Friday, January 1, 2021

They be permitted to dance

‘They made us a present of great quantities of fish, and the first thing they entreat, all along this channel, is that they be permitted to dance; this we conceded so as not to displease them.’ This is from the diary kept by Gaspar de Portolá, a Spanish army soldier born 305 years ago today, during an expedition he led from Lower to Upper California.

Portolá was born on 1 January 1716 in Os de Balaguer, Spain, of Catalan nobility. He served as a soldier in the Spanish army in Italy and Portugal, being commissioned ensign in 1734, lieutenant in 1743, and captain in the mid-1760s. In 1767, the Spanish monarchy sent him to Lower (Baja) California to serve as governor with orders to expel the Jesuits from the territory. When the Jesuits opposed this persecution, he dealt severely with the rebels, hanging the leaders. He was commander-in-chief of an expedition to Upper (Alta) California, 1769-1770, for the acquisition of the ports of San Diego and Monterey. In 1776, he was appointed governor of Puebla (now part of Mexico), serving until 1784. He retired from active service and returned to Spain where he served as commander of the Numancia cavalry dragoon regiment. In 1786 he was appointed King’s Lieutenant for the strongholds and castles of Lleida, but died later that same year. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, or Spartacus Educational.

Portolá kept a diary during the 1769 expedition and this he published while still in California. Nearly 150 years later, it was translated into English (by Donald E. Smith and Frederick J. Teggart) and published as Diary of Gaspar de Portolá during the California Expedition of 1769-1770 (University of California, 1909, for the Academy of Pacific Coast History). The book is freely available online at Internet Archive.

21 June 1769
‘The 21st, we proceeded for four hours on a good road in sight of the ocean. We halted in a gully where there was much water and pasture. Here the expedition rested for one day. During this interim, some natives came [to the camp] and one of them made signs that he had come across other people ahead [of us], indicating that in twelve days we would reach the place where they had halted and were living in houses, and that there were [still] other people in that place. This served to cheer us as we thus understood from the chief that the ships were there. In this place we noticed that there were two islands; it is a large bay with the landmarks that Cabrera Bueno gives for the bay of Todos Santos.’

23 August 1769
‘The 23rd of August, we proceeded for four hours and a half, part of the way along the beach. We halted in a town of eighty houses and the number of natives that we saw was about four hundred. Much running water and pasture. They made us a present of great quantities of fish, and the first thing they entreat, all along this channel, is that they be permitted to dance; this we conceded so as not to displease them.’

4 September 1769
‘The 4th, we proceeded for four hours, the greater part of the road was good; the remainder, close to the seashore, was over great sand dunes. It was necessary to go around the many marshes and lagoons, which gave us much labor. [We halted at a place having] much water and pasture, where there came [to our camp the inhabitants of] a village of about forty natives without [counting] others who were in the neighborhood. Here we found ourselves at the foot of the Sierra de Santa Lucia. We observed that the villages have a small number of inhabitants, and that these do not live in regular houses as [do the Indians] on the channel, but they are more docile.’

20 September 1769
The 20th, we marched for four hours over mountains which, as I say, are very high. All the way, a path had to he opened; the most laborious part being to clear the many rough places full of brambles. The account of Cabrera Bueno has good reason for describing the Sierra de Santa Lucia as being so high, rugged, and massive. We inferred that we could not possibly find any greater range as this was twenty leagues long and sixteen wide. We halted in a gorge where there was little water and pasture; here about four hundred natives came [to our camp].’

29 December 1769
‘The 29th, we travelled for three hours by a route different from that we had taken on the outward journey. We halted in the plain which is named the Plan de los Berros. Here a most obsequious native came up and, being apprehensive among [us] all . . . a present of a fabric interwoven with beautiful feathers which in its arrangement looked like plush [covered with] countless little seeds.’

24 January 1770
‘The 24th, we proceeded for five hours, [and made the same distance as in] two marches on the previous journey. On this day we arrived at San Diego, giving thanks to God that, notwithstanding the great labors and privations we had undergone, not a single man had perished. Indeed we had accomplished our return march, through the great providence of God, without other human aid except that, when we were in dire need, we killed some mules for our necessary sustenance.

We found at San Diego that the three fathers were there with the entire guard of eight soldiers in leather jackets which had been left; but of the fourteen volunteers, who had remained, eight were dead. The San Carlos was anchored in the same place where we had left her; but, during all this time, neither the San Joseph nor El Principe, had arrived, although it was eight months since the former was to leave Guaymas and seven months since the latter had left this port. For this reason, and because of the lack of provisions, a council was held, and it was resolved that, in order to make it possible to hold this port longer, Don Fernando de Rivera, captain of the presidio [of Loreto], should set out with a strong force so that he might go to [Lower] California and also bring back the herd of cattle which was intended for this mission. The remainder of the expedition was to hold this important port, hoping that God might grant us the comfort of sighting some ship.’

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