Friday, February 24, 2017

On This Day: February 24, 1857

How a group of San Francisco investors put down roots—of grapevines—in Los Angeles County and founded the town of Anaheim

Aerial Drawing of Anaheim, c. 1870
California Historical Society Collections at University of Southern California

The three men met in Los Angeles in 1855: civil engineer George Hansen, wine businessman John Fröhling, and newspaperman Otto Weyse. They discussed plans to buy land in the county where they would plant grapes and establish a German American agricultural colony.

Over a three-week period, in mule-driven wagons and with a cook, a scout, and a game hunter, they combed the county for an appropriate location, selecting a 1,165-acre tract that offered advantageous conditions—rich soil, proximity of water, and a warm climate—for growing grapes in the region.

Having decided on a location near the Santa Ana River, the men went about tending to business: purchasing the land, surveying and planning, organizing the planting of the vines, and procuring shareholders in the venture. They received assurances from 50 Germans, 9 of them residents of Los Angeles and 41 of San Francisco. The group incorporated as the Los Angeles Vineyard Company in the summer of 1857 in San Francisco. The next year they selected a name: Anaheim, “home on the Santa Ana River.”

Today, on the 160th anniversary of the company’s incorporation, this photo essay tells their story.

Portrait of Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and his wife, Martina Maria Ozuma, c. 1876
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library
Like most founding stories of California’s cities and towns, ours begins with the sale of a Mexican land grant, in this case part of the Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana granted to Don Pacifico Ontiveras in 1837. In 1857 Onteveras sold 1,165 acres of the property to George Hansen for $2.00 an acre.

Site of Anaheim, California, 1855
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
This map from a lithograph by Küchel and Dresel depicts the township of Anaheim in relation to Rancho San Juan Cajón de Santa Ana, surrounding ranchos, irrigation, and roads. The Los Angeles Vineyard Society’s tract was located nearly 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 3 miles from the Santa Ana River in the center of present-day Orange County. 

 Seal of the Los Angeles Vineyard Society
Courtesy of Thomas Pinney
Hansen met with the San Francisco Germans in February 1857. The Los Angeles Vineyard Society was formed at this meeting. Most of the investors relocated to Anaheim (then still a part of Los Angeles County, now Orange County), though not before two years had passed before the colony was deemed ready for them. Wine historian Thomas Pinney notes that Hansen “seems to have done a remarkably capable job of laying the foundations of a successful agricultural community from scratch on land that was nothing but rough, dry, lonely range in every direction.” 

George Frederick Keller (artist), Hospital of the German Benevolent Society, San Francisco, c. 1858
Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
By 1857, San Francisco had a considerable German population, most of whom had come to seek their fortunes in the Gold Rush. As wine historian Thomas Pinney surmises, “Many of them were now both disenchanted with golden prospects and dissatisfied with crude and violent San Francisco as a place in which to raise families.” The lure of a new and successful life in Anaheim must have been appealing. This image of the hospital founded by the German Benevolent Society, originated in 1854 for the city’s German-speaking residents, is an example of an established and organized German community in San Francisco. 

Portrait of George Hansen, c. 1857 
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
Called the “Father of Anaheim,” civil engineer and surveyor George Hansen first arrived in Los Angeles in 1853. He borrowed $100 to purchase surveying equipment with which he surveyed much of the county. He laid out the township of Anaheim, built its irrigation system, and planted the grape vines—all before the new settlers arrived. 

Portrait of a Surveyor, c. 1857
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
An early Anaheim surveyor poses in a studio wearing surveyor clothes and sporting his equipment. In addition to surveying, Hansen also engaged Mexicans and Indians to dig a ditch to bring water from the Santa Ana River to the town and its subdivisions. In 1858, a committee appointed by the newly formed California State Agricultural Society visited the town. “After one year,” it noted, “the place is fenced, and one-half well cultivated and planted with 500,000 vines, which are in prosperous condition; a water main 10 miles long, bringing from the mountains ample means for irrigation; and 400 miles of zanka, or small ditch, for conducting the water through the place; the ground prepared for 500,000 more vines; and $7,000 funds still in the treasury.”

