José Figueroa

Last updated
José Figueroa
Flag of Mexico.svg  18th Governor of Alta California
In office
Preceded by José María de Echeandía
Succeeded by José Castro
Personal details
Died(1835-09-29)29 September 1835
Profession Governor, politician, soldier
Military service
Service/branch Flag of Mexico (1823-1864, 1867-1893).svg Mexican Army
Rank Gral bgdr.gif General

José Figueroa (1792 – 29 September 1835), was a General and the Mexican territorial Governor of Alta California from 1833 to 1835. [1]

Alta California province of New Spain

Alta California, known sometimes unofficially as Nueva California, California Septentrional, California del Norte or California Superior, began in 1804 as a province of New Spain. Along with the Baja California peninsula, it had previously comprised the province of Las Californias, but was split off into a separate province in 1804. Following the Mexican War of Independence, it became a territory of Mexico in April 1822 and was renamed "Alta California" in 1824. The claimed territory included all of the modern US states of California, Nevada and Utah, and parts of Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.


Background and governorship

Figueroa was a Mestizo of Spanish and Aztec ancestry, and was proud of his Indian background. [2] He had served as a military officer on the Sonoran frontier. He achieved the rank of Brevet Brigadier general. [3]

Mestizo race

Mestizo is a term traditionally used in Spain, Latin America and the Philippines that originally referred to a person of combined European and Indigenous American descent, regardless of where the person was born. The term was used as an ethnic/racial category in the casta system that was in use during the Spanish Empire's control of its American and Asian colonies. Nowadays though, particularly in Spanish America, mestizo has become more of a cultural term, with culturally mainstream Latin Americans regarded or termed as mestizos regardless of their actual ancestry and with the term Indian being reserved exclusively for people who have maintained a separate indigenous ethnic identity, language, tribal affiliation, etc. Consequently, today, the vast majority of Spanish-speaking Latin Americans are regarded as mestizos.

In many of the world's military establishments, a brevet was a warrant giving a commissioned officer a higher rank title as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct but without conferring the authority, precedence, or pay of real rank. An officer so promoted was referred to as being brevetted. The promotion would be noted in the officer's title.

Brigadier general or Brigade general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000 troops. In some countries a brigadier general is informally designated as a one-star general (OF-6).

Figueroa was appointed governor of Alta California in 1832, and arrived for duty in January, 1833. [2] Due to political turbulence, Alta California had two rival acting governors at that time. Agustín V. Zamorano held office in Monterey in the north, while José María de Echeandía ruled Southern California from Los Angeles and San Diego. Both men deferred to Figueroa, and the government of Alta California was united. [2]

Agustín V. Zamorano Governor of Alta California

Agustín Vicente Zamorano (1798–1842), was a printer, soldier, and provisional Comandante General in the north of Alta California.

José María de Echeandía (?–1871) was twice Mexican governor of Alta California from 1825 to 1831 and again from 1832 to 1833. He was the only governor of California that lived in San Diego.

Figueroa oversaw the initial secularization of the missions of upper California, which included the expulsion of the Spanish Franciscan mission officials. This also involved the issuing of many Mexican land grants for former mission lands, originally intended to be held in trust for Mission Indians. He also had to deal with the Híjar-Padrés colony, and a resulting rebellion.

The Mexican secularization act of 1833 was passed twelve years after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico feared Spain would continue to have influence and power in California because most of the Spanish missions in California remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church in Spain. As the new Mexican republic matured, calls for the secularization ("disestablishment") of the missions increased. Once fully implemented, the secularization act, called An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California, took away much of the California Mission land and sold or gave it away in large grants called ranchos.

Spanish missions in California historic religious outposts founded by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order to evangelize Native Americans

The Spanish missions in California comprise a series of 21 religious outposts or missions established between 1769 and 1833 in today's U.S. State of California. Founded by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order to evangelize the Native Americans, the missions led to the creation of the New Spain province of Alta California and were part of the expansion of the Spanish Empire into the most northern and western parts of Spanish North America.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second and fifth most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

Many of the communities that had grown up around the twenty-one missions became secular pueblos (towns). Most of the towns kept their previous mission names. In the case of Mission Santa Cruz, Figueroa considered changing the town name to Villa Figueroa, but the change was never put into effect. [4]

Mission Santa Cruz

Mission Santa Cruz was a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order in present-day Santa Cruz, California. The mission was founded in 1791 and named for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, adopting the name given to a nearby creek by the missionary priest Juan Crespi, who accompanied the explorer Gaspar de Portolá when he camped on the banks of the San Lorenzo River on October 17, 1769.

Híjar-Padrés colony

In 1833, the Mexican Congress passed legislation to secularize the California missions. Acting Mexican president Valentín Gómez Farías, a liberal reformer, appointed José María de Híjar and D. José María Padrés to lead a group of 239 colonists to establish secular control of Alta California. Híjar, a wealthy landowner, was appointed governor to replace Figueroa, and Padrés, an army officer, was appointed military commander. The colonists were farmers and artisans, and were volunteers carefully selected by Farías. His objective was to modernize and strengthen Mexican rule over California, as a bulwark against the growing influence of Russia and the United States. [3]

Valentín Gómez Farías President of Mexico

Valentín Gómez Farías was the President of Mexico for five short periods in the 1830s and 1840s. During his term in 1833, he enacted significant liberal reforms that were aimed at undermining the power of the Roman Catholic Church and the army in Mexico.

