After 1767 the Spanish Viceroy gave the administration of the government in La Baja to the commandant of the presidio troops, who acquired the title of governor. The capital was at Loreto, commonly called Presidio de Californias.
In Jane, 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico, the charge of the California missions was offered to the Franciscan College of San Fernando, in the Mexican capital; and, the proffer being accepted, seven friars from the establishment set forth for the peninsula, to be joined by five from the Sierra Gordo missions. Their progress was delayed, first, by contrary seas and then by counter orders; at last they reached Loreto on April 1st, and, after receiving their instructions-which were not a little disappointing, as they were entrusted with only spiritual interests, and no temporal powers-they separated on the 8th, to distribute themselves among their respective missions. This loss of power so weakened the influence and abilities of the padres, that the system of missions bade fair to become extinct. Don Jose de Galvez, on his round as visitador, came invested with full discretionary powers in matters secular and ecclesiastical; and, seeing the evils of prevailing conditions, he demanded a rendering of accounts from the secular officials, restored much power to the fathers, reformed the faulty division of mission lands, organized colonization regulations, and instituted progressive movements in mining, agricultural and judicial matters. Here was a gentleman full of generous, philanthropic projects or the good of the settlers, yet loyal and careful of his sovereign’s interests. Enthusiastic, too, was he for the northward extension of Spanish dominion; and he organized four expeditions, two by land, and two by water, to prosecute explorations in that direction. These started in the spring of 1769, and more will be said of them hereafter. With this expedition went Father Junipero Serra, his place as president in the peninsula being taken by Father Francisco Palou. Galvez now introduced many reforms in California, and projected many others, including the restoration of the population and prosperity of Loreto, agricultural and industrial training for the country’s youth, and many other laudable features. Leaving instructions to these effects, he sailed for the mainland. May, 1769, marks the first visit, probably, of a scientific commission to California: a party, French and Spanish, under M. Chappe d’Auteroche, arrived at San Jose del Cabo, to observe the transit of Venus. Scarcely were their observations completed, when they were attacked by a malignant fever, from which perished several members, including the leader. This pestilence was succeeded by three others, which caused great ravages at all the missions, and badly demoralized the people.
For some years the peninsula was now a scene of constant contest between the friars and the secular rulers. Matias de Armona, who was in office hardly five months, seems to have found favor with the fathers, and to have merited their confidence. But the administrations of the others, particularly of Felipe Barri, would seem to have been a perpetual chain of petty intrigues, encroachments, jealousies, and harassing abuses of office. These conditions led to a petition from the Franciscans that their responsibility in the missions might be transferred to some other order. For some years there was much discussion of the question of ceding a part of the missions to the Dominicans, who, since 1768, had been endeavoring to extend their field to California. Prior to the fitting out by Galvez of expeditions to San Diego and Monterey, the Dominican father Juan Iriarte had sought license to establish missions between latitudes 25° and 28° on the west coast, but the application had been disallowed. Persisting, Iriarte the next year endeavored to obtain control of the northern districts of the peninsula, as well as some in the north of Sonora. Thus was the way paved for a cession of a part of the missions, and, in a conference between the Franciscan guardian, Rafael Verger, and the Dominican vicar-genera], Iriarte, it was settled that the Dominicans should have the entire peninsula, and its old missions, up to a point just below San Diego, with the right to extend their field eastward and northeastward beyond the gulf’s head; while to the Franciscans should appertain the missions above San Diego and unlimited territory for the extension of their establishments north and northwestward.
The Franciscans received with delight the news of this decision, in August 1772; a number of them departed in that same year for the northward. The rest were not to escape so easily from the persecutions of Barri the pugnacious. In an evil hour came the reply to Palon’s letters of complaint to the viceroy; and the partial justification of the father mightily incensed the governor. He stirred up anger among the Indians against the Franciscans; he accused the priests of having plundered the missions a charge refuted positively by the careful taking of accounts on which they insisted. Still, they were delayed by the same policy of accusation, and by injunctions against removing certain properties, church ornaments, etc., which they had been authorized to carry to the northern missions; and, although the vice-regal power was invoked, and its intervention secured, not until late in 1775 were the last of the Franciscans enabled to leave San Fernando Velicata, and the Dominicans remained in full possession of the peninsula.
By this time, the continual complaints against Barri had taken effect, and in 1774 he was succeeded by Felipe de Neve, the terms of the decree implying strong disapproval of Barri’s course. Certain provisions were made to prevent, if possible, farther conflict between the ecclesiastics and the military, the duties of the respective branches being clearly defined so as not to encroach upon each other.
The garrison at Loreto was allowed thirty-seven soldiers, which implied a cost of $12,450 per year. Neve soon found this force insufficient. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the conditions of revenue, and the administration of the friars. In short, he favored secularization. In 1775 this governor was ordered to remove his residence to Monterey, which then became the capital of the two Californias.
The Dominicans, at first very zealous, became discouraged and indifferent, owing to the refractory character of the natives, and the obstacles opposed by their surroundings. Not only were the visits of supply vessels from Mexican ports few and far between, but the inhabitants were forbidden to mitigate their discomforts by trade with foreign vessels. These foreign ships soon resorted to independent hunting of the sea otter in Lower Californian waters. From this measure there shortly resulted a considerable contraband trade with the people, which certainly proved of great benefit to them.
The year 1804 witnessed the decree separating La Baja from Alta California, and thereafter the neglect of the peninsula grew much more marked. During the long strife for Mexican independence from 1810 to 1820, the very isolation which in some respects weighed so heavily upon the peninsula, served as a protection against the horrors of warfare, although hostile ships made at least one incursion, sacking the mission at San Jose del Cabo. Great things were hoped from the early progressive measures taken by Echeandia, appointed to the civil and military command of the two Californias, under the Mexican government, which administration went into power in 1821, its commissioners arriving in La Baja the next year; these expectations, however, proved delusive.