Plat Map of Anaheim, California, c. 1880s 
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
The Society’s shareholders finally moved to their colony in December 1859. They were skilled at many things—carpentry, blacksmithing, watchmaking, merchandizing, brewing, engraving, binding books, music, teaching, making shoes and hats—but not wine-making. This hand-drawn map of the original tract layout of Anaheim notes the lots, the owners’ names, the types of grapes planted on each lot, and the year the grapes started dying out from a mysterious disease that attacked the vines.

Detail of a trade card for “California Wine Bitters from the Vineyard of Kohler & Frohling” 
Charles Kohler, vice-president of the Society, and John Fröhling, a member of its Auditing Committee, operated a modest wine business in San Francisco in 1854. A year later, they purchased a 20-acre vineyard in Los Angeles. These outlets offered the Anaheim vintners a ready-made market for their wine. Fröhling, in fact, purchased the town’s first substantial vintage in 1861—about 70,000 gallons—and even supervised its production.

Portrait of Benjamin Dreyfus, c. 1880
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
Los Angeles merchant Benjamin Dreyfus—the “king of Anaheim winemakers”—became the largest grower of Anaheim wine and the leader in its distribution. He had established a general store in the center town with August Langenberg in 1858 prior to the shareholders arrival. Later the two men opened a hotel and saloon.

Dreyfus Winery, Center & E. Streets, Anaheim, 1884
Courtesy Anaheim Public Library
By 1873, B. Dreyfus & Co.’s 200 acres of vines produced over 175,000 gallons of wine, the majority of which was shipped to New York. By 1880 the company was shipping 2½ million gallons yearly. In 1884, the year of this photograph, Dreyfus built a new large stone wine cellar 200 feet long and three stories high, a testament to his—and Anaheim’s—success.

Dead Vineyard in Anaheim, c. 1890
Courtesy of Thomas Pinney
But Anaheim’s success would be short-lived. Beginning in 1884, the vines of the ubiquitous Mission grape mysteriously began to shrivel and die, the casualty of an unknown disease that ended wine production in the grape town by end of the decade. As one grower described the 1886 crop: “Nobody to my belief was expecting the vine disease in 1886. The disease came on in June, ‘like a thief in the night,’ and in less than a week it was all over Anaheim.” It was not until 1974 that scientists identified the bacterium that had caused the disease. By then, Anaheim’s renown as a cooperative community was a pioneering tale of long ago.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


  • “Benevolent Societies,” The Maritime Heritage Project, San Francisco, 
  • Benjamin Dreyfus: Pioneer Jewish Wine Tycoon of Anaheim;
  • Vincent P. Carosso, The California Wine Industry, 1830–1895: A Study of the Formative Years (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951)
  • Lucille E. Dickson, “The Founding and Early History of Anaheim, California,” Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California 11, no. 2 (1919): 26–37
  • Newton B. Pierce, “The California Vine Disease,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Vegetable Pathology, Bulletin No. 2 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1892)
  • Thomas Pinney, A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)
  • Thomas Pinney, City of Vines: The History of Wine in Los Angeles (Berkeley: Heyday/California Historical Society, forthcoming)


Join Us for These Wine-Related Events!

In Los Angeles
September 14, 2017, 3:00–6:00 pm
Book Launch, Thomas Pinney’s The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles (Heyday / California Historical Society)
Avila Adobe, El Pueblo Historical Monument

In San Francisco
March 15, 2017, 6:00 pm
The History of California Wines in 20 Labels

April 13, 2017, 6:00 pm
What Is the Future of Wine Label Design?

Don’t miss our current exhibition, on view until April 16, 2017
Vintage: Wine, Beer, and Spirits Labels from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Grafton Tyler Brown: African American Artist

Grafton Tyler Brown 

By Dr. Robert J. Chandler

Grafton Tyler Brown was born February 22, 1841, an artist. Incidentally, he was African American. His parents Thomas and Wilhelmina Brown, were, according to the census, free blacks from Maryland. His father’s free status, however, is questionable. One of Grafton’s brothers stated firmly, Dad came from that hotbed of secession, South Carolina!

Grafton grew up in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, during the 1850s. The decade before the Civil War was one of the darkest ones for African Americans in our history. The Compromise of 1850 brought California into the Union came with an enforced Fugitive Slave Law that actively encouraged kidnappers. President James Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian like Brown, encouraged the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision that effectively declared that a black man had no rights a white man was bound to respect. Controlled by the same Southern slavery-supporting Democratic Party, California’s laws mandated segregation and denied black testimony in the courts of justice.