While the colonists were traveling north to Alta California on two ships, president Antonio López de Santa Anna took full power, and revoked Híjar's appointment as governor, thereby allowing Figueroa to continue in that post. A horseman traveled for 40 days from Mexico City to Monterey to bring the news to Figueroa. [2] One of the colonists' ships arrived in San Diego on 1 September, and the second ship arrived in Monterey on 25 September. As the horseback courier had arrived previously, Híjar learned to his consternation that he had no official powers. [2]

Figueroa objected to the colonization plan since he believed that at least half of the mission lands should be turned over to the California natives. The Franciscan missionaries had administered the missions in trust for the original inhabitants. On 4 August 1834, Figueroa issued a 180-page proclamation setting out a plan for secularization of the missions, which was far more favorable to the native peoples than the Híjar-Padrés plan. [3]

On 7 March 1835, a small group of the Híjar-Padrés colonists launched a brief rebellion against Figueroa in Los Angeles. Although the rebels took control of the town hall, the revolt promptly collapsed, and its leaders were arrested. [2]

When word of the failed coup reached Figueroa, he promptly had Híjar and Padrés arrested. [2] Híjar and his closest associates were ousted from California, although many of the colonists stayed and became productive citizens of California. [3]

Figueroa's manifesto

Figueroa's 1835 Manifesto, published in Monterey, was the first book printed in California. Figueroa's Manifesto.jpg
Figueroa's 1835 Manifesto, published in Monterey, was the first book printed in California.

In 1835, Figueroa published in Monterey, California his manifesto defending his administration and explaining his opposition to the Híjar-Padrés colonization plan. This was the first book published in California. [5]

Illness, death and burial

Francisco García Diego y Moreno, who later became California's first bishop, reported that Figueroa was "greatly agitated on account of the disturbances that the colonists caused", [6] and set out on a strenuous voyage in 1835 to calm the political turmoil. He sailed from Monterey to San Francisco, and with very little rest, on to San Diego and then he returned to Monterey in June, 1835, and was "already ailing". [6] Although he was initially able to continue his work, he felt weak and did not recover. He participated in the session of the territorial assembly that convened on 25 August, but informed that body on 27 August that he needed to take a leave of absence for health reasons, appointing José Castro as interim governor. [6]

Beginning 6 September, he was confined to his bed and on 22 September, he resigned, appointing José Castro as his successor. On 27 September, he wrote his last will, asking that his body be preserved and buried at Mission Santa Barbara. [6]

Figueroa died in Monterey on the afternoon of 29 September 1835. [6] As he had requested, his body was preserved, and sent to Santa Barbara by ship where it arrived on 27 October. [6] He was buried in a crypt beneath Mission Santa Barbara. [7]

Rumors circulated after his death that he had been poisoned. The following year, Diego reported to the Mexican government that Figueroa had shown symptoms of apoplexy in his final months, and that blood clots had been discovered in his brain when his body was preserved after his death. [6]

There were also persistent rumors that his body was not buried in Santa Barbara. In 1912, his casket was opened, and the body was consistent in that it was in a Mexican military uniform. The size of the skeleton matched Figueroa's small stature, no more than five feet, two inches tall. [6]


Early 20th-century historian J. M. Guinn wrote that "He [Figueroa] is generally regarded as the best of the Mexican governors sent to California". [2] Historian Kevin Starr wrote that Figueroa was "the most competent governor of California during the Mexican era". [3]

Landmarks named after General José Figueroa include:

Figueroa rancho land grants

Mexican land grants in Alta California issued by Governor José Figueroa:

Related Research Articles

Mission Santa Inés

Mission Santa Inés was a Spanish mission in the present-day city of Solvang, California, and named after St. Agnes of Rome. Founded on September 17, 1804 by Father Estévan Tapís of the Franciscan order, the mission site was chosen as a midway point between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission La Purísima Concepción, and was designed to relieve overcrowding at those two missions and to serve the Indians living east of the Coast Range.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo Californian military commander, politician, and rancher

Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was a Californio general, statesman, and public figure. He was born a subject of Spain, performed his military duties as an officer of the Republic of Mexico, and shaped the transition of Alta California from a territory of Mexico to the U. S. state of California. He served in the first session of the California State Senate. The city of Vallejo, California is named for him, and the nearby city of Benicia is named for his wife.

Luis Antonio Argüello was the first Californio (native-born) governor of Alta California, and the first to take office under Mexican rule. He was the only governor to serve under the First Mexican Empire and also served as acting governor under the subsequent provisional government, which preceded the First Mexican Republic.


