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The Settlement of Los Angeles

Statue of Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve

Statue of Felipe de Neve at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

After having established California's first settlement in San Jose in 1777, Felipe de Neve, Spanish Governor of the Californias, saw the need to establish a second pueblo in Alta California (Upper California), near the Río de Porciúncula (future Los Angeles River), west of the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. The primary purpose for these settlements was to reaffirm Spanish claims over the territory of upper California in the face of encroachments by Russia from the north and Britain from the sea. The pueblos were also to serve to help keep Spain’s military garrisons (presidios) in the territory supplied and fed rather than depend on being supplied irregularly by ship. The site of the future Los Angeles that Neve had in mind was earlier commended as a promising location for a settlement by Father Juan Crespi, a Franciscan priest who, more than a decade earlier, accompanied and chronicled the Gaspar de Portolá expedition, the first European land expedition through California. With the authority of King Carlos III of Spain, approval came from Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli and Commandant General Carlos Francisco de Croix for Neve's proposed settlement and an order and funding was issued for the new pueblo to be established. Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada, Lieutenant Governor of the Californias, was assigned to oversee recruitment of settlers and a contigent of soldiers to escort them.

Before the recruitment of settlers began, Neve busily went to work creating detailed plans for the new pueblo (Nuevo Reglamento para el antiguo y nuevos establecimientos de California). The recruitment of settlers, however, was challenging. Despite incentives of money, land and livestock, Rivera y Moncada found it difficult to find promising and willing candidates. At the time, what we know today as Southern California was considered remote and desolate – a prospect most people considered unattractive (probably how many of us today might view a relocation to Greenland). Rumors also circulated, with some truth, that soldiers serving in the remote region were not being paid. Furthermore, the journey to Alta California promised to be arduous and dangerous. Nevertheless, months of intense searching that extended into Sonora, Sinaloa and Culiacan, eventually led to 12 acceptable families willing to relocate.

The first party of settlers set out from Sinaloa on February 2, 1781. By the following August, all settler parties had rendezvoused at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. A few weeks later, Neve, all settlers (11 families - one family never made it to Los Angeles), four soldiers and their families, mission priests and a few Indians, set out for the final eight miles of the journey to arrive at the site of the new pueblo. Neve recorded September 4, 1781, as the official date of the establishment of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, The Town of the Queen of the Angels.*

A bronze statue of Felipe de Neve (pictured above), created by sculptor Henry Lion and dedicate in 1932, stands today in the Plaza of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument in Downtown Los Angeles.

Also see: Original Settlers of Los Angeles

Founding of Los Angeles by Millard Sheets

Chronology of the Founding of Los Angeles

Date Event
December 1779 Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli and Commandant General Carlos Francisco de Croix approve Governor Felipe de Neve's proposal to found the settlements of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
December 27, 1779 Commandant General de la Croix writes Don Fernando Rivera Y Moncada, Lt. Governor of the Californias, to oversee recruitment of colonists for the new settlements.
August 1, 1780 Rivera Y Moncada recruits 45 soldiers (for escort & garrison duties) and seven settlers from Sinaloa and Culiacan.
November 1780 Rivera Y Moncada achieves his recruiting goal for soldiers but has only signs up 14 settlers. Two settlers subsequently change their minds and disappear. The decision is made to cease recruitment and proceed with the 12 remaining settlers and their families.
February 2, 1781 The first contingent of settlers and their families and an escort of 17 soldiers set out from Alamos, Sinaloa, by sea. Their destination is Loreto, Baja California.
March 12, 1781 A smallpox outbreak forces some of the party to recuperate in Loreto while healthier members proceed up the Baja coastline to Bahia de San Luis and then to San Diego.
June 9, 1781 The first members of the party arrive at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel.
July 14, 1781 A second group of the party arrives at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel.
August 18, 1781 The final party of settlers, minus one, arrives at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. The 12th settler, having been delayed in Baja California due to illness from smallpox, is diverted to the Presidio in Santa Barbara upon his eventual arrival in Alta California in 1782.
September 4, 1781 The combined group of settlers, 11 families, arrive at their final destination, after traveling almost 1,000 miles. El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles* is officially established by Governor Felipe de Neve.

* Or was the name "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reyna de los Angeles?" See "Where Did the Name Los Angeles Come From?"

Source: Mexican Los Angeles by Antonio Rios Bustamante, Floricanto Press, 1992

Statue of Spanish Governor Felipe de Neve

"Founding of Los Angeles" by Henry R. Sandham in The Century Magazine, Nov. 1883.