The Catalonian Volunteers

And Their Assignments In Northwestern New Spain, 1767-1803

Joseph P. Sanchez

by Joseph P. Sanchez, University of Arizona

Between 1767 and 1803 the Free Company of Catalonian Volunteers participated in the defense of Northwestern New Spain. The military services performed by the Catalonian Volunteers during that period contributed significantly to the Spanish plan of defense of Empire. In the last decades of the eighteenth century the Spanish claim to North America was challenged by Russians, Americans and Englishmen, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, a hostile Indian frontier stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Sea of Cortez, threatened the existence of northern Mexican settlements as well as posed serious questions regarding interior defenses. Consequently the Catalonian Volunteers served in three major expeditions to Northwestern Mexico and participated in campaigns against rebel Indians of Sonora and Pimeria Alta. In addition to being an infantry unit, the Volunteers were periodically stationed at important garrisons in New Spain.

The formation of the Company of Catalonian Volunteers was part of the new defense program that resu1ted from the Spanish defeat at the hands of the British in the Seven Years' War. During the period, 1764-1772, Spanish officials, in compliance with the Bourbon Refoms, reviewed and reorganized the defenses of the Empire as well as authorized the creation of new military units that would augment existing garrisons in the New World. And so, the Compania Franca de Voluntarios de Cataluna was organized from the ranks of the Second Regiment of Light Infantry of Catalonia stationed at Barcelona in Northeastern Spain.

When the Volunteers were formed in 1767,1 the original plan indicated that they would be used to add strength to the garrison at Havana, Cuba. But plans changed and because of demands for troops in Sonora, the Catalonian Volunteers were ordered to proceed instead to Mexico and join the Sonora Expedition commanded by Colonel Domingo Elizondo. By the end of May, 100 Catalan troops and four officers smartly dressed in blue unifoms left Spain for service in the Mexican viceroyalty.

In command of the Company of Volunteers were Captain Agustin Callis, Lieutenant Pedro Fages and Sub-lieutenants Esteban Vilaseca and Pedro de Alberni. Other members of intermediate rank in descending order included four sergeants, Joseph Casas, Juan Puig, Juan Pujol and Ramon Conejo; two drummers, Joseph Demeus and Melchor Leoni; and four corporals, Jaime Joven, Juan Recio, Mauricio Faulia and Miguel Pericas.2 Although the numerical breakdown of the original company was four officers, four sergeants, two drummers, four corporals and 90 soldiers, Spanish military records usually showed four officers and 100 men for that company.

In their assignment to New Spain, the Catalan Volunteers wore the traditional uniform as that used by the Second Regiment of Light Infantry at Barcelona. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers wore the same uniform with the exception that the dress of commissioned officers was of finer material. The uniform consisted of blue breeches, a yellow waistcoat with white buttons and a black cravat. Catalan officers wore white cotton stockings, black shoes and a large gallooned hat of silver silk thread with a flowing cockade. A long bl.ue overcoat with yellow collar and yellow stitchings completed their uniform. Corporals and soldiers wore either a blue quilted great coat or a short blue cloak with sleeves. The uniform of enlisted men had a high collar with yellow stitchings and like the officers, they wore black shoes, blue breeches, yellow waistcoat and a black cravat. Instead of a large hat, however, soldiers wore a small woolen hat.3 The uniforms of officers and men were not only attractive but typical of their period.

As regards their weaponry, the Catalonian Volunteers carried belt knives that had, typically, 12-inch blades as well as side arms and muskets. The escopeta, a type of light musket, was used by the Catalan troopers in New Spain. Another common musket possibly used by the Volunteers was the Light Infantry Fusil with a Catalan stock. Both were .69 caliber muskets. While the above mentioned flintlocks were in common usage by Catalan troops, some soldiers used a lighter .19 caliber fusil.4 Bayonets were also issued to the Catalonian Volunteers in the Sonora Campaign and other expeditions. Doubtless in their later assignments to Northern Mexico the Catalans became familiar with other types of weaponry such as lances used by presidial soldiers in Sonora and California. In general, however, the Catalonians preferred firearms to other kinds of weapons.

Rations and pay of the Catalonians also varied On extended campaigns, the typical foods were bread, meat and vegetables, the latter two items sometimes issued in the form of parched corn and jerky.5 Food was considered part of a soldier's pay while on duty and often individual troopers were compensated in money if their food rations were not adequate.