Californio is a term for a Hispanic person native of California, who is culturally or genetically descended from the Spanish-speaking community that has existed in the Californias since 1683, of varying Criollo Spaniard, Mestizo, and Indigenous Californian origin. Alongside Tejanos and Neomexicanos, Californios are part of the larger Chicano/Mexican-American/Hispano community of the United States, which have lived in the American Southwest since the 16th century.

Juan Bautista Alvarado Governor of Alta California

Juan Bautista Valentín Alvarado y Vallejo was a Californio and Governor of Las Californias from 1837 to 1842. In 1836, he led a coup that seized Monterey and declared himself governor, backed by other northern Californios, with help from Capt. Isaac Graham and his "Tennessee Rifles". Alvarado declared independence for California but, after negotiations with the territorial Diputación (Legislature), was persuaded to rejoin Mexico peacefully in exchange for more local autonomy. As part of the agreement, in 1837 he was appointed governor of Las Californias, and served until 1842.

William Edward Petty Hartnell California pioneer

William Edward Petty Hartnell, a.k.a. Don Guillermo Arnel was a prominent early immigrant to Alta California who played a vital role in the history of Monterey County, California as well as the history of California.

José Darío Argüello (1753–1828) was a Spanish soldier, California pioneer, founder of Los Angeles, twice a Spanish colonial governor—eleventh of Alta California and then of the Baja California Peninsula—and father of Luis Antonio Argüello, first Alta California governor under independent Mexico.

José Castro Governor of Alta California

José Antonio Castro was a Californio politician, statesman, and military leader who served as acting governor of Alta California in 1835. He was also Commandante General of Mexican forces in northern areas of Las Californias during the Bear Flag Revolt and the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848.

Manuel Victoria was governor of the Mexican-ruled territory of Alta California from January 1831 to December 6, 1831. He died in exile. He was appointed governor on March 8, 1830 by Lucas Alamán.

Narcisco Durán, OFM was a Franciscan friar and missionary. He arrived in California in 1806 after studying briefly at the missionary College of San Fernando de Mexico. He served at Mission San José until 1833, when he moved to Mission Santa Barbara. A the Mission San José he arrested Jedediah Smith shortly and then released him and have him go to Governor José María de Echeandía in Monterey, California.

Father Vicente Francisco de Sarría was a Spanish missionary to the Americas.

Francisco García Diego y Moreno Catholic bishop

Francisco García Diego y Moreno, OFM, was the first bishop of the Diocese of the Two Californias.

Rancho San Francisquito was a 8,813-acre (35.66 km2) Mexican land grant in present-day Monterey County, California given in 1835 by Governor José Castro to Catalina Manzaneli de Munras. The grant was located in the upper Carmel Valley.

Ygnacio Coronel (1795–1862) was a settler in the Pueblo de Los Ángeles of Mexican Alta California. He was a member of the Los Angeles Common Council.

Rancho San Carlos de Jonata was a 26,634-acre (107.78 km2) Mexican land grant in present-day Santa Barbara County, California given in 1845 by Governor Pío Pico to Joaquín Carrillo and Jose Maria Covarrubias. The grant was west of Mission Santa Inés in the Santa Ynez Valley, and extended north from the Santa Ynez River along Zaca Creek. The grant encompasses present-day Solvang and Buellton.

Santiago Argüello (1791–1862) was a Californio, a soldier in the Spanish army of the Viceroyalty of New Spain in Las Californias, a major Mexican land grant ranchos owner, and part of an influential family in Mexican Alta California and post-statehood California.


  1. Francis J. Weber Prominent visitors to the California missions, 1786–1842 1991 "Jose Figueroa (1792–1835), an Aztecan mestigo, was a veteran of the Sonora frontier. He was Governor of California between 1833 and 1835. "
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Guinn, James Miller (1902). Historical and Biographical Record of Southern California:Containing a History of Southern California from Its Earliest Settlement to the Opening Year of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company. pp. 72–73.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Starr, Kevin (2007). California: A History. Modern Library. pp. 47–49. ISBN   9780812977530.
  4. Rowland, L. (1980). Santa Cruz, the early years: The collected historical writings of Leon Rowland, p.16. Santa Cruz, Calif: Paper Vision Press.
  5. Johnson, David. "Book Review: Manifesto to the Mexican Republic, which Brigadier General José Figueroa, Commandant and Political Chief of Upper California Presents on his Conduct and on that of José María de Híjar and José María Padrés as Directors of Colonization in 1834 and 1835". San Diego History Center. Retrieved 5 September 2016. In this handsomely designed and intelligently conceived volume, C. Alan Hutchinson has made available an important document concerning California's Mexican period. Governor José Figueroa's Manifesto to the Mexican Republic was the first book length imprint published in California (1835).
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Engelhardt, Zephyrin (1913). The Missions and Missionaries of California. San Francisco: The James H. Barry Company. pp. 597–605.
  7. Bush, Sara (1 April 2013). "Santa Barbara Mission crypt undergoes retrofitting". KEYT-TV . Santa Barbara, California . Retrieved 5 September 2016.