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Biography of Junipero Serra

The Founding of San Francisco, by Edward F. O’Day

Founding of the Mission Dolores

“Missions of the Spanish Era had Wide Influence,” by F. Gordon O’Neill

“Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California,” by Guadalupe Vallejo

Bells of the Mission Dolores Basilica (in RealAudio)

The Founding of San Francisco

By the Editor
[Edward F. O’Day]

This year [1926], and at this season, San Francisco celebrates the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its birth. Ours is an old city, as age is reckoned in the West, and the story of the beginning has the glamour not only of age but of romance. The port of San Francisco, from the time of its discovery, assumed a very definite importance in international politics; so our beginnings have also a special significance.

Three great powers—Spain, England, and Russia—sought domination on the Pacific Coast, and regarded San Francisco as the key to success. Spain won, and to that fact we owe the peculiar richness of our background. Reading the story of the founding of San Francisco, there is always a sense of pageantry hovering over the page. Those Spanish soldiers, those Franciscan padres did things in a ceremonious and gallant fashion. We have never quite lost their manner. It is to be hoped that we never shall.

The great names in the story of the founding are Bucareli, viceroy of New Spain; Anza, the intrepid explorer, the wise colonist; and Serra, the president of the missions, whom David Atkins, a Californian poet, has called “soldier of Christ, adventurer, artist and engineer.” The story is well known, but one does not tire of it.

On the fifteenth of December, 1774, Viceroy Bucareli sent from Mexico City a very important letter to Father Junipero Serra at Monterey.

“In consideration,” he wrote, “that the port of San Francisco, when occupied, might serve as a base of subsequent projects, I have resolved that the founding of a fort shall take place by assigning twenty-eight men under a lieutenant and a sergeant. As soon as they are in possession of the territory, they will be sure proof of the king’s dominion. For this purpose Captain Juan Bautista de Anza will take a second expedition overland to Monterey from Sonora [Mexico], where he must recruit the said troops. He will see that they take their wives and children along so that they may become attached to their domicile. He will also bring along sufficient supplies of grain and flour, besides cattle.... When the territory has been examined, and the presidio is established, it will be necessary to erect the proposed missions in its immediate vicinity.”

This was the first move in the grand project of founding San Francisco.

Bucareli’s letter was delivered to Father Serra by Captain Juan Bautista de Ayala, who arrived at Monterey on the twenty-seventh of June, 1775, in command of the “San Carlos,” also known as “The Golden Fleece.” Captain Ayala had orders from the viceroy to survey the port of San Francisco in conjunction with the land expedition from Sonora under Captain Anza.

On the night of August 4, 1775, Ayala brought the “San Carlos” safely through the Golden Gate; so he has the immortal distinction of being the first navigator to enter our port. Both San Francisco and Suisun bays were carefully surveyed. Near one inlet of our bay three Indians were seen weeping; so this inlet was named La Ensenada de los Llorones—The bay of the Weepers. Later this became Mission Bay. Ayala remained here for forty days, and the land expedition under Anza not arriving, he returned to Monterey.

Meanwhile Captain Bruno de Heceta came from Monterey to make additional surveys. Fathers Palou and Capa y Cos accompanied him to select a site for the Mission of San Francisco. This expedition ascended Sutro Heights, Point Lobos, and Fort Point. Camp was made on the shore of a lake which was named, on account of the feast day, Nuestra Señora de la Merced. This, of course, was Lake Merced. Heceta expected to make connections with Ayala, but failing to do so, returned to Monterey.

On September 29, 1775, in compliance with the order of Bucareli, Anza set out from Sonora, Mexico, for San Francisco. His party consisted of 177 persons, including women and children. He had a pack-train of 120 mules. After the great Anza himself, the outstanding members of this expedition were Lieutenant Moraga, and Father Font, who kept an invaluable diary.

Captain Rivera, who was charged with the execution of the viceroy’s orders, was not friendly to Father Serra, and to embarrass him detained the Anza party indefinitely at Monterey. For this he was shortly afterward removed from Monterey to Lower California by the indignant Bucareli.

