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Los Angeles County
1800 to 1847

Spain, Soldier, Cuera Dragon

19th century engraving of Spanish colonial soldier from the book La cavalerie de la Nouvelle-Espagne, edited by Del-Prado Osprey. Work by Raymundus à Murillo, via Wikimedia Commons. Equipment: 1) Protective leather jacket; 2) Saddle pommel and cantle; 3) Carbine; 4) Saddle bag; 5) Lance; 6) Pistol; 7) Shield; 8) Boots and spurs; 9) Wooden stirrups; 10) Cartridge box.

Late Spanish Period and Mexican California


The population of Los Angeles is about 315.


The first orange grove in California is planted at the Mission San Gabriel. California is divided into Alta California and Baja California.


The first American visit to the Los Angeles area is at Santa Catalina Island by the New England trading vessel Lelia Byrd, captained by the ship's co-owner, William Shaler. Shaler names the Santa Catalina Island bay where he repairs his ship, Port Roussillon, the first American name given to a California locale.

Captain William Shaler, circa 1805

Captain William Shaler, who, with the crew of his trading ship Lelia Byrd, are the first American visitors to the Los Angeles area.


A census counts 365 people in El Pueblo de los Angeles and 2,537 in the entire surrounding province. Padres from the San Fernando Mission dam the waters of the Los Angeles River north of El Pueblo, provoking a confrontation in court. The court rules in favor of El Pueblo. An Indian revolt erupts at the Mission San Gabriel.


Severe flooding occurs.


The Ayuntamiento (city council) is established.


The Plaza Church cornerstone is laid.

Old Plaza Church remains active at El Pueblo de los Ángeles Historical Monument. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


Torrential rains flood out El Pueblo, forcing it to relocate to higher ground. The Los Angeles River changes its outlet to the sea from San Pedro to the Ballona wetlands. A Russian trader, Boris Tarakanaf, is the first foreigner jailed in El Pueblo. José Antonio Rocha, born in Portugal, becomes the first foreigner to settle in El Pueblo.


The first school is established, headed by Maximo Pina, a retired soldier. It fails after two years.


American Joseph Chapman is shipwrecked at San Pedro and arrested as a pirate. After a brief jail term, he chooses to stay in El Pueblo and becomes an active member of the community. He becomes the first American and English-speaking person to settle in Los Angeles. After repeated floods, El Pueblo moves to a higher location. The Avila Adobe is built.

Woman in early Mexican California period, Juan Matias Sanchez Abode Museum, Montebello. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


A year after Mexico frees itself from Spanish rule, El Pueblo learns of the revolution and swears allegiance to the new independent nation. The Plaza Catholic Church is completed.


The Los Angeles River changes its outlet back from the Ballona wetlands to San Pedro.


A party of American trappers led by Jebediah S. Smith arrives in El Pueblo from the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. They are the first Americans to arrive in California overland. They are ordered to leave by the authorities, but Smith later returns. The first priest permanently assigned to Los Angeles arrives.


John Temple opens El Pueblo’s first general store.


John Gronigen (renamed Juan Domingo), a former German sailor who had earlier been shipwrecked at San Pedro but decided to settle in Los Angeles, purchases the land under the local Indian village Yang-Na for development into a vineyard. He expels the village's remaining native inhabitants. The site becomes one of L.A.'s earliest vineyards and much later, the Los Angeles Civic Center.

Diorama of Mexican home in early Los Angeles, Whittier Narrows Nature Center. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


A census counts 1,300 people in El Cuidad de los Angeles and 4,519 in the entire surrounding province.


Governor José Maria Echeandia issues a proclamation to secularize all California missions. A month later, the new governor, Manuel Victoria, annuls the proclamation that leads to the arrest and banishment of several prominent citizens of El Pueblo. A brief, local war erupts, forcing Governor Victoria out of California and re-establishing the original plan to secularize the missions. California is divided into northern and southern provinces. Pio Pico becomes governor of the southern province and establishes his government in Los Angeles.