Grafton Tyler Brown

The Browns wanted a future for their eldest son, and in 1858, dispatched him by steamer to California. Grafton went from one state capital to another, working at a steward in a Sacramento hotel. Within a year, Brown proved that talent, not color was destiny.

In 1859, the Sacramento Union, California’s paper of record, noticed an “excellent painting” when the St. George Hotel displayed the self-taught Brown’s drawing of a steamship. The 1860 state fair remarked similarly about his railroad locomotive.

Virginia City, Nevada Territory, 1861; drawn by Grafton T. Brown, lithograph by Charles Conrad Kuchel. 

The optimistic and aggressive Brown confidently promoted himself through life, forever seizing opportunity. In the late 1850s, the lithographic firm of Charles Kuchel and Emil Dresel dissolved. They had produced over 50 magnificent views of California towns and cities. When Dresel left to become a noted Sonoma winemaker, Kuchel fell on hard times. He hired young Grafton Brown to be his traveling sketch artist and salesman, the man who convinced townsfolk to buy his view and pay more for border vignettes of their businesses.

What was the racial status of Kuchel’s new employee? In Sacramento, by the 1860 U.S. Census and city directory, Grafton Tyler Brown was African American. Likewise, in the early 1870s, that census, a credit report, and years later, a former employee knew Brown’s racial background. Few cared. In the 1861 San Francisco directory, which designated “colored” residents, Brown was white. He steamed down river and “passed” into the majority. Brown carried on businesses successfully for 55 years.

In the spring of 1861, our self-assured 20-year old was in boomtown Virginia City, Nevada Territory, sketching the town and selling border views. In 1864, he returned to draw the second view of that great Comstock Lode town. It appeared in two versions, each with different border views. In between, Brown sketched Portland, Oregon, and Santa Rosa, California.

Bird’s Eye View of Santa Clara, California, (transaction date 1869)
California Historical Society; X57-88-1-2 

As talent triumphed, Brown took cover within the racist Democratic Party. Befitting any man, Brown probably voted at age 21 in 1862. In 1864, he lithographed a portrait of the Democratic presidential candidate, and later quickly registered under California’s new 1866 registry law.

Following Kuchel’s death in December 1864, Brown purchased the business from his widow. His Democratic Party contacts aided him to become the state’s first African American contractor. In 1870-1871, he lithographed 7 tideland sale maps for commission chairman Benjamin Franklin Washington. Who was Washington? The publicly racist editor of the San Francisco Examiner, the Democratic Party newspaper.

Lithography—drawings and etchings on fine-grained limestone—came into prominence in the 1870s. Its versatility for curves and drawings supplanted letter-press work for invoices and stock certificates. The use of large stones made “stone printing” ideal for tinted city views, chromolithographic posters, membership certificates, sheet music, and especially real estate maps. Brown’s small job office of 4 people in 1870 and 8 people in 1878 excelled at this job work and Brown installed a steam press to do it.

Brown out-designed his competitors, whether letter press printers or other lithographers. He went head to head with the much larger, older, and most reputable firm, Britton & Rey, founded in 1852. Joseph Britton and Jacques Rey did quality work for decades, as holdings in the California Historical Society’s Kemble Printing Collection show. An artistic feast lays in the stock certificates by these two completing firms during Nevada’s 1870s mining boom. There were no other challengers.

As the 1870s closed, Brown transformed into an artist. He sold his lithographic firm and drew views for the San Mateo County history (1878) and Nevada (1881). In 1882, Brown stepped into being a landscape oil painter, with fine oils of Lake Tahoe, followed by sojourn in Victoria, British Columbia. This month, the University of Victoria puts on the first show of Brown’s work since he displayed 20 scenes in 1882.

View of Lake Okanogan, B.C., 1883
Oil on canvas
The Center for African American Decorative Arts 

Brown’s artistic career lasted until 1891, as he followed the Northern Pacific Railroad, painting landmarks around Tacoma, Washington and Portland, Oregon. In 1886, Brown found his scenic home at splendiferous Yellowstone National Park. Then in 1892, those rails carried him eastward to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he and wife Albertine settled. A stint as a draftsman for the Army Corps of Engineers led to longtime work in St. Paul’s public works office.

