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Black Mexico: Building Los Angeles

The original pobladores were rewarded by the provincial Mexican government for their sacrifice and hardship in helping forge Pueblo de Los Angeles

Compton Herald | Building Los Angeles
Historical monument, on the founding of Spanish colonial Pueblo de Los Ángeles in 1781, located at the Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles church (Our Lady Queen of the Angels mission asistencia), in the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Wikipedia/Teachalakazi

The original pobladores from Mexico and their emergent story 1781-1860 pioneering the ‘City of Angels’

Compton Herald | Black MexicoThis multiple-part series unravels the little-known history of how Mexico’s 15th-century assimilation of Spaniards, Indigenous natives, and African slaves gave rise to “Black Mexico,” and eventually led to the founding of Los Angeles by Black Mexicans and Mestizos in the 18th century when California was still under the rule of Mexico. Even though the Black imprint in Mexico is unraveling more and more as time moves on, the reality of the truth is still largely mired in a Shadow History and the truth has never been taught as a history lesson in Mexico, much less as historic text in America. Until now, this historic truth has largely been available as scholarly works. The Compton Herald sought out this history, scaled down its volume from multiple scholarly sources, and now present it in nine parts for public consumption — the editor

Part VI — “Black Mexico: Unearthing the ‘Third Root’”

THE “THIRD ROOT” WOULD extend deeply into the fertile soil of Alta California by sunset of the 18th century. The original pobladores would eventually travel different paths outside El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles on order of the provincial Mexican government to plant new pueblos and tame wild Alta California.

The seed is planted

The settlers arrived from Mexico in September 1781 in two groups. Some of them more than likely had been working in their assigned plots of land since the early summer.

Compton Herald | Felipe De Neve

The individual most responsible for the founding of Los Angeles was the new titular head of California, Gov. Felipe de Neve. Photo: “FelipeDeNeve” by Bdubay – Licensed under CC0 via Commons

El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles would rise from the earth of Alta California largely due to the efforts of the new titular head of California, Gov. Felipe de Neve.

Gov. Neve was on a tour of Alta California in 1777 and considered it prudent to establish civic pueblos to support of the military presidios. The new pueblos would reduce the secular power of the missions by reducing the military’s dependence on them. At the same time, the pueblos would promote the development of industry and agriculture.

Neve chose Santa Barbara, San Jose, and Los Angeles as sites for his new pueblos. His plans closely followed the Laws of the Indies, a set of Spanish city planning laws decreed by King Philip II in 1573. Those laws laid the foundations of some of the largest cities in California and the West — San Francisco, Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Fe, San Jose; San Antonio, and Laredo, Texas; and Tucson, Arizona.

Laying the foundation

According to research scholars, the Spanish system called for an open central plaza surrounded by a fortified church, administrative buildings, and streets laid out in a grid. Rectangles of limited size were to be used for farming (suertes), and residences (solares).

It was in accordance with such precise planning, specified in the Law of the Indies, that Neve founded California’s first municipality — the pueblo of San Jose de Guadalupe, on the plains of Santa Clara on Nov. 29, 1777.

For El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles, the first settlers built a water system consisting of ditches (zanjas) leading from the river through the middle of town and into the farmlands. Indigenous natives were employed to haul fresh drinking water from a special pool upstream from the pueblo. This town became known as a producer of fine wine grapes, and later a haven for cattle ranching. The expert craftsmanship of tallow and cowhides was also part of the culture.

Because of the great economic potential for Los Angeles, the demand for indigenous labor grew rapidly. A nearby thriving native Indian village called Yaanga began attracting natives from the islands and as far away as San Diego and San Luis Obispo. The village began to look like a refugee camp. Unlike the missions, the pobladores paid native Indians for their labor. The natives were paid in clothing and other goods as well as cash and alcohol in exchange for their work as farm workers, vaqueros, ditch diggers, water haulers, and domestic help. The pobladores bartered with the natives for prized sea otter and seal pelts, sieves, trays, baskets, mats, and other woven goods. This commerce greatly contributed to the economic success of the town and the attraction of other indigenous peoples to the city.

Restlessness, strife grows among natives

During the 1780s, San Gabriel Mission became the object of an indigenous revolt. The mission had taken away all the suitable farming land; the native people found themselves abused and forced to work on lands that they once owned. A young native female spiritual healer by the name of Toypurina began touring the area, preaching against the injustices suffered by her people. She won over four rancherías and led an attack on the mission at San Gabriel. The soldiers defended the mission and arrested 17, including Toypurina.

