Pore Over this 1936 Map of California’s Many Flags

Argentinians, Russians, Spaniards, and Mexicans all claimed land along the Pacific Coast before it became a part of the United States
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Flag Map of California, House of Goodacre, W.J. Goodacre, 1936. Click map to enlarge.

Image courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

With Independence Day looming, and illegal, nerve-rattling pyrotechnic displays imminent (at least above my neighborhood), it’s time to examine a beautiful pictorial map of the flags that waived over California before Old Glory. Englishmen, Argentinians, Russians, Spaniards, and Mexicans all claimed land along the Pacific Coast before it became a part of the United States.

This map is the work of the talented commercial artist William Johnson Goodacre, an English ex-patriot who found Santa Barbara to his liking. There he ran a small studio and focused on the edenic clime of the area. This map, which details the tug-of-war that took place over California’s land, is a rare exception in his portfolio.

The first flag to fly over Goodacre’s map is England’s “Cross of St. George,” which fluttered at Drakes Bay when Sir Francis Drake planted it there in June 1579, thereby claiming the land for Elizabeth I. (England didn’t adopt the Union Jack until 1801.)

Later, the Russians set up a colony at Fort Ross, in Jenner, in 1812, the very same year Napoleon invaded Russia and Tchaikovsky composed an overture worthy of any independence day. And a little-known Argentine ensign popped up in Monterey for 16 days when Hippolyte Bouchard captured the coastal city (and then ransacked San Juan Capistrano). Bouchard was on his way to the Sandwich Islands when Spain, which ruled the area at the time, noticed the flag and took it down.

Local governor Pablo Vincente de Solá replaced the flag of Spain with that of Mexico when Mexico was granted independence on April 11, 1822. The Mexican government proved rather unsteady in the years that followed, changing leadership 40 times between then and 1848. John C. Fremont hoisted the “peace flag” as he travelled the territory in the 1840s, and The California Republic flew a bear flag for 26 days north of the San Francisco Bay in 1846. Despite resistance from rancheros who wanted no part of Uncle Sam, the land’s citizens joined the Union on September 9, 1850. Notably, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill had something to do with the democracy’s interest in the Golden State.

Goodacre’s map contains plenty more California history, including its first stagecoach line, the first wagon train to cross into the state, the presidios, the first rancho in Los Angeles county (San Rafael), former state capitals (including Vallejo), and our state flower, tree, and bird. All this, hand-tinted by the man himself.


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week. 

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