The salary of Catalonian Volunteers was based on rank and duty assigned. The most concise statement on the question of salary concerns Pedro de Alberni's command in 1799. The salary schedule was as follows (in pesos, with monthly and yearly figures):

Captain 70 840
Lieutenant 40 480
Sub-Lieutenant 32 384
First Sergeant 16 192
Second Sergeant 15 180
Drummer 12 144
First Corporal 13 156
Second Corporal 12 144
Soldier 11 132

Although the above schedule does not include bonuses paid or other extra benefits like food rations, it does appear to be a good point of reference with regard to base pay. For example, Sub-Lieutenant Esteban Vilaseca claimed to have received a yearly income of 1500 pesos as a junior officer when he retired in 1771. Doubtless he included bonus pay and rations as well as salary for his income. Moreover, the Regalamento of 1772, a set of military regulations issued for the purpose of standardizing and organizing military procedures, prescribed.that Catalonian guards at Mesa del Tonati, in Nayarit, were to receive two hundred pesos yearly, and specified that the Volunteer officer there would receive 1500 pesos "above his salary." Furthermore, those soldiers were to be provided with mules at the cost of the Real Hacienda.6 Thus there were other factors to consider in determining the yearly income of regular infantry troopers in New Spain.

The Catalonian Volunteers were trained fusileros de montana, mountain riflemen, and were generally considered an infantry unit. Despite their designation as foot soldiers, they were, however, just as often mounted. Examples of Catalan troops used as horse soldiers were evident in the Sonora Campaign of 1767 and in Sonora after 1778, especially in the Pedro Fages-led Colorado River Campaign of 1781. Interestingly, the conversion of the Catalonian Volunteers to cavalry was suggested by Teodoro de Croix, commandant general of the Provincias Internas. Croix wrote that the Volunteers would never be useful in Sonora unless they were mounted. He remarked that given the rugged terrain and the type of enemy to be fought, the Catalonians would need horses. Croix suggested that the horses be supplied by Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza. Anza was able to furnish eighty Catalan Volunteers with two mules each and in some cases with one horse and one mule. But it was terrain and the nomadic character of the enemy that influenced the change in status of the Catalonian company. In their assignments to the mountainous regions of Guadalajara and Tepic, however, where cavalry maneuvers were limited, the Catalonians once again became infantrymen. Therefore, depending on the assignment, the versatile Volunteers adapted to walking or riding.

The Free Company of Catalonian Volunteers was unique in the military organization of New Spain because it was a "compania suelta" or "free company." The very name Compania franca de Voluntarious de Cataluna suggested that the company would be unattached to any particular command. viceroy Antonio Maria de Buccareli clearly defined the service of the Volunteers by writing that the company would be used wherever needed.8

The employment of the Catalonian Volunteers between 1767 and 1803 varied according to the assignment for they were used as combat troops, scouts, guards on ships, presidial guards, laborers and colonizers in Northwestern New Spain. The fame of the Free Company of Catalan Volunteers, nonetheless, rests mainly on their military accomplishments.

The first assignment of the Free Company of Catalan Volunteers was the Sonora Expedition of 1767 led by the stalwart Domingo Elizondo. The expedition was the result of demands by settlers in Sonora who had for decades suffered raids by warring rancheria groups of that province. Pacification of rebel Indian warriors was the main objective of the expedition that comprised 1100 men including the Company of Catalonians. In the campaign, Colonel Elizondo used the Catalan soldiers effectively as scouts, skirmishers and invading troops.

The tactical uses of the Catalonians in the Sonora War resulted from a general plan developed by Elizondo and his advisors, among them Juan Bautista de Anza from Fronteras and Juan de Pineda, governor of Sonora. In essence the plan involved the use of troops such as the Catalonian Volunteers stationed at Guaymas in the south and other units based at Pitic (Hermosillo) in the north. Those troops were expected to sweep the West Mexican coast and desert areas between the two points and drive the rebel warriors into their mountain strongholds. Next, small patrols scouted the various canyons of the mountain ranges, located the Indian camps, spied on them until Spanish reinforcements arrived and then a general attack was ordered. Following the procedure outlined by Elizondo, mounted Catalonian Volunteers led by Callis, Fages, Vilaseca and Alberni participated in a series of offensive maneuvers resulting in the pursuit of rebel Pima and Seri warriors into the desert wastelands surrounding the Cerro Prieto range.9 Gradually, the enemy Indians were forced into their mountain hide-outs.

