Custom House,, Monterey

168th Sloat Landing Commemoration – Monterey Custom House Plaza

“During the spring months of 1846, units of the United States Pacific Squadron, commanded by Commodore John D. Sloat, had been waiting at Mazatlan, Mexico, for receipt of a formal declaration of war between the United States and Mexico.  Commodore Sloat had standing orders to seize the California ports as soon as he was certain that war had broken out.  Also awaiting developments was the English Admiral, Sir George Seymour, in command of H. M. S. Collingwood, anchored at San Blas. 

Upon receipt of news on May 17 that hostilities had commenced on the Rio Grande, Commodore Sloat sent the Cyane, the Levant, and the Portsmouth to Monterey, and on June 7 followed in the Savannah, although he had not yet received notice that war had been formally declared. 

On July 2 the Savannah dropped anchor near the Cyane and the Levant in Monterey harbor, the Portsmouth having been moved previously to Sausalito in San Francisco Bay.” (1)

Monterey Bay was a valuable gateway to Asia and the Pacific, so it was no secret that the United States wanted the 600,000 square miles of California, a territory controlled by Mexico.  In 1845, President Polk and the Navy Department gave Commodore Sloat his orders.  If Sloat learned that the United States was at war with Mexico he was  to immediately seize Monterey.  

Sloat’s Landing 

For more than 80 years on the Saturday closest to July 7, the Monterey History and Art Association has been re-enacting what has come to be known as Sloat’s Landing at Monterey Custom House Plaza. 

Our commemoration opened with the United States Navy Color Guard from the Defense Language Institute presenting the colors,

while Monterey Community Band played the Star Spangled Banner.  

Master of Ceremonies, Thom Diggins, of Monterey Walking Tours introduced the dignitaries, Libby Downey, Monterey City Council Member, Scott Miller, Monterey County Sheriff,

representatives from the Native Sons (and Daughters) of the Golden West,

along with their K9 representative and a handful of guests in period dress.  

After the formalities Mr. Diggins gave a very enlightening summary of Sloat’s Landing.  “Clear in concept,” Mr. Diggins stated, “but short in detail Sloat’s orders directed him to confirm war with Mexico, seize the capital at Monterey, and avoid antagonizing the local inhabitants.” 


And so on July 7, 1846, four days after arriving in Monterey harbor, Sloat directed Captain Mervine of the Cyane to lead an amphibious assault against Monterey at the Custom House.

Mervine came ashore with about 250 sailors and marines seeking the surrender of Monterey from the Mexican commandant Captain Mariano Silva.  

What the U.S. soldiers found was a rather nonexistent Mexican fortress, as Silva’s soldiers had previously left Monterey for Los Angeles.

Furthermore the Mexican’s had left no gunpowder behind to fuel the few cannons that remained and no Mexican flag flew over the Custom House. Mervine’s men procured a Mexican flag, raised it on the flagpole and then subsequently lowered it in surrender.

Finally Purser Rodman Price of the Levant went to the balcony of the Custom House and read a proclamation written by Sloat that proclaimed California for the United States and the American flag with four rows of seven stars was raised over Monterey.  

Within five days the American flag was flying at Yerba Buena (San Francisco), in Sonoma, at Sutter’s Fort and San Jose. English Admiral, Sir George Seymour and the Collingwood arrived in Monterey on July 23 and chose not to interfere with the American’s claim to California. 

“One of the ironies,” Mr. Diggins concluded, “is that Commodore Sloat never set foot on the shore at Monterey. I believe,” he said, ” that he spent his time here aboard the Savannah.  Yet they still call it Sloat’s Landing.” 


(1) Van Nostrand, Jeanne. A Pictorial and Narrative History of Monterey Adobe Capital of California 1770 – 1847. California Historical Society, 1968, p. 68.

* The New York Volunteers and the Consolidated Fife and Drum Corps filled in for Captain Mervine and his men. 

