When I give a talk on the history of Rancho Bernardo, I always get chuckles when I describe the case of Don Jose Snook.
Snook was an Englishman by birth, born in Weymouth, Dorsetshire on the southern coast of England in 1798 into a family of agricultural laborers. Seeking a better life, he went to sea, and by 1830 he was a captain, commanding ships for merchants trading goods between ports in California, Mexico and Peru. California was then Alta California, a province of Mexico.
After winning its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico was anxious to colonize its northernmost territories, fearing, as the Spaniards had, the encroachment of foreign powers including the United States.
So the Mexican government offered massive tracts of land to anyone agreeing to settle on and work the lands.
During his times ashore in California, Captain Snook fell in love with the place and wished to acquire some land. In order to do so under the then Mexican government, Snook had to become a Catholic and a Mexican citizen. So in April 1833 he petitioned for a letter of naturalization. It was granted two years later, and in November 1835 he was baptized.
The baptism took place at Mission Santa Clara in northern California. The baptismal record, in the mission archives in Santa Barbara, gives his birth name and also the baptismal name he chose, Jose Francisco de Sales. There is a reference to his being of English descent, and of Protestant religion. From thenceforward, he would become Jose Francisco de Sales Snook. Sounding out that name for an audience, with a slight pause before “Snook,” always elicits the chuckles.
Snook’s baptism occurred in northern California because he apparently liked it better up there. Jose acquired a grant for a rancho north of San Francisco in 1836, hoping to settle down there with Maria Antonia Alvarado, the daughter of a prominent San Diego family, whom he wished to marry.
Don Jose and Maria did indeed marry in 1837. However, Maria didn’t want to live in an area that was then the northern frontier of Alta California, and her young husband soon sold the rancho there.
Sometime in 1841 Don Jose petitioned Mexican authorities to grant him the then-vacant Rancho San Bernardo. Territorial governor Juan Bautista Alvarado, who happened to be a cousin of Maria’s father, approved the grant in February 1842.
Don Jose Snook was far from the only person from an Anglo background to go through such a metamorphosis in Mexican California. Some of the numerous examples include John Forster, another Englishman who became Don Juan Forster and owned several ranches in the San Diego area. And how about Jonathan Trumbull Warner, a Connecticut Yankee who became Juan Jose Warner, proprietor of the ranch and springs that still bear his name?
Early examples of multiculturalism? Or the melting pot? Or a merger of both? Hey, that’s history for you.
Sources for this post included the essay, “Joseph Snook: English Mariner, California Don,” by Ruth Collings, from the Fall 1997 issue of The Journal of San Diego History, the Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library, and two books, Some Old Ranchos and Adobes by Philip S. Rush and History of San Diego County Ranchos by Robert W. Brackett.
History Happenings-Upcoming Events in the Local History Community
Escondido History Center and Escondido Citizens Ecology Committee co-sponsor Tuesday evening walking tours of historic city sites twice a month from April through August. For details visit: http://www.escondidohistory.org/2014_walking_tour_brochure.pdf .