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Alexander von Humboldt: „Historical, Topographical, and Geographical Sketch of the Californias“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 17.04.2024].

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Titel Historical, Topographical, and Geographical Sketch of the Californias
Jahr 1849
Ort New Orleans, Louisiana
in: The Daily Crescent 1:286 (1. Februar 1849), S. [1].
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Spaltensatz; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung, Kapitälchen; Schmuck: Trennzeichen.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: II.76
Dateiname: 1809-Voyage_de_MM-43-neu
Seitenanzahl: 1
Spaltenanzahl: 2
Zeichenanzahl: 18409

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Description of California.

Historical, Topographical, and GeographicalSKETCH OF THE CALIFORNIAS.
NEW CALIFORNIA. Translated expressly for the Crescent, from the Twenty-fifthChapter of the “Essai Politique sur le Royaume de laNouvelle Espagne; par Alexandre de Humboldt.Second Edition: Paris, 1827. PROVINCE OF NEW CALIFORNIA. Population in 1803, 15,600. Extent of surface in square leagues, 2135.Inhabitants to the square league, 7.

That part of the coasts of the Grand Ocean whichextends from the Isthmus of Old California, or fromthe bay “de Todos Santos,” (south of the port ofSan Diego,) as far as Cape Mendocino, bears uponthe Spanish maps the name of New California.It is a long and narrow strip of land, on which,since forty years, the Mexican Government hasestablished missions and military posts. No villageor farm is found north of the port of San Francisco,which place is distant more than 78 leagues fromCape Mendocino. The province of New Califor-nia, in its present state, is 197 leagues long, by 9 or10 broad. The city of Mexico is, in a straight line,the same distance from Philadelphia as from Mon-terey, the principal mission of California, situatedin the same latitude, within four minutes, as Cadiz. We have before referred to the voyages of manymonks, who, in the commencement of the last cen-tury, in passing from the peninsula of Old Califor-nia to Sonora, made the circuit of the sea of Cor-tez on foot. Since the time of the expedition ofM. Galvez, military detachments come from Loretoto San Diego. Even now the mail goes from thatport, along the northwest coast, as far as San Fran-cisco. This last establishment, which is the mostnorthern of all the Spanish settlements on the newcontinent, is almost in the same latitude as the littlevillage of Taos in New Mexico. It is distant fromit only 300 leagues, and, though Father Escalante,in his apostolical expeditions, made in the year1777, advanced as far as the western bank of theriver Zaguananas, toward the mountains of Gua-caros, no traveller has passed from New Mexico tothe Californian coast. This fact will be the moreastonishing to those who know, from the history ofthe conquest of America, the spirit of enterpriseand admirable courage with which the Spaniardswere animated in the Sixteenth Century. HernanCortez debarked for the first time in Mexico on theshores of Chalchiuhcuecan, in 1519, and four yearslater he constructed his vessels on the South Sea, atZacatula and Tehuantepec. In 1537, Alvar NunezCabeza de Vaca appeared, with two companions,worn out by fatigue, hungry, and almost naked, atCuliacan, opposite the peninsula of California. Hehad landed, with Parfilo Narvaez, in Florida, andafter two years of traveling, after having traversedall Louisiana and Northern Mexico, he arrived atthe Grand Ocean. This distance accomplished byNunez is almost as great as the route followed byCapt. Lewis, from the banks of the Mississippi toNoutka, at the mouth of the Columbia River. Inconsidering the difficult expeditions of the firstSpanish conquerors in Mexico, in Peru and on the Amazon, one is struck with surprise that, in thecourse of two centuries, the same nation has neverfound a land route, in New Spain, from Taos toMonterey; in New Granada, from Santa Fé toCarthagena, or from Quito to Panama; in Guiana,from Esmeralda to St. Thomas del Angostura. In the English maps many geographers give toNew California the name of New Albion. Thisname is based upon the ill-founded opinion that thenavigator Drake was the first, in 1578, to discoverthe north-west coast of America, between 38° and48° of latitude. The celebrated voyage of Sebas-tian Viscaino, without doubt, took place 24 yearssubsequent to the discoveries of Francis Drake.But Knox and other historians appear to forget thatCabrillo had already, in 1543, examined the coastsof New California as far as the latitude of 43°, thelimit of his navigation. The name of New