Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Brief History

LANDING PLACE OF SEBASTIAN VIZCAINO AND FRAY JUNIPERO SERRA From the earliest period of California's history, Monterey has been conspicuous as the objective point of navigators and explorers, and the arena where many of the important political and historical events of the country were enacted. As early as 1602, Don Sebastian Vizcaino, sailing under instruction from Philip III of Spain, entered Monterey Bay, and landing with two priests and a body of soldiers, took possession of the country for the king. A cross was erected and an altar improvised under an oak tree, at which was celebrated the first mass ever heard in the land now known as California. The place was named Monterey in honor of the viceroy of Mexico, Gaspar de Zuniga, Count of Monterey, the projector and patron of the expedition.

The departure of this expedition returned the place to its primitive conditions, and the silence in its history was not broken for a period of one hundred and sixty-eight years. When Father Junipero Serra, President of the band of Franciscan missionaries sent to the coast in 1768, was planning his work in California, the most cherished object of his expedition was the founding of a mission at the "Monterey" of Vizcaino's discovery. In 1770 this cherished dream was realized, and the Mission San Carlos de Monterey was established on the 3rd of June of that year, "being the holy day of Pentecost" as the Father Serra expressed it. About the end of the year 1771 the mission was removed to Carmel Valley, some five miles from the bay of Monterey, and called the mission San Carlos de Carmelo. This was done by order of His Excellency the Marquis de Croix, and here, on the banks of the Carmelo River, still stands the old stone church then erected, beneath whose sanctuary repose the remains of Father Serra and three of his co-workers, including Father Crespi, his trusted friend and adviser. The presidio, or military establishment, still remained at Monterey. In its inclosure was the chapel, which is the site of the present Catholic Church; while on the hill overlooking the bay was erected a rude fort, the remains of which are yet discernible.

MISSION SAN ANTONIO Monterey County is rich in mission relics, as besides San Carlos, the Mission San Antonio, founded by Father Serra July 14, 1771, was located some twelve leagues south of Soledad; the Mission Soledad was established October 9, 1791 on the left bank of the Salinas River in a very fertile section; that of San Juan Bautista, 1794, ten leagues from Monterey in the present county of San Benito, an offspring of Monterey County, and San Miguel, July 25, 1797 on the Salinas River in the county of San Luis Obispo. The first Indian baptism by the missionaries in the State was celebrated in Monterey, on the 26th of December 1770.

Monterey County must have been a prosperous region during those early days, when the missions flourished and prospered almost beyond precedent, when their fertile acres were cultivated and made to yield princely returns by the Indian converts, and their immense herds of cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs roamed undisturbed across these beautiful hills and valleys. It may be well to explain that under Spanish rule the government of California was divided into three departments: the ecclesiastical, established at the missions; the civil, at pueblos, and the military, at presidios.

The first authority for granting lands in Alta California was given by the Spanish Viceroy to Comandante Rivera y Moncada upon the occasion of his appointment in 1773, and under these instructions the first California land grant was made to Manuel Bruton, a soldier of the presidio at Monterey, who had married an Indian neophyte named Margarita Maria. The land granted was near the Mission San Carlos and was one hundred and forty varas square. The grant was made with much ceremony and in due form, but there being no description by permanent landmarks, the stakes set up at the time rotted down, the witnesses died, it became impossible to locate the ground and the grant failed on account of uncertainty.

The first European lady to come to California was the wife of Governor Fages who arrived in Monterey in 1783. Their child, born about 1784, was probably the first child born in California of European parents. As the "Senora Gobernadera," as she was called, was something of a malcontent and made domestic matters very lively for her spouse at times, it is to be trusted that her mantle has not fallen upon Monterey. The first complete system or code of legislation for the province of "the Californias" was framed by Governor Felipe de Neve and dated "June 1, 1779, at the Royal Presidio of San Carlos de Monterey." This "Reglamente" received the royal approval soon afterward.

About the year 1813 the California missions had reached the zenith of their prosperity, but in that year the first stroke of their death-knell was sounded when the Spanish Cortez, during the struggle for national independence that was being waged on Mexican Territory, ordered that the authority of the Franciscan Friars in California be superseded by that of the secular clergy. With the downfall of Spanish power in Mexico in 1822 came the last stroke of the knell, although the missions were not formally abolished and their property confiscated until 1845. They had "nothing left but a place in history to record their ruin."

During all this time Monterey was the seat of government and the most important point along the coast. From about the year 1825 or 1830, a large and increasing number of settlers had been pouring into California: Mexicans attracted by the fine soil; trappers and hunters who had emerged from the deserts east of the Sierras; Russians from Russian America; sailors and adventurers of all nationalities who had escaped from merchant ships or who had been left here at their own request; and, occasionally, a citizen of the Eastern States, more venturous or more restless than his neighbors. Monterey must have been, during this period, the residence of a community more thoroughly cosmopolitan than any other place on the continent.

