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Californian poppy
History of California
To 1899
Gold Rush (1848)
US Civil War (1861-1865)
Since 1900
Los Angeles
San Diego
San Francisco
San Jose

The History of California is characterized by several periods: the Native American period; European exploration from 1542 to 1769; the Spanish colonial period, 1769 to 1821; the Mexican period, 1821 to 1848; and statehood in the United States which continues to the present day.


History prior to 1899


Native American period

Native Americans have lived in the area which is now California for 13,000 to 15,000 years. Numerous tribes and bands inhabited the area.[1] Estimates of the Native American population during the pre-European period range from 100,000 to 700,000, with a median estimate of around 300,000.

European exploration

The 1562 map of Americas, which applied the name California for the first time.

European explorers flying the flags of Spain and of England explored the Pacific Coast of California beginning in the mid sixteenth century. Francisco de Ulloa explored the west coast of present-day Mexico including the Gulf of California, proving that Baja California was a peninsula,[2] but in spite of his discoveries the myth persisted in European circles that California was an island. His account provides the first recorded use of the name "California".

The first European to explore the California coast was João Rodrigues Cabrilho, better known by the Spanish version of his name, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. He was a Portuguese navigator sailing for the Spanish Crown. He was the first European to set foot in present day California, landing on September 28, 1542 on the shores of San Diego Bay and claiming California for Spain.[3] He also landed on San Miguel, one of the Channel Islands, and continued as far as Pt. Reyes. After his death the crew continued exploring as far north as Oregon.

The English explorer Francis Drake sailed along the coast of California in 1579. He put ashore somewhere north of Cabrillo's landing site - the actual location of Drake's landing was secret and is still undetermined[4] - and claimed the land for England, calling it Nova Albion. The term "Nova Albion" was therefore used on many European maps to designate territory north of the Spanish settlements.[5]

Sixty years after Cabrillo, in 1602, the Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno explored California's coastline from San Diego as far north as Monterey Bay. He named San Diego Bay, and held the first Christian church service recorded in California on the shores of San Diego Bay.[6] He also put ashore in Monterey and made glowing reports of the Monterey area as an anchorage and as land suitable for settlement, and provided detailed charts of the coastal waters, which were used for nearly 200 years.[7]

In 1778, the British seafaring Captain James Cook mapped the coast of California and the western coast of the North American continent all the way to the Bering Strait.

In 1786, Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, led a group of scientists and artists who compiled an account of the Californian mission system, the land and the people. Traders, whalers and scientific missions followed in the next decades.[8]

Spanish colonial period

Spanish missionaries had been establishing missions in present-day Baja California since 1697. The first permanent European settlement in present-day California ("Alta California") was the Mission San Diego de Alcala and Presidio of San Diego, established in 1769. Eventually 21 missions were established along the California coast, linked by the mission trail El Camino Real. The Spanish treated Baja California and Alta California as a single administrative unit, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, with Monterey as its capital.

Mexican period

In 1821 Mexico gained its independence from Spain, and Alta California became a state in the First Mexican Empire. The political turmoil by which Mexico gyrated from empire to republic and back again had little effect on California, which was regarded as a sleepy backwater and was ruled by appointed governors and alcaldes.

California independence

In 1846, at the outset of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the California Republic was founded. The Republic was short-lived and came to a sudden end when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into Monterey Bay and claimed California for the United States. The United States declared war on Mexico, and eventually gained control of Alta California through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Also in 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento, touching off the California Gold Rush.


From 1847 to 1849, California was governed by the U.S. military. In 1849 a constitutional convention established civilian government. California was admitted to the United States as part of the Compromise of 1850 in which slavery was banned within the state. The state capital was moved several times before being established in Sacramento in 1854. A constitutional convention in 1879 established a new constitution for the state.

California Gold Rush

In the early years of the California Gold Rush, placer mining methods were used, from panning to "cradles" and "rockers" or "long-toms", to diverting the water from an entire river into a sluice alongside the river, and then dig for gold in the newly-exposed river bottom. Some 12 million ounces[9] (370 t) of gold were removed in the first five years of the Gold Rush. By the mid-1880s, it is estimated that 11 million ounces (340 t) of gold (worth approximately US$6.6 billion at November 2006 prices) had been recovered via "hydraulicking," a style of hydraulic mining that later spread around the world. By the late 1890s, dredging technology had become economical,[10] and it is estimated that more than 20 million ounces (620 t) were recovered by dredging (worth approximately US$12 billion at November 2006 prices). Both during the Gold Rush and in the decades that followed, hard-rock mining wound up being the single largest source of gold produced in the Gold Country.[11]

Maritime history of California

Maritime history of California is a term used to describe significant past events relating to the U.S. State of California in areas concerning shipping, shipwrecks, and military installations and lighthouses constructed to protect or aid navigation and development of the state.