Albionought then to be restricted to that section lying be-tween latitude of 43° and 48°, or from Cape Blancoto the entrance of Juan de Fuca. Thence from themissions of the Catholic to those of the Greekchurch; that is, from the Spanish village of SanFrancisco to the Russian establishments on Cookriver, at Prince William’s Bay, at the Kodiac Islesand at the Unalaskas, there are more than a thou-sand leagues inhabited by a free people, and abound-ing in beaver and otter. Consequently discussionon the extent of New Albion, and on the soi-disans rights which Europeans pretend to acquire by erect-ing crosses, making inscriptions on trees or buryingbottles, is unnecessary. Though the whole line ofNew California was examined by Sebastien Vis-caino, (as is proved by the plans drawn by himselfin 1602,) this beautiful country was not occupiedby the Spaniards till 67 years later. The Court ofMadrid believing that the other maritime Europeanpowers would form establishments on the north-west coast of America, which might become dan-gerous to the ancient Spanish colonies, gave ordersto the Viceroy, the Chevalier Santa Cruz, and theVisitador Galvez to found missions and garrisons atthe ports of San Diego and Monterey. With thisobject, two vessels left the port of San Blas andanchored at San Diego in the month of April, 1763.Another expedition arrived by land, by the way of Old California. Since the time of Viscaino no Eu-ropean had landed on those distant shores. TheIndians appeared astonished to see men with gar-ments, though they knew that further to the eastthere was a race of people whose color was notthat of copper. There were even found amongthem pieces of silver money, which, without doubt,had come from New Mexico. The first Spanishcolonies suffered much for want of subsistence, andfrom an epidemic disease resulting from fatigue, badfood and bad clothes. Nearly all were taken ill,and only eight persons remained well. Among thelatter were two respectable men, a monk celebratedfor his voyages, Junipero Serra, and the chief ofengineers, M. Costanzo, of whom, in the course ofthis work, we have often spoken with praise. Theywere occupied with their own hands in digginggraves to receive the dead bodies of their compan-ions. The succor brought by the land expeditionsarrived too late to benefit this unhappy colony. TheIndians, in announcing the arrival of the Spaniards,mounted on casks and threw their arms in the air,to express that they had seen the whites on horse-back. Just as the soil of Old California is arid andstony, so is that of the new province fertile andarable. It is one of the most picturesque countriesto be seen. The sky is cloudy, but the frequentmists which render difficult the approach to Mon-terey and San Francisco, give vigor to vegetation,and fertilize the soil, which is covered with a deepblack mould. In the eighteen missions which now exist in Cali-fornia, wheat, maize and beans, are cultivated inabundance. Barley, lentils and peas, flourish wellin the greater part of the province, in the midst ofthe fields. As the 36 Franciscans who govern themissions are all Europeans, they have taken greatpains to introduce into the gardens of the Indiansthe production of most of the garden vegetables,and fruit trees, which are cultivated in Spain.The first colonists, who arrived in 1769, foundin the interior of the country wild vinesfrom which a large but very sour grape was pro-duced. This was, perhaps, one of the numerouskinds of vines, indigenous to Canada, Louisianaand New Biscay, and which are as yet very im-perfectly known to botanists. The missionarieshave introduced into California the vine whoseculture the Greeks and Romans spread all overEurope, and which undoubtedly is foreign to thenew continent. They make good wine in thevillages of San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, SanGabriel, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, SanLuis Obispo, Santa Clara and San José, conse-quently the whole length of the coast south of Mon-terey, and north of that place as far as 37°. TheEuropean olive is cultivated with success at SantaBarbara, and especially at San Diego, whereoil is made not inferior to that of Andalusia or thevalley of Mexico. The cold winds which blowimpetuously from the north, and north-west, some-times prevent the full maturity of fruit on the seacoast. Thus, the village of Santa Clara, at nineleagues from Santa Cruz, and protected by a chainof mountains, has better vineyards, and more abun-dant fruit harvests, than Monterey. At this lastplace the monks, with much satisfaction, show totravellers many useful vegetables, propagated fromthe seeds which M. Thouin confided to the unfortu-nate La