All photograph and video by L. A. Momboisse unless noted below: 

– Picture of  Commodore Sloat, US Pacific Squadron, and USS Levant from Wikipedia.

Battle of Monterey – Anonymous (Public Domain) Officers of Commodore Sloat raise the U.S. flag over Monterey.

Dr. Ruben Mendoza, Father Serra,, Monterey

The Royal Presidio Chapel of Monterey with Dr. Ruben Mendoza

The Royal Presidio Chapel of Monterey
with Dr. Ruben Mendoza

On September 7, 2012, Dr. Ruben Mendoza, archaeologist, writer, photographer and founding faculty member of California State University, Monterey Bay conducted a free lecture on the history and restoration of the Royal Presidio Chapel, San Carlos Cathedral as part of the community educational activities planned in association with the California Mission Ride.
Here are some of the highlights from his tour and lecture. 

Monterey Bay Discovered 
In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino of Spain came upon the bay at Monterey and wrote that it was “the perfect port.” Time then passed and this “perfect port” became a part of Spanish lore as no one returned to Monterey. Over 150 years later in 1769 Spain ordered Captain Gaspar de Portola to colonize Alta California with a Presidio at the perfect port of Monterey.  Father Junipero Serra was given the task of establishing a mission and spreading Christianity to the Native Americans.

  Royal Presidio of Monterey


The Presidio of Monterey established June 3, 1770, became one of five Presidios (four in California) built by Spain.  The destiny of the first Presidio of Monterey, El Presidio Royal de Monte Rey, would rise and fall over the years, it would be moved, abandoned, reactivated, rebuilt and ultimately restored.  It would serve as Spain’s initial military reservation in Alta California, then under Mexican and finally American rule. 
In 1770 an elevated location near an estuary was selected by Miguel Costanso, the engineer of the presidio.  A defensive fence of pine logs secured by mud was built to surround buildings for housing, church services and storage. Cannons were mounted at the corners. 
Here in a conjectural view of the Royal Presidio of 1820 drawn by Jack Williams, the presidio walls are shown in relation to the current streets of Monterey. 

The Royal Presidio Chapel San Carlos Cathedral
The Royal Presidio Chapel San Carlos Cathedral was also founded June 3, 1770, this by Blessed Junipero Serra.  It was built inside the fence walls of the presidio and would become California’s first Cathedral, and oldest continuously functioning house of worship in the State of California.
Dr. Ruben Mendoza explained that under 1770 Spanish rule there was no real separation of church and state.  “The church would be established in the center of the military compound.  Monterey was the military and religious capital of both Baja California and Alta California.”
Chapel to Cathedral
Initially a temporary church of poles, mud and thatch was constructed for religious services until a more permanent adobe chapel could be built in 1771-1772.  
Dr. Ruben noted that by the time the adobe chapel was built in 1772, Father Serra was “referring to the Monterey site as the ‘old stand’, meaning that he had already moved his original mission from Monterey to Carmel by that time.”
By the late 1780’s fires (from errant gun fire) plagued the thatched roof and moisture from the sea air damaged the walls and floor.  A stonemason, Manuel Ruiz was commissioned to build a four-sided stone church with a tile roof which was completed in 1794.  A baptistery was added in 1810 and sacristy in 1811.

These buildings are no longer standing but their walls were discovered during the restoration and Dr. Ruben points out their location noted by tiles in the ground outside the current cathedral walls.

Dr. Ruben also draws our attention to the bas-relief designed by Manuel Ruiz of Our Lady of Guadalupe over the cathedral door.  This he notes is the “oldest non-native sculpture in California.” 
For a short time the presidio chapel would be under Mexican rule and have its status changed from a military chapel to a town parish by 1835.
In 1849, under American rule it would be elevated to a cathedral, becoming California’s first Cathedral upon statehood in 1850. 
Dr. Ruben takes us inside the cathedral and points out the statue of Saint Anthony.  Prior to the restoration, this statue was covered with black soot and the halo thought to be wood.  After the statue returned from being cleaned it was discovered that the robe was quite ornate and the halo actually sterling silver. 
Our attention is called to the cutout in the adobe wall.  Behind the glass is original adobe with a decorative painted motif.  When the Cathedral was restored the pattern was duplicated on the new walls.   

