REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
JUAN BAUTISTA ALVARADO
GOVERNOR JUAN BAUTISTA ALVARADO was born in the city of Monterey, the then capital of Alta California, on the 14th day of February, A. D. 1809. His father was General Don Francisco Alvarado, chief adviser and Adjutant General of the Spanish commander and Governor Don José Joaquin de Arrillaga, then Governor of Lower and Alta California; and his grandfather was the renowned General Limon, who conquered the States of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Lower California, and who made himself so famous on account of the great interest he manifested towards the progress and advancement of the newly acquired Territories—which fact is marked in the history of Spain.
General Don Francisco Alvarado, father of Juan Bautista, was married in the year 1808 to Señorita Josefa Vallejo, daughter of General Ignacio Vallejo and sister of General Mariano G. Vallejo. Don Juan Bautista Alvarado was the only issue of that marriage. His father having died when he was only ten days old, and having left no property, he was compelled to struggle for himself. He early, however, found a friend in the person of Don Pablo Vicente de Sola, then Governor of California. Young Alvarado was sent to school and received private lessons and instructions from Governor Sola himself in his private residence, the Governor having taken great interest and pains to promote the education and welfare of his protégé, young Alvarado, who, when but twelve years old, had shown considerable natural abilities and rare intellect for one so tender in years. When he had attained his eighteenth year, he had already acquired that notoriety and prominence which is so characteristic in a new country, and ranked among the ablest and foremost of that period.
Before attaining his nineteenth year, he was elected by the people’s vote to be Secretaryship of the Territorial Legislature. Subsequently, the Legislature conferred upon him the appointment of treasurer and custodian of the public funds of the Territory, with full power and authority to invest the same as, he might judge best for the benefit of the country.
In the year 1826, the Mexican Government appointed him chief officer of the Commissary Departments of Sonora, Sinaloa, and California. In 1833, and when but twenty-four years of age, he was appointed to the position of Collector of the Custom-house at Monterey.
In the year 1836, Governor Alvarado was President of the Department Assembly, which body had declared California to be a free, sovereign, and independent State, under the Constitution of 1824, overthrowing Nicolas Gutierrez, then Governor under Mexico, and creating thereby a vacancy in the gubernational chair. Governor Alvarado being than President of the Department Assembly, became by the constitution Governor of California ad interim, was confirmed as such by the Supreme Government, and subsequently, as will be seen, by the President of the Republic of Mexico. The Constitution of Mexico provided that the people of each and every Territory represented by the Departmental Assembly should recommend three citizens, one of whom should be selected and receive the appointment by the President of the Republic of Mexico for Governor of his respective Territory. The Territory of Alta California, in pursuance of said provision, recommended for Governor three of its most distinguished and prominent citizens, namely: General Marino Guadalupe Vallejo, General José Antonio Carrillo, and Don Juan Bautista Alvarado. His Excellency Don Anastasio Bustamente, then President of the Republic of Mexico, selected of the three names thus presented to him for the highly important position of Constitutional Governor of Alta California, Don Juan Bautista Alvarado.
In the year 1842, the native Californians showed symptoms of discontent and dissatisfaction with the administration of the then President of Mexico, General Santa Anna; who, having by force of arms overthrown the constitutional President of Mexico, Anastasio Bustamente, attempted the overthrow of the republican form of government and the establishment of a monarchy. Governor Alvardo was among the first and foremost in repudiating and denouncing the illegal course adopted by Santa Anna; and assisted by his uncle, General Mariano G. Vallejo, and his personal friend, General José Castro, initiated revolutionary steps, raising the cry of war against Santa Anna and his monarchical coädjutors, seeking at all hazards to maintain and uphold the republican form of government in California.
