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Gaspar de Portolà i Rovira (1716–1784) was a soldier, governor of Baja and Alta Californiamarker (1767–1770), explorer and founder of San Diegomarker and Montereymarker. He was born in Os de Balaguer, province of Lleidamarker, in Cataloniamarker, Spainmarker, of Spanish nobility. Don Portolà served as a soldier in the Spanish army in Italymarker and Portugalmarker. He was commissioned ensign in 1734, and lieutenant in 1743, and died in either New Spain or Spain in 1784.


By 1767, Jesuit missionaries on the peninsula of Baja California had established approximately twenty-three missions over a period of seventy-two years. Rumors were circulating that the Jesuits had amassed a fortune and were becoming very powerful. As part of the nearly global suppression of the Jesuits, King Carlos III ordered the Jesuits expelled at gunpoint and deported back to Spain. Following the command of the king, the viceroy of New Spain ordered the arrest and deportation of all Jesuits in missions and Don Gaspar de Portolà was charged with the expulsion of the Jesuits from Baja. The missions were turned over to the Franciscans, and later to the Dominicans.

Spain was driven to establish missions and other outposts in Alta Californiamarker out of fear that the territory would be claimed by either the Englishmarker, who not only had colonies on the East Coast of the continent, but had recently conquered Canadamarker, or the Russiansmarker whose fur hunters were pressing down from Alaskamarker to the Pacific Northwest's lower reaches. Dispatches of January 23, 1768, exchanged between King Carlos and the viceroy, set the wheels in motion to extend Spain's control up the Pacific Coast and establish colonies and missions at San Diego Baymarker and Monterey Baymarker, which had been discovered and described in reports by earlier explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, who had mapped the California coastline for Spain, in 1602. In May, the Spanish Visitor General, José de Gálvez, proceeded to plan a four part expedition, two by sea and two by land, and Portolà volunteered to command the expedition.
Statue of Gaspar de Portolà, by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs

All four detachments were to meet at the site of San Diego Bay. The first ship, the San Carlos, sailed from La Pazmarker on January 10, 1769, and the San Antonio sailed on February 15. The first land party, led by Fernando Rivera y Moncada, left from the Mission San Fernando Velicatamarker on March 24. With Rivera was Father Juan Crespi, famed diarist of the entire expedition. The expedition led by Portolà, which included Father Junípero Serra, the President of the Missions, along with a combination of missionaries, settlers, and leather-jacket soldiers, including José Raimundo Carrillo, left Velicata on May 15.

Rivera reached the site of present day San Diegomarker in May, established a camp in the area that is now Old Townmarker and awaited the arrival of the others. Because of an error by Vizcaíno in determining the latitude of the San Diego Harbor one hundred and sixty-seven years earlier, the ships passed by it and landed first near present day Los Angelesmarker before finding their way back. The San Antonio arrived on April 11 and the San Carlos, the first ship to leave La Paz, having met with fierce winds and storms on the journey, arrived on April 29. A third vessel was to follow with supplies, but it was probably lost at sea. The land expedition of Portolà arrived on June 29. After their arduous journeys, most of the men aboard ship were ill, chiefly from scurvy, and many had died. Out of a total of two hundred and nineteen men who left Baja California, little more than a hundred now survived.

Eager to press on to Monterey Bay, Portolà and his expedition, consisting of Father Juan Crespi, sixty-three leather-jacket soldiers and a hundred mules loaded down with provisions, headed north on July 14, 1769. Marching two to four leagues a day, they reached the site of present day Los Angeles on August 2. The following day, they marched out the Indian trail that would one day become Wilshire Boulevard to the present site of Santa Monicamarker. Winding around to the area of later Saugus, now part of Santa Claritamarker, they reached the area to become Santa Barbaramarker on August 19, and the present day San Simeonmarker/Ragged Point area on September 13. On October 1, Portolà's party emerged from the Santa Lucia Mountainsmarker and reached the mouth of the Salinas River.

After a march of some four hundred miles from San Diego and about one thousand miles from Velicata, they were at the harbor they were seeking. But fog obscured the shoreline, making the rough harbor look like open ocean, and they failed to discern the port round like an "O" described by Vizcaíno, although members of the party had marched precisely along its beach two times. The difficult journey had taken six months and they believed they had missed the harbor of Monterey. Having failed to find their goal, they marched on north to further explore the region and reached the area that would become Santa Cruzmarker on October 18. They did, however, reach the San Francisco Baymarker area on October 31, and explored and named many localities in the region south of what would eventually become known as the Golden Gatemarker. They then marched back to San Diego, failing to find Vizcaino's harbor on their way. Surviving on mule meat for most of the journey, they arrived on January 24, 1770.

One of Portolà's officers, Captain Vicente Vila, convinced him that he had actually been exactly on the Bay of Monterey when he placed his second cross at what later became Pacific Grovemarker. After replenishing supplies at San Diego, Portolà and Father Serra decided on a joint expedition by land and sea to again search for the bay and establish a colony if they were successful. The San Antonio sailed on April 16, 1770. On board were Father Serra, Miguel Costanso, military engineer and cartographer, and Don Pedro Prat, army surgeon, along with a cargo of supplies for the new mission at Monterey. On April 17, after mustering what forces he could, Portolà's land expedition, which included Lt. Pedro Fages, twelve Catalonian volunteers, seven leather-jacket soldiers, five Baja California Indians, two muleteers, and Father Crespi serving as the expedition's chaplain, again marched north.

The expedition followed the same route they had the previous winter while returning to San Diego. After thirty-six days on the road, with only two days of rest, Portolà arrived at his second cross on May 24, 1770. He then saw that on a clear day and from a certain point of view the round harbor assumed the proportions described by the earlier enthusiastic explorers. Having recognized the bay, a Mass was conducted near the oak tree that the Franciscan missionaries with Vizcaíno had worshiped under in 1603, and possession was officially taken. On June 3, 1770, they laid the beginnings of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelomarker and founded the Presidio of Monterey.

Governor Portolà's task was finished. He then left Captain Pedro Fages in charge, and on June 9 he sailed for San Blasmarker, never to return to Upper California. In 1776, Portolà was appointed the governor of Pueblamarker. After the appointment of his successor in 1784, he was advanced money for expenses and returned to Spain, after which nothing more is known about him.


A facsimile of Gaspar de Portolà's signature.
A 9 ft (2.7 m) statue in Pacifica, Californiamarker was sculpted by the Catalanmarker sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs and his associate, Francesc Carulla. It was given to the State of California by the Catalan government in 1988. Portolamarker (Plumas County), Portola Valleymarker (San Mateo County), Portola Hills Elementary School (in Portola Hillsmarker), and the Portola Neighborhood of San Francisco were named for him, as was a middle school in El Cerrito (Contra Costa County), and a middle school in Tierrasanta (San Diego County). Portola Elementary School in San Bruno, California. Whose tradition is to hike up Sweeney Ridge, where the view of the bay will be seen.

Portola Parkway running through Irvine and Lake Forest (though not connected as of 2008), is also named after Gaspar de Portolà. It is said Portola used the route Portola now runs on.

External links

Further reading

  • Crespí, Juan: A Description of Distant Roads: Original Journals of the First Expedition into California, 1796-1770, edited and translated by Alan K. Brown, San Diego State University Press, 2001, ISBN 187969164

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