The One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of Los Angeles
Over the years, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of California has published numerous historical accounts relating to both the American Revolution and California history. Many of these treatises appeared in the Society's Bulletin while others appeared in special publications. Because of the rarity of its publications, and inherent inaccessibility to much of the public, the following interesting compilation of some of that research is presented.
The following, published in The Bulletin in 1932, will establish in the mind of the reader something of the history, romance and patriotic intensity of the Golden State.
Los Angeles celebrated the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of its birth and founding on September fourth. One hundred fifty years ago, led by the gallant Don Felipe de Neve, forty-four persons, one-half of them being children, settled on the site of, and formally founded, the city, now the fifth in size in the United States, and numbering more than a million and a quarter souls.
It was founded alongside the banks of a river that even then, as now, ran under rather than over its sandy bed. It is the one great city of the world not located on a jiving stream nor on the ocean's shore. It is truly a man-made metropolis and its rise in wealth, population and industrial prominence is due no less to the vision and enthusiasm of its later residents than to the stout-heartedness and tenacity of its original settlers. Those of us fortunate enough to live within its confines believe it to be truly a "City of Destiny".
Its soil, its climate, its people, its charm, make it known throughout the world, and the world is paying increasing tribute to its attractiveness. All that is best in Occidental civilization may now be found in its midst, and all that is greatest in Occidental civilization will eventuallv be its portion. All hail the name of Felipe de Neve, its founder. All hail the names of the brave and determined men and women of succeeding generations who have made it what it is.
The Fiesta de Los Angeles of 1931 set an appropriate stage for the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the city's founding. It is estimated that over half a million people came to the city during the Fiesta. Old-time Spanish and Mexican pageantry, reminiscent of "the days before the Gringo came", filled the streets, and the colorful history of Los Angeles, "under four flags", was gaily depicted to enthusiastic audiences.
Through the courtesy of Mr. Cassius Minton Jay of the Security-First National Bank, a former president of the California Society, we are privileged to reproduce some of the historical scenes and landmarks in and about Los Angeles, and through the courtesy of Mr. Orra E. Monnette, also a former president of our society, and one well known to Sons of the Revolution everywhere, we are afforded the opportunity of presenting some excerpts from the address delivered by him at the City Hall on September 4th, on the occasion of the opening ceremonies of the Fiesta.
Don Felipe de Neve
and the City He Founded
By Orra Eugene Monnette(1)
September 4, 1931 gloriously celebrates the anniversary of the birth of our beloved city of Los Angeles. It is a lofty opportunity for a commemorative expression of romance, idealism, sentiment, inspiration and optimicm, as graced in the flower of American civilization, which took root here in the climes of Southern California, grew, developed, budded and burst into full flower, in the birth, development and progress of a great municipality and in the foundation of the mighty commonwealth of the State of California.
Don Felipe de Neve, founder and "father of Los Angeles", was born approximately 1740, in Seville, Spain, an ancient city of historic interest, and a seat for many years of Spanish education and culture, today having a population of 150,000. No details of his birth or parentage have been discovered, but he was a scion of an old, well entrenched noble Spanish family. This lineage belonged to the nobility of the kingdom, was distinguished in its military devotion to and achievements in behalf of the crown. With his natural predilections for order and discipline, as well as an intensive training in athletics and military tactics, he displayed those characteristics of nature, sturdiness and personal force, which laid the foundation for a distinguished career.
He was first a student, scholar and intellectual enthusiast, then a military leader of distinguished renown. He was always master of himself, skilled in all mental and physical contests and polished by education and culture, an accomplished gentleman. Loyal to the king and the power of the throne, inspired with an earnest love of his country and of its peoples, and possessed of qualities of discipline, generalship and leadership, he was easily an outstanding, notable man of his times.
The spirit of adventure, colonization, and territorial exploitation was in the air of those days. Don Felipe de Neve was the man born to the duty and glory of the hour.
Because of his scholarship, his citizenship, his character, his erudition, his achievements, his military prowess, his statesmanship, Don Felipe de Neve must be crowned in thought and memory as the George Washington of California.
First a citizen, then a soldier, a lawgiver, and finally a state administrator of great distinction and renown, his name must be remembered as one of the chivalrous knights of high purpose who acted for the faith and honor of his king and countrymen. We who, in a glorified democracy, will have none of kings, must memorialize him who was the forerunner of the colonization and the development of a mighty commonwealth.
In making this comparison there must be kept in mind the motive of his character, career and achievements as related to California civilization. Unfortunately because of the lapse of time and the changeful character of sequential citizenship and sovereignty in our great state, Don Felipe de Neve presents the story of "a man whose fame has been dimmed by the passing years and lost in the oblivion of time." Nevertheless, in making the comparison with George Washington, we are entitled to make the parallel of qualities, attributes and powers of mind and heart which make them justly true and comparable.
