California might have become a remote province of the Russian or British Empires in the 19th century. Morro Rock was a landmark to be found on Russian and British navigators’ maps of the Pacific shore.
Most of us think of California history in terms of a succession of peoples: Native Americans, followed by the Spanish missionaries and soldiers, then Mexican rancheros with an increasing “Yankee” influx.
The American period begins formally during and after the Gold Rush. A popular argument after 1848 was that this land now belongs to the North American ascendancy: “Foreigners will please stay where they belong.”
In fact, a wide variety of peoples flocked to California by the beginning of the 19th century. Russian traders with Ivan Kuskov's Sitka-based Russian-American Company came as far south as the Santa Barbara Channel in 1813-14.
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The Russian-American Company did an extensive trade with Father Luis Antonio Martinez at Mission San Luis Obispo. Russian ships made frequent stops at the adobes constructed by Mission San Miguel’s Father Juan Cabot at San Simeon.
The Russian presence piqued Great Britain’s interests in the Pacific Coast of North America. English explorer George Vancouver visited some of the Franciscan missions in 1792. He was followed by Captain George Beechey in 1826-28; Edward Belcher in 1836-39 and there was the well-known horticultural expedition of the Scot botanist David Douglas in 1823 and again in 1824-27. Douglas was the first scientist to describe the California condor, the California poppy and the famous fir named after him.
Dozens of English and Scottish seamen began to settle in California during the 1820s and 30s. These include William E. P. Hartnell, who founded the town of Salinas and became the auditor for the California missions during the early period of secularization. Robert Livermore came to Yerba Buena in 1822. He was one of the founders of the community that became San Francisco. Later, he was granted most of the valley in southern Alameda County which is named after him.
John Gilroy was a Scot who jumped ship in 1814 and later founded the town site in southern Santa Clara County. William Richardson came in 1822 and was the first permanent resident of what became San Francisco. Marin County's Richardson Bay recalls his interest in inland waterways.
Hugo Reid was a Scot seaman who came up from Mexico to settle in Los Angeles in 1832. He married Victoria, a Gabrieliño Indian, and was granted the Rancho Santa Anita, the present location of the Santa Anita Racetrack and downtown Arcadia. His restored adobe sits on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum.
Hugo Reid's diary, A Scotch Paisano in Old Los Angeles: The Life and Times of Hugo Reid, 1832-1852, edited by Susannah Bryant Dakin is an important source document for the study of the late missionary and rancho epic.
Sir George Simpson, the governor general of England's Hudson Bay Company, visited California in 1841. By 1827, the company’s fur trappers had entered the Sacramento Valley from southern Oregon by way of the Siskiyou Trail. Simpson reported that there were 100 British subjects in California and hoped to see Mexico’s remote province joined into the British Empire.
The Hudson Bay Company employed hundreds of French Canadian couriers de bois (“men of the forest”) as hunters and trappers. They came down from the reaches of the Sacramento into the San Joaquin Valley where they established what is still called “French Camp” near Stockton in the 1820s. Stockton might have become Le Nouveau-Québec.
I’ll be giving a “Mindwalk,” “Following the Routes of Explorers to El Morro” for the Central Coast State Parks Association on Monday, Feb. 23 at 10:15 a.m. in the Morro Bay Veteran’s Building, 209 Surf Ave., and Morro Bay. The public is welcome.
Readers interested in attending the Cal Poly Chinese Students Association New Year’s Banquet on Saturday, Feb. 21 in the Recreation Center’s Multi Activity Center (MAC) can make reservations by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call (669)600-7083.