But while the expedition was halted, Anza was not to be thwarted. His party had arrived in Monterey on March 10, 1776. On the twenty-second, taking with him Moraga, Father Font, and a squad of soldiers, he started for San Francisco. Father Font as this entry for March 27:

“The day broke clear and bright. At seven in the morning we set out from the little creek a short distance north of San Mateo Creek, and at eleven, having marched about six leagues, we pitched camp at a lagoon or spring of clear water close to the mouth of the port of San Francisco.”

This was Mountain Lake at the Presidio.

Anza, Moraga, and Font went to Point Lobos, then to our Fort Point—Cantil Blanco they called it—and examined the port.

“I beheld,” writes Father Font, “a prodigy of nature, which is not easy to describe.... We saw the spouting of young whales, a line of dolphins or tunas, besides seals and otters.... This place and its surrounding country afforded much pasturage, sufficient firewood, and good water, favorable conditions for establishing the presidio or fort contemplated. Only timber was lacking, as there was no tree on those heights; but not far away were live oaks and other trees. This soldiers chased some deer, but secured not one. Of these animals we saw many today.”

They were drawn back to the spot next day, and Father Font was more enthusiastic than ever.

“From this tableland,” he writes, “one enjoys a most delicious view; for from there one observes a good part of the bay and its islands as far as the other side, and one has a view of the ocean as far as the Farallones. In fact, although, so far as I have traveled, I have seen very good places and beautiful lands, I have yet seen none that pleased me so much as this. I do believe that, if we could be well populated, as in Europe, there would be nothing more pretty in the world; for this place has the best accommodations for founding on it a most beautiful city, inasmuch as the desirable facilities exist as well on the land as on the sea, the port being exceptional and capacious for dockyards, docks, and whatever would be wanted.

“This tableland was designated by the commander as the site of the new colony and fort which were to be established at this port; for on account of its height it commands such a dominating position that it can defend the entrance to the port at gunshot. At the distance of a gunshot it has water for the maintenance of the population, namely, the spring or lagoon where we camped.”

Father Font is not to be blamed for thinking that Mountain Lake would be a sufficient water supply. Almost a century later certain San Franciscans made the same mistake, and did not discover their error until they had spent considerable money.

Next day, Friday, the twenty-ninth of March, Anza and Father Font explored the peninsula in another direction.

“We rode,” says Font, “about one league to the east, one to the east-southeast, and one to the south-east, going over hills covered with bushes, and over valleys of good land. We thus came upon two lagoons and some springs of good water, meanwhile encountering much grass, fennel, and other good herbs. We then arrived at a lovely creek, which because it was the Friday of Sorrows we called the Arroyo de los Dolores.

“On the banks of the Arroyo de los Dolores we discovered many fragrant chamomiles and other herbs, and many wild violets. Near the streamlet the lieutenant (Anza) planted a little corn and some garbanzos in order to try out the soil, which to us appeared good. As for me, I judged that this place was very fine, and the best for establishing on it one of the two missions.... We moved a little, and from a slight elevation I observed that the direction of the bay was toward the east-southeast. Near this hill, in the direction of the bay, there is a good piece of level land, into which the Arroyo de los Dolores enters suddenly like a falls as it emerges from the hills. By means of its water all the land could be irrigated, and at the falls, which is very suitable for the purpose, a mill could be operated.”

On the eight of April Anza’s little party of exploration was back in Monterey, and a few days later Anza departed for Sonora. All this time the large party of colonists that Anza had brought from Sonora was detained in Monterey through the whim of Rivera. Just before being removed for his misconduct, Rivera ordered Lieutenant Moraga to proceed to the port of San Francisco with twenty soldiers and to erect the presidio on the spot selected by Anza. He directed that the founding of the mission be postponed.

On the third of June, the “San Carlos” arrived at Monterey, and under orders from Viceroy Bucareli, took aboard the property of the soldiers and colonists, church and household furniture and farm implements—everything intended for the new presidio and mission.

On June 17 Lieutenant Moraga left Monterey for San Francisco with Sergeant Grijalva, two corporals, sixteen soldiers, seven colonists, and five Indians in charge of packmules and two hundred head of cattle. The soldiers and settlers had their wives and children with them. Father Serra sent along Father Palou and Father Cambon. Father Palou is the historian of this memorable party.