In 1768, the naturally fortified canyons of Cerro Prieto, a short mountain range north of Guaymas, became the sites of several major battles fought in the campaign. Catalan troopers fought enemy Pima, Seri, Suaqui and Sibubapas at Monte del Tenuage, Cajon de Loreto, Cajon de Cara Pintada and Cajon de la Palma in Cerro Prieto. In those battles, the Catalan soldiers proved their worth as effective combat troops against valiant rancheria warriors.

Many of the Catalonian Volunteers won commendations for their distinguished service in the Sonora War. Sub-Lieutenant Esteban Vilaseca's conduct in four invasions of Cerro Prieto was described by Colonel Elizondo as "honorable, valorious and zealous." Volunteer trooper Esteban Sta won praise for his part in two main attacks and several sortees into Cerro Prieto. Sta was in the bloody night battle of Cajon de la Palma in November, 1768. Luis Rojas, a bachelor known for his bravery scouted much of the Cerro Prieto range and participated in two entradas against rebel Indians in their strongholds. Perhaps the most spectacular record of all belonged to Pedro de Alberni, the Catalan sub-lieutenant, who not only took part in four major invasions of Cerro Prieto but directed his troops in twenty-six sorties against bold rancheria warriors. 10 In one instance, Domingo Elizondo praised Agustin Callis and his Volunteer unit for their steady and vely fire as well as their close quarter fighting of the enemy.11

In 1771, after 38 months of fighting, the Sonora Campaign was stopped by Royal officials, who viewed the war as unsuccessful and costly. That year the Catalonian Volunteers withdrew to Mexico City with Elizondo's army. There, the Catalan Company was reviewed and reassigned to Guadalajara which served as their headquarters for the rest of the century.

During the early 1770's, detachments of Volunteers from Guadalajara were given various duties befitting a compania suelta [separate company]. One group was at San Blas, a port on the West Mexican Coast, guarding ships being outfitted for exploration in the North Pacific. Another was at Real del Monte, north of Mexico City in the mining district of Pachuca, maintaining order among discontent miners, who had rioted several times in the previous decade. And one detachment of twenty-five Volunteers led by Pedro Fages was in California, where it had been since 1769. That unit had been pulled out of the Sonora Campaign in late 1768.

In their assignment to California, Fages and his troops, participated on the sea wing of the 1769 founding expedition of San Diego. On that historic Voyage, the small detachment of Catalonians sailed on the packetboat, San Carlos. Their objective was to establish presidios at San Diego and Monterrey as buffers against possible Foreign intrusion on Spain's northwestern claim.

Spanish officials commended Fages and the Catalan Volunteers for their accomplishments in the establishment of California in the five-year period, 1769-1774. But the commendations did not

mention the suffering of Fages and his men, nor the fact that between April and November, 1769, fourteen out of 25 Catalonian Volunteers died of scurvy, exposure to the elements and lack of food and medicine.12

The Catalonian Volunteers were not only instrumental in establishing California but they were among the first Europeans to explore the interior of the Golden State. The accomplishments of the Catalonians in California included their participation in the discovery and exploration of San Francisco Bay in 1769, their discovery of the inner San Pablo Bay of San Francisco in 1770, and
the discovery of California's great Central Valley in 1772.13 In their explorations, the Catalonian Volunteers, especially Pedro Fages, added much information to the cartography of the New World. In 1774, Fages and his men returned to Mexico City for reassignment.

In the meantime many changes had taken place within the company organization.14 In accordance with the Reqlamento of 1772, the Free Company of Catalonian Volunteers underwent reorganization. The major change was the division of the company in two units
comprising 80 men each. The new companies were designated the First and Second Free Companies of Catalonian Volunteers. Agustin Callis commanded the first unit and Pedro Fages was placed in charge of the second in 1776. Each company consisted of one captain, one lieutenant, one sub-lieutenant, three sergeants and seventy-seven men. Both units, with the exception of detachments in the field, were assigned to Guadalajara.

