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Pueblo (town) of Los Angeles was founded

The Spanish commander of California, Felipe de Neve, had gathered some farmers and founded the pueblo (town) of San José near San Francisco Bay in 1777, but there was a second and more promising spot further south where he wanted to establish another pueblo. He returned to Sonora (in what is now Mexico) and recruited 11 couples and their children -- a total of 44 people -- and brought them to the site on the banks of the Porciúncula River near Mission San Gabriel.

On September 4, 1781, the pueblo of Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula, commonly abbreviated as Los Angeles, was dedicated. It was laid out with a central plaza around which were clustered a church, courthouse, storerooms, and jail. The first settlers were not wealthy people. These farmers frequently squabbled with the mission-dwellers, but they did supply surplus food to the missions, as they were directed by Governor Neve. Despite being located far from the Spanish provincial center of Monterey, the pueblo grew in importance and size, as it was situated on the trail from Mexico to California’s northern missions. Within 20 years the population had climbed from 44 to 315.  

Missions San Buenaventura, Santa Bárbara, and La Purísima Concepción were founded

During the 1780s, three additional Spanish missions were added to the chain connecting San Diego to San Francisco. Governor Neve wanted to strengthen Spain’s hold in California by having settlements along the Santa Barbara channel. On March 31, 1782, Mission San Buenaventura was founded (at the site of present-day Ventura), and three weeks later a new presidio, or military fortress, was built at Santa Barbara, 25 miles north. Neve received a promotion and left California, having overseen the establishment of two pueblos, several missions, and a fourth presidio.

It was another four years before additional Franciscan padres arrived to head up more new missions. Mission Santa Bárbara was dedicated by Father Lasuén (President of the missions after Father Serra) on December 4, 1786, and Mission La Purísima Concepción on December 8, 1787. Mission La Purísima Concepción was situated near what is now Lompoc. The increasing prosperity of the missions and the food produced by the pueblos eliminated the need to ship food to California from Mexico.  

Father Junípero Serra died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo

By the middle of the 1780s, the Spanish were well-established in Alta (Upper) California. The backbone of their control was the line of missions, reaching from San Diego to San Francisco. The man primarily responsible for these missions, nine of which had been built by 1782, was Father Junípero Serra. Serra was a small man (5’2" tall) and appeared frail, but showed great physical endurance in his work. He was born in 1713 in Mallorca, Spain, and was educated at Lullian University. He had come to New Spain (now Mexico) as a Franciscan missionary in 1750. As head of the Franciscan padres and President of the mission system in Alta California, he had overseen the development of each of these missions.

Father Serra died August 28 1784, at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. His grave is near the altar in the church there. His friend, Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, became the new President of the missions and continued his work of establishing missions and converting native people to Christianity. Today, there is serious question about Serra’s treatment of the Indians. However, in 1985, after lengthy investigations, the Vatican declared Serra to be "venerable," the first of three steps toward sainthood.  

La Pérouse brought French scientific expedition to Monterey

Though Spain was protective of its holdings in the New World in the 1780s, they decided to let a French scientific expedition visit Monterey.The expedition was led by Jean François de Galaup, Comte de la Pérouse (the Count of La Pérouse), traveling by sea in two ships. A French navigator who had served in the army fighting the British in the American Revolution and the Seven Years’ War, La Pérouse was sent by the French government for geographic, scientific, and commercial purposes. He arrived in Monterey in September 1786.

La Pérouse was entertained by Father Lasuén and Governor Fages, at great expense. For 10 days his group of geologists and botanists collected specimens and made drawings. The information he collected was particularly important because no non-Spanish foreigner had visited Alta California since 1579, so little was known about what the Spanish were doing there. He reported on the fertile land and mild climate in the area, as well as praising the high ideals of the missionaries but attacking the harsh treatment of the Indians. He concluded that the Spaniards were not developing the province rapidly; they had not converted many Indians to Christianity, nor were they making much money. He published a book including this information in 1787. La Pérouse died in a shipwreck in the Pacific in 1788.  

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