Year
1846
Month Day
July 09

U.S. takes San Francisco from Mexico

An American naval captain occupies the small settlement of Yerba Buena, a site that will later be renamed San Francisco.

Surprisingly, Europeans did not discover the spectacular San Francisco Bay until 1769, although several explorers had sailed by it in earlier centuries. When Spanish explorers finally found the bay in that year, they immediately recognized its strategic value. In 1776, the Spanish built a military post on the tip of the San Francisco peninsula and founded the mission of San Francisco de Asis (the Spanish name for Saint Francis of Assisi) nearby.

The most northern outpost of the Spanish, and later Mexican, empire in America, the tiny settlement remained relatively insignificant for several decades. However, the potential of the magnificent harbor did not escape the attention of other nations. In 1835, the British Captain William Richardson established a private settlement on the shore of Yerba Buena Cove, several miles to the east of the Mexican mission. That same year the U.S. government offered to purchase the bay, but the Mexicans declined to sell.

In retrospect, the Mexicans should have sold while they still had the chance. A little more than a decade later, a dispute between the U.S. and Mexico over western Texas led to war. Shortly after the Mexican War began, U.S. Captain John Montgomery sailed his warship into San Francisco Bay, anchoring just off the settlement of Yerba Buena. On this day in 1846, Montgomery led a party of marines and sailors ashore. They met no resistance and claimed the settlement for the United States, raising the American flag in the central plaza.

The following year, the Americans renamed the village San Francisco. When the Mexicans formally ceded California to the United States in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe, San Francisco was still a small town with perhaps 900 occupants. That same year, however, gold was discovered at the nearby Sutter’s Fort. San Francisco became the gateway for a massive gold rush, and by 1852, the town was home to more than 36,000.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Catherine the Great assumes power

On this day in 1762, the wife of Russia’s new emperor, Peter III, rallies the army regiments of St. Petersburg against her husband and is proclaimed Empress Catherine II, the sole ruler of Russia. More commonly known as Catherine the Great, she would stay on the throne for the ...read more

Romanov remains identified using DNA

British forensic scientists announce that they have positively identified the remains of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II; his wife, Czarina Alexandra; and three of their daughters. The scientists used mitochondria DNA fingerprinting to identify the bones, which had been excavated ...read more

Wimbledon tournament begins

On July 9, 1877, the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club begins its first lawn tennis tournament at Wimbledon, then an outer-suburb of London. Twenty-one amateurs showed up to compete in the Gentlemen’s Singles tournament, the only event at the first Wimbledon. The winner ...read more

New York elects its first governor

On this day in 1777, New York elects Brigadier General George Clinton as the first governor of the independent state of New York. Clinton would go on to become New York’s longest-serving governor, as well as the longest-serving governor in the United States, holding the post ...read more

Enigma key broken

On this day in 1941, crackerjack British cryptologists break the secret code used by the German army to direct ground-to-air operations on the Eastern front. British and Polish experts had already broken many of the Enigma codes for the Western front. Enigma was the Germans’ most ...read more