Pérouse. Of all the missions in New Spain, those of thenorth-west coast offer the most marked signs of a|Spaltenumbruch|rapid progress in civilization. The public haveread with interest the details concerning these dis-tant regions, published by La Pérouse, Vancouver,and more recently by two Spanish navigators, DeGaliano and Valdes. I have succeeded in pro-curing, during my sojourn in Mexico, the statisti-cal tables formed in 1802 by the President of theMissions of New California, Father Firmin La-suen. It appears, from a comparison which I havemade with the official documents preserved in thearchives of Mexico, that in 1776 there were buteight villages; in 1790, eleven; while in 1802, thenumber had increased to eighteen. The popula-tion of New California, counting the Indiansattached to the soil who commence to devote them-selves to the cultivation of the earth, was, in1790, 7,748; in 1801, 13,668; in 1802, 15,562. The number of inhabitants has, according tothis, doubled in twelve years. Since the founda-tion of the missions, or from 1762 to 1802, therehave been, according to the parochial registers,33,717 baptisms, 8009 marriages, and 16,984 deaths.From this we cannot infer the proportion existingbetween births and deaths, because adult Indiansreceiving baptism (los neofitos) are confounded withchildren. The valuation of products of the soil, or the esti-mate of crops, offers convincing proofs of the in-crease of the industry and prosperity of New Cali-fornia. According to the tables published by M.Galiano, the Indians in the whole province sowedin 1791, 874 fanegas of wheat, which produced acrop of 15,197 fanegas. In 1802 the product haddoubled, the quantity of wheat sown being 2089fanegas, and the crop 33,576 fanegas. The number of cattle existing in 1802, was asfollows: oxen, 67,782; sheep, 107,172; hogs, 1040;horses, 2187; mules, 877. In the year 1791 there were in all the Indian vil-lages but 24,958 head of large cattle. This progress of agriculture, these peaceable con-quests of industry, are so much the more interest-ing, as the natives of this coast, very different fromthose of Nootka and the Bay of Norfolk, were,only thirty years ago, a nomade people, living byfishing and hunting, and cultivating no kind ofvegetables. The Indians of the bay of San Fran-cisco were then as degraded as are now the inhabi-tants of Van Dieman’s Land. It was only in thechannel of Santa Barbara that in 1769 the abo-rigines were found somewhat advanced in agricul-ture. They built large houses in a pyramidal form,which they joined together. Kind and hospitable,they offered to the Spaniards vases of a curiousmake. These baskets are covered inside with a kindof asphaltic preparation, which makes them imper-vious to water and the fermented liquors which areput in them. The northern part of New California is inhabitedby two nations, the Rumsen and Escelen, whospeak languages entirely different, and form thepopulation of the garrison and village of Monterey. The population of New California would have in-creased much more rapidly, if for some centuriesthe rules governing the Spanish establishments hadnot been diametrically opposed to the true interestsof the metropolis and the colonies. According tothese laws, the soldiers stationed at Monterey arenot permitted to live outside of their quarters, or toestablish themselves as colonists. The monks aregenerally opposed to having whites for colonists,because these, as people who reason, would not pro-bably be subjected to as blind an obedience as theIndians. “It is very afflicting” says a Spanishnavigator “that the soldiers who pass a laboriousand hazardous life, cannot, in their old age, fixthemselves in the country, and become agricultu-ralists.” * * * By removing the shackles wehave referred to, the missions of the Rio Negro,San Francisco, and Monterey, would be peopled bya great number of whites. But what a contrast dothe principles of colonization adopted by the Span-iards present to those by which Great Britain has ina few years created the villages on the easterncoast of New Holland! The Rumsen and Escelen Indians partake withthe Aztecs, the fondness for the warm bath. TheTemazcalli, which are still found in Mexico, andof which the Abbé Clavigero has given an exactdescription, are real vapor baths. The Aztec In-dian extends himself in a heated oven, of which thefloor is constantly dampened with water. The na-tives of New California, on the contrary, take thebaths which the celebrated Franklin recommendedas baths of warm air. There is near every house alittle edifice built in the form of a temazcalli. On re-turning from work the Indians enter the oven, wherea few moments before the fire has been extinguished.They