In 1777, Viceroy Bucareli suggested to Comandante Teodoro de Croix, the possible use of Catalonian Volunteers in Sonora. Bucareli felt that the utility of the Second Company in Guadalajara was rather routine and sought a more effective assignment for that unit. Croix, in need of experienced troops agreed, for he realized that the Volunteers had "knowledge of that country and warfare of the Indians there."15 Thus the Second Company of Volunteers commanded by Pedro Fages was sent to the troubled province of Sonora.

The Seri Rebellion of 1777 and continued violent raids by Apache warriors in Pimeria Alta were factors immediately present that influenced Spanish authorities to honor Croix's request for the Catalan unit. By the time that Fages and his 80 men arrived at the ruined presidio at Pitic, the Seri, tired of war, had begun to surrender.

Meanwhile, Juan Bautista de Anza urged Croix to despatch Fages and his Volunteers to Presidio Santa Cruz near Terranate southeast of Tubac. Anza felt the Catalan unit would be better used to fight Apache warriors than routinely accept surrender promises from the Seri. Anza's reasoning proved correct, for within a four-month period lasting into September, 1778, the Apache launched a deadly offensive from the Arizona mountains terrorizing the presidio personnel at Altar and Santa Cruz.

From 1778-1781 the Second Company of Catalonian Volunteers served at Santa Cruz and Pedro Fages was named commander of that post. Catalan patrols engaged in a number of.fights with large numbers of Apache at Terrenate and Cocospera in Pimeria Alta. The fighting in the vicinity of Santa Cruz was especially fierce and in one attack on the outpost in 1779, thirty-three soldiers were killed. In 1780, Fages returned to Mexico City to recruit troops for his own command that had been depleted by deaths, desertions and retirements. The next year, the Catalan officer returned to Sonora with reinforcements and supplies.16

Before Fages and his troops reached Arizpe, however, they were diverted, once again, to Pitic, and there defeated a group of armed and defiant Seri. At Pitic new orders from Commandant Croix reached Fages and his men. Fages was charged with leading an expeditionary force to the Colorado River, investigate the extent of a Yuma uprising, rescue any survivors and punish the rebel warriors.17

The Yuma Rebellion of 1781 was the result of Spanish encroachments on Indian lands as well as exploitation of the natives along the confluence of the Gila and Colorado Rivers. The targets of the rebellion were two missions, one town and a garrison at Mission Concepcion and San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuner which were established there sometime the year before. In the rampage the famous Father Francisco Garces and Fernando Rivera y Moncada, Fages' old California rival were killed. The rebelling Yumans slayed all Spanish males except seven who were held captive with 75 women and children.

Fages' command for the campaign comprised 50 Catalonian Volunteers, 40 presidial soldiers from Pitic and 20 soldiers from the presidio at Altar. Juan Noriega was sergeant of the Volunteers, Miguel Palacios led the Pitii detachment and Captain Pedro Tueros commanded the Altar troops.18

The expeditionary force left Pitic for the Yuma area in present day Arizona in September, 1781. By the end of December, Fages' persistent and aggressive tactics were having effect on the large Yuma band led by Salvador Palma. Don Pedro, himself, described the use of his troops as well as the punishment inflicted on the rebels in one encounter along the Colorado River, as follows:

At this time we perceived that the Yumas were crossing the river at some distance from us, and that in another place they had already raised arms against us. I commanded ensign Don Manuel Antonio Arbizu to move against them with Sergeants Miguel Palacios and Juan Franco and twenty-five presidial soldiers. They killed five of the Yumas and stopped the passage of the others. One soldado de cuera [leather jacket soldier] of the party was wounded by an arrow. We ourselves killed five Yumas from the bank of the river, and those killed in our sight numbered twenty-five in all, among them being the sub-chief, Jose Antonio, son of Palma. The brother of Palma was badly wounded, and Palma, himself was also slightly wounded according to report.19

Notwithstanding the engagements that took place during the campaign, the Catalan Captain was careful not to provoke the Yuma into slaughtering the captive men, women and children. Instead Indian captives were taken and traded, when possible, for the Spanish prisoners.