African American born Grafton Tyler Brown knew he was an artist. He faced the world confident he would succeed. He did.


Dr. Robert Chandler worked for Wells Fargo Bank for 32 years as a historian and is past president of the Book Club of California. He has written many articles about California history on the period from 1850-1880. His book on Grafton Tyler Brown was published by Oklahoma University Press in 2014.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE 2017: The 75th Anniversary of the Executive Order that Authorized Japanese Internment

On behalf of the ACLU of Northern California and the California Historical Society, we join in honoring the Day of Remembrance. This year marks three-quarters of a century since President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 (EO9066) on February 19, 1942.

Under the guise of national security during wartime against enemy forces, President Roosevelt authorized the Secretary of War to declare arbitrary military zones. With scant Congressional debate, Roosevelt signed the Executive Order, which led to harsh and swift enforcement. The United States government forcibly evicted approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ethnicity and ancestry and relocated them to internment camps scattered throughout the rural West.

Building on decades of racially-motivated hatred and fear that Japanese Americans and other Asians in the U.S. had long suffered, the Japanese American communities especially of California bore the brunt of this outright discrimination and unwarranted punishment. Astoundingly, roughly 70,000, or over two-thirds, of the internees were American citizens. Significantly, no Japanese American citizen or Japanese national residing in the United States was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.

This anniversary has a powerful place for both our organizations. The ACLU of Northern California represented brave resisters like Fred Korematsu, the Japanese-American draftsman who refused to leave his home in San Leandro. He was arrested, jailed and found guilty in federal court for his bold denial. Taking his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the ACLU’s attorneys argued that the exclusion and detention laws violated basic constitutional rights that apply to citizens and non-citizens alike. The Supreme Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction and deemed the war measures constitutional in 1944. It was not until 1983 that Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned, and finally in 1988, the United States government apologized and gave modest reparations to the impacted.

The ACLU-NC’s Korematsu case archives are housed at the California Historical Society. As historian Charles Wollenberg said: “Since its founding in the 1930s, the ACLU of Northern California has been involved in virtually every important struggle for social and economic justice, civil rights and civil liberties, and free speech and free expression in the Bay Area and northern California. Its archive at CHS is an irreplaceable resource, providing invaluable perspective and insight into the heart of the region's social and cultural history and its special regional character and identity.” Additional historical archives related to Japanese Internment can be found at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.

The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was a grave injustice, and the solemn marking of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 provides us an opportunity to say very clearly to our fellow Americans that we will never let this happen again. We will not forget, and we will remember and fight to preserve our Constitutional rights and liberties.

Abdi Soltani is the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California and Anthea M. Hartig, PhD is the Executive Director and CEO of the California Historical Society. 

On This Day: February 19, 1942

Executive Order 9066 and the Imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II

Toyo Miyatake (Photographer), Boys Behind Barbed Wire, 1944

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt this day in 1942, we invited guest writer Alison Moore to explore the parallels between the creation of incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and the recent, controversial Muslim travel ban. Issued and signed by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, Executive Order 13769 provides "Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States."

“This, Our Legacy”
Executive Order 9066 

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Exclusion order posted at First and Front Streets—
the first San Francisco section affected by evacuation—directing the removal of 
persons of Japanese ancestry, 1942
Courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

On February 19, 1942, upon the advice of Lt. General John L. De Witt, head of the Army’s Western Defense Command, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring the mass evacuation and incarceration of over 100,000 people from the West Coast of the United States. Although no cases of sabotage related to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor had emerged in California, Oregon, or Washington—nor, in fact, were any shown to have occurred in Hawaii—the Army stated that “military necessity” required removal and imprisonment due to the potential for such acts. “Racial affinities are not severed by migration,” wrote General De Witt. “The Japanese race is an enemy race,” and though many Japanese Americans had become “Americanized,” “the racial strains are undiluted.” “Along the Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today.” [Emphasis ours.]

As a result, over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry—two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—were forced to abandon their homes, businesses, farms, schools, universities, and places of work. They initially were transported to so-called “Assembly Centers” (in many cases the actual horse stalls of local racetracks) and later to hastily built “internment” camps in isolated areas of central and northern California, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Arkansas, among other locations.

