The mixed race Picos were examples of the most politically powerful families of California while it was still a Mexican province. Today they are the ancestors of much of the state's "old money".
Records show that by 1790, 18% of the residents of San Francisco, 24% of San Jose, 20% of Santa Barbara and 18% of Monterey were black. Los Angeles was founded by 44 persons comprising 11 families. Of these, 26 were people of colour, 2 were Caucasians and the others were natives or of mixed Native American and Caucasian extraction.
In 1845, Pio Pico, whose grandmother had been listed as a mulata in the 1790 census, was appointed the last Mexican governor of California. Although few know it, this African American figure is the person commemorated by L. A.'s 'Pico Boulevard.'
And then there is Maria Rita Valdes, the grand-daughter of two of the black founding fathers of Los Angeles. She was the owner of what is now known as Beverly Hills. Franciso Reyes, another black settler in the area held the land rights to most of the San Fernando Valley.
Because of the enormous dowerys in just land alone the young women from these families could bring to their husbands, they became prize catches for the Yankee men who went west just prior to and after the American take over. So much so, that by the end of the 19th century these vast Mexican inheritances were by far and large in the hands of families bearing such names as
The Picos who were intermarried with a number of the other Hispanic families left a rather considerable progeny. Commenting on the fecundity of the family, one of the early Californian historians who personally knew them pointed out that a brother of Pio Pico's had ninety odd grandchildren and a cousin, over a hundred. Some of the Americans I have been able to track this far who wooed and wed Picos or their relatives were:
John Coffin Jones
William G. Dana
(only realized a couple of days ago, 6/14/94,
that this last was a member of the same Boston
family as was the noted abolitionist lawyer
who worked with Sumner.)
P. A. Forrester, died 1885, six children
John Forster, nine children
Judge William Graves, died 1884
Other families today descended from the Picos are:
There are some muscial references to this family, too. The subject of "When the Swallows come back to Capistrano" is the Mission de San Juan Capistrano which was an estate of Governor Pico's and which for decades was in the posession of his Forster descendants. And, the young woman who inspired the song "Ramona" was a cousin of the Governor's. As a younger man, he had played a rather romantic role in helping her elope with her Americano, the incident on which this classic is based.
Researched and Written by Mario de Valdes y Cocom.