Gaspar de Portola

Gaspar de Portola

Gaspar de Portolá served as a soldier in the Spanish army in Italy and Portugal before being appointed Governor of Las Californias from 1768-1770. He was of noble birth, born in Catalonia. In 1767, the Viceroy of Mexico ordered the arrest and deportation of all Jesuits in colleges and missions. Gaspar de Portolá, as the newly appointed Governor of Baja California, was responsible for expelling the Jesuits from Baja California, where they had established 14 missions in 72 years. The Baja California missions were turned over to the Franciscans and later to the Dominicans.

Portolá was an able organizer and a good leader. In 1768, he volunteered to lead an expedition being planned by Jose de Galvez, the Spanish Inspector General. It would include a combination of soldiers, settlers and missionaries to create bases up the California coast in San Diego and Monterey. The expedition of four parts began in January, 1769, with the departure of the first ship from La Paz. There were two land expeditions, one led by Portolá which included Father Junipero Serra, and two by sea, aboard the ships San Carlos and the San Antonio. They were all to meet at San Diego and by early July, all four expeditions had arrived.

Following is an excerpt from Portolá's diary, on setting out for San Diego:

Diary of the journey that Don Gaspar de Portolá, captain of dragoons in the Espana Regiment, Governor of the Californias made by land to the ports of San Diego and Monterey, situated in 33' and 37o [N. Latitude], having been appointed commander-in-chief of this expedition by the Most Illustrious Don Joseph de Galvez, in virtue of the viceregal powers which had been granted to him by His Excellency [The Viceroy]. The expedition was composed of 37 soldiers in leather jackets with their captain, Don Fernando de Rivera; this officer was sent in advance with twentyseven soldiers and the Governor [followed] with ten men and a sergeant.

The 11th day of May, [1769], I set out from Santa Maria, the last mission to the north, escorted by four soldiers, in company with Father Junipero Serra, president of the missions, and Father Miguel Campa. This day we proceeded for about four hours with very little water for the animals and without any pasture, which obliged us to go on farther in the afternoon to find some. There was, however, no water.

The 12th we proceeded over a good road for five hours and halted at a place called La Poza de Agua Dulce. No pasture. [Translated by Donald Eugene Smith and Frederick J. Teggart in Publications of the Academy of Pacific Coast History, Vol. I, 39.]

The San Carlos, which left first, met with adverse winds and storms and the journey took 110 days. Because of an error in determining the latitude of the San Diego harbor by Vizcaino, 167 years earlier, the ships passed by San Diego and landed first near Los Angeles, before finding their way back. The San Antonio took 54 days to arrive. A third vessel was to follow with supplies, but was probably lost at sea. After their arduous journies, most of the men aboard ship were ill and many had been lost to illness, chiefly scurvy. [James Lind had published A Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753, which provided clear evidence of the curative value of oranges and lemons.]

A total of 219 men had left Lower California some two months before and little more than a hundred now survived.

Portolá was anxious to head on for Monterey and left San Diego with Father Crespi among a party of 63 men on July 14th, 1769. The land expedition traveled north from San Diego, reached Los Angeles on August 2, Santa Barbara on the 19th, and the San Simeon/Ragged Point area on September 13th. They reached the mouth of the Salinas River on Oct. 1, but fog obscured the Santa Cruz shore, making the rough bay look like open ocean, reaching Santa Cruz on October 18th and the San Francisco Bay area on October 31. They realized they had missed the harbor of Monterey and did not find it on their return to San Diego. The difficult journey had lasted six months and they had failed to reach their goal.

After replenishing supplies in San Diego, Portolá and Serra decided on a joint land/sea expedition to again search for Monterey, and to establish a colony if they were successful.

The San Antonio departed for Monterey 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 stores for the new mission at Monterey. The land expedition left the following day, led by Gaspar de Portolá, with Lt. Pedro Fages, twelve Catalonian volunteers, seven soldiers, five Baja California Indians and two muleteers. Father Crespi served as the expedition's chaplain. This land expedition followed the same route as it had the previous winter returning from Monterey. After 36 days on the road, with only two days of rest, they arrived in Monterey on May 24, 1770.