Santa Anna, upon being apprised of this movement, headed by such influential men as Alvarado, Vallejo, and Castro, and anticipating serious results, sent post haste his confidential and personal friend, General Manuel Micheltorena, with sufficient forces to California, in order to overthrow and defeat the leaders of such movement, and to proclaim Santa Anna Dictator of Mexico. The Californians, laboring under the impression that Micheltorena, impelled by motives of friendship towards them, had accepted the mission, permitted him to assume the reins of government, and he was Governor of California during two years. All this while, Micheltorena kept concealed from the knowledge of the Californians the true and sole object of his mission.
The Californians, immediately upon discovering the secret plots concocted by Santa Anna and Micheltorena, armed themselves; and, led by Governor Alvarado, General Vallejo, and General Castro, overthrew and completely routed Micheltorena, who was compelled to flee back to Mexico for safety.
In the year 1845, Don Pio Pico was appointed Constitutional Governor of California. In 1845, Governor Pico conferred upon Governor Alvarado the appointment of Collector of Custom House at Monterey, which appointment Governor Alvarado only accepted at the urgent solicitation of Governor Pico and other prominent citizens and friends, and for the second time held that office only during a short time.
A general election took place about this time in California for the purpose of electing delegates to from a convention to select a representative to the Mexican Congress. Gov. Juan B. Alvarado was the choice of the people, and was elected representative to the Mexican Congress from California by an overwhelming majority.
Gov. Alvarado being about to depart for Mexico to take his seat in Congress, war was declared between the United States and the Republic of Mexico, and he was prevented from proceeding thither in consequence of all the Mexican ports having been blockaded by the United States war vessels.
Matters having been satisfactorily arranged between the two governments, and the United States troops having landed and taken possession of California, a consultation took place between Gov. Pico, General Castro, and Gov. Alvarado, as to the course to be pursued at that critical moment. The two former, after mature deliberation, concluded to leave the country, and left for Mexico; while Gov. Alvarado decided to remain friendly towards the United States, in his native home. He was placed under parole, and removed quietly, and without participating in any movement against the United States, to his present home, San Pablo.
General Kearney, the Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States in California, seeing and appreciating the faithfulness with which Gov. Alvarado, notwithstanding the frequent invitations to levy war against the United States, kept his parole, offered and tendered to him a prominent and influential position under the Government of the United States. Governor Alvarado, however, declined the honor, assigning as a reason for his refusal, that he was a paroled officer, and could not honorably, and while owing allegiance to the Mexican government, accept an office at the hands of the United States government; at the same time highly appreciating and thankfully acknowledging the honor.
Governor Alvarado’s six years of administration as Governor of California gave unbounded satisfaction to the Californians. A man of generous and extremely liberal disposition, courteous and affable, always prompt and ready to render assistance to the needful, always acting with an honesty and purity of purpose, perhaps none of his predecessors ever possessed the hearts of his people in so great a measure as he. He was universally esteemed and respected by all, natives and foreigners. Upwards of four hundred Mexican grants of land were issued in California by him, all of which have been more or less confirmed by the Government of the United States. As the head of administration in California, Governor Alvarado scattered among the people the commodities of justice, liberty, and prosperity.
The most remarkable traits in the character of Gov. Alvarado during his administration as Governor of Alta California were his utter disregard and great disinterestedness towards advancing and benefiting his pecuniary condition, and his exceedingly unostentatious disposition.
Since 1845, though repeatedly asked to accept public offices and trusts, he has positively declined every thing of the kind, preferring solitary and quiet retirement amid the rural shades of private life.
Governor Alvarado was married, in the year 1839, to Señorita Martina Castro, the daughter of a distinguished Californian, Colonel Don Francisco M. Castro. Nine children have been born to them: of these, three have since died, and six are living.
The Governor, although in the sixtieth year of his age, is hearty and robust, and would be taken for a man of forty-five years of age by those unacquainted with him. He resides at present with his family in his rural mansion, situated in the village of San Pablo, in Contra Costa county, where he has dwelt for upwards of twenty years.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 503-507.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.