By the end of December, Fages had led two entradas into the war-torn land of the Yuma and returned to Pitic with the Spanish survivors of the Yuma revolt. Two months later, in February, 1782, a Fages-led detachment opened a trail from Pitic in Sonora to Mission San Gabriel near Los Angeles, California. The trail ran through Yuma territory and took over a month to travel.20

The year 1782 was significant in the history of the Catalonian Volunteers. The death of Agustin Callis and the appointment of Pedro Fages as governor of California left vacancies in the command of the Volunteers assigned to Guadalajara and Sonora. Lieutenant Pedro de Alberni assumed command of the First Company and Esteban Sola was promoted to captain of the Second Company in Pimeria Alta.21

Moreover, after fifteen years of existence, the Volunteers began to change markedly. No longer was the company comprised exclusively of Catalonians but Spaniards from other provinces as well as American-born soldiers, who had been recruited in Mexico to fill vacancies caused by retirements, desertions and deaths. The Catalonian Volunteers had become diluted with other hispanos and, had, to an extent been Americanized.

After two decades in New Spain, the two companies of Volunteers consisted of the following:

First Company: 8 Catalans; 5 from Castilla la Vieja; 7 Andalusians; 2 Valencians; 1 each from Extremadura, Galicia, Piamonte and Navarre; and 42 from New Spain, for a total company strength of 68.

Second Company: 9 Catalans; 13 Andalusians; 3 each from Castilla, Valencia and Extremadura; 2 Galicians; 1 each from Murcia and Leon; 37 "Americans," for a total company strengthof 72.22

Many non-Catalonians had distinguished themselves militarily before enlisting in the company; and, they maintained the spirit and pride inspired in the unit by the original Catalonian Volunteers. Captain Esteban Sola, for example, was not among the original Volunteers recruited in Barcelona. Instead, he enlisted in that unit in 1771 after the Sonora Campaign. Before serving in Mexico, however, Sola had been a member of the Havana coast guard and was wounded in action against the Dutch. He had also served at the San Agustin presidio in Florida. In 1767, Sola joined the Sonora Expedition as a rifleman and participated in the fighting at Cerro Prieto. Thus in 1771, he joined the Catalonia Volunteers, who were seeking new recruits. Sola served under Pedro Fages in Pimeria Alta and distinguished himself in battle against the Cocomaricopa and Apache there. At a place called La Palma near Santa Barbara, Sonora, Sola attacked a number of Apache warriors killing nine of them. Notwithstanding his non-Catalonian birth, Captain Sola, widely experienced in war, commanded the Second Free Company of Catalonian Volunteers at Presidio Santa Cruz from 1782 1785.23

Once again, the command of the Volunteers in Sonora changed. In 1785, Sola retired bacause of ill health. He explained that wounds received in battle with Apaches tended to bother him and that his life on the rugged Sonora frontier had become miserable because of his ailments.

Sola's successor as commander of the Volunteers was Captain Pedro Nata Vinolas.24 Although Vinolas commanded the Second Company from Presidio San Bernardino at Fronteras, detachments of that unit remained at Santa Cruz and other assignments in Northern Sonora. From time to time Catalonian Volunteers were seen as far north in Pimeria Alta as Tucson, but those occasions were rare. One exceptional case involved Joaquin Gonzalez, a Volunteer soldier, who had run afoul of the Inquisition and was sentenced to guard the inside wall of the Tucson presidio in 1789.25 The Volunteer company, in its varied assignments to the northern Pimeria, however, remained there for the rest of the century to help protect the untamed Sonora frontier.

Meanwhile the First Company of Catalonian Volunteers under Pedro de Alberni also underwent changes in command and assignments. With the ascension of Alberni to captain in 1782, the First Company's command was completed by the promotions of Juan Puig to lieutenant and Mauricio Faulia to sub-lieutenant. Alberni, Puig and Faulia had been members of the original company formed in Barcelona fifteen years before. All had served at Cerro Prieto; and Juan Puig had participated in the 1769 founding of California.

Between 1782 and 1789 detachments of the First Volunteer Company were at Guadalajara, Real del Monte, San Blas and Mesa del Tonati. In 1789 the Volunteer unit under Pedro de Alberni was given the most unusual assignment of establishing a military base in the far North Pacific at Nootka on the west coast of Vancouver Island.26 The reason for the mobilization of the company for duty in the Pacific Northwest was that the Spanish claim there was being threatened by Russian, English and American encroachments.

In their assignment to Nootka the members of the First Company served as guards on ships and protected naval personnel in their reconnaissance of islands in Alaskan waters, as well as their explorations of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia in today's British Columbia. In addition to their assignments on Spanish ships, the Volunteers constructed fortifications at Nootka Sound and Neah Bay in the Strait of Fuca.