Heaving flooding occurs.


The Mexican Congress passes the Secularization Act that places the Mission San Gabriel and the Mission San Fernando under civil management.

Diorama of Grizzly Bear hunting by early Los Angeles vaqueros, circa 1830s. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


The dismantling of the missions begins. Mission padres order the slaughter of over 100,000 cattle at the Mission San Gabriel in response to the impending takeover.

Display of cattle from early Mexican California period, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


Los Angeles is given the status of a "city" by the Mexican Congress replacing Monterey as capital of California. Richard Henry Dana’s voyage aboard the Pilgrim brings him to the Los Angeles area. His descriptions of California in his book Two Years Before the Mast sparks interest in California. The second largest ethnic group in the city is French.


A census counts 2,230 residents within the Los Angeles jurisdiction, 555 of whom are Indian and 50 foreigners. A local civil war breaks out between northern and southern California. Indian forced labor is initiated. The Mexican government takes the first official census of Los Angeles. The population is fixed at 2,228. This includes 603 men, 421 women, 651 children and 553 "domesticated Indians." Among Los Angeles residents are 29 Americans, 4 Britons, 3 Portuguese, 2 Africans, and a Canadian, Irishman, Italian, German, Scot, Norwegian, and Curacao. The first vigilante committee forms in Los Angeles to seize a man and woman from the authorities accused of murdering the woman's husband. The pair are executed by the "committee."


Governor Alvarado exiles all foreigners who would not become Mexican citizens. The first multi-story home is built on the Plaza.


A census counts 2,240 people in El Cuidad de los Angeles and 3,330 in the entire surrounding province.


One of the first California-bound wagon trains, the Workman-Rowland party, arrives in Los Angeles from New Mexico. William Wolfskill plants the first commercial orange grove in California. Oranges had otherwise been grown in the area since 1804.


Francisco Lopez makes California’s first gold discovery in Placerita Canyon in the Santa Clarita Valley.


A census counts 2,497 residents within the Los Angeles jurisdiction, 650 of whom are Indian and 55 foreigners.


The local California civil war ends with the battle of Cahuenga Pass. The casualties are one horse and one mule. Pio Pico is made governor of all of California and Los Angeles is finally recognized as the provincial capital. Rancho Encino is established.


The United States declares war on Mexico. U.S. Navy Commodore Robert F. Stockton lands his forces at San Pedro (August 6) and, finding Mexican government leaders had fled, encounter no resistance as they enter the Pueblo of Los Angeles (August 13). The U.S. flag is raised for the first time over Los Angeles. A small unit of U.S. marines are left to garrison Los Angeles. Later, having endured petty bullying by the U.S. Marines left in Los Angeles, local residents revolt and force the Americans to surrender. The Americans are allowed to withdraw without harassment to San Pedro with the understanding that they depart the area. Stockton responds by sending 200 U.S. reinforcements to San Pedro, commanded by U.S. Navy Captain William Mervine, to meet the marines. After a poorly-executed attack on the defending Californios in the "Battle of the Old Woman's Gun" at Rancho San Pedro (modern Rancho Dominguez), the U.S. force is again forced to withdraw and evacuate from San Pedro. They leave behind four men buried at San Pedro who had died from wounds sustained in the fighting.

Portrait of U.S. Navy Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who is the first to raise a U.S. flag over the Los Angeles area.


U.S. forces engage and defeat Mexican defenders at the Battle of the San Gabriel River and proceed to recapture Los Angeles (January 10). Mexican military commander Andrés Pico, on behalf of the Californios, capitulate to the Americans after negotiating the Treaty of the Cahuenga Ranch near Los Angeles (January 13). Fort Moors is dedicated by the U.S. Army in Los Angeles as part of the city’s first celebration of American Independence Day.

Reenactment of the Battle of Rio San Gabriel at the Juan Sanchez Adobe, Montebello. Los Angeles Almanac photo.