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Villa de Branciforte

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Title: Villa de Branciforte  
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Subject: Alta California, Santa Cruz, California, History of California, Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, Branciforte Adobe
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Villa de Branciforte

Villa de Branciforte
Location of Villa de Branciforte in California
Location Santa Cruz, California

36°59′00″N 122°01′00″W / 36.983333°N 122.016667°W / 36.983333; -122.016667Coordinates: 36°59′00″N 122°01′00″W / 36.983333°N 122.016667°W / 36.983333; -122.016667

Reference No. 469[1]

Branciforte or as it was named originally, Villa de Branciforte, was the last of only three secular pueblos founded by the Spanish colonial government of Alta California, a province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The pueblo was established in 1797 on the eastern bluff of the San Lorenzo River, facing Mission Santa Cruz on the west side of the river. The pueblo never prospered, and the area was annexed into the city of Santa Cruz, California in 1905.

The present day Branciforte Small Schools Campus (BSSC) building is located at what was the center of the Villa de Branciforte. A California State historical marker, number 469, is located outside of the building, too, at the corner of Water Street and Branciforte Avenue.[2]


Villa de Branciforte was founded under the direction of Las Californias Governor Diego de Borica and the Viceroy of New Spain Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca y Branciforte, marqués de Branciforte, after whom the settlement was named, and was founded as part of Spain's strategy to protect upper California against other European countries such as Russia, England, and France that were trying to gain this Californian territory by luring retired soldiers and settlers to this province. In the colonial history of Spain, the settlement was somewhat unique in that its original civilian population was not bound to the church or the military. Unlike the Spanish Missions, the villa was secular.

From its very inception in 1797 the Villa met with great obstacles. The funds were not adequate, and the enterprise failed to attract any retired soldiers. In their stead, a motley group of convicts who were banished from New Spain formed the initial group of colonists, and although the missionaries at Mission Santa Cruz protested bitterly against this pueblo being situated so close to their domain, the town received the official backing.

The first eight settlers came from Guadalajara, Jalisco, New Spain—Mexico, and were running to escape the law. They found nothing of what they had been promised. Expecting to find the town already built to accommodate them, they found they had to build their own rough dwellings with little tools or provisions. In the end the Villa de Branciforte never resembled the neatly laid out plans for streets and buildings its planners envisioned. Furthermore, it never lived up to its expectations, and in 1802, the town itself lost the support of the Crown, and supplies ceased to arrive.

In 1803, about five years after the villa was established the settlers attempted to establish a government by electing an alcade or mayor. This election was most likely the first election ever held in the Alta California territory. After this, the citizens of the Villa de Branciforte began to spread over the country.[3][4]

Ever since the first days, many of its residents, whom the narratives and chronicles denounce as "lazy" and prone to vices and crime, decided to move to other, more prosperous settlements like the Pueblo of San José. There were also constant problems with the missionaries at the adjacent Mission Santa Cruz over grazing rights, and the corrupting influence of the settlers on the neophytes at the Mission. For the first few years the population actually declined.

In 1818, when the pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard threatened to attack the California coast in support of the independence struggles raging in the Americas, the residents of Branciforte were reluctantly called upon to defend the Mission against sacking while the padres and neophytes took flight in other Missions further inland. When Bouchard arrived, he did not sack Santa Cruz but instead it was the residents of Branciforte who looted and stole from the mission even the clothes from the saints adorning the church. The missionaries and neophytes came back to find the whole place ransaked, but it was soon discovered who the culprits had really been. This event deepened the mistrust both the communities held for each other.

By 1831 however, Branciforte had a population of about two hundred people which was mostly made up of merchants, explorers, and retired soldiers.[3][4]

The Branciforte Adobe is the only remaining building in Santa Cruz from this period.

See also


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