Father Junipero Serra
The Spanish Empire was the first to create a permanent colony in California. Father Junipero Serra arrived in San Diego during the summer of 1769 and founded Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 Catholic missions that would spread along the coast of California. At the same time, the first presidio (military base) was established in San Diego. The mission and military presidio in San Diego were the first sites where Europeans and native Californians interacted regularly. A portion of the colonists came aboard ships from ports on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Many colonists, however, traveled on overland routes from the interior of Mexico. The De Anza expedition of 1775 – 1776, for example, walked 1,200 miles from Mexico to establish the town of San Jose and the presidio in San Francisco.
The missionaries, soldiers and settlers came from many backgrounds. The missionaries, who were in the Franciscan order, were mostly Spaniards. The soldiers, however, were far more diverse. Some were born in Spain, but the vast majority came from Mexico and could claim Indian or African heritage. Many of the colonists were Mestizo, or people with mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. For example, the original settlers of the pueblo of Los Angeles included 26 people of African descent, 16 Native Americans, and two Spaniards.