The 44 Founders of Los Angeles
Today Los Angeles is a sprawling metropolis covering more than 500 square miles and home to nearly four million people. But when the city was first founded back on September 4, 1781, it only had 44 residents (known as Los Pobladores) and covered just four square leagues.
Founding Los Angeles
In the late 1700s, a number of missionaries, most notably Father Junipero Serra and Father Juan Crespí, traveled through Alta California for the Spanish crown and the Catholic church, establishing a series of 21 missions and working to evangelize the Native Americans living there.
During their travels through what is now Elysian Park sometime in 1769, Father Crespí spotted a site at the confluence of two rivers that would make for an ideal settlement. He disregarded the fact there was already a village there — Yanga (or Yangna), the largest Tongva village in the region and petitioned the crown to establish a new religious settlement (mission) at this location.
King Carlos III, the ruling Spanish monarch declined this request. Spain was in the process of increasing its military presence in the Alta California, primarily as a show of strength against the growing threat of Russian and British forces.
So instead of a mission, Carlos III wanted to establish a commercial supply network to support his troops. So he mandated that a secular settlement (pueblo) be established at the spot Crespí had eyed up years prior.
Felipe de Neve, the governor of California at the time, carried out the king’s mandate. On September 4, 1781, Governor de Neve led 44 men, women and children (plus four soldiers and a few priests) from the mission at San Gabriel to the location of this settlement approximately nine miles away.
That’s the simplified version of the story. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Before they left San Gabriel, the founding families had to travel from Mexico. Traveling thousands of miles wasn’t easy in 1781, and the families experienced hardships, including a smallpox outbreak that delayed some of them, on the journey from Mexico to the San Gabriel Mission.
But when their journey ended on September 4, 1781, Governor de Neve christened the new settlement with the name El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles. It was the second non-military town established in Neuva California (the first was San Jose, also established by de Neve, in 1777).
Per Spanish law, the town was set up as four square leagues — one league in each direction from the center plaza. In the case of Los Angeles, these streets angled out at 45 degrees from the main cardinal directions, a city plan that’s been followed in Downtown Los Angles even after all these centuries.
According to the Los Angeles Almanac, recruiting for prospective colonists started in December of 1779. Turns out finding settlers willing to travel to the remote wild lands of Alta California for a harsh life of farming wasn’t easy.
The recruiting process took a whole year, and when it was done only 12 families agreed to make the arduous trip from the Mexican provinces of Sonora and Sinaloa to Alta California. During the trip, one family ended up stayed behind in Baja California to recover from smallpox. But the remaining 11 families arrived in three waves to the mission at San Gabriel.
It was these 44 people — made up of 11 men, 11 women, and 22 children — who founded Los Angeles on September 4, 1781. They are honored on the Los Pobladores Plaque that sits on the southern side of the Los Angeles Plaza.
Of the 44 original founders of Los Angeles, only two of them were of Spanish descent (that is, white). The remaining 42 settlers were of various racial backgrounds — 26 of them had some African ancestry and the other 16 were of indigenous ancestry. When the plaque was first placed, it didn’t reference the multi-racial background of the original settlers. That was rectified in 1981 when a new (the current) plaque was put in place.
In addition to the Los Pobadores Plaque, there are monuments honoring each founding family set in concrete around the perimeter of the Plaza. Each one details the members of the family and offers up a brief history of the role they played in the development of the early pueblo of Los Angeles.
The surnames of each family, according to these markers were: Camero, Lara, Mesa, Moreno, Navarro, Quintero, Rodriguez, Rosas, Rosas, Vanegas, Velasco, and Villavicencio.
Also included in the bottom right is a plaque describing the importance of the village of Yanga (spelled Yangna here), the Tongva village that once stood on the site where Los Angeles would be established. The village was eventually abandoned in 1836 after being moved and/or displaced numerous times as Los Angeles grew around it.
Walk of the Pobladores
Every year the descendants of Los Pobladores walk from San Gabriel to Downtown Los Angeles, tracing the first steps their ancestors took to build Los Angeles. This tradition, which usually happens over Labor Day Weekend, began in 1981 as part of the Los Angles bicentennial celebration.
Sadly, the walk was not officially held for the past few years (due to fallout from the pandemic), but you can read about the walk and see the route at the City of San Gabriel’s Walk to Los Angeles website.
Using the map provided on the site, you can follow the path of the original 44 founders from San Gabriel to Los Angeles. The route is nine miles long, so plan for the journey to take about three hours.
If you’re interested in the history of Los Angeles, you can take a free tour of the Historic El Pueblo at 10am, 11am, and Noon every Tuesday through Saturday put on by Las Angelitas del Pueblo. (Although all in-person tours on hold for the foreseeable future).
44 Pobladores Memorial Plaques
- 125 Paseo De La Plaza, Los Angeles
- GPS Coordiantes: 34.056430, -118.238874 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///name.trials.push
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