The first recorded shipwreck in California is that of the San Augustin, a Spanish Manila galleon, which was driven ashore in a gale in 1595 and was anchored in Drake’s Bay, northwest of San Francisco. The Farallon Islands and the mainland coast north of the Golden Gate Bridge have historically provided hazardous navigational obstacles to shipping. Year-round fogs and dangerous winds and storms often led ships to rocks and beaches to be pounded by the Pacific swells. Since the San Augustin, thousands of vessels have been lost in the states' coastal waters.

History of slavery in California

A type of slavery existed among the native peoples of the California region long before the arrival of European colonists. Spanish colonists — participants in the Atlantic slave trade and owners of both Indian and African slaves — introduced such concepts as chattel slavery and involuntary servitude to the area. Anglo settlers from the Southern and Eastern United States brought centuries of experience with slavery to California. Many free and enslaved people of African ancestry were part of the California Gold Rush (1848–1855), and many were able to buy their freedom, and to search for and free their families, with the gold they found.[12] The California Constitution of 1849 abolished slavery in the state.

California in the American Civil War

The possibility of splitting off Southern California as a territory or a state was rejected by the national government, and the idea was dead by 1861 when patriotic fervor swept California after the attack on Fort Sumter.

California's involvement in the American Civil War included sending gold east, recruiting or funding a limited number of combat units, maintaining numerous fortifications, and sending troops east, some of whom became famous. Following the split in the Democrat party in 1860, Republican supporters of Lincoln took control of the state in 1861, minimizing the influence of the large southern population. Their great success was in obtaining a Pacific railroad land grant and authorization to build the Central Pacific as the western half of the transcontinental railroad.

California was settled primarily by Midwestern and Southern farmers, miners and businessmen. Though the southerners and some Californios tended to favor the Confederacy, the state did not have slavery, and they were generally powerless during the war itself. They were prevented from organizing and their newspapers were closed down by denying them the use of the mail. Former Senator William M. Gwin, a Confederate sympathizer, was arrested and fled to Europe.

Nearly all the men who volunteered as Union soldiers stayed in the West, within the Department of the Pacific to guard forts and other facilities, occupy secessionist regions and fight Indians in the state and the western territories. Some 2,350 men in the California Column marched east across Arizona in 1862 to expel the Confederates from Arizona and New Mexico. The California Column then spent most of the remainder of the war fighting hostile Indians in the area.

California and the railroads

Prior to the railroad, travel between California and the East Coast usually involved a hazardous, months-long sea voyage or overland journey from the East. The establishment of America's transcontinental rail lines in 1869, securely linked California to the rest of the country, and the far-reaching transportation systems that grew out of them during the century that followed contributed to the state’s social, political, and economic development. When California was admitted as a state to the United States in 1850, and for nearly two decades thereafter, it was in many ways isolated, an outpost on the Pacific. In recent years, passenger railroad building has picked up steam, with the introduction of services such as Metrolink, Caltrain, Amtrak California, and others. This is expected to continue, thanks to the passing of various rail-construction measures on November 4, 2008, including Proposition 1a.

History of California, 1900 to present

See also

History of locations in California


  1. ^ State of California, Native American history
  2. ^ Gutierrez, Ramon A, and Richard J. Orsi, Contested Eden: California before the Gold Rush, University of California Press,1998, ISBN 0-520-21273, p. 81-82
  3. ^ San Diego Historical Society
  4. ^ Drake Navigators Guild website
  5. ^ University of San Francisco
  6. ^ San Diego Historical Society
  7. ^ Information from Monterey County Museum about Vizcaino's voyage and Monterey landing (retrieved 2006-12-18); Summary of Vizcaino expedition diary (retrieved 2006-12-18]
  8. ^ "The French In Early California". Ancestry Magazine. Retrieved March 24, 2006.  
  9. ^ The Troy weight system is traditionally used to measure precious metals, not the more familiar avoirdupois weight system. The term "ounces" used in this article to refer to gold typically refers to troy ounces. There are some historical uses where, because of the age of the use, the intention is ambiguous.
  10. ^ Rawls, James J. and Orsi, Richard (eds.) (1999), p. 199.
  11. ^ Charles N. Alpers, Michael P. Hunerlach, Jason T. May, and Roger L. Hothem. "Mercury Contamination from Historical Gold Mining in California". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2008-02-26.  
  12. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 2007


Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

See History of California to 1899 or History of California 1900 to present.

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This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at History of California. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

This article uses material from the "History of California" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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