The chief objective of the Catalan unit.was to establish a military outpost at Nootka Sound. The Volunteers cleared the land, dug wells for drinking water and constructed buildings and breastworks. The establishment at Nootka soon took on the appearance of a strong military encampment. Moreover, the outpost served to assert the Spanish claim aganist encroachments by foreigners in the area.

Additional contributions made to the establishment of Nootka were singularly accomplished by Captain Pedro de Alberni.27 The Catalonian officer was commended by his superiors for maintaining relations with the natives led by Chief Maquinna, compiling a short dictionary of the Nootkan dialect, keeping weather charts and records of crops that could be grown in that cold northern climate, and starting a farm with small animals to feed his troops. So influential was Don Pedro in the early establishment of the area that the present day town and port of Alberni on Vancouver Island commemorate the presence there of the Catalan captain and his Volunteers between 1790 and 1793.

The battle plan at Nootka drawn by Alberni comprised three lines of defense. Alberni assigned eleven men to the man of war, Concepcion, anchored near the entrance of the bay. Those soldiers and the warship were expected to ward off possible attacks to the fortifications by sea. Another fifteen Volunteers were kept on land watching the ship and guarding the outside of the fort in case of attack from the forest nearby. Eleven troops were kept inside the fortification for it symbolized possession and was considered the object and last line of defense. Thus Alberni effectively used 37 of his 80 men to defend the Spanish establishment at Nootka.28

Meanwhile, those troops on Spanish ships participated in a number of operations in the North Pacific. The objective of the Spanish navy was to strengthen Spain's ancient claim to the north, at least on paper. An important by-product of their explorations was the accumulation of information dealing with geography and the natural history of the area. Indeed, Alberni's men were participants in the defense of the Northwestern area of claim.

Between 1790 and 1793, Alberni's men performed their duties in many expeditions as far north as Sitka and Kodiak Islands. They were present in the acts of possession taken at Cordova and Valdez. Furthermore, they had sailed the waters of the.Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Nunez Gaona and the Strait of.Georgia in the vicinity of Vancouver Island. When, in 1792, Alberni and part of his command prepared their withdrawal from Nootka, detachments of Volunteers were scattered in various assignments in the Northwest.

In the Strait of Juan de Fuca were 15 Volunteers assigned to the Princesa commanded by Salvador Fidalgo; and, 3 soldiers were on the schooner Mexicana under Dionisio Alcala Galiano. Off the coast of Nootka Sound were 10 Volunteers on the brigantine Activa commandeered by Salvador Menendez; and, 13 others were-on the Aranzazu in Alaskan waters under the mariner Jacinto Caamano.29

Despite the activity generated by the Spanish navy, Viceroy Conde de Revillagigedo planned a settlement at Neah Bay in order to strengthen the Spanish claim to the Strait of Fuca. Chosen for the venture was Salvador Fidalgo, who listed eleven Volunteers in his command. In 1792, Fidalgo and his men constructed barracks, houses and corrals in the hope that settlers would be sent north. But such was not to be the case, for the Spanish claim to the Northwest was greatly weakened by England in the Nootka Sound Controversy that tested Spain's sovereignty to that area. In the end, England was the victor. Diplomacy had wrecked the Spanish dream.

In 1793, the First Company of Catalonian Volunteers returned to their home base at Guadalajara, and, once again, were reviewed and brought up to full strength with new recruits. Alberni's unit had begun the Nootka adventure with eighty men. However, due to deaths, retirements and desertions, his company had dwindled to a force of fifty-nine men by 1793. The Catalonian Volunteers had, as usual, performed their duty loyally, despite the outcome. Their stay at Guadalajara was short. In 1795, the Volunteers were mobilized for service in Alta California at presidios that the Catalonians had helped establish two and a half-decades before.

Threatened with war and confrontation by France and England, Spanish authorities wisely reinforced the California presidios with the First Company. Alberni, now a lieutenant colonel, became the new commandant of California and accordingly divided his troops to serve in the presidios at San Diego, Monterey and San Francisco, In that assignment the First Company remained in California from 1796-1803. With Alberni was a new generation of Volunteers. Few of the original Catalonians were left. His officer staff comprised the newcomers to the unit, Captain Jose Font y Bermudes and Sub-Lieutenant Simon Suarez.30 Font was a nobleman from Coruna, a province in Spain. Prior to joining the Volunteers, he had served in North Africa at Cran, and briefly at Buenos Aires in Argentina. Font had been at Veracruz since 1782. Ten years later, when the death of Mauricio Faulia at Nootka left a vacancy in the First Company, Font quickly made application for that position. Captain Font did not join the unit, however, until Alberni returned to Guadalajara in 1793.