In 1834, during the administration of Governor Figueroa, the first printing press and types brought into California arrived at Monterey; the first printing done was some invitations to a ball to be given in Monterey November 1, 1834. The Government printing office, established at Sonoma in 1839, was removed to Monterey in 1842.

JUAN BAUTISTA ALVARADO In March of 1839 Juan B. Alvarado, then Governor of California, appointed William E. P. Hartnell "Visitador-General" of Missions, whose duty it was to attend to the complicated affairs of the missions and deal out justice to all concerned. This gentleman, an English merchant of Monterey who became a resident of the county in 1822 and a naturalized citizen in 1830, was an accomplished linguist and accountant. This appointment was most appropriate, although the almost insurmountable difficulties he experienced in attempting to regulate the disorders everywhere existing rendered the duties of the office exceedingly arduous and distasteful; he therefore resigned the position on the 7th of September 1840.

In October 1842, Commodore Jones, U. S. N., under the impression that the brewing disaffection between Mexico and the United States had actually culminated in a declaration of war, entered the harbor of Monterey, captured the fort, hoisted the Stars and Stripes, and declared California a territory of the United States, greatly to the satisfaction of most of the inhabitants. But finding himself in error, the next day hauled down his colors and humbly apologized to the Mexican authorities for his conduct.

JOHN C FREMONT In January of 1846 John C. Fremont, the leader of a United States expedition to the coast, who had come to Monterey for the purpose of having an interview with Governor Castro, became involved in unpleasant relations with the Mexicans. He was ordered on the 3rd of March to leave the country with his men. He replied by moving to a ridge of the Gabilan Mountains at the back of the Alisal Rancho, pitched his camp at a summit called Hawk's Peak, within full view of the Mexicans at San Juan Bautista, threw up a breast-work of logs, and hoisted the American flag. On the night of March 10 he quietly withdrew his forces and marched leisurely toward the Sacramento River, leaving the Californians to pursue or not, which they chose not to do.

In 1846 there were two thousand American citizens in California, about three thousand foreigners who were friendly to them, as against some three thousand who were neutral or hostile. On the 7th of July of that year, war having actually commenced between the United States and Mexico, Commodore John D. Sloat raised the American flag, took possession of Monterey in the name of the United States Government, and issued a proclamation as Governor of the Territory, this time with better success than that of the fiasco of Commodore Jones. Two days later the United States troops took possession of San Francisco, July 10 of Sonoma, and July 12 of Sutter's Fort. Commodore Sloat acted as Governor until the 17th of August of the same year, when Commodore Robert F. Stockton was proclaimed his successor.

On the 3rd of June 1849 General Bennett Riley, who was then the Military Governor of California, called a convention to meet at Monterey on the 1st of September to frame a State constitution. This was deemed an urgent necessity as the provisional government existing since the conquest of California by the United States was but a temporary affair, and by no means adequate to the needs of so incongruous and rapidly growing a population thus strangely thrown together. This convention, consisting of forty-eight members and representing all parts of the State and almost every State in the Union, assembled at the time appointed. As part of the delegation was Spanish, it was found necessary to have a translator, and Wm. E. P. Hartnell was appointed to that position. After six weeks of deliberation, during which the constitutions of New York and Iowa were taken as models and proper selections made from each, a constitution was framed, reported, adopted, and signed October 13, 1849. This was submitted to the people for ratification on the 13th of November following, when twelve thousand and sixty four votes were polled in its favor, eight hundred and eleven against it, and twelve hundred were set aside on account of informality. In December 1849, Peter H. Burnett was elected Governor of California under this constitution, and application made in due form for the admission of California into the Union, which application, after a long period of stormy debate in Congress, was finally granted, on the 7th of September 1850.

COLTON HALL The house in which this Constitutional Convention was held, a large two-story stone building called "Colton Hall," was the most pretentious and fitting structure for the purpose in California, having been erected by Rev. Walter Colton, the Alcalde of Monterey, with funds raised by subscription, by fines imposed in his courts, and by prison labor. The building yet stands in a good state of preservation. Walter Colton, who was chaplain of the frigate Congress, had been appointed Alcalde of Monterey July 28, 1846 by Commodore Stockton. In taking possession of his new office he found among some rubbish the old printing press, brought into Monterey during Governor Figueroa's time, and immediately conceived the plan of starting a newspaper, which plan, by the aid of Robert Semple as partner, was soon put into operation. A keg partly full of ink was found; rules and leads were improvised with the aid of pieces of tin cut into shape with jack-knives; the question of paper was solved by purchasing a lot of cigarette paper, the sheets of which were a little larger than ordinary foolscap. Thus equipped, was the first number of the first paper printed in the State and issued at Monterey August 15, 1846 under the name of the "Californian." It was announced as a weekly sheet, one half in English the other in Spanish, and as Colton was a man of literary taste and ability, the paper was, under the circumstances, a creditable production. It was subsequently removed to San Francisco and continued under the name of the "Alta Californian."

