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Has your family lived in Los Angeles for many generations? Do you have any of the following surnames: Verdugo, Sepulveda, Avila, Rosas, Higuera, Lugo, Domínguez, Serrano, Olivas, Ybarra, Palomares, Rodríguez, Reyes, Romero, Valenzuela, Pico or Feliz? Or did you or your family come from the states of Sinaloa or Sonora?

If you can lay claim to any of these criteria, you may be related to the first families of Los Angeles. Most people do not know much about the founding families of Los Angeles. Very few of their names have been given to streets, cities, barrios, or buildings in the Los Angeles area.

A Pueblo Established in 1781

Most people, however, know that Los Angeles was founded in 1781. But many people believe that Los Angeles was founded by the Spaniards. In fact, some people believe that the founders of Los Angeles were actually from Spain. Nothing could be so far from the truth. It is true that Spanish administrators and authorities organized and carried out the founding of the small pueblo. However, the founders of the town itself were, in fact, Mexican people from the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Sonora and Jalisco. The founding of Los Angeles was a Spanish endeavor carried out by Mexican people. The one exception was José Fernando de Velasco y Lara, who was, in fact, a native of Spain.

If you are from Sinaloa or Sonora, then you have ties to the earliest founders of Los Angeles. The first families of Los Angeles, for the most part, looked upon Sinaloa and Sonora as their “madre patria” because the lifeblood of Los Angeles was built on the manpower of citizens from Sinaloa and Sonora.

The Rivera Expedition of 1781

The Rivera Expedition of 1781 brought 44 settlers and several dozen solders into the Los Angeles area. Many of the people who participated in this expedition became members of the Los Angeles community. It should be noted, however, that Jalisco and other Mexican states did send their share of people in the early decades. In fact, two of the founders of Los Angeles – Luis Quintero and José Vanegas – were from Jalisco.

As noted in the following map, two expeditions made their way to California from Sonora in 1781. The red line shows the first expedition under Zuñiga with the settlers, which travelled up the Baja California Peninsula. The second expedition under Rivera is shown in green and included soldiers, their families and livestock. [Phil Townsend Hanna, “Schwald Family Genealogy, “Ruiz Genealogy.” Online: https://schwaldfamily.org/features/ruiztoca.php].

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The Original Pobladores (Settlers) of Los Angeles

The original party of the new townsfolk consisted of eleven families, or 44 total persons, that is 11 men, 11 women, and 22 children of various Spanish castas (castes). The castas of the 22 adult pobladores, according to the November 1781 census, were:

  • 1 Peninsular (Spaniard born in Spain)
  • 1 Criollo (Spaniard born in New Spain)
  • 1 Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian)
  • 2 Negros (blacks of full African ancestry)
  • 8 Mulattos (mixed Spanish and black)
  • 9 Indios (American Indians)

The following graphic shows the name, age, ethnic classification and birthplace of each of the settlers, and notes the number of people in their households:

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Many of these early citizens became involved in the political direction of the city of Los Angeles. Although these pioneers lived within the bounds of the Spanish empire, they became responsible for the success of the little pueblo. As you will see below, some of the Pueblo’s early Alcaldes (Mayors) were simple people of humble origin. Most of them were not educated but had a stake in the success of Los Angeles. The following graphic lists some of the activities of the founders of Los Angeles in the following decades:

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Luis Quintero and María Petra Rubio

An official padrón (census) taken on November 19, 1781 listed Luis with his wife and five children. Luis was classified by the Spanish authorities as a “negro” and María Petra as a “mulata.” It is said that Luis was of Indian and African extraction and was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, even though he apparently married and raised his family in Álamos, Sonora. Luis and his family left Los Angeles in 1782 for Santa Barbara, where he spent the rest of his life working as a tailor for the soldiers at the Presidio. But many of his descendants returned to live in Los Angeles.

Manuel Camero

Manuel Camero was a thirty-year-old mulato from Nayarit when he and his wife, María Tomasa, arrived in Los Angeles in 1781. Señor Camero became involved in the political scene at Los Angeles and served as a Los Angeles regidor (councilman) during his lifetime.

José Antonio Navarro

In 1781, when they arrived in Los Angeles, José Antonio Navarro was a 42-year-old mestizo from Sinaloa. He and his mulata wife, María Regina, later moved north to San José and San Francisco with their young children.

José Antonio Basilio Rosas

José Antonio Basilio Rosas was a 67-year-old Indian from the state of Durango. He and his 43-year-old mulata wife, María Manuela Calixtra Hernandez, brought six children with them to Los Angeles in 1781. Basilio lived to a ripe old age and was able to see his grandchildren raised in the little pueblo.

