One of the fun things about studying pre-statehood California history is that, because there were so few people living here at that time, connections between individuals always pop up. Finding those connections is, for me, an antidote to the “feel like a number” aspect of modern life in America.
Updating an old post about one of the “frontiersmen”, Joseph Majors, led me to read about Jedediah Smith, first of the American frontiersmen to reach California by land. Smith’s daily journal of his expedition introduced me to another early American-born Californian – Joseph Chapman. Chapman was already well-settled in the little pueblo of Los Angeles when Smith arrived early in 1827. Chapman was one of “the sailors”, which provides a handy lead-in to this update of another early blog post.
Chapman’s story contains an especially unusual element: he first came to California as a pirate (or, more delicately - a privateer). Some specific details are unclear, but it seems beyond dispute that Joseph Chapman was a crew-member serving under the French-Argentinian privateer Hippolyte Bouchard. Argentina had just successfully broken away from the Spanish empire, and was still in a state of war. Bouchard’s little fleet (two ships) came to the California coast in 1818, aiming to cause harm to Spanish interests there. The provincial capital, Monterey, became the first target. A raiding party landed and sacked the Presidio – burning buildings and destroying the fort’s artillery.
After leaving Monterey, Bouchard sailed south and mounted attacks on Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano before leaving California waters forever. Somehow left behind was Joseph Chapman. By making himself useful, he escaped the gallows and stayed on to become a valued citizen of Spanish-Mexican California.
How does this all relate to Santa Cruz? Neither Bouchard nor Chapman ever came here but, because there had been prior warning of the impending attack, the coastal Spanish Missions had time to move their people and valuables to inland locations. Governor Sola ordered the Mission Santa Cruz folk to retreat to Santa Clara, placing defense of the Mission in the hands of the invalidos (retired soldiers) of Branciforte. Upon the padres’ return, the Branciforteans were accused by the padres of theft of Mission valuables, including two casks of aguardiente (a liquor distilled at the Missions). Relations between the pueblo and the Mission, never good, declined even further after that incident.According to historian H. H. Bancroft, Joseph Chapman was one of the first documented English-speaking permanent residents in California. The name of the very first will be familiar to locals. John Gilroy was a Scot who, like Chapman, was a sailor who (probably) jumped ship in Monterey, married a California girl of the Ortega family, and settled down. Through his wife, Gilroy obtained a land grant in the area where the city named after him is today. Gilroy and Chapman also became distant cousins by marriage and, although there’s no record that they ever met, might have shared a glass of aguardiente and some words of English at one of the many Ortega family weddings.
The period from 1821 to 1846 was a turbulent time in California, but our northern end of Vizcaíno’s Monterey Bay avoided most of the commotion. The big events usually happened in Monterey, then gradually diffused north. Geographical features of the land (mountains) and sea (lack of a natural harbor) dictated that most early arrivals here would come by way of Monterey, following the trail blazed by the lost Spaniard, Portolà. Ships put in at Monterey harbor; merchants arranged their trading business at the customs house; soldiers came and went from the Presidio; ranchers brought their hides and tallow from north and south along El Camino Real to Monterey's wharves; diplomats presented their credentials at the capital of Spanish and Mexican California. The main king’s road didn’t pass through Santa Cruz, and neither did very many travelers. Those who did were mostly, like the boll weevil in the old song, ‘just lookin’ for a home’.
A few adventurous non-Spanish Europeans did find their way north from Monterey, especially to Branciforte. The pueblo’s special civic status and independence from the Mission made it a good place to make a fresh start. Thanks to the work of local historical researchers, we know something about a few of those adventurers (see ‘Further reading’ below). This group had several characteristics in common. They were:
- sailors who came to California by sea,
- ambitious and industrious,
- resident in the Branciforte area prior to 1830,
- married into the Castro family,
- later Rancho grantees (with their wives).
One of the first arrivals came across the Pacific from Russia. Josef Bolcoff’s early history is sketchy, but best guesses are that he came to California as a sailor on a Russian trading ship between 1810 and 1820. He arrived in Branciforte around 1822 and became a Mexican citizen. Known locally simply as “the Russian”, Bolcoff married Candida Castro late the same year, at Mission Santa Cruz, and the couple were granted Rancho San Agustin (Scotts Valley) in 1833. Despite an earlier (1824) arrest for smuggling, Bolcoff was appointed alcalde of Branciforte in 1834 and later served as administrator of Mission Santa Cruz. In 1839, the family moved to the Rancho Refugio (granted jointly to Candida and two of her sisters). A portion of the adobe casa they built survives at Wilder Ranch State Park. A small beach cove in the park was once known as Russian Landing, and the Water Street grade from Ocean Street up to Branciforte Avenue was once called Bolcoff Hill. None of those names survive on today’s signs.
Another member of this group was an Irishman named Michael Lodge, most likely a sailor on an American merchantman that stopped to trade in Monterey. Lodge stayed behind when the ship set sail for the long and hazardous return voyage around Cape Horn. He came to sleepy Branciforte around 1827 and became a carpenter and ranchero. Lodge became a Mexican citizen and married Martina Castro, probably in 1831. In 1833, Martina petitioned for and was granted the Rancho Soquel, which extended from Soquel Creek to Borregas Creek (now the eastern boundary of Cabrillo College). According to Clark, Capitola Beach (or maybe New Brighton Beach?) was once known as ‘Lodges Beach’. Today, however, the name Lodge cannot be found on a sign anywhere.
A third former sailor was an Englishman named William Buckle. William and his brother Samuel settled at Branciforte in 1823. William married another Castro sister, Maria Antonia. Like Bolcoff and Lodge before him, Buckle was co-grantee of a rancho, Rancho Carbonera (1838). Carbonera was one of the later and smaller ranchos, and included today’s Pasatiempo and Carbonera Estates neighborhoods.
A word is in order here about women’s property rights laws in Mexican California (carried forward from Spanish law). When women like the Castro sisters married, they retained the right to own property separately. That was not the case at the time in the United States, where the husband held all the property rights of a married couple (as in British law of that era). Thus, a married woman like Martina Castro Lodge could still petition for and receive a land grant under her maiden name.
- Pokriots, Marion D. Don Jose Antonio Bolcoff: Branciforte’s Russian Alcalde, in Santa CruzCountyHistory Journal, Issue Number Three. (1997). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz.
- Reynolds, Willa Dean. Michael Lodge: The Overlooked Pioneer, in Santa Cruz County History Journal Number Six. (2009). Art and History Museum of Santa Cruz.