Times Past

An invasion of California that ends in surrender

USS Cyane crew member and amateur artist William H. Meyers drew and watercolored “The Taking of Monterey, 1842.”
USS Cyane crew member and amateur artist William H. Meyers drew and watercolored “The Taking of Monterey, 1842.” Bancroft Library, University of California Berkeley

Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones launched a premature invasion of Mexican California on Oct.19, 1842. The event goes uncelebrated in the history of our state.

Jones was born in a rural part of Virginia where people from Wales had settled. The “ap” in his name is Welsh for “son of” and his father’s name was “Catesby.”

He was commander of the U. S. Pacific Fleet. In September 1842, he was notified by the American Consul in Mazatlan that war with Mexico was imminent. Jones was already concerned about the presence of a French fleet and a British naval squadron in the northwestern Pacific and the possibility of a French or British seizure of Mexican California.

There had been rumors that Mexico had ceded California to Britain. Commodore Jones decided to seize California before the British or French did.

Sailing into Monterey Bay, Jones demanded that the Mexican governor surrender California to the United States. The newly appointed governor was in Los Angeles. A group of prominent Monterey leaders requested that the United States’ “first and last consul” to California, Monterey merchant Thomas O. Larkin, act as interpreter in arranging the surrender of the Monterey District.

The following day, Oct. 20, 1842, Jose Abrego and Pedro Narvaez signed documents of surrender. A battalion of Marines marched ashore from the longboats with fixed bayonets and the U.S. flag was raised. A U.S. Navy Band played “The Star Spangled Banner,” which wasn’t designated as our national anthem until 1931. They also played “Hail Columbia,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean.”

Jones didn’t go ashore until the next day. He read U.S. and Mexican newspapers that were, at best, three weeks old. He also spoke with Monterey’s residents and the captain of an American trading vessel.

It was apparent to him that a war with Mexico had not broken out, nor was there any validity to the rumored treaty with England.

Jones told the former California governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, that he was evacuating Monterey. He sent an overland message of apology to Gov. Micheltorena in Los Angeles. He directed the Marines to replace the U.S. flag with Mexico’s and sailed away.

But there were consequences for Jones’ “preemptive strike.” The Mexican governor would not let him off with a simple apology.

We will write about Jones’ humorous encounter with Gov. Micheltorena in next week’s Times Past.


Readers of Times Past may want to attend four upcoming events:

My tour of the Old Mission Cemetery, which begins at the Bridge Street entrance at 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 29.

You can learn about the historic Cayucos Pier and its restoration on Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. in the Cayucos School auditorium, 301 Cayucos Drive in Cayucos. The event is sponsored by the Cayucos Historical Society in conjunction with the Cayucos Pier Project and is free.

You will want to hear glorious music composed by 18th century Padre Juan Bautista Sancho. It was originally played by Mission San Antonio’s orchestra and choir of Salinan Native Americans. Come to the Salinan Tribe’s “Day of the Dead” at California’s third oldest and most remote mission, San Antonio de Padua on Saturday Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. Father Jim Nesbit, himself a Native American along with Richard Garcia, Bishop of Monterey, will join John Warren and the choir from St. Rose of Lima church in Paso Robles in celebrating a Mass. Prayers in the Salinan language will be chanted by Susan Latta and other tribal elders and children. This event is free and open to the public.

On Sunday, Nov. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., The History Center of San Luis Obispo County invites you to meet the eternal residents of San Luis Obispo at the SLO Souls re-enactment. Local historic figures such as Walter Murray, founder of The Tribune, Robert and Nellie Jack and Myron Angel will share stories of their lives and deaths. Following a Masonic consecration ritual, tour guides will lead small groups through the cemetery, sharing historical tidbits and introducing the re-enactors as you stroll among the graves of our faithfully departed. Admission is $15. Phone 805-929-5678.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.