Dorothea Lange (Photographer), Children in front of the gardens and barracks, formerly horse stalls, where families from San Francisco lived at Tanforan Assembly Center, California, 1942
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Many remained in these camps for the duration of the war, losing homes, businesses, jobs, and years of formal education. Others were allowed to leave the camps and start new lives away from their former homes on the West Coast. And many, somewhat ironically, were called or volunteered for service for the remaining years of the war.

Siberius Y. Saito (1908–1980), Letter to William H. Irwin, June 22, 1942 
 California Historical Society

The 100th Infantry Battalion, composed primarily of American-born children of Japanese immigrants, called Nisei, receive grenade training in Hawaii, 1943
Courtesy U.S. Army

Years of racist sentiment against Japanese immigrants set the stage for these actions. Although evidence was suppressed at the time, no act of espionage or sabotage was ever found. Even if one had, the incarceration of many thousands of people “wholly ignored the fundamental principle that a free society judges by individual acts, not by ancestry,” noted Tom C. Clark, Retired Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. “The stubborn fact is, our fellow Japanese American citizens lost their liberty simply and only because of their ancestry.”

Americans All Booth, Pan-Pacific Industrial Exposition, Los Angeles, September 6, 1945
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley; photograph by Hikaru Iwasaki

Last month’s executive order by President Trump barring entrance to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries has given new life to the concerns raised by Executive Order 9066. Once again—and again despite claims by the government—thousands of individuals are being denied rights afforded them by the U.S. government (by way of invalidating previously issued visas), based apparently on their heritage.

Although the government has denied that race or religion has played a role in the order, some believe otherwise. Despite carefully crafted wording in the order, according to media reports, statements made by President Trump in televised interviews and by advisers to the president about using the word “danger” rather than advocating an outright ban on Muslims led many to believe that the intent of this executive order was to ban people based on religious affiliation, rather than on specific concerns about violence. Media reports in early February stated that as many as 100,000 individuals from predominantly Muslim countries have been denied entrance into the United States since the order went into effect. These actions, along with random acts of racial and religiously-based violence, have raised concerns among many Muslims currently living in the United States about what may lie ahead for them.

 Protest against Executive Order 13769, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York City, January 28, 2017
Creative Commons

Speaking to a crowd of fellow employees gathered to protest the executive order in Sunnyvale, California, on February 2, 2017, Comcast engineer Mark Hashimoto, whose great grandmother was incarcerated during World War II said, “If we are all silent, it could happen again. We could have internment camps again.”

In the 1972 book Executive Order 9066, published by the California Historical Society on the occasion of its groundbreaking exhibition of the same name, Japanese American civil rights activist Edison Uno wrote this in the book’s introduction:
History must be written by those who lived it. We must give full recognition to the facts that were responsible for such an outrage against the United States Constitution. Racism, economic and political opportunism were the root causes of this crime that is now a part of our American heritage. This, our legacy, is a reminder to all Americans that it can happen again.

Alison Moore
Guest writer

Shelly Kale, photo editor
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager 


CHS and Wartime Civil Liberties
CHS’ collections include the records of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC), which document the organization’s legislative, legal, and educational efforts to protect and extend individual liberties in California, from 1934 to the present day. The records reveal the ACLU-NC’s consistent advocacy for civil liberties and social justice, particularly during times of civic stress in which these values were strenuously tested.

Outstanding among the cases represented by the ACLU-NC is its courageous intervention on behalf of Fred Korematsu—whose lawsuit declaring the unconstitutionality of his relocation and incarceration to an internment camp during World War II made it all the way to the Supreme Court—and against the detention and relocation of other Japanese Americans. Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in camps, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens. The collection includes poignant correspondence between Mr. Korematsu and the indefatigable Ernest Besig, who served as the ACLU-NC’s Executive Director from 1935 to 1971.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California records are available for research at the California Historical Society’s North Baker Research Library. The Library is open to public, free of charge, Wednesday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m.

Explore the Finding Aid for these records.


