January 30 – Yerba Buena Gets a New Name

Posted on January 30, 2015

Once upon a time there was a small settlement named Yerba Buena in the Spanish colony called Las Californias. It was named “good herb” because of the mint plants growing all over the area.

The town was located between the Presidio of San Francisco (a fort) and the Mission San Francisco de Asis (a church). It was started in 1776, and by 1792, when English explorer George Vancouver sailed into San Francisco Bay, he mentioned staying “in a place they called Yerba Buena.”

In the early 1800s, the colony of Las Californias was split into Alta (upper) and Baja (lower) California. And shortly after that split, Mexico won its independece from Spain. So Alta California, including Yerba Buena, became a part of Mexico.

But it was a part of Mexico that was far from the capital, Mexico City – even further than the rest of California! And little attention was paid to the town with its port and plaza and trading post.

By the middles of the 1800s, English settlers had built homes and started businesses in Yerba Buena, and when Mexico and the US locked horns in the Mexican American War over the control of, not only California, but Texas and the entire Southwest, in 1846, navy and marine officers claimed Alta California for the United States and raised an American flag in the plaza of Yerba Buena.

On this date in 1847, the Americans who now ruled Yerba Buena officially changed its name to San Francisco. Just one year later gold was discovered in California, and San Francisco almost immediately became the most important city on the West Coast. It grew like wildfire!

In 1845, the sleepy Spanish town of Yerba Buena had just 400 people. Fifteen years later, the same town (but now called San Francisco) was 56,000 people!

Yep, they do not call it the Gold Rush for nothing!

Today there are more than 800,000 people in San Francisco. That is a lot of people when you consider how small the city is! There are almost 18,000 people per square mile—more than six times the density of my own city!

Also on this date:

Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution

Birthday of Thomas Rolfe, son of Pocahontas

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