1808 - February, 1860
c. 1808-February 1860
José Castro, Military Commandant of Mexican California when the U.S.-Mexico War began, was born at Monterey about 1808. Little is known about his youth except that he entered government service at an early age.
In 1836, the same year that the Anglo settlers of Texas declared and won their independence from Mexico, Californians likewise rose up against Santa Anna's regime. After leading the military forces that ousted Governor Gutiérrez, Castro assumed the office himself. He served for about a month, until succeeded by his friend Juan Alvarado. Unlike Texas, which maintained its sovereignty until annexed by the United States in 1845, California rejoined the Mexican Republic after only two years of independence.
In 1840 there were a number of Americans and Britons illegally living in California, some of whom had married local women. This was reportedly resented by native Californios, including Castro, who is said to have declared, "These heretics must be cleared from the land." The Californios also suspected the newcomers of disloyalty. In 1840 Castro played a leading role in the so-called "Graham affair," in which an American named Isaac Graham was arrested, by order of the governor, for allegedly plotting to lead a revolt against the California government. In 1841, after Graham and other foreigners were deported, Castro was court-martialed in Mexico City on charges, brought by the American and British ministers, that the arrested men were innocent. In the end, Castro was acquitted of any wrongdoing and he returned to California.
In 1842-3 Castro served as military commandant at Monterey. In 1845, the same year he resumed command, he helped overthrow the unpopular Governor Manuel Micheltorena, who was replaced by Pio Pico, the first native-born governor of the province.
In early June 1846, after the United States and Mexico went to war, the Bear Flag revolt broke out in California. General Castro issued a proclamation denouncing Col. John C. Fremont of the United States army, who had recently arrived in California and was believed to have fomented the revolt. Although he declared his intent to use military force against Fremont and actually came within striking distance of his fortified camp near Monterey, Castro failed to make good on his threats, which gave the famed explorer and his men a chance to escape into Oregon.
In the meantime, Commodore Sloat of the United States Navy arrived at Monterey, which was then the capital of California, taking possession of the customs house without firing a shot. Sloat then raised the American flag and declared that California had been conquered. Within a matter of weeks, despite the possibility of military action by General Castro (which never materialized), U.S. forces also bloodlessly took possession of Yerba Buena (present-day San Francisco), Los Angeles and San Diego.
In August 1846, Castro went to Mexico, where he remained until the war between the United States and Mexico was over, at which time he returned to California, where he lived peacefully until 1856, when he was appointed by the Mexican government to serve as Governor of Baja (Lower) California. In 1860, while serving in that capacity, Castro was assassinated by the bandit Manuel Marquez.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of the Pacific States of North America, volume XVI, California, volume V, 1840-1845 (San Francisco: The History Publishing Company, 1886).
Bryant, Edwin. What I Saw in California (New York: D. Appleton, 1849).