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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.

In the late 18th Century, Felipe de Neve, Spanish Governor of California, saw the need to establish a pueblo along the River Los Angeles west of the Mission San Gabriel. The primary purpose for the pueblo was to reaffirm Spain’s claim over the territory in the face of encroachments by Russia in the north and Britain from the sea. The pueblo would also help to keep Spain’s California military garrisons (or Presidios) supplied and fed (whereas they otherwise would have to be supplied irregularly by ship). The site Governor de Neve had in mind was a site earlier commended by Father Juan Crespi, a Franciscan priest who, more than a decade earlier, accompanied the Gaspar de Portola expedition - first European land expedition through California. With the authority of King Carlos III of Spain, Viceroy Bucareli and Commandant General de la Croix approved Governor de Neve's proposal and issued an order that the pueblo be established. Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada, Lt. Governor of the Californias, was directed to oversee recruitment of colonists and accompanying soldiers for the new settlement.

Before the recruitment of settlers even began, Governor de Neve immediately went to work drawing up detailed plans for the new pueblo. The efforts to recruit settlers, however, was much more 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 today know today as Southern California was remote and desolate – not the sort of opportunity most people considered attractive. Rumors circulated, somewhat truthful, that soldiers serving in the region did not get paid. Furthermore, getting there was arduous and dangerous. Yet months of searching that extended into Sonora, Sinaloa and Culiacan eventually led to the recruitment of twelve families.

From about August through September 1781, Governor de Neve, the settlers (11 men, 11 women and 22 children - one family never made it to Los Angeles), along with soldiers, mission priests and a few Indians, set out for the last leg of the journey to arrive at the site of the new pueblo alongside the Los Angeles River. Governor de Neve recorded the date, September 4, 1781, as the official date of establishment of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles or The Town of the Queen of the Angels.*

Governor de Neve’s statue stands today in the Plaza of Olvera Street 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 Bucareli and Commandant General de la 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 manages to recruit 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 signed 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 El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles* is officially established by Governor Felipe de Neve.

* Contrary to the popular belief that the original name of Los Angeles was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora La Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the (River) Porciuncula), scholars have determined from official documents of Governor Felipe de Neve, Commandant General de la Croix and Viceroy Bucareli that the settlement was simply named El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles.

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.