“On June 27,” writes Father Palou, “the expedition arrived near its destination. The commander, therefore, ordered the camp to be pitched on the bank of a lagoon which Señor Anza had named Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, and which is in sight of the Ensenada de los Llorones, and of the bay or arm of the sea that extends to the southeast. Here all were to await the transport ship to mark out the site on which to locate the fort and presidio while the country was being explored.”

On June 29, 1776, Fathers Palou and Cambon said mass in a rude arbor at the Dolores camp; so this is taken by historians as the date of the foundation of the Mission of San Francisco of Assisi, or Mission Dolores. It was just five days before the Declaration of Independence.

The padres were naturally interested in the condition of the Indians whom they had come to convert. Father Palou’s account is not complimentary. He writes:

“The natives here are all well formed. Many of them have beards, others are hairless and rather ugly. They are accustomed to tear out by the roots the hair of the eyebrows, and this renders them ugly. They are poor Indians without much of a house than a hedge of branches to protect them somewhat against the high winds which prevail and which molest them very much. The men go entirely naked, except that they cover the shoulders with a sort of small cape pieced together from otter skins and pelican feathers. The women cover themselves with nothing but tules strung together around the waist.”

On July 26, the “San Carlos” not yet having arrived from Monterey, Lieutenant Moraga moved his camp from the Laguna de los Dolores to the north end of the peninsula and set about the erection of temporary accommodations. The first structure was a chapel of tules, and there Father Palou said mass on July 28, and this is the first date in the history of our presidio. Meanwhile, despite Rivera’s order to the contrary, Moraga detailed some of his men to start building the Mission Dolores.

The “San Carlos” sailed through the Golden Gate—her second entrance into the port of San Francisco—on August 18. Work at the presidio now began in real earnest, the plan being drawn by José Canizares, pilot of the “San Carlos.” This plan called for an enclosure ninety-two varas, or two hundred and fifty-three feet, square. Inside this, and built of palisades and tules, were to be the chapel, officers’ quarters, warehouses, guardhouse, and barracks for the soldiers and colonists, with their families. A house for the commander was also started.

By the middle of September all these buildings were well under way, and formal possession of the Presidio of San Francisco was celebrated on the seventeenth of September, 1776. This was an impressive ceremony. Every Spaniard who could be spared from duty on shore on the “San Carlos” was present. Father Palou writes:

“After the holy cross had been planted, blessed, and venerated. I sang the first solemn mass with deacon and subdeacon. Thereupon the officers performed the ceremony of taking formal possession in the name of our sovereign. All then entered the church and sang the Te Deum Laudamus, accompanied by the ringing of bells, the salvos of cannon, pistols, and muskets, to which the transport in the harbor responded with its guns. This discharge of firearms and cannon, and the sounding of bells at the same time, doubtless terrified the savages, for they did not allow themselves to be seen for many days. When this function was concluded, the commander of the presidio assembled all the people and displayed all the liberality the situation permitted.”

Meanwhile Lieutenant Moraga and Captain Quiros of the “San Carlos” saw no reason why work should not proceed at the mission. They had men to spare from the work at the presidio, and these were sent to build a mission chapel and a dwelling for the padres. Says Father Palou:

“In a short time a building was completed which measured ten varas [or twenty-eight feet] in length, and five varas [fourteen feet] in width. This structure was of wood plastered over with clay and roofed with tules. To this was built of the same material a church eighteen varas [about fifty feet] long. Adjoining it, in the rear of the altar, was a small room which served as a vestry.”

The chapel was solemnly blessed on the third of October, the day before the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and on the eighth the formal opening of the mission was celebrated in much the same fashion as the opening of the presidio.

San Francisco Water
Published by the Spring Valley Water Company
Volume V, No. 4, October 1926
NOTE: The area known as Laguna de Manatial, or Laguna de los Dolores, was in the area bounded by Fifteenth, Twentieth, Valencia and South Van Ness Ave. In the 1870s it was known as Lake McCoppin and was filled in during the 1870s. Buildings on streets which border the former lagoon were damaged during the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. The lagoon was fed by a stream which flowed down from Twin Peaks and followed the line of Eighteenth Street.

The first mission structures built in San Francisco were not at the present site of the Mission, but two blocks east near the intersection of Camp and Albion streets.

Gladys Hansen
August 1997

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