From 1850: A History of California’s First 27 Counties
Among the tasks of lawmakers during California’s first legislative session, which began December 15, 1849, was naming the state’s counties.
Twenty-seven counties were established. Mariposa, for example, was the largest covering one-fifth of the state. Twelve subsequent counties were created in whole or in part out of Mariposa. Some original counties didn’t survive like Branciforte which became Santa Cruz.
On April 15, 1850, the Select Committee on the Derivation and Definition of the Names of the several Counties of the State of California filed its eponymous report.
The select committee was chaired by Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a California native and one of only two Californios in the state’s first Legislature.
Born in 1808, Vallejo had a large home near Sonoma and owned tracts of land that are present day Benicia and Vallejo.
He had 16 children and was excommunicated by the Franciscans for reading the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. A large contribution and a pledge to keep the tomes from the hands of “unintelligent people” secured his reinstatement.
He later sought relocation of the capitol to Vallejo but the city proved inadequate and his promises of land donations and financing for the construction of state buildings didn’t materialize.
The report of Vallejo’s committee begins on Page 522 of the appendix of the Senate Journal.
Here’s the description of San Francisco:
“The name of this county is famous throughout the Catholic world as being that of the creator of the religious order of Franciscans in Europe and America, in whose name the mission of San Francisco de Asis (Dolores) was established in the year 1776, under the immediate superintendence of the Reverend Franciscan Father Junipero de Serra.
“In the same year and in the name of H. Catholic Majesty, the harbor of San Francisco was taken possession of and a fort or a redoubt erected with the same name, which it still retains.
“The bay is also called San Francisco and lately it was given to the town of Yerba Buena by the municipal authorities of that place, doubtless so to harmonize the three places (distant one league from another, and forming a triangle), that they may amicably respond to the same name when the astounding activity and rapid growth of one will have united all three into an immense commercial city.
“In 1836 there were only two houses in San Francisco — one belonging to Capt. (William) Richardson (Yerba Buena’s first Anglo resident), the other to J. P. Leese, — and up to 1846 the place had made little progress.
“In 1848, however, it received so wonderful an impulse from the discovery of the gold mines in the Sierra Nevada, that it can be said, San Francisco is an enchanted or magical city, built by spirits such as are spoken of in the Arabian Nights.
“The town now contains a fluctuating population of from 20,000 to 40,000 inhabitants, made up in the short space of two years. The bay is large enough to accommodate the naval and commercial fleets of the world; there are now on its broad, magnificent bosom, 500 vessels, and more than 2,000 other craft, steamboats, scows, etc., actually engaged in all the ramifications of trade.
“San Francisco possesses theatres and good substantial wharves; it is the starting point of navigation to the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, which embrace an extent of 200 leagues.
“It is the present seat of the Supreme Court of California, and the residence of the Collector of Customs, wherein more than $2 million have been collected within two years.”
Los Angeles – “Angeles” here – gets somewhat less fulsome treatment:
“This county derives its name from the City of Los Angeles, which was founded in the latter part of the year 1781, by order of the viceroy of New Spain, Bailio Frey Antonio Bucareli y Ursua, and is situated on the right bank of the ‘Porciuncula’ river, which copiously waters the highly fertile plains whereon the city stands. “Invited by the genial climate, the inhabitants have converted a large portion of this plain into a delightful garden, which is covered with all sorts of native fruit trees but especially the vine, which is cultivated with care and extraordinary success.
“This beautiful and extensive valley, famous for its excellent wines and liquors, contains within its limits the ex-Missions of San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, and San Fernando, which, to within the last few years, constituted the best and richest establishments of the kind. In 1832, including the environs, they numbered very nearly half a million head of cattle.
“From the reasons above mentioned, as well as from its extent and natural advantages, the County of Los Angeles is destined to become the most populous of any in the South, and doubtless many men of business, both public and mercantile, tired of their avocations, will retire there to enjoy a life of Angels.
“The white population of the county is from 12,000 to 15,000.”
Filed under: California History
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