While the earlier records of Don Felipe de Neve's career are wanting to give full facts of his achievements, nevertheless it was his obligation as a soldier, representative of Spain, and his military duties, commissioned by the King that sent him across the Atlantic to New Spain (Mexico) and made a distinguished military leader and great statesman of this youthful, energetic and accomplished genius of industry, application and masterfulness. He was essentially a soldier schooled in the military sphere from boyhood. Little is known of when and how he was commissioned to serve in the foreign possessions of the Spanish crown. Under direct order of the King he was directed to proceed to Mexico some time before the year 1766, when his real military genius commenced to find public expression.
On February 15, 1783, Don Felipe de Neve was raised to the rank of Comandante General de Los Provincias lnternas, one of the highest Colonial offices in the gift of the Crown. This was confirmed in Spain by the King, July 12, 1783, with an annual salary of $8000, a large salary for those days. "Coming now to his greatest achievement, Don Felipe de Neve was specially commissioned to establish new forts, presidios and missions in California. Seeing the need for agricultural development in the pueblo settlements as a matter of food distribution, he took skillful and wise measures to forward this industry. Protection against attack and aggression made necessary the forts and presidios, all of which were undertaken under his leadership.
De Neve saw no reason for postponing the foundation of the pueblo of Los Angeles. On the 4th day of September, 1781, therefore, the expedition set out from San Gabriel, the governor leading the way in person, followed by a detachment of soldiers bearing aloft the banner of Spain. Then came the Settlers, forty-four persons in all, eleven being men, eleven women, and twenty-two children all ages. The plaza had alreadv been laid out and the boundaries fixed for the building lots that faced it. As they neared the selected spot a procession was formed, made up of the soldiers, with the governor at their head, the priests from San Gabriel, accompanied by their Indian acolytes, then the male settlers, and lastly, the women and the children, the former bearing a large banner with the Virgin Mary painted upon it. We may suppose this banner to have been loaned bv the mission authorities, and it may have been the same one that had so miraculously brought the natives to submission when Padres Somera and Cambon first met them on the banks of the San Gabriel, ten years before.
The procession marched slowly and impressively around the plaza, followed, no doubt, by the wondering gaze of the Indians from Yang-na, who had assembled for the event. When the circuit was completed the priests asked a blessing on the new city that was about to come into existence. Then Governor Felipe de Neve delivered a formal speech to the settlers, of which no report has come down to us, but which we may safely assume was full of excellent advice to the citizens, and of glowing prophecy for the pueblo's future. Prayers and a benediction from the padres concluded the ceremony, which was probably the most extensive and most impressive that was ever held over the founding of an American city. The comparison is easily made, for the reason that probably not more than half a dozen American cities ever enjoyed the distinction of being really founded. The great majority of them merely 'happened'.
Thus, was the City of Los Angeles founded; first an Indian village, then a Spanish survey and visitation in 1769, made a Spanish city with ceremonial dedication on September 4, 1781.
It should not be left to the Spanish student alone to remember the exact Spanish names and their correct pronunciations. There is a dignity, romance and sonorous regality to the original name of Los Angeles, which seems to make the common and modern abbreviation, abrupt and meaningless: "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles," (The City of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels).
It was located not far from the site of the older Indian village of Yang-na and the famous Los Angeles River was originally the Porciuncula Rio or River. The small Spanish camp of 1769, and founded city of 1781, has grown to a city with a population, in 1931, of 1,300,000 people.
Governor Don Felipe de Neve died November 3, 1784. His death was announced to Governor Fages on November 30, 1784, and in official communications Fages speaks of his death on February 1 and, again, April 22, 1786. A correspondent of the church in Mexico states that his death took place while on a visit to the Viceroy, for a conference, either at Arizpe or Queretaro, but his burial place is unknown and there is a complete absence of information concerning his family or domestic affairs.
Writers and historians, particularly Bancroft, all agree concerning the personal qualities and strong attributes of Don Felipe de Neve; his devotion to the Royal service, his military and administrative qualities; his unfaltering allegiance to the true interests of the Californias, his lofty policies of states, which, backed by his prestige in Spain and Mexico, made his regime of the greatest importance in early California history.
1This section was written by Orra Eugene Monnette and appeared in The Bulletin, Sons of the Revolution in the State of California, Vol VIII, No. 1, September, 1932. Some of the language may seem antiquated. It is interesting to note that several members of the California Society, Sons of the Revolution, are descendants of Captain Francis Drake of Piscataway, NJ, a grand-nephew of the navigator, including former Society President Orra Eugene Monnette.