Thursday, June 4, 2015

A memorable ancestor goes to Los Angeles

It is rare to find an ancestor who appears in a first-hand historical journal. My 5th-great-grandfather Francisco Suastegui makes a memorable appearance in Narciso Botello's Annals of Southern California 1833-1847 (translated by Brent C. Dickerson from the original Spanish Anales del Sur de la California).

I have previously written about my family connections to California. This blog has also featured regular posts on Los Angeles, one of my favorite cities in the world. But I did not realize how deep my historic connections to the city go, until finding out Franciso Suastegui had traveled to Los Angeles in 1835. His time in LA dates back to the Mexican era of California.

Narciso Botello provided his personal account of his years in Los Angeles in January 1878. If you are interested in Los Angeles history, I recommend picking up a copy of Dickerson's translation. I ordered my copy through Google Play and it is available in e-book form.

In Botello's account, he recalls Suastegui from October 1835, during the search for a new secretary of the city government in Los Angeles (referred to as the ayuntamiento).

"In the meantime, they solicited a certain Francisco Suastegui, a silversmith from Sonora who lived in town, who was believed competent because he sang in church and expressed himself in an educated manner. When he responded to the ayuntamiento about the offer, he said, 'Mr. Mayor, if you want to hear a song during Mass, that I can do; but I'm uneasy about this other position. I have a very sensitive ear. If I am writing, and happen to hear a rooster crow, I will write cock-a-doodle-do. Listen to what happened to me in the town of Guadelupe - Altar, I mean - in Sonora. The mayor wrote me to get me to undertake the office of military leader of the neighborhood. I started writing my reply. A woodcutter stopped in the street with his donkeys loaded; and just outside the window of the room where I was writing, one of the donkeys fell with his load. The woodcutter began to pull the donkey up and beat him, using vulgar and absurd words. I heard the words but kept on writing without thinking; and when I finished I visited the mayor to obtain his approval. He began to read, and found a great portion, like this (and he gestured with his hands), consisting of the woodcutter's words. So you see how sharp my ear is.' These comments of Suastegui made us laugh heartily, and the mayor allowed him to decline the position. Such was the state of things when the ayuntamiento decided that I was to take charge of things as secretary for the time being." (see Page 13 of Dickerson's book).

This is a wonderful passage to see, it shows Suastegui was quite the character. Dickerson notes on page 125 that "Botello's remarks are all we can find on the delightful Señor Suastegui, who seems to have left town before the 1836 padron was compiled."

After finding the book, I wrote to Dickerson to see if an original version of Botello's Annals was available. He quickly replied yesterday, pointing me to a handwritten version from the Bancroft Library that is available for viewing via the Online Archive of California. A copy of the section from the original Spanish transcription is below:
Narciso Botello's Anales, Online Archive of California
Narciso Botello's Anales, Online Archive of California

Based on earlier research from distant cousin Raclare, Francisco Suastegui was born about 1802, so he would have been about 33 years old when he was living in Los Angeles. He likely went there with the silver trade. Others in the Suastegui family worked as silversmiths in Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Francisco married Maria Josefa de la Peña about 1825. Their son Pedro Suastegui (my 4th-great-grandfather) was born in Altar about 1826.

Francisco and Maria Josefa had a daughter, Concepcion Suastegui. , in 1834 (correction 14 August 2015 - Concepcion Suastegui was born on 12 June 1836, after Francisco returned from Los Angeles). He had returned to Altar by 1838, when another son, Jesus Suastegui, was born. Francisco and Maria Josefa had another daughter, Maria Jesus Suastegui, in 1840.

By 1852, Francisco Suastegui appears in the Census in Altar as a widower, still working as a silversmith. He married Concepcion Menendez about 1853. There is more to Francisco's story, and I hope to bring this information to the blog in the near future.

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