California’s Basque Governors

Basque Officials of Alta California

Alta California was administered by several Basque Governors between 1792 and 1822:
José Joaquín de Arrillaga of Aia, Gipuzkoa, interim Governor, 1792 – 1794
Diego de Borica of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, Governor, from 1794 – 1800
José Joaquín de Arrillaga, Governor, 1800 to 1814
• Mexican José Darío Argüello, Governor, short period of time 1814 – 1815
Replaced by Basque Pablo Vicente de Sola, from Arrasate, Gipuzkoa 1815 – 1822

José Joaquín de Arrillaga

(Aia, Gipuzkoa, 1750 – Soledad Mission, California, 1814)

First Presidio of San Carlos de Monterrey, 1793. Author: José Cardero. Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Collection of Early Californian and Western American Pictorial Material, The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.

José Joaquín de Arrillaga served as California’s interim Governor from 1792 to 1794 and also from 1800 to 1804. When California was split into two sections, Arrillaga was Governor of Alta California, in charge of administering that area from 1804 to 1814.

According to the baptism records, Arrillaga was born in 1750 in Aia, Gipuzkoa, at the Manterola foundry. He may have begun his military career in the Americas in 1777, when he voluntarily joined the presidio company of the San Miguel de Horcasitas’ in Sonora. After 1780, José served as lieutenant for the San Sabas and La Bahía companies of Texas. Later, in 1783, he was appointed Captain of Loreto’s presidio and Lieutenant Governor of California. His reputation of an honest and efficient official earned him the position of interim Governor when in 1792, Governor José Antonio Romeu passed away. The following year, Arrillaga left Loreto to relocate in Monterrey.

Diego de Borica

Native resident of Monterrey circa 1791. Author: José Cardero.

(Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, 1742 – Durango, Nueva Vizcaya, 1800)

Diego de Borica y Retegui, from Vitoria-Gasteiz, served as California’s seventh Governor from 1794 to 1800.  Diego de Borica was baptized on November 2, 1742 at the St. Vincent church in Vitoria-Gasteiz. His father was Cosme de Borica and his mother, María Bentura de Retegui. His paternal grandparents were Prudencio de Borica of Abando and María Antonia de Othero of Bilbao. His maternal grandparents were Miguel Antonio de Retegui of Oyarzun and Ursola de Arzac of Vitoria-Gasteiz. Fermín Lasuén was named President of all California missions in 1785, so when de Borica y Retegui took office, California’s highest civil and religious authorities were tied by an unusual connection: they shared the same home town of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Besides being fellow countrymen, the men were also close friends, or “devoted friends,” as historian Charles E. Chapman describes it.  During their joint time in office, the leaders of the two institutions operated seamlessly.  More progress was made then than at any other time during the colonial period.

Pablo Vicente de Sola

(Arrasate, Gipuzkoa, 1761 – Mexico City, Mexico, 1826)

Pablo Vicente de Sola was Alta California’s 12th and last Spanish Governor from 1815 to 1822, just as the movement for independence shook the Spanish Empire. Born in Arrasate, Pablo was son to Nicolás de Sola y Salinas and Ursola Theresa Arrizavalaga, one of twelve Basque siblings.  Their mother was from Segura, Gipuzkoa, and their father, a native of Obanos, Navarre, was former Mayor of Arrasate and former Province Deputy. Pablo Vicente de Sola received an upper-class education.  Those who knew Governor de Sola during his years in California, he was described him as a medium height and stocky man, or in a colloquial phrase of the era: he was “de complexión florida,” of “thriving physique.”

Monterrey port. Author: Duflot de Mofras, Eugène. Exploration Du Territoire De L’Oregon, Des Californies Et De La Mer Vermeille, Exécutée Pendant Les Années 1840, 1841 et 1842.

Pablo Vicente was not the only family member to travel to California. His brother Faustino, a Franciscan father, settled in California in 1786. He passed in 1820, at the San Fernando school, after a 30-year battle with mental illness.