“All that was known of California prior to 1769 was based on the reports of six expeditions: Cabrillo in 1542-1543; Drake in 1579; Gali in 1584; Cermeño in 1595; Vizcaíno in 1602-1603; and Carreri in 1696.” (Breschini, Coastal Navigation)

  • November 1542 Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (Joāo Rodrigues Cabrilho) explored the coast near present-day Monterey.
  • 1579, Sir Francis Drake sailed past Monterey Bay.
  • In 1584, Francisco Gali, on route to Mexico from Macao, sailed north to Mendocino Bay area and then southward down the coast.
  • 1595 Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeño returning from the Philippines, followed the Gali path and explored the California Coast. He was waylaid for repairs in at Drake’s Bay and used the repaired ship, the Santa Buenaventura, to explore further south. He briefly described the Monterey Bay on December 9, 1595.
  • In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaíno explored the California coast coming north from San Diego. On December 13 a favorable wind carried them along the shore below the Santa Lucia Mountains. On December 16, they rounded Punta de Los Pinos and entire the harbor, which they named for the viceroy of Mexico, Don Gaspár de Zúñiga y Acevedo, Count of Monte Rey, who had dispatched the expedition. Note: Vizcaíno’s maps of the California coast were so accurate that they were used until about 1790.
  • There was a 150 year gap during which no further exploration of the Monterey Bay area occurred, except for an occasional galleon from Manila passing southward, down the California coast.

In the late 1700s, Spain was again renewed interest in areas to the north of Mexico. First, they replaced the Jesuit missionaries with Franciscan Missionaries in the Baja California missions. Then, Spain planned two expedition parties with the purpose of military occupancy of Alta California and the ultimate destination Monterey. A way station was to be established at San Diego. Captain Gaspar de Portolá was commissioned to lead the overland expedition. Father Junípero Serra accompanied Portolá.

The party traveled by sea as far north as the San Simeon area. On September 16, 1769,  they traveled inland over the Santa Lucia Mountains and emerged in the Salinas Valley somewhere around King City. They followed the Salinas River northward and reached the area now known as Blanco in October. For about 3 months, the expedition stumbled around the area, as far north as Pinto Lake in Watsonville and as far south as Carmel in search of the fabled Monterey harbor. They returned to San Diego in December. In April 16, 1770, a new expedition was mounted with the main goal to establish a presidio and mission in Monterey. The colonization period began. 

The San Antonio departed for Monterey on April 16, 1770. The land expedition left the following day. The overland expedition arrived in Monterey on May 24, 1770. The San Antonio reached Monterey on May 31, 1770. A few huts were built, a chapel was situated, and work on the Presidio was initiated. Portolá returned to San Diego on the San Antonio on July 9, 1770. He left behind less than 50 non-native men who were alone, isolated, and without any assurances of continued regular supplies. 

The log and earth presidio was completed on June 20, 1771. The mission church was moved to Carmel and construction was completed on December 24, 1771. 

In 1772, the supply ship failed to appear, and to avoid starvation, Lt. Fages led a bear hunt in San Luis Obispo and returned with over 9,000 tons of bear meat. In 1773, the supply ship failed to appear again and famine lasted until the spring of 1774. After this, supply ships arrived on a regular basis. On May 9, 1774, the Santiago arrived with supplies and seven women, six of whom remained at the presidio. The population was growing. 

On February 3, 1777, Felipe de Neve governed both Alta and Baja California (Las Californias) from the capital, Monterey. This replaced Loreto as the capital. 

The log and earth stockade at the Presidio was replaced with a stone and adobe structure. The Stone Presidio chapel, which stands today, was built between 1791 and 1795. 

The English explorer, Vancouver, visited Monterey in 1792 and again in 1793. In general, his observations and comments of the Mexican settlements on the coast, including Monterey were fairly derogatory.

Spain established a formal pueblo government in 1791 that went into effect iin 1794. By this time, outlying cattle ranchos were established in the Salinas Valley, as Spain provisionally assigned unneeded mission lands to individuals. The ranchos granted were the Las Salinas, El Tucho in the Blanco, the Buena Vista south of Spreckels, and the Llano de Buena Vista along the Salinas River. In 1795, Ohlone Indians attached and burned these four ranchos.

Bancroft documented that the population of Monterey was about 300 in 1800. Virtually everyone lived in either the Presidio or the Mission and both were in poor condition with failing foundations and melting adobe. A visit to the area noted that the population was about 400 in 1814-15.

As Spain dealt with Mexican insurrection, Monterey became a crumbling and forgotten outpost. During this period, it was sacked by the Argentine privateer, Hipólito Bouchard. Bouchard arrived in Monterey Bay with two ships, the Argentina and the Santa Rosa. The Argentina remained in the Bay; while the Santa Rosa came close enough to shore to sustain enough damage that the ship had to be abandoned. The sailors from the Santa Rosa took lifeboats to the Argentina, which sailed south. The sailors came ashore and attacked the Presidio from behind. Occupants of the Presidio fled to a ranch near Salinas and the Carmel padres fled up Carmel Valley. Bouchard’s men ransacked the presidio and took everything they could carry; then, they torched the buildings of the town and Presidio. (Breschini). 

Sometime before 1820, a few families began to live outside the Presidio walls. Boronda was the first to build a hose in town. Also, around 1814, non-Spanish immigrants began to settle in the area.


Books and References

Anderson, Burton. The Salinas Valley: A History of America’s Salad Bowl. Monterey County Historical Society. 2000.

Breschini, Gary, S. Ph.D. Coast Navigation and Exploration of the Monterey Bay Area. Monterey County Historical Society.

——The Portola Expedition of 1769. Monterey County Historical Society.

— — Monterey’s First Years: the Royal Presidio of San Carlos de Monterey. Monterey County Historical Society.

— — Hipolito (Hypolite) bouchard and the Raid of 1818. Monterey County Historical Society.