At a regular election of Alcaldes held September 15, 1846 Colton was elected to continue in the office of Alcalde. The office of Alcalde of Monterey was at this time a very important one. Says the historian: "It involved jurisdiction over every breach of the peace, every case of crime, every business obligation, and every disputed land title within a circuit of three hundred miles. To it there was an appeal from the court of every other Alcalde in the district, but there was none from it to any higher tribunal. There was not a judge on any bench in the United States or England whose power was so absolute as that of the Alcalde of Monterey."

Colton had an exalted opinion of the right of trial by jury and, very early in his administration, had the opportunity of empaneling the first jury ever summoned in California on September 4, 1846. The plaintiff, an Englishman named Isaac Graham, charged Carlos Roussillon, a Frenchman, with stealing lumber. One-third of the jury were Americans, one-third Mexicans, and one-third Californians, and the witnesses represented about all the languages know in California. Hartnell, the linguist, acted as interpreter; they had no lawyers and, as Colton remarked, they "got on very well together." The trial lasted all day, the jury deliberated an hour, returning a verdict acquitting the accused of intentional theft, but ordering him to pay for the lumber and the prosecution to pay the costs of the court. A very sensible thing all around!

About this time, early in 1849, Rev. S. H. Willey, who had been sent out as a minister by the American Home Missionary Society, taught a six months' school of some forty or fifty pupils in the town. As they understood no English, and Mr. Willey no Spanish, the question of how they "got on" is rather a puzzle. In this year, Mr. Willey was instrumental in organizing the "Monterey Library Association," whose collection of some fifteen hundred volumes was the first public library in the State.

In April 1850, the county of Monterey had been organized with the town of Monterey as the county seat. By an act of the Legislature passed April 30, 1851, the town was duly incorporated as a city, and Philip A. Roach of San Francisco, who was then Alcalde, was elected the first Mayor. Monterey did not long enjoy her dignity as a city, for in May 1853, her charter of incorporation was amended, and her government placed in the hands of a Board of three Trustees. Attempts at reincorporation were made several times, many failing on account of legislative hitches.

The great Salinas Valley, with an extent of a hundred miles in length by an average width of ten miles and embracing a thousand square miles of country, through which flows the Salinas River, was but the home of herds of stock which roamed unrestrained through its lonely expanses of mustard-covered plains. Lands were held in immense tracts or grants whose owners were called "land poor."

Where the city of Salinas now stands was in 1864 an immense mustard patch and cattle range. Land was offered at nominal prices, without purchasers, no one believing the soil would produce grain, forgetting that where mustard could grow in such luxuriance other productions could be grown as well. Until 1864 this great valley, which will one day contain the wealth and population of an empire in its beautiful embrace, had no town or village through its entire length or breadth. Early in that year, Castroville, the pioneer town, was founded on the Bolsa Nueva y Moro Cojo Rancho, a part of the Castro grant, by Juan B Castro, one of the owners of the ranch. The proprietors of the town site were very liberal in their donations of lots for public purposes, and to private individuals who would erect substantial buildings, and the prosperity of Castroville was therefore at once insured.

In 1867 the city of Salinas was laid out by Messrs. Ricker & Jackson and Eugene Sherwood, upon a portion of the Sausal and Nacional Ranchos at a place known as the "Half-Way House." This house was built in 1856 by Deacon Elias Howe, who purchased the land from Jacob P. Leese. The building was used as hotel, meeting-house, and for convention and election purposes until 1865, when the property was sold to A. Trescony for $800, who in turn sold it at a low figure to Mr. A. Ricker. When the building of the Southern Pacific Railroad placed the future of this section beyond question, and Salinas City had become the liveliest town in the county, it began to lift up its voice, demanding the county seat. The question was put to vote on the 6th of November 1872, and Salinas City won the victory. On the following February (1873) the county seat was therefore moved from Monterey to that place. The town was regularly incorporated by legislative act March 4, 1874. The buildings and improvements of Salinas City have from the first been of a substantial character. In 1872 a large section of Monterey County on the northeast was set off as San Benito County.

Until the advent of the railroad the whole section was a Sleeping Beauty. But when the whistle of this prince was heard, not one princess, but many, sprang up to meet him, in the form of pretty towns that were built all along its line. The railroad terminus was, until 1886, at Soledad, and all the immense region south of that place was almost entirely undeveloped. Nothing was done in the way of agriculture; only stock-raising was pursued. But the great ranches have now been subdivided and all broken into smaller holdings.

The valleys of Central and Northern California, of which Salinas is a conspicuous type, are undoubtedly destined to be the great producing centers of the future. Where all kinds of agriculture can be grown, and where the climate is unsurpassed for healthfulness. Monterey County will be famous, not only as a producing region but as the location of the ideal California home.

Source: Monterey County : its general features, resources, attractions, and inducements to investors and home seekers. Salinas, Calif.: E.S. Harrison, 1889, 89 pgs.

Photo: Image of Landing, Mission San Antonio and Colton Hall courtesy of the Monterey County Historical Society.

Photo: Portrait of Juan B. Alvarado and John C. Fremont from Wikimedia Commons.