José Vanegas

José Vanegas arrived in Los Angeles in 1781 as a 28-year-old Indian. A native of Jalisco, Vanegas was accompanied by his Indian wife María Bonifacia Maxima Aguilar and one child. Vanegas was a shoemaker, but he also became involved in city politics and served as the first Alcalde (Mayor) of Los Angeles from 1786 to 1788.

Cornelio Avila

Cornelio Avila and his wife Isabel Urquidez came to Los Angeles in 1783. Originally from El Fuerte, Sinaloa, Cornelio and Isabel had nine children, several of whom enlisted in the military and were posted at various presidios in California. “La Casa de los Avilas” – located on Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles – was built in 1818 by Cornelio’s son, Francisco Avila. The Adobe Avila – as it is called today – is the oldest building of Los Angeles and one of the few that carries the surname of one of Los Angeles’ founding families. The Avila family became actively involved in Los Angeles politics and Francisco served as Alcalde (Mayor) in 1810-1811.

Felipe Santiago de la Cruz Pico

Felipe Santiago de la Cruz Pico was a mulato from San Xavier de Cabazán, a town located close to Horcasitas, Sinaloa. He came to California with the Anza Expedition in 1775 and served in the military up until 1790. In the Los Angeles census of that year, Santiago was listed as a 60-year-old mestizo vaquero from Sinaloa. Two sons lived with him and his wife Jacinta. Santiago and Jacinta’s grandson, Pio Pico, born in 1801, would be the last Mexican Governor of California.

Pedro Gabriel Valenzuela

Pedro Gabriel Valenzuela was a mestizo soldier from Álamos, Sonora. With his wife María Dolores Parra, he had accompanied the Rivera Expedition to San Gabriel in 1781. He served many years at the Santa Barbara Presidio, retiring in 1798 to the Pueblo of Los Angeles. Their family has many descendants living in both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

José Antonio Ontiveros

José Antonio Ontiveros was a mestizo from Chametla, a village near Rosario, Sinaloa. He was married to Ana María Carrasco, and in 1781, they and their two children accompanied the Rivera Expedition on its way to Los Angeles. José served at several presidios before retiring to Los Angeles, where he listed as a shoemaker in the 1790 census.

Francisco Serrano

Francisco Serrano was born in Villa de Sastago, Aragon, Spain. At some point he made his way to Mexico and then to the San Diego Presidio, where he married María Blabaneda Silvas, a native of Villa de Sinaloa. Francisco and María had eleven children in all. After serving for many years in the military, Francisco moved to Los Angeles, where he served as Alcalde of the Pueblo from 1799 to 1800.

Juan Matias Olivas

Juan Matias Olivas was an Indian soldier from Rosario, Sinaloa. He and his wife, Maria Doroteo Espinosa, took part in Rivera’s Expedition to San Gabriel in 1781. Juan served as a soldier at the Santa Barbara Presidio until his retirement in 1800. After this, Juan and his family made their home in the Pueblo.

Juan Antonio Ybarra

Juan Antonio Ybarra was from Mazatlán de los Mulatos, Sinaloa. He married María de los Angles Velasquez around 1778 and came with the Rivera Expedition to Los Angeles in 1781. Juan served in the military for more years, retiring to the Pueblo of Los Angeles sometime around 1804. Juan and María had nine children, many of whom became involved in the military and lived in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas.

José Cristóbal Palomares

José Cristóbal Palomares was from San José de Canales in Durango. He came to California as a soldier. Cristóbal and his wife, María Benedicta Saez, had eleven children, most of them baptized at Santa Barbara and San Gabriel. After his retirement from the military in 1810, Cristóbal moved to Los Angeles and became actively involved in the political direction of Los Angeles, serving as an elector from 1822 and 1824.

Francisco Xavier Sepúlveda

Francisco Xavier Sepúlveda came from Villa de Sinaloa in the present-day state of Sinaloa. Francisco and his wife, María Candelaria de Redondo, had seven children, six of whom were born in Sinaloa before the Rivera Expedition. Francisco and his family accompanied Rivera on his long journey to San Gabriel in 1781 and continued to serve in the military for several more years. The Sepúlveda family is a famous first family of Los Angeles.