Don’t miss these CHS events commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066

Cover, Executive Order 9066, 1972
California Historical Society

Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00 pm
Celebrating the California Historical Society’s 1972 Landmark Exhibition and Book, Executive Order 9066
Free event

The first exhibition to fully and publicly explore the World War II incarceration of Japanese American citizens and people of Japanese descent, Executive Order 9066 premiered at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and UC Berkeley’s University Art Museum before traveling nationally. Our program, moderated by historian Charles Wollenberg, will include individuals and descendants of those who visited the exhibition, along with the curator of the Dorothea Lange collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). It is followed by an open house in our North Baker Research Library, where we will show collections related to Executive Order 9066, the CHS exhibition, and its companion publication, Executive Order 9066, copies of which will be available for sale at our Ten Lions Bookstore.

Letter from architect Siberius Saito, June 22 1942
California Historical Society

Thursday, April 27, 2017, 6:00 pm
Letters from the Camps: Voices of Dissent
Presidio’s Officers Club, Moraga Hall

Using original letters from the internment camps of World War II, now preserved at the California Historical Society, this interdisciplinary presentation focuses on Japanese Americans who spoke out during and after internment. Contemporary descendants, writers, and performers will read from the letters and share their responses, including Stan Yogi author of Wherever There's a Fight, and Fred Korematsu Speaks Up, John Crew of the ACLU, and Bonnie Akimoto, actress of 30 years and in the play, Beneath the Tall Tree.

In partnership with the Presidio Trust

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Early Los Angeles—An Afro-Latino Town

Detail, The Great Wall of California mural, conceived by Judy Baca, showing the 
1781 founding of Los Angeles primarily by people of mixed Spanish, African, 
and Native American descent 

Few may know that more than half of the men, women, and children who in 1781 settled and built the Pueblo of Los Angeles were blacks and mulattos (of African and Spanish heritage).

California at that time was under the rule of the Spanish Empire. These settlers, known as Los Pobladores, were blacks of African ancestry, mulattos, and mestizos (of Spanish and Indian heritage) who immigrated to California from present-day Sinaloa and Sonora in northwestern Mexico.

Eighteenth-century Mexico (then called New Spain) was a place of widespread diversity, a mingling of peoples of Spanish, African, and indigenous descent. The Spanish Empire, in fact, was based on an elaborate hierarchy of identities, the casta (caste) system. Characterized by racial mixing, family lineage, and economic position, among other factors, the Empire sought to continue the system in New Spain.

The image below is one of many casta paintings depicting the race-based social hierarchy that existed in colonial Latin America during the 17th and 18th centuries. It shows the complexity of diverse family units generated from intermarriage in 18th-century Mexico, illustrating male and female couples of varying ethnicities with their mixed-race children.

Artist unknown, Las castas, c. 1700s
Reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologie e Historia

Such casta paintings—designed to glorify the superiority of the Spanish—typically began with a “pure” Spaniard and a “pure” African or Indian mate and their mulatto or mestizo child. The illustrations continued with children born of mulatto and mestiza couples. This image above begins with mestizo couples (top left) and ends with an undefined mixing of Black and Indian ancestry (bottom right).

Though the casta system was influential in Spain, in Alta California—California’s name at the time—it was replaced by a new hierarchy between the settlers and Native Californians. Due to the number of black and mulatto Pobladores, it is likely that the city’s subsequent black and mulatto residents would have established themselves at the top of the social order in colonial Los Angeles.

For example, Juan Francisco Reyes (c. 1749–c. 1800), a mulatto soldier also from Jalisco, arrived in Los Angeles shortly after the pueblo’s settlement and became both its first black and first Hispanic magistrate (alcalde), serving from 1793 to 1795.

Typical “leather-jacket” soldier on the northwest frontier of New Spain
Del-Prado Osprey, L’histoire de la cavalerie, la cavalerie de la Nouvelle-Espagne, 2008 reprint

Jose Manuel Nieto (1734–1804) was a mulatto “leather-jacket” soldier in Gaspar de Portola’s 1769 expedition from Mexico. He arrived in Alta California in 1769. By 1784 he was assigned to the Mission San Gabriel, situated along the road the Pobladores took to the Pueblo de Los Angeles. He received one of the largest Spanish land grants in Alta California from the Spanish Empire.

The Nieto Land Grant and 1834 Divisions in parts of present-day Los Angeles and Orange Counties
Courtesy National Park Service

Others are worth the reader’s exploration, such as Pio Pico, the last governor of Alta California prior to U.S. rule; Tiburcio Tapia, a wealthy businessman and recipient of a 13,045-acre Mexican land grant; and María Rita Valdez de Villa, who inherited the 4,539-acre Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, present-day Beverly Hills, upon her husband’s death.

