Henry Dana visited Monterey in 1836, he declared it “decidedly the pleasantest and most civilized looking place in California. ‘That same year, California revolted against Mexican rule, becoming a free state for eight months, with American influence growing, before Mexico re-established its rule.

In 1842 a U.S. Navy captain, his ship and crew seized Monterey and flew the American flag, believing that the U.S. was at war with Mexico. Two days later they withdrew and apologized, but the Alta California government soon collapsed. Mexico installed two more governments in the next two years, but never really regained control. The United States declared war on Mexico in May 1846 and on July 7 Commodore John Sloat raised the Stars and Stripes over Monterey and declared California a U.S. possession. The war ended within six months.

By the end of 1848, Monterey had a U.S. Post Office. In September 1849 the California state constitutional convention opened in Monterey’s Colton Hall. The Spanish influence was still strong, with more than half the 48 delegates speaking only Spanish. The state constitution was ratified on November 13 and the state capital was moved to San Jose. Monterey entered a sleepy period, with a net gain of only 100 residents in the next 50 years. In the 1880s Spanish was still the predominant language spoken at Monterey. In the early 20th century, the sleepy Spanish pueblo finally began to prosper as an American town with distinctive Hispanic influence.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume Two: Monterey to Mexico by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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