Third in command of the Volunteers was Sub-Lieutenant Simon Suarez, a forty-nine year old soldier from Navarre in Spain. Suarez had risen slowly through the ranks over a thirty-year period. Like Font, he joined the Catalonian Volunteers in 1792. The sub-lieutenant also had served with different units before accepting the promotion and transfer to the First Volunteer Company. Both Font and Syarez served the Catalan unit well in California.

Aside from the routine business of running the presidios, Alberni's tour of duty in California was almost uneventful. As the administrator of coastal defenses, the Catalan lieutenant colonel did have one major project to accomplish: the finding of a strategic location in northern California for a civilian town to be named Branciforte in honor of the new viceroy.31 In compliance with the plan of defense of Empire, Spanish officials believed that northern California should be populated with settlers and retired soldiers, who would defend their property in case of foreign attack. Branciforte was located inland between Monterey and San Francisco. Alberni had been influential in establishing the town in the hope that retired Volunteers would settle there. But in the long run, the project was unsuccessful and by 1815 Branciforte was a dying settlement.

Alberni's assignment to California was his last for he died in 1802 at Monterey. With Alberni's death, the chain of command for the First Company changed once again. Font inherited the leadership and Simon Suarez was promoted to lieutenant. Those men played out the Volunteers last assignment to California for in 1803 the Company was withdrawn to Guadalajara and reassigned to bolster the interior defenses of New Spain.

Indeed, the military services performed by the Free Companies of Catalonian Volunteers, as companies sueltas or free companies, contributed significantly to the Spanish plan of defense of Empire. In their California and Nootka missions, the Volunteers defended against New Spain's exterior European rivals. In their assignments to Sonora and Pimeria Alta, the Volunteers fought the various rebel Indian groups, considered to be the interior enemy. Although Spain eventually lost her New World possessions to diplomats and revolutionaries, the Catalonian Volunteers had taken part in protecting the interests of Imperial Spain. They had, after all, performed their duties loyally and efficiently.