At the front of the Cathedral we cross the threshold of the old chapel to the transept built in 1858 which extended over a crypt.  Dr. Ruben explains that in 2008 he was called by the engineers working on the restoration.  They had discovered the crypt and asked him to investigate.
He entered the crypt and “found seven bodies and one open area for another.  The crypts were arched in shale or sandstone.  They were nine feet deep.  There was a wooden cross tacked to a brick wall and over on the far left there was a name, Angelo Casanova. We believe that the crypt was here before the transept was built.”
We exit the cathedral through the transept doors.  Dr. Ruben explains that these are the original portadas taken from the 1810 baptistery and 1811 sacristy.  They contain an ornate pomegranet pattern dating from 1800 – 1810. 
We continued behind the Cathedral to the location of a monument. Dr. Ruben explained that this “was discovered during the course of the grading operation – the trenching and landscaping operation – this stone which was originally installed in 1905 came up in the flower beds – no one knew where it had gone all these years.”
“This is the monument installed to commemorate the Serra Oak which was brought to this spot after it was found floating off Fisherman’s Wharf – it was determined to be the tree under which Serra, and perhaps Vizcaino, conducted Mass.”   
Conservation and Restoration
By the 1990’s it was clear that the Royal Presidio Chapel, now the San Carlos Cathedral was in great need of a seismic retrofit.  In the summer of 2008, Dr. Ruben was called upon to lead the archaeological research team during this restoration.
Here is the story of the restoration of the Royal Presidio Chapel with Dr. Ruben Mendoza and Project Manager Cathy Leiker.  

  The San Carlos Cathedral restoration is complete and it truly is a gift to the community, the state and the nation.  The Royal Presidio Chapel Heritage Center next to the Cathedral is free and contains much of the artifacts uncovered during the restoration.  Museum hours Wednesday 10AM to 12 Noon, Fridays 10AM to 3PM, Saturdays 10AM to 2 PM, Sunday 1PM to 3PM.     

Dr. Ruben Mendoza
Vista del Presidio de Monte Rey 1793 – Pen and Ink, Jose Cardero
Plaza del Precidio de Monte Rey 1791 – Pen and Ink, Jose Cardero
Conjectural View of the Royal Presidio around 1820 by Jack Williams Royal Presidio Chapel of Monterey 1849 – Alfred Sully
Father Serra’s Landing Place or Celebration of the First Mass – Leon Trousset
Carmel Mission, Father Serra,, Monterey, San Carlos Cathedral Monterey

Monterey Bay Discovered

Monterey Bay Discovered

In 1542 the King of Spain sent Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in search of the Strait of Anian, a body of water thought to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans north of Mexico. 

Cabrillo began his voyage in June sailing north with two small vessels.  On September 28, 1542 he entered San Diego Bay and named the area San Miguel.  He continued northward naming and discovering islands and bays, calling the Bay of Monterey, Bahía de los Pinos because of the forest of Pine trees that covered the inland area surrounding the bay.

Unable to anchor Cabrillo continued northward passing San Francisco bay without notice, finally turning back south around Bodega Bay.  The fabled Strait of Anian was not found, but he added the coast of Alta California to the Spanish map. 

In 1566 a Spanish galleon that annually sailed from Acapulco for the Philippines chose a longer “circle route” coming home, in order to avoid unfavorable winds.  This route took the galleon near Cape Mendocino before it turned south toward Acapulco. Sailors had been instructed to keep watch for the harbors along Alta California discovered by Cabrillo 24 years earlier. None were spotted. 

King Philip III of Spain believed there was a great importance to having a port on the coast of Alta California and sent Sebastián Vizcaíno on May 5, 1602 in search of one.    
Vizcaíno followed Cabrillo’s route up the coast of Alta California and on December 16, 1602 anchored at Bahía de los Pinos which he renamed Puerto de Monterey and the tip of a pine covered headland Punta de Pinos.