In 1787, Gov. Pedro Fages drew up his “Instructions for the Corporal Guard of the Pueblo of Los Angeles.” The instructions included rules for native employment, an end to corporal punishment, and protection for the indigenous rancherías. As a result, the local natives found themselves with more freedom to choose between the benefits of the missions and the pueblo-associated rancherías.

In 1795, Sgt. Pablo Cota led an expedition from the Simi Valley through the Conejo-Calabasas region and into the San Fernando Valley. His party visited the rancho of Francisco Reyes, where they found the local native vaqueros hard at work caring for crops. Padre Vincente de Santa Maria was traveling with the party and recounted the following:

“All of pagandom [indigenous natives] are fond of the pueblo of Los Angeles, of the rancho of Reyes, and of the ditches (water system). Here, we see nothing but pagans, clad in shoes with sombreros and blankets, and serving as muleteers to the settlers and rancheros, so that if it were not for the gentiles there would be neither pueblos nor ranches. These pagan Indians care neither for the missions nor for the missionaries.”

Not only economic ties but also marriage attracted many indigenous natives to the life of the pueblo. The first recorded marriages in Los Angeles took place in 1784, only three years after the founding. The two sons of settler Basilio Rosas — Maximo and José Carlos — married two young indigenous native women, María Antonia, and María Dolores.

The original pobladores were rewarded by the provincial Mexican government for their sacrifice and hardship in helping forge Pueblo de Los Angeles. They were given the title to their land in 1786, two years after a chapel was built on the Plaza. Each pobladores received four rectangles of land (suertes) for farming — two irrigated plots and two dry ones.

Compton Herald | William Rich Hutton drawing of Los Angeles

Photograph of a drawing by William Rich Hutton depicting a section of Los Angeles, ca.1847. Generally considered to be the oldest extant drawing of the city. Source: University of Southern California Libraries/public domain

The lay of the land

When the settlers arrived, the Los Angeles floodplain was heavily wooded with willow and oak trees. The Los Angeles River flowed year round. Wildlife was abundant. Deer, antelope, black bear, even grizzly bear were found before hunters decimated them years later after cession from Mexico. There were abundant wetlands. Swamps and rivers teemed with salmon, steelhead, and other fish.

In the years after 1781, the pobladores and migrating Mexicans were agrarian and expertly skilled in a number of disciplines necessary for survival in Alta California.

El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles grew steadily as settlers and other soldiers came into town and remained. That precipitated a building boom in El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles, as the growing migrant population had to have a place to live. The growing economy servicing the needs of the migrants demanded business accommodations. By 1800, 29 buildings had been constructed. Most were flat-roofed, one-story adobe buildings with chair seats and thatched roofs made of tule, a bulrush variety of a grass-like cyperaceous marsh plant Native Americans used for the making of mats.

Indian labor drove the construction of the Plaza of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles between 1818 and 1822. The new church completed Gov. Neve’s planned transition of authority from mission to the pueblo. Angelinos would no longer have to make the bumpy 11-mile ride to Sunday Mass at Mission San Gabriel. In 1820, the route of El Camino Viejo was established from Los Angeles, over the mountains to the north and up the west side of the San Joaquin Valley to the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Mexican era; sunset for the amazing pobladores

Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821 was celebrated with great festivity throughout Alta California. No longer subjects of the king, people were now citizens (ciudadanos), with rights under the law. People swore allegiance to the new government in the plazas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and other settlements. The new flag of independent Mexico replaced the Spanish flag.

Independence brought other advantages, including economic growth. There was an increase in population as more native Indians were assimilated and others arrived from America, Europe, and other parts of Mexico. Before 1820, there were just 650 people in the pueblo. Twenty-one years later the population nearly tripled to 1,680. Los Angeles had grown to become the largest self-sustaining farming community in Southern California.

