History of the Documents

The pueblo of San Jose was the first in California, founded on November 29th, 1777, as San Jose de Guadalupe, because of its location on the River Guadalupe. Its purpose was to provide a local source of grain production for the Spanish military establishments of the northern frontier. 66 people were part of the initial settlement, led by Jose Joaquin Moraga, including soldiers from the Monterey and San Francisco presidios who were familiar with farming methods, and settlers who had come to California with de Anza.

The settlers each received a tract of land and a house lot, an allowance of ten dollars a month, and the farm animals, implements and seed to begin production. They were expected to repay this with deliveries of crops to the royal warehouse. Due to flooding, the town relocated farther from the river in 1797, and land was again distributed in the following year.

San Jose continued its role as an agricultural community and the major source of food for the two adjoining presidios at San Francisco and Monterey. The first alcalde, Jose Ignacio Archuleta, was elected in 1783. He acted as both the executive and judicial authority, in conjunction with the town council, or ayuntamiento. The approximately 6000 pages that form the San Jose Pueblo Papers -- somewhere in the vicinity of 4500 documents -- were produced in the course of the pueblo’s business with the outside Spanish, Mexican, and later transitional governments.

Records consist primarily of correspondence between civil, military, and religious authorities located in San Jose, San Francisco, Monterey, and nearby San Jose, Santa Clara, and San Juan Bautista missions. Beginning in the 1820s they also include interactions with the customs houses. The majority of the correspondence is with Monterey, as the headquarters of the territorial government, but also includes dealings with Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, known as Branciforte at the time. They basically reflect all aspects of life in Spanish-Mexican California -- the treatment of Indians at missions; relationships with the Missions; military contingents and supplies; trade and price of goods between the pueblo and customers at Monterey and beyond; foreign relations between Spain and England; ships carrying explorers headed north along the coast. They document elections, population counts, military discipline, travel permits, land grants, and matters of justice.

The papers at History San Jose also include approximately 1 linear foot of records from the Court of 1st Instance in San Jose (1846-1851). These documents are stored separately from the rest of the Pueblo Papers, and can be searched through our Santa Clara County Court Records index.

The papers we have at History San Jose are a piece of the larger web of documents produced in Spanish-Mexican California, now held in places such as the Monterey County Historical Society; Bancroft and Huntington Libraries; Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Los Angeles; not to mention the mission papers such as the ones at the University of Santa Clara. Many documents became part of individual collections of personal or family papers, and there are related collections of state records both in Mexico and in Spain.

According to J. N. Bowman’s “History of the Provincial Archives of California,” the Pueblo Archives were kept by the alcaldes in their homes and later in the local courthouses or jails. The secretary of the council kept the ayuntamiento records in his home. The originals appear to have remained in local custody until the counties were formed in 1850, when they came into the hands of the County Recorder’s office in San Jose. The documents have been part of the City of San Jose archives since its incorporation.

(It is worth repeating J. N. Bowman’s observation in his History of the Provincial Archives of California: "With the methods used by the Spanish and Mexican officials in caring for their documents, it is surprising that so many survived. The number of papers which were lost during the decades, which were in the hands or homes of officials and other persons, and which failed to come into the possession of the collectors in the 1850s and 1860s, is not known.” We are lucky to have so many originals in our possession.)

As a reaction to land grant fraud claims, the Congressional Act of May 18, 1858, authorized the Secretary of the Interior to collect and deposit in the office of the California Surveyor General all documents and archives in the state pertaining to the former provincial government. The United States Surveyor General’s Office required that Spanish and Mexican Archives be collated and bound in convenient form for safe keeping and reference, in “volumes, pages, numbered and marked; and that a copy of this order and official certificate by the Surveyor General be placed in each volume.” Many of the records in the pueblo San Jose and pueblo Monterey were collected by Edwin M. Stanton in 1858 and made part of the “Spanish Archives,” transcripts of which are at the Bancroft Library.

According to Bowman, the San Jose archives were secured from the Mayor’s office as a result of the 1858 collection. However, those documents which were seen as only of local interest (likely unrelated to land grant disputes) -- today's “pueblo papers” or Archive of San Jose -- were segregated, bound, and returned to San Jose. These six volumes of local records are the basis of the papers we have today. Bancroft refers to these volumes in his Bibliography of Californian History as “less extensive collections at other places, notably Los Angeles, Salinas City, and San Jose.”

What remained in San Francisco and were transcribed by Bancroft’s team between 1877-1878 are 7 volumes of the so-called San Jose Departmental State Papers. These are now part of the Bancroft Library’s California Archives.

Our pueblo papers appear to have been stored in a vault at San Jose’s City Hall until they were transferred from the City Records Center to the San Jose Historical Museum circa 1970. In 2002 they were moved to the climate controlled environment in our current Collection Center.

The approximately 40 pueblo papers that are at the San Jose Public Library’s California Room are actually part of the same series of documents, purchased by the City of San Jose from the estate of Clyde Arbuckle after his death in 1998.