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Las Californias ( ) was the name given by the Spanish to the area comprising the modern states of Baja Californiamarker and Baja California Surmarker in Mexicomarker, and the modern state of Californiamarker and part of the state of Nevadamarker in the United States of Americamarker. Administratively, it was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. As the name is plural, it must be understood to apply from approximately 1770, when the region was divided into north and south administrative areas, until 1848 when Alta California was ceded to the United States. It may perhaps still be used to refer to the two states in Mexico.

The inland part of the Californias was not precisely defined and at times was understood to include the present states of Nevadamarker and Arizonamarker and portions of New Mexicomarker and Utahmarker. To the east it was bordered by the Gobernaciones (provinces) of Sonoramarker, which included the settlements in Arizona, and Nuevo México. Most of the colonization of the area was done first by Jesuit missionaries, who set out, with the aid of Spanish soldiers stationed in a system of presidios, to convert and to politically and socially reorganize the Native communities of the region. Once the missions and the Native communities organized around them were successfully established, secular settlements of Hispanic peoples from other parts of northern New Spain were created. This process was first carried out during the seventeenth century in the Baja California peninsula, and was repeated in the late eighteenth century in the area that is today the State of California. In 1776 the Californias became part of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas. In 1786 an independent intendancy was set up for the Californias to administer government and military finances, but the office was merged with the governorship a few years later. In 1804 the crown established two governments for the region, one called Baja California, and another for the remaining areas in the mainland to the north, called Alta Californiamarker. As part of the Provincias Internas, the Californias fell under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Guadalajara in judicial matters.

First explorations and early history

The first recorded Europeans to sight the California region sailed in La Concepción in 1533 under the pilot navigator Fortún Jiménez in an expedition organized by Hernán Cortés. They reached La Pazmarker, where they tried to establish a small colony. In 1535 Cortés himself participated in a second expedition, which explored the Sea of Cortezmarker. At the time of Cortés's' expeditions, the region was occupied by a wide variety of Native American peoples. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's expedition, commissioned by Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza was the next to reach the area, sailing via the Pacific Oceanmarker in 1542 following the coast of the Baja California peninsula to a point beyond 40° North latitude. He named the discovered territory Nueva California (New California) as opposed to Vieja California (Old California), which were the coasts of which had already been sailed and explored.

The first, secular Hispanic city in the Californias was Loretomarker, which became the first capital of the territory.


Colonization, carried out primarily through the establishment of missions, began during the seventeenth century and ended shortly after the independence of Mexico in 1821. For almost the first century, the missionizing effort, carried out by the Society of Jesus, concentrated on Baja California exclusively. The first mission in Baja California, the short-lived Misión San Bruno, was established in 1683, but the first successful mission was established in 1697 in Loreto.

The second half of the 18th century brought about changes in policy for several reasons. First foreign powers, especially Russia, became interested in Alta California and began to make inroads into the area. At the same time the administration of the area was revitalized by the political reforms carried out under José de Gálvez, who was first a visitador to the Viceroyalty of New Spain and later Minister of the Indies. Finally, another drastic change came when the crown ordered all Jesuits expelled from all Spanish territories in 1767. The Dominicans were selected to take over the missions in Baja California. Around this time plans to bring Alta California firmly into Spanish control through a new missionary effort were finalized. The Franciscans were chosen by the authorities carry out this plan in 1769. The exact border between the Orders' territories in the Californias was established in 1773 by Francisco Palóu on a line close to the present United States-Mexico border. It ended at the Pacific coast in the area of Playas de Rosaritomarker, about 25 km south of the current international border. (The first border was at Punta El Descanso, today occupied by the Centro Histórico y Cultural Calafia. It was later moved in 1778 to the Rosarito Creek.) Direction of the Franciscan, Alta California missions fell first to Junípero Serra, and after his departure in 1773, to Palóu.

Gálvez's plans also included secular settlements. Much as had happened in the previous century in Baja California, first a system of presidios were established in Alta California to protect the missionaries. Two decades later secular towns were also established to bring in Hispanic settlers into the area and to provide food, material and a place for retirement for the presidio soldiers. The first town in Alta California was San José de Guadalupe in 1777, followed by Nuestra Señora, la Reina de los Ángeles in 1781. Other towns soon formed around the presidios.

Political division and permanent separation

As Alta California developed and gained a larger Hispanic population, the need for a separate government became apparent. In 1804 the two areas were separted and Baja California and Alta Californiamarker given separate governors. With Mexican independence the two provinces became territories, not states as most other areas of the country did, due to their small populations in the new republic established in 1824.

Two decades later, as a result of the Mexican–American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Mexicomarker permanently lost Alta California. The new areas acquired by the United States continued to be administered as territories, but by the early 20th century all had become states. Mexico reorganized the Territory of Baja California into two territories in 1931, North Territory of Baja California and South Territory of Baja California. By the end of the 20th century each territory would become a state, Baja Californiamarker in 1953 and Baja California Surmarker in 1974.

The current captitals of each state are Sacramento, Californiamarker; Mexicali, Baja Californiamarker; and La Paz, Baja California Surmarker.

Timeline of the Californias

Governors of the Californias

Sources and references

See also

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