Maria Rita Valdez Villa’s adobe home—present-day Alpine Drive and Sunset Boulevard—on her Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas

Los Angeles’s black and mulatto population were not legally discriminated against until after California was annexed to the United States in 1848. As Southerners came West with their slaves, and the country debated incorporating California into the Union, a contentious battle ensued as to whether California should be a slave or a slave-free state. Though abolitionists prevailed and blacks migrated to Los Angeles to escape slavery and racial violence, they would face discrimination—in voting, housing, and education, for example—in California and across the nation for over a century.

Family Portrait, 1907
Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Shades of L.A. Collection

Unfortunately, the Pobladores’s multiracial ethnicity—particularly their African roots—would not be formally recognized until 1981, when a plaque was erected in commemoration of the city’s 200th anniversary that accurately depicted the settlers’ multiracial makeup.

The community-wide effort was led by pioneer librarian Miriam Matthews, Los Angeles’s and the state’s first black librarian. In an oral history, she explained: “That was my top priority: a proper founders monument to be erected in the plaza, in the State Historic Park, which is near Olvera Street.” The plaque honors the founders of Los Angeles, listing them by name, race, sex, and age. Twenty-six of the 44 founders are of black and mulatto descent.

Miriam Matthews with Plaque at El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, 1981
Courtesy Charles H. Matthews, Jr.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Monday, February 6, 2017

Buying a Bride, a complex California history

By Marcia Zug

Every Californian knows about the forty-niners, the daring fortune seekers who helped settle California. However, few people have heard of the brave young women who followed them out west. These women also came to seek their fortunes, but they didn’t come to mine for gold; they came to marry the miners.

Shortly after the forty-niners arrived in California, the first California mail-order bride expedition was proposed. Eastern reformers believed women would be a calming influence on the lawless, male mining towns and they enthusiastically supported plans to bring brides west. California’s many bachelor politicians also supported these plans both for themselves, and for their numerous single, male constituents. In fact, California was so eager for female immigrants that the state government quickly passed some of the most female friendly laws in the country.

California was the first western state to consider importing brides, but many other male heavy states quickly followed and by the end of the 19th century, thousands of eastern women had traveled west to seek their fortunes as mail-order brides. Unfortunately, finding wives for miners was not California’s only involvement with mail-order marriage. California pioneered the idea of bringing mail-order brides out west, but it was also at the forefront of a later movement to bar mail-order brides.  As the race of the arriving brides changed, California’s support for mail-order marriage quickly evaporated.

When mail-order brides were eastern white women, Californians lauded them as heroes and patriots. However, when Japanese mail-order brides began arriving in California, barely a generation after the forty-niners, these women were quickly branded as criminals, prostitutes and threats to America’s racial hierarchy. Eventually, the outcry against the Japanese picture brides lead to their complete exclusion from the United States. Moreover, the nativist arguments honed in the picture bride fight were soon echoed in other exclusionary immigration laws including The 1921 Quota Act, and The National Origins Act.

            Treatment of mail-order brides reflects America’s complicated and contradictory immigration history. America has both welcomed and encouraged immigration, but it has also restricted and even barred certain immigrant groups. California’s history with mail-order marriage reflects this history. Depending on the shifting politics of the time, California both welcomed and excluded mail-order brides. Nonetheless, for the women, the benefits of mail-order marriage have been surprisingly consistent. Throughout American history, mail-order marriage has been a way for women to change their circumstances and, like the men they followed and married, a way to seek their fortunes and improve their lives.

Marcia Zug is an Associate Professor of law at the University of South Carolina. She specializes in family law, immigration law and Federal Indian Law. She is the author of Buying A Bride: An Engaging History of mail-Order Matches


Marcia Zug’s Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches is the first book-length treatment of the history of mail-order marriage, and it makes a powerful case for the reexamination of a practice that remains poorly understood. Mail-order brides have been part of American life since the founding of the first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Nevertheless, how they have been perceived has changed drastically over time. There were “Tobacco Wives,” in colonial Virginia, mail-order brides during the California gold rush, Japanese picture brides during the early twentieth century, and even same-sex mail-order grooms today.

She will talk about her book at the California Historical Society on Thursday, February 9th. To register, click HERE.