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Lived: 1721-1782
Explored California in: 1769-1774
Exploring for: Spain
Explored: by land, from San Diego to Monterey and around San Francisco Bay

The Spanish missionaries in New Spain were among the first to explore the land north of Mexico. Sometimes a Jesuit or Franciscan priest explored alone. Other times the priest was sent with an expedition. Because the priests had good educations, they were able to write the reports of the expeditions. The diaries kept by the priests are the best records of exploration in the 1700s.


Juan Crespí was born on the island of Majorca in Spain in 1721. As a young man he joined the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic order founded by St. Francis of Assisi. Crespí attended the Lullian University at Palma, where Junípero Serra was his philosophy teacher. When Serra went as missionary to New Spain (Mexico) in 1749, Crespí went with him. When Serra was sent to Baja (Lower) California in 1767, again Crespí went along.


In 1769 Father Serra was asked by the Spanish officials to go to Alta (Upper) California and to establish several mission settlements there. Serra chose Juan Crespí to help with the missions. This beginning of Spanish settlement in Alta California is known as the Sacred Expedition. Crespí was the historian of that expedition.

Crespí was with the first group to arrive in San Diego by land, on May 14, 1769. He then went on north with Governor Portolá on his search for Monterey Bay. They failed to identify the bay and returned to San Diego, but then set out north again. This time they established the Monterey presidio (fort) and Mission San Carlos Borromeo. Crespí made this his home for the rest of his life.

From Monterey Crespí made several important journeys. In 1772 Crespí and Lt. Pedro Fages explored the east side of San Francisco Bay, then followed the Sacramento River inland and saw the Central Valley. In 1774 Crespí made a trip to Alaska on the ship captained by Juan Pérez.


Sunday, May 14 [1769]

   (The first land group arrives at San Diego Bay)

“The day’s march occupied somewhat more than six hours and a half, all over level land, well covered with grass, during which we probably traveled about six leagues, and we arrived very fortunately and happily at the desired port of San Diego.

“As soon as we descried the camp the soldiers discharged their guns, giving a salute, and immediately those who were in the camp, as well as those on the packets, responded with their artillery and firearms. Immediately the three fathers who had come in the barks, and also the officers who were on land, came to meet us and gave us hearty embraces and congratulations that we were all now united in this port of San Diego. We soon had the story of their arrival and of the misfortunes that they had suffered on the sea from the scurvy. They also told us that many had died, and how the rest had been stricken with the same disease…”

Thursday, August 3 [1769]

   (On the way from San Diego to Monterey, near the LaBrea tar pits in Los Angeles)

“All the land we saw this morning seemed admirable to us. We pitched camp near the water. This afternoon we felt new earthquakes, the continuation of which astonishes us. We judge that in the mountains that run to the west in front of us there are some volcanoes, for there are many signs on the road ... the explorers saw some large marshes of a certain substance like pitch; they were boiling and bubbling, and the pitch came out mixed with an abundance of water. They noticed that the water runs to one side and the pitch to the other, and that there is such an abundance of it that it would serve to caulk many ships."

Wednesday, October 4 [1769]

   (At Monterey Bay, but failing to recognize it)

“…the commander summoned the officers … he told them about the shortage of provisions in which we found ourselves, and the number of sick on hand (there were seventeen men who were half crippled and of no use for labor); he called attention to the fact that the season was now far advanced, and to the great hardships of the men still in good health from the excessive labor in watching the animals at night, in guarding the camp, and in the constant sallies to explore and reconnoiter. In view of this and of the fact that we had not found the harbor of Monterey in the latitude where we had supposed it to be, he asked each one to give his opinion freely, in order to decide upon the best course to pursue…. The officers voted unanimously to continue the journey …”

Tuesday, December 5 [1769]

“… since we have not found in this vicinity the very celebrated harbor of Monterey, which was enthusiastically described in their time by men of character, skill, and intelligence, experienced navigators who came expressly to explore these coasts … we have to say that it is not to be found, after the most exacting efforts made at the cost of much sweat and fatigue. Or perhaps it may be said that it has been hidden or destroyed by the passage of time, although we have not seen indications to support this view. I therefore suspend my opinion in regard to the matter, but what I can certainly say is … that harbor has not been found.”

Friday, March 27 [1772]

   (Crespi’s description of the Golden Gate)

“Here we found ourselves three leagues from the place whence we set out, and in the parallel of the gate by which the two great estuaries communicate with the Gulf of the Farallones. We halted a little while in order to map the entry through the gate to the mainland … We observed that the gate is about three-quarters of a league wide….In front of the gate we saw three islands.”


The letters and diaries written by Father Crespí during his 13 years in California provide many details of the explorations and daily life in early California.


Father Crespí lived and worked at Mission San Carlos Borromeo for 12 years. He died there in 1782. His diaries were published in 1927.

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