remain for a quarter of an hour, until theybecome covered with perspiration, when they throwthemselves into a neighboring stream. This rapidtransition from heat to cold, this sudden suppressionof the cutaneous functions, which the European,with reason, repels, causes agreeable sensations tothe savage, who, above all things, enjoys whatstrongly excites him, or re-acts powerfully upon hisnervous system. The Indians inhabiting the villages of New Cali-fornia, have for some years been engaged in themanufacture of coarse woollen fabrics. But theirprincipal pursuit, and that which may become animportant branch of commerce, is the making ofleather from deer skin. * * * * The Russianand Spanish establishments being up to this timethe only European colonies which exist on thenorthwest coast of America, it will be useful toenumerate all the missions of New California whichhave been founded, up to the commencement of theyear 1803. This detailed notice is the more inter-esting at a time when the inhabitants of the UnitedStates manifest the desire of a movement towardsthe west, to the coasts of the grand Ocean, oppositeto China, and which abound in otter and beaver. The Missions of New California succeed eachother, from south to north, in the order here laiddown: San Diego.—A village founded in 1769, at 15miles distant from the most northern of the Missionsof Old California. Population in 1802, 1560. San Luis Ruy de Francia.—Founded in 1798.Population 600. San Juan Capistrano.— Founded in 1776.Population 1000. San Gabriel.—Founded in 1771. Population1050. San Fernando.—Founded in 1797. Population600. San Buenaventura.—Founded in 1782. Pop-ulation 950. Santa Barbara.—Founded in 1786. Popula-tion 1100. La Purisima Concepcion.—Founded in 1787.Population 1000. San Luis Obispo.—Founded in 1772. Popula-tion 700. San Miguel.—Founded in 1797. Population 600. Soledad.—Founded in 1791. Population 570. San Antonio de Padua.—Founded in 1771.Population 1050. San Carlos de Monterey.—Capital of NewCalifornia. Founded in 1770, at the foot of theCordillera of Santa Lucia, which is covered withoaks and other trees. The village is two leaguesdistant from the garrison, which bears the samename. It appears that Cabrillo bad already exam-ined the Bay of Monterey on the 15th of November,1542, and on account of the beautiful pines whichcover the tops of the neighboring mountains, henamed it la Bahia de los Pinos, (Bay of the Pines.)Its present name was given it 60 years later, inhonor of the Viceroy of Mexico, Gaspard de Zuniga,Count of Monterey, an enterprising man, to whomsome great maritime expeditions are due, and whoengaged Juan de Onate in the conquest of NewMexico. The population of the village is 700. San Juan Bautista.—Founded in 1797. Popu-lation 960. Santa Cruz.—Founded in 1794. Population 440. Santa Clara.—Founded in 1777. Population1300. San Jose.—Founded in 1797. Population 630. San Francisco.—Founded in 1776. It has asplendid harbor. The geographers often confoundthis place with Drake’s Port, which is further northin lat. 38° 10′, and which the Spaniards call thePort of Bodega. Population of San Francisco 820.We are ignorant of the number of whites, mesti-zoes and mulattoes in New California, whether ingarrison or in the service of the Monks of St. Fran-cis. I believe their number amounts to 1300; forin the two years 1801 and 1802, there were amongthe white and mixed races 35 marriages, 182 bap-tisms and 82 deaths. It is only upon this part of thepopulation that the Government can rely in case ofan attack which may be attempted by some of themaritime powers of Europe.
The above account of New California presents apicture of a flourishing country, fertile, with a deli-cious climate, capable of sustaining a dense popu-lation, and seemingly destined to permanent im-provement. At the time of Humboldt’s observa-tions, the condition and rapid advancement of NewCalifornia, in population and civilization, justifiedhim in anticipating such a future. It was shortlyafter this that the revolution occurred which de-prived Spain of its most flourishing colony, anddoomed Mexico to subsequent decay and imbecility.No province of Mexico felt the influence of thechange in a shorter period, or to a greater extent,than New California. The signs of commercialactivity and opulence disappeared from its seaports—towns and villages, formerly flourishing and in-creasing in population, were gradually abandonedby their inhabitants—agriculture languished—thenatives returned to their pristine state of barbarity,and indolence, poverty and progressive decadencetook the place of prosperity and wealth. Such wasthe country when it came into the possession of theAmericans by the Treaty of Guadalupe.