José Manuel Nieto

José Manuel Nieto was born at San Felipe y Santiago in Sinaloa. Nieto came to California in the 1770s as a soldier in the service of Spain. Sometime around 1784, he was assigned as a soldier at the San Gabriel Mission, where served up until 1795. Manuel requested and received a land grant of about 300,000 acres in the vicinity of East Los Angeles. By the time he died in 1804, he was probably the wealthiest man in California. His four sons inherited his large landholdings, which included the ranchos of Los Alamitos and Los Coyotes.

Corporal José Vicente Feliz

Corporal José Vicente Feliz, a veteran of the Anza Expedition of 1776, was one of the soldiers assigned to watch over the small pueblo of Los Angeles during its formative years. In 1787, Governor Fages appointed Feliz as Comisionado of the Los Angeles Pueblo, giving him the powers of community arbitrator, presiding judge, and the head of labor relations. In effect, he was like a Mayor. For his service, Vicente Feliz was granted 6,677 acres, which became El Rancho de Los Feliz. Most of the Los Feliz District and Griffith Park made up this ranch today.

Corporal Juan José Domínguez

Corporal Juan José Domínguez was from Villa de Sinaloa. At a young age, Juan joined the Spanish military. He was a member of the original Portolá Expedition of 1769 and became well-known as an Indian fighter. He eventually retired to Los Angeles, where he was listed as a 53-year-old Spanish (white) vaquero in the 1790 census. In 1784, Juan was granted 74,000 acres of land south of Los Angeles. The vast Domínguez Rancho encompassed much of what is now Torrance, Carson, Redondo Beach and San Pedro.

Mariano de la Luz Verdugo

Mariano de la Luz Verdugo, a native of San Xavier, Baja California, came from a military family. His father had been born in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, but wandered far from home as a Spanish soldier. Like Corporal Domínguez, Verdugo came to California in the 1769 expedition and, for the next two decades, served at various presidios in California. Mariano retired to Los Angeles around 1787 and served as Alcalde of the Pueblo from 1790 until 1793. In 1784, Corporal Verdugo was awarded a 36,403-acre land grant,

Francisco Salvador Lugo

Francisco Salvador Lugo came to California as a soldier in 1774. He served at several California presidios, but was later assigned to stand guard at the Los Angeles Pueblo during its early years. The Lugo family is one of the most famous first families of Los Angeles. Francisco’s son, Antonio María Lugo, became a famous landowner in Los Angeles County and fathered a large family. Many of the Lugo’s living in Los Angeles today are descended from Antonio, who served as Alcalde of Los Angeles from 1816 to 1819.

José Manuel Machado

José Manuel Machado and his wife, Maria, traveled from Sinaloa, Mexico on the Rivera expedition of 1781. Machado continued to serve as a soldier in different locations until he retired to the pueblo of Los Angeles in 1797. Machado’s sons became owners of the 14,000-acre Rancho La Ballona which they established in 1819. Much of present-day Marina del Rey and Culver City stand on this former rancho.

Jose Sinova

Jose Sinova was a blacksmith from Mexico City who married María Gertrudis Bojórquez, a mestiza from Villa de Sinaloa. By the time of the 1790 census, Jose and Gertrudis were raising a family of four children in the Los Angeles. Although he was a blacksmith by trade, Jose Sinova became active in politics and served as Alcalde of Los Angeles from 1789 to 1790.

Juan Francisco Reyes

Juan Francisco Reyes was a mulato from Zapotlán el Grande in Jalisco. According to the 1790 Los Angeles census, Francisco was married to María del Carmen Domínguez, a mestiza from Villa de Sinaloa, and had three children. He was listed as a farmworker and became the original owner of the San Fernando Rancho, where he raised his cattle. Juan Francisco Reyes is regarded by many as the first Black Mayor of Los Angeles, having served as Alcalde of the Pueblo from 1793 to 1795.

Manuel Ramírez de Arellano

Manuel Ramírez de Arellano was tallied in the 1790 Los Angeles census as a 46-year old weaver from Puebla, with a wife and four children. His wife, María Agreda López de Haro, was from Álamos, Sonora. He served as Alcalde of Los Angeles from 1797 to 1798.

Copyright © 2019, by John P. Schmal. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography

Geiger, Maynard. “Six Census Records of Los Angeles and Its Immediate Area Between 1804 and 1823,” Southern California Quarterly, Vol. LIV, No. 4, pp. 311-341.

Mason, William Marvin. The Census of 1790: A Demographic History of Colonial California. Menlo Park, California: Ballena Press, 1998.

Vo, Jennifer and John P. Schmal. A Mexican-American Family of California: In the Service of Three Flags. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 2004.

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