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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 help keep Spain’s military garrisons (presidios) supplied and fed, rather than depend on irregular supplies by ship. The site of the future Los Angeles that Neve had in mind had earlier been commended as a promising location for a settlement by Father Juan Crespi. Crespi was a Franciscan priest who, more than a decade earlier, had 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. An order and funding was issued for the new pueblo to be established. Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada, a Spanish Army Captain, was appointed to be military governor of Alta California and assigned to oversee recruitment of settlers for the settlement and additional soldiers for the territory.

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 found it difficult to find promising and willing candidates. At the time, what we is today Southern California was considered remote and desolate – a prospect that most people considered unattractive (perhaps how we today might view relocation to the most remote locations on earth). Rumors also circulated, with some truth, that soldiers serving in remote Alta California were not receiving their pay. Furthermore, the journey there promised to be arduous and dangerous. Nevertheless, months of intense searching in Sonora and Sinaloa eventually led to 12 acceptable families willing to relocate.

The settlers set out from Sonora on February 2, 1781. By August, eleven of the twelved settler families had arrived at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel (one had to remain behind in the course of the journey). A few weeks later, escorted by four soldiers, mission priests, and a few Indians, the settlers set out for the final nine miles of the nearly 1,000-mile journey to arrive at the site of the new pueblo. September 4, 1781, was recorded 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

It should be noted that the Los Angeles area already had a population of inhabitants who had lived in the region for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived. See Original People of Los Angeles County.

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 a proposal by Felipe de Neve, Governor of the Californias, to establish the settlements of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
December 27, 1779 Commandant General Croix appoints Captain Don Fernando Rivera Y Moncada to be military governor of Alta California. His task is to oversee recruitment of 24 settlers and 59 soldiers for the new settlements in that northern territory. Both settlers and soldiers may bring their families. Settlers would be offered a daily ration, an allowance of clothing and supplies, a salary of 10 pesos per month for three years, and exemption from taxes for five years. They would be allowed to use government land as common pasture. They would be advanced tools and livestock, to be repaid from their annual yield of crops and livestock. In exchange, settlers would be obligated to remain in their settlement for at least ten years. Unmarried female family members would be encouraged to marry unmarried soldiers serving in the region.
August 1, 1780 Rivera manages to recruit 45 soldiers (for escort & presidio duties) and seven settlers from Sonora and Sinaloa.
November 1780 Rivera acheives his recruiting goal for soldiers, but only signs up 14 settlers. Two settler recruits subsequently change their minds and disappear. The decision is made to cease recruitment and proceed with the remaining 12 settlers and their families.
February 2, 1781 Before leaving for Alta California, Rivera divides the party into two contingents. The first, destined to settle Los Angeles, consists of the 12 settler families and an escort of 17 soldiers (here called the Los Angeles contingent). The second, destined to garrison a presidio in Santa Barbara (here called the Santa Barbara contingent), consists of the remaining 42 soldiers and their families. The Santa Barbara contingent would travel entirely overland and escort a large herd of horses and cattle for Alta California. Rivera will lead the Santa Barbara contingent. He assigns Lieutenant Jose de Zuniga to lead the Los Angeles contingent. The Los Angeles contingent sets out from Los Álamos, Sonora. Their route takes them down the Rio Mayo to the pueblo Santa Cruz, on the eastern shore of the Gulf of California. From there, they depart by ship,* across the gulf, to Loreto, Baja California.
March 12, 1781 A smallpox outbreak in Loreto among the children of the Los Angeles contingent (possibly brought over from Sonora by the settlers themselves) forces one of the 12 families to remain to recuperate. The rest of the contingent proceeds to sail up the western Baja California coast to Bahía de San Luis Gonzaga, perhaps in the same ship* in which they had crossed the gulf. From there, the contingent travels inland to the Mission San Fernando de Vellicata (founded by Father Junípero Serra, 12 years earlier). There they remain until May, before setting out overland for the Presidio of San Diego, the most arduous and dangerous leg of their journey.
July 14, 1781 The Santa Barbara contingent arrives at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. Not all of the contingent, however, are with them. Rivera had remained behind with five soldiers at the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers to rest the livestock before herding them across the Sonoran Desert.
July 17, 1781 While camped on the bank of the Colorado River, Rivera and his tiny band of soldiers from the Santa Barbara contingent, who stayed behind to rest the livestock herd, are attacked by angry Quechan indians (also known as Yuma). The Quechan were already incensed by abuses from local Spanish settlements. Now their planted fields were being destroyed by Rivera's huge herd of livestock. It was one offense too many. Rivera and the five soldiers with him are all killed in the attack. Besides the assault on Rivera's party, the Quechan also attack and destroy the nearby Spanish settlements, killing or enslaving most inhabitants.
August 18, 1781 A few days after leaving the Presidio of San Diego, the Los Angeles contingent arrives at the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. Because of the earlier smallpox outbreak amongst their children, the party had to camp about two miles away from the mission, so as to try not to risk introduction of disease to the neophyte indians population at the mission.
September 4, 1781 The Los Angeles contingent, minus their military escort from Alamos (which remained at the Mission San Gabriel to prepare for the final leg of their journey to Santa Barbara), after traveling nearly 1,000 miles, complete the final nine miles of the journey to the site of the new pueblo. They are escorted by four soldiers, however, from the military contingent already stationed at the mission, who were familiar with the area. El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles is officially established.
1783 When the 12th settler family of the Los Angeles contingent, left behind a few years earlier in Baja California, due to illness from smallpox, finally arrives in Alta California, they are instead assigned to settle at the Presidio of Santa Barbara.

* The small ship is reported to have been named the Dichosa. It is said to have been the Mayflower for Los Angeles.
† 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.