On today’s date in 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza, (left) one of the great western explorers of the North American continent in the 18th century, arrived at the future site of San Francisco with 247 colonists.
Juan Bautista de Anza – a Born Soldier
Born into a military family in Fronteras, Sonora, New Spain (Modern day Mexico) in 1736 (near Arizpe), Anza enlisted in the army in 1752 and had risen to teh rank of captain by 1760. His primary duties lay in making Forays into lands in California against Indian tribes such as the Apache. In this area he excelled showing a keen tactical mind in these engagements.
Anza Explores California
In 1772, with a long and difficult expedition northwest to the Pacific Coast, Anza put in place the first successful overland connections between the northern California, and the Mexican State of Sonora. The Mexican Government in Sonora, always eager to expand commerce into new areas was very happy with Anza’s work in this domain. So the
Mexican Viceroy directed Anza (pictured above, circa 1774) to go back to California with an eye towards setting up a more substantial settlement along the northern California coast For a good many years, Spanish Explorers at sea had sailed along the coast of northern California, both in the 16th and 17th Century. But the area of present day San Francisco with it’s outstanding natural features for a harbor was not discovered by the Spaniards in 1769. While they of course could plainly see it’s strategic value it would be some seven years before they Anza there to claim it for the King of Spain.
Anza’s Trail Leads to S.F.
In 1772, Anza proposed taking an expedition to Alta California he won the backing of the Viceroy of New Spain. This plan was endorsed by the King of Spain, Charles III, and on January 8, 1774, with an assortment of over 170 men ranging from servants to padres, to soldiers, moved out on his trek from Tubac, near present day Tuscon, Arizona. He reached Monterrey, CA. in April of 1774. Anza returned to Tubac in May of 1774 and reorganized his forces. Anza was raised to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and given orders with a slightly more military nature. He was directed to lead a corps of colonists to Alta California. This was not for purely commercial purposes – there had been Russian colonies advancing from the north. A new Spanish port in the area would give safety to Spanish ships. This group moved out on October 23, 1775, arriving at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in January, 1776, with the colonists having been assaulted by bad winter weather along the way.
Anza Finally Gets There
Anza’s diary entry on March 25, 1776, states that he “arrived at the arroyo of San Joseph Cupertino (now Stevens Creek), which is useful only for travelers. Here we halted for the night, having come eight leagues in seven and a half hours. From this place we have seen at our right the estuary which runs from the port of San Francisco.” Anza and his men finally arrived at this spot on today’s date in 1776. Anza
stuck to the military nature of this expedition; he did not set up a settlement, but rather set up military fortifica- tions, building a fort on the tip off the San Francisco peninsula. But the colonists came some months later, a Spanish Franciscan priest founded a mission near the fort which he named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi—in Spanish, San Francisco de Asiacutes. San Francisco remained a fairly isolated post – she became an American possession following the Mexican War (1846 – 1848) at which time she had just 900 inhabitants. But once GOLD was discovered at Sutter’s Mill nearby…. all bets were off, and by 1852 she had ballooned to 36,000 with many more to come. Anza was appointed as the Spanish Governor of New Mexico in 1777. He retired from the post in 1786. He died in 1788.