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Battle of San Diego took place between Spanish settlers and the crew of the American ship Lelia Byrd

As the new century opened, the region that is now California remained under the control of Spain. Spanish settlers and missionaries, however, were caught in a dilemma. Spain was having trouble sending supplies to its colonists in California. American, British, and others, however, sailed here with the goods the settlers needed. Even though it was officially illegal for foreign ships to dock in California waters, many ships smuggled in goods.

One such smuggler was William Shaler. A Connecticut sea captain, he often put into California ports, trading household goods for valuable otter skins. Although he usually made deals with the local authorities, giving them bribes to avoid trouble, Shaler ran into problems in 1803 when the commandant of San Diego took away several hundred otter skins from him. Shaler hoped that the commandant would secretly sell him back the skins, but the men he sent ashore to make the offer were arrested. Shaler sent three more men, armed with pistols, to rescue the first party. He then sailed his ship, the Lelia Byrd, out past the battery of Spanish cannon at the end of the bay. They traded shots. Although the only damage to either side were some torn sails, the incident is known as the Battle of San Diego. Shaler continued to smuggle goods, and in 1808 he published the first account of California by an American, "Journal of a Voyage Between China and the North-Western Coast of America."

Father Lasuén died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo

In 1803, Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, who was the President of all missions in Alta California, died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. Born in Spain, Lasuén first came to the New World in 1768 as a Franciscan missionary at Loreto, in Baja California. He went north in 1773 to serve under Serra at Missions San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Diego. After Serra’s death, Lasuén was in charge of the missions. During his 18 years in that position, he rebuilt the existing mission churches in what is known as the "mission style." Tile roofs and stone were added to the early adobe huts, giving the structures the grandeur he remembered from Spain. Lasuén dedicated nine new missions, raising the total number to 18. Father Lasuén was the last strong leader of the mission system in California. He impressed the British captain George Vancouver; Vancouver later named Point Fermin of San Pedro Bay for him.

Mission Santa Inés was founded

The chain of Spanish missions in California was almost complete by 1800. During the next 22 years there would be just three more missions founded here. The first of these was dedicated by Father Lasuén’s successor, Father Estévan Tápis, on September 17, 1804.

Mission Santa Inés Virgin y Martin was situated where the town of Solvang now stands, about 25 miles east of Mission La Purísima Concepción. Named for St. Agnes, a Roman girl noted for her purity, it also became the name of the Santa Ynez valley, mountains, and river. It was the last mission founded between San Diego and San Francisco. Because of its mountainous setting, Santa Inés was called the Mission of the Passes, and the Hidden Gem of the Missions. Santa Inés had a water-powered grist mill used to grind corn and wheat into flour. The grist mill was built in 1820 by Joseph Chapman, who had escaped from a pirate ship and settled here.

Rezanov obtained trading rights for Russians in northern California

During the 1800s, the Russian fur traders who had long worked in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest decided to press for more trading rights in northern California. On April 5, 1806, Russian Count Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov entered San Francisco Bay on board the ship Juno. Rezonov was a founder of the Russian-American Company. He was sent by the Russian Empress Catherine II to investigate the opportunities to expand into North America. He had arrived in Sitka, the Russian trading post in Alaska, in 1805. He found the Russians there practically starving, forced to eat pigeons to survive because no food shipments had arrived. So in April he sailed to San Francisco to beg for aid from the Spanish.

He was a charming man, and he impressed the commandant of the port. He also impressed the commandant’s daughter, Concepción Argüello, and the two of them fell in love. Eventually Rezanov received permission from the girl’s parents and the Franciscan priests, and they were married. He then had no trouble persuading the Spanish to give him supplies for the starving Russian colony at Sitka. He left for Sitka with wheat, barley, peas, beans, tallow, and dried meat on May 8, 1806. The plan was for him to return to Russia to cement alliances between Spain and Russia, and then come back to San Francisco. He never returned.

Concepción Argüello waited for 36 years before she learned that Rezanov had died while crossing Siberia towards home. She took the vows of a nun in 1850. Their tragic romance, as well as starting to open the doors to trade between Russia and Spain, became the theme of a poem by Bret Harte.

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