In his diary Vizcaíno wrote, that “his men built a shelter under a great oak near the shore” where Carmelite friar Father Antonio de Ascención celebrated Mass on the beach of Bahía de los Pinos.

Before he returned to Mexico, Vizcaíno spent a few weeks exploring the area finding rolling hills, a pleasantly warm valley and a fertile river running through it all to the sea.  This river he named Carmelo after the three Carmelite priests who accompanied him on this journey.  150 years would pass before this area would be colonized.

In 1769, Jose de Galvez, Visitador-General of New Spain selected a fourfold expedition that would travel by land and sea.  Their objective was Monterey, but they were all to meet first in San Diego. 

Two ships, the San Carlos and the San Antonio and two land divisions readied to leave La Paz.  The first land division started in late March of 1769 under Captain Rivera y Moncada and Fr. Juan Crespi.

The second land division set off May 15 under the command of Captain Gaspar de Portolá and 56 year old Fr. Junípero Serra who had been selected to be the father-president of the missions to be founded in Alta California. 

On July 1, 1769 the last of the four divisions, Portolá and Fr. Serra reached San Diego.  They found the other three divisions suffering from hunger and scurvy.  It was determined that the sick soldiers who could still stand should board the San Antonio and sail back for La Paz and request fresh supplies.  Those who were too sick stayed in San Diego to be cared for by Pedro Prat the surgeon of the expedition, leaving 64 well enough to continue overland with Portolá and Fr. Crespí on July 14.  Fr. Serra stayed behind in San Diego. 

The overland expedition failed to recognize Monterey Bay as described by Vizcaíno.  They continued north sighting San Francisco Bay.  Confused that it was not the described Monterey Bay, they turned south retracing their steps to Carmel Bay where they planted a large wooden cross.  Buried underneath was an account of the expedition in case someone would come upon this position.

Crossing over the hill they again failed to recognize Monterey Bay from the description of Vizcaíno, yet they erected another large cross at the bay with the message, “The land expedition is returning to San Diego for lack of provisions, today, December 9, 1769.”

Portolá and Crespí arrived in San Diego January 24, 1770 finding the settlement in far worse condition than when they had left six months earlier.  During their travels they had become convinced that where they had left the crosses was indeed Monterey.  But the San Antonio which was to have brought provisions had not arrived and without sufficient supplies they would not be able to return north to Monterey or continue to establish the settlement in San Diego. 

Fr. Serra and Portolá agreed that unless the supply ship returned to San Diego by Saint Joseph’s Day (March 19th), they would have to abandon the settlement and return home to La Paz.   Fr. Serra began a ninth day Novena that would end on the feast of Saint Joseph.  At 3PM on March 19th the San Antonio arrived. 

On April 16, 1770, the San Antonio set sail for Monterey with Fr. Serra and Miguel Constansó.  Portolá led the overland division arriving six weeks later in Monterey at the sight of the crosses. The San Antonio carrying Fr. Serra arrived a few days later and on Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1770, Father Serra celebrated a high Mass under a large oak, the same oak where in 1602, Vizcaíno had claimed the land for Spain.  After Mass, Portolá unfurled the Spanish flag and conducted the ceremonies of possession and establishment in the name of King Charles III. 

Jose Espinosa y Tello Map Plano Del Puerto y Bahia De Monte Rey 1791
Map used by Vizcaino in 1602
March of Portola to Monterey by Walter Francis
Father Serra Statue at the landing site June 3, 1770 Monterey
Father Serra’s Landing Place or Celebration of the First Mass – Leon Trousset

California Mission Ride, Monterey, Royal Presidio Chapel, San Carlos Cathedral Monterey

The California Mission Ride

The California Mission Ride
On August 18, 2012 five riders and their entourage set out from Sonoma on the first leg of a two stage, 600 mile horseback trip that will connect all 21 California missions, plus San Antonio de Pala a sub-mission. 