1. Pie de lista de la compania que de orden de S.M. se ha formado con destino al Virreynato de Mexico por saca voluntaria en la tropa de el Segundo Regimiento de Infanteria Ligera de Cataluna signed by Alonso CaVallero, Sevilla, May 13, 1767, Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Seccion Audiencia de Mexico 2455. Hereinafter cited as AGI, followed by section and legajo number.
2. Ibid.
3. "La Organizacion del Ejercito en Neuva Espana," Boletin del Archivo General de la Nacion, XI (1940), 636.
4. Signed statement by Antonio Pol, Mexico, May 23, 1772, AGI, Mexico 1392; and Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Pierce A. Chamberlain, Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America, 1700-1821 (Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1972), 24-25.
5. Relacion de la Expedicion de las Provincias de Sinaloa, Ostimuri, y Sonora en el Reino de Nueva Espana. Hereinafter cited as Relacion de la Expedicion, Mexico, September 1, 1771, AGI Guadalajara 416.
6. Reglamento e Instruccion para los Presidios que se han de formar en la linea de frontera de la Nueva Espana. Resuelto por el Rey N.S. en Cedula de 10 de Septiembre de 1772. De
orden de su Magestad. Madrid: Por Juan de San Martin, Impresor de la Secretaria del Despacho Universal de Indias, Ano de 1772, Archivo Historico Nacional, Madrid, Estado 3882.
7. Teodoro de Croix to Jose de Galvez, Chihuahua, April 3, 1778, AGI, Guadalajara 276.
8. Bucareli to Arriaga Mexico, May 26, 1772, AGI, Mexico 2459.
9. Relacio"n de la Expedicion, Mexico, September 1, 1771, AGI. Guadalajara 416.
10. See Libro de Servicios de la Compania Franca de Voluntarios de Cataluna… hasta Diciembre de 1776, AGI, Mexico, 1379. For Vilaseca see signed statement by Domingo Elizondo, Pitic, April 28, 1771, Archivo General de la Nacion, Mexico City (AGN) Marina, 77.
11. Relacio'n de la Expedicion, Mexico, September 1, 17A , AGI Guadalajara 416.
12. Ynforme del Real Tribunal de Cuentas, signed by Barroeta, Abad and Gallardo, December 19, 1775, AGI, Guadalajara 515. Herbert E. Bolton, ed., Historical Memoirs of New California by Fray Francisco Palou, O.F.M. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1926), II, 278.
13. Herbert E. Bolton, ed., Fray Juan Crespi: Missionary Explorer on the Pacific Coast, 1769-1774 (Berkeley: University of California, 1927), 295. Donald C. Cutter, "Spanish Exploration of California's Central Valley" (Unpublished dissertation, University of California, 1950), 33.
14. Bucareli to Arriaga, Mexico, March 27, 1773, AGI, Mexico 2459 refers to new recruitments. Plan que manifiesta el numero de Plazas de Dotacion de que deve componerse actualmente cada una de las Companias Francas de Voluntarios de Cataluna, y de la fuerza en que quedaran reduciendolas al Estado que a continuacion se expresa y se propone en la carte 385, Mexico, May 26, 1772, AG I . Mexico 2459.
15. Croix to Bucareli, Hacienda de Abinito, October 16, 1777, in Romulo Velasco Ceballos, ed., "La Administracion de D. Frey Antonio Maria de Bucareli y Ursua," Publicaciones del Archivo General de la Nacion.
16. Alfred B. Thomas, ed., Teodoro de Croix and the Northern Frontier of New Spain, 1776-1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941), 51-52, 154, 216-217. Pedro Fages, Hoja de Servicios, December, 1790, AGI, Mexico 3186.
17. Fages to Fray Juan Agustin de Morfi, Pitic de faborca, February 12, 1782, AGN, Historia 24. Ronald L. Ives, ed., "Retracing the Route of the Fages Expedition of 1781" Arizona and the West, VIII, No. 1 (1966), 58.
18. Ibid.
19. Ives, "The Fages Expedition" Arizona and the West, 166.
20. Ronald L. Ives, "From Pitic to San Gabriel in 1782: The Journey of Don Pedro Fages," The Journal of Arizona History, IX (Winter, 1968), 222-224.
21. Sola to Croix, Presidio del Pitic, November 8' 1782, AGN, Californias 31, contains Sola's application; Martin de Mayoraga to Galvez, Mexico, September 5, 1782, AGI, Mexico 1395 contains Alberni's application.
22. Donald C. Cutter, "Pedro Alberni and the First Scientific Agricultural Experiments in the Northwest," unpublished article, 4.
23. Sola to Teodoro de Croix, Pitic, November 8, 1722, AGN Californias 31. Sola, Hoja de servicios, December, 1776, AGI 1379.
24. Patente de Capitan de la Compania de Caballeria del Presidio de San Bernardino de la Provincia de Sonora, signed by Manuel de Negrete y de la Torre, Madrid, October 18, 1790, AGI, Guadalajara 506.
25. Rengel to Senor Comandante General, Pitic, November 11, 1789, Comisarias, Ms. 95.
26. Con fecha de 7 de Diciembre de 89 ordeno el Excelentissimo Senor Virrey Conde de Rebilla Gigedo al Comandante del Departamento de San Blas Don Juan Francisco de la Quadra
…para el Puerto de Nutka, Museo Naval, Madrid, Ms. 575 bis.
27. Donald C. Cutter, "Pedro Alberni" unpublished article focuses on Alberni's accomplishments at Nootka. 28. Relacion de la fuerza con que se halla la compania hoy dia de la fecha, signed by Pedro Alberni, Puerto de San Lorenzo de Nootka, August 23, 1790, MN, Ms. 330.
29. Revista de Comisario, signed by Pedro de Alberni, AGI, Guadalajara 509.
30. Jose Font de Bennudes, Hoja de Servicios, December, 1800, and Simon.Suarez, Hoja de Servicios, December 1800, both in Archivo General de Simancas, Guerra Moderna, 7277, c:8.
31. See Expediente sobre erreccion de la villa de Branciforte en la Nueva California, 1796-1803, The University of Texas Library, Austin, W.B. Stephens Collection, Californias 9.

Fort Huachuca Museum

Main Museum

Building 41401

Museum Annex

Building 41305

U.S. Army Intelligence Museum

Building 41411


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Sunday: Closed
Federal holidays: Closed

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