As for what became of the original pobladores that founded Los Angeles and sent it into motion, history recorded the following:

  • Antonio Mesa became disillusioned with the hardships in Alta California and received permission to return to Sonora, Mexico in 1782.
  • Jose de Velasco y Lara received permission to move to Ventura in 1782 to establish the Mission San Buenaventura, and later to Santa Barbara to establish the Presidio. Unfortunately, he was ordered back to the State of Nayarit in Western Mexico by the government when he confessed to Father Junipero Serra that his first wife, whom he said had died — actually was still alive. He remarried and fathered children, but was never able to return to see his second wife and children in Santa Barbara. He died shortly after returning to Nayarit in 1783.
  • Alejandro Rosas remained in Los Angeles. He and his wife died a month apart in Los Angeles in December 1788, and January 1789.
  • Jose Antonio Navarro was sent to San Jose in 1790 and later to the Presidio in San Francisco. He was buried at the Mission Dolores in San Francisco in 1793.
  • Jose Vanegas remained in Los Angeles for 20 years during which he served as the first alcalde (mayor). Upon the death of his wife in 1801, he moved to San Diego and the Mission San Luis Rey.
  • Antonio Clemente Felix Villavicencio moved to Santa Barbara in 1797, and died there in 1802.
  • Jose Moreno remained in Los Angeles for 25 years, serving as a Los Angeles regidor. He died in 1806 and was buried at Mission San Gabriel.
  • Jose Antonio Rosas remained in Los Angeles 28 years. He died in 1809 and was buried at the Mission San Gabriel.
  • Luis Quintero received permission along with Jose de Velasco y Lara to move to Ventura in 1782 to establish the Mission San Buenaventura and later to Santa Barbara to establish the Presidio. He may have wished to be near his three daughters who married soldiers stationed at the Presidio in Santa Barbara. He died in Santa Barbara in 1810.
  • Pablo Rodriguez moved to San Diego in 1796, then to San Juan Capistrano, where he died in 1816 and was buried at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
  • Manuel Camero remained in Los Angeles for 38 years, where he served as a Los Angeles regidor (councilman). He died in 1819.
  • A 12th settler, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, a 50-year-old Filipino, and his 11-year-old daughter were also slated to settle in the new pueblo. They set out with the rest of the pobladores in early 1781, but while in Baja, Calif., fell ill to smallpox and remained there to recuperate. When they finally arrived in Alta California, it was discovered that Miranda Rodriguez was a skilled gunsmith and was subsequently reassigned to the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1782 to work in the armory.
  • Maria Guadalupe Gertrudis Perez, a mulatta and wife of mulatto Jose Moreno, was the last surviving original pobladore. She died in 1860, 54 years after Jose Moreno at age 97. Her granddaughter, Catalina Moreno, married Mexican military commander Don Andres Pico, brother of Pio Pico, during the Spanish-American War. Andres fought at the Battle of San Pascual.
  • Luis Quintero, as reported in an earlier “Black Mexico” installment, was 55 years old when he arrived from Jalisco, Mexico. Quintero lived out the rest of his life in Santa Barbara.

Descendents of the pobaldores

Some of Quintero’s family members eventually ended up in Los Angeles. A Quintero granddaughter, María Rita Valdés de Villa, was the widow of Vicente Ferrer Villa, a Spanish soldier. When he died in 1852, Maria inherited a 4,539-acre ranch offered to her husband for his service in the military. Rodeo de las Aguas (Meeting of the Waters) eventually became the City of Beverly Hills.

An ancestral link to settler Quintero can be found on a blog written by his seventh generation descendant, A. Anthony Leon, V, of Los Angeles. Leon, Duarte Cordova of Pomona, and Lawrence Bouett of Los Angeles are members of Pobladores 200, the organization that participated in the 1981 Los Angeles Bicentennial anniversary of the city’s founding.

Two other descendants of soldiers, Victoria Duarte Cordova of Pomona, and Lawrence Bouett (the author of the blog L.A. Roots) are direct, sixth-generation descendants of Mexican soldier (soldado de cuera) Roque Jacinto de Cota, one of the four soldiers who accompanied the pobladores from Misión San Gabriel Arcángel to the site of the future El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles.

Roque Jacinto de Cota, the son of Andrés de Cota and María Angela de León, was born around 1724 in la Villa del Fuerte in Nueva España in what is now Sinaloa, México. Andrés de Cota and Angela de León had at least four children, all sons and all born in El Fuerte. Three sons — Roque, Antonio, and Pablo Antonio — died in Alta California. Roque Cota’s younger brother, Antonio Cota, was also a soldado de cuera and a member of the escolta that came to Los Angeles from Mission San Gabriel. The third brother, Pablo Antonio, settled in Santa Barbara.

If you know the history of other pobladores descendants please comment below.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. is Publisher and Editor of Compton Herald. He attended junior and senior high school in Compton, and is an alumnus of California State University, Los Angeles.

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