The first stage, or North Ride, covers eleven missions starting at Mission San Francisco in Sonoma and ending four weeks later at Mission San Miguel Arcángel in San Miguel. 

The second stage, or South Ride is planned for mid-August 2013.  This will continue from Mission San Miguel Arcángel to their final destination of San Diego de Alcala.  

Educational activities are planned for the riders and local community at each mission stop.  These events include archeological explorations, performances, lectures, exhibits, fiestas, and story-telling around the campfire with marshmallows and s’mores. 

The five riders include a filmmaker (Gwyneth Horder-Payton), a writer, a high school student (Gwyneth’s 16 year old daughter Daisy), a stuntman and a wrangler.  They are joined by a crew of a seven who will assist, manage, promote and document the trip.  

This is a unique historic journey with a purpose.  To conduct a modern day expedition of California on horseback by tracing the mission trail, explore the influence of the missions on the past and the future, and delve into the history of the Indians from mission days to the present. 

The crew will document their trip with the ultimate goal of producing a documentary to enhance the study of California history for fourth grade students.

The California Mission Ride endorses the goals of The California Missions Foundation, which was established in 1998 to preserve and protect the missions of California.  As the Foundation notes, it is “the only organization dedicated to the long-term preservation and restoration needs of all California missions and their associated historic and cultural resources for public benefit.”

On September 7, 2012 the riders participating in The California Mission Ride road along Del Monte Beach in Monterey on their way to Mission Carmel, San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo their eighth mission stop of the North leg of their 600 mile journey. 

The following day Gwyneth and her daughter Daisy, along with their horses Tahoe and Trigger joined approximately 30 of us outside The Royal Presidio Chapel San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey.   

We arrived just as the procession of Santa Rosalia
left the Cathedral on its way to Fisherman’s Wharf
to bless the fishing fleet.
 Father Patrick, who stayed behind,
 greeted us and gave a blessing
over Gwyneth, Daisy, Tahoe and Trigger. 
 Tahoe is a majestic Arabian Mustang
 and Trigger a Haflinger pony.
The pair are reminiscent of the rides
of don Quixote and Sancho.
Gwyneth described Tahoe as
“quite obedient, Trigger, not so much.”
But look at that face!
Daisy who broke her ankle shortly before the ride commenced and was in a boot cast, described Trigger as “quite fat and a little small for me but the only horse that I can trust on such a sketchy ride. This ride will be great for him because he needs to lose weight and he will love the adventure.” 

Daisy and Trigger shared many nuzzles and were obviously very simpatico. I didn’t think he was fat.

After Tahoe and Trigger feasted on the Cathedral lawn (a turf banquet they were kick out of my alma mater SCU for a few days earlier) we were joined by Dr. Ruben Mendoza, who led the archaeological research team during the conservation and restoration of the Royal Presidio Chapel between 2007-2008.  His team discovered the original Serra Chapels of 1770 and 1772.  

He is also a founding faculty member
of the California State University, Monterey Bay. 

Dr. Ruben Mendoza conducted a fascinating 90 minute tour of the grounds and interior of the Royal Presidio Chapel and the Heritage  Museum, home to numerous artifacts from early mission days, discovered during the restoration in 2007.

The Royal Presidio Chapel
San Carlos Cathedral

500 Church Street
Monterey, CA  93940
Mass times
Saturday (Sunday Vigil) 4:00PM
Sunday 7:30AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM, 12Noon, 5:30PM
Monday through Friday 7:45AM & 12:15PM (Except holidays)
Saturday 2:30-3:00PM
Royal Presidio Chapel Heritage Museum
No charge for admission
Wednesday 10AM – 12Noon
Friday 10AM – 3PM
Saturday 10AM – 2PM
Sunday 1PM – 3PM
2nd and 4th Mondays 10AM – 12 Noon
& 1:15PM – 3PM
Photo Credits
Lynn Momboisse
California Mission Ride
M. Huix