PORTOLA, Gaspar de

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PORTOLA, Gaspar de (c. 1715-1786), the first Spanish governor of the Californias appointed governor of Baja California in 1767.

Portola was born in Balaguer, Spain, around 1715. The son of a noble family, Portola joined the Spanish army in 1734. After 30 years of service in Europe, he rose to the rank of captain. In 1769, he volunteered to command an expedition led by both land and by sea to found settlements in Alta California. Called the Sacred Expedition, the ships San Carlos and San Antonio led the sea-going portion of colonization forces to bring the Christian faith to the Indians. The San José never arrived in Alta California and was presumed lost at sea. Expedition diarists include Juan Crespi, Pedro Fages, Miguel Costanso and others. The Portola expedition is credited with claiming all California lands for the King of Spain under the Laws of Indies.

The king had decreed the expulsion of the Jesuit order from Spain and its dominions because rumors circulated that the Jesuits had amassed a fortune and were becoming very powerful. Portola was tasked with removing the Jesuits from the missions in Baja California, an assignment he carried out efficiently but with compassion. The missions were turned over to the Franciscans and later to the Dominicans.

In May 1768, the ruler of Mexico, Jose de Galvez, organized the expedition. Portola was named governor of California and given overall command. Father Junipero Serra, leader of the expedition’s Franciscan missionaries, was in charge of spiritual matters.

Sacred Expedition, led by Portolá in 1769, went from Baja to Alta California to establish missions for the King of Spain. It was divided into both a land detachment as well as a sea going flotilla consisting of the three ships, San Antonio, San Carlos and San José. Miguel Costanso, military engineer and cartographer aboard the San Carlos, charted several of the California islands. The San Antonio, under the command of Juan Pérez, visited Santa Cruz Island with Fr. Juan Vizcaíno and Fr. Francisco Gomez. One of the priests reportedly left a walking staff topped by a small iron cross on the island which was later reunited turned to him by the island natives. The island was named La Isla de la Santa Cruz (Island of the Holy Cross) for this incident.

  • 1909. Smith, Donald Eugene and Frederick J. Teggert. Diary of Gaspar de Portola During the California Expedition of 1769-1770. Academy of Pacific Coast History 1(3), October 1909. Wraps.
[original in SCIF archives]

  • 1910. Costanso, Miguel.The Narrative of the Portola Expedition of 1769-1770. Edited by Adolph Hemert-Engert. Academy of Pacific Coast History 1(4), March 1910. Wraps.
[original in SCIF archives]