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Gaspar de Portolį

leader of the first expedition to see San Francisco Bay from land

Gaspar de Portola

Don Gaspar de Portolį was born into a noble family in Catalonia, Spain, in 1716. As a soldier in the Spanish army he served in Italy and Portugal, reaching the rank of Lieutenant in 1743.

In 1768, Portolį was appointed Governor of Baja California and charged with expelling all Jesuits from the region and turning their missions over to the Franciscans. That same year he volunteered to lead an expedition to establish bases at San Diego and Monterey bays. The expedition was to be comprised of two ships and two overland parties, with Portolį leading one of the overland parties. All four parties left La Paz in January of 1769. The expedition reached present-day San Diego and established a Presidio (military fort) in early July, but by then one of the ships had been lost and over half of the men who had left La Paz had died of disease.

Despite the serious loss of men and a lack of supplies, Portolą decided to continue on to Monterey Bay; he left San Diego with 63 men on July 14, reached present-day Los Angeles on August 2, Santa Barbara on August 19, San Simeon/Ragged Point on September 13, and the mouth of the Salinas River on October 1. Although the party had reached Monterey Bay, a heavy fog obscured the coastline and Portolį believed he was looking out toward open sea and did not realize he had reached his objective. The expedition continued on, and reached Santa Cruz on October 18. On October 31, scouts climbed a sumit and became the first Europeans to see the entrance to San Francisco Bay (now known as the Golden Gate). By this time Portolį realized that Monterey Bay lay behind him, and the expedition started back for home on November 11; it arrived back at San Diego on January 24, 1770.

Having failed to establish a base at Monterey, Portolį decided to lead a second expedition, which left San Diego on April 17, 1770. The expedition reached Monterey on May 24, and this time Portolį knew where he was. He established a Presidio on June 3 and then returned to San Diego.

Portolį was appointed Governor of Puebla in 1776 and served in that capacity until being replaced in 1784 and returning to Spain. He subsequently served as the commander of a cavalry dragoon regiment, and died in Spain in 1786.

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> Pacific States >> California >> History

This page was last updated on August 20, 2017.