Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia

The Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia (Spanish: Compañía Franca de Voluntarios de Cataluña, Catalan: Companyia Franca de Voluntaris de Catalunya) was a military company of the Spanish Army serving in the Spanish colonial empire.

Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia
Compañía Franca de Voluntarios de Cataluña
Country Spain
BranchEscudo del Ejército de Tierra.PNG Spanish Army
TypeLight Infantry
Garrison/HQGuadalajara (1772–1800) El Perote (1800–1815)
Pere d'Alberní Pere Fages


The company was raised in Barcelona in 1767 for service in New Spain, as a part of an effort to improve the defenses of Spain's overseas empire, which in turn was part of the larger Bourbon Reforms of King Carlos III. Initially recruited from the 2nd Regiment of Light Infantry of Catalonia, the company was composed of four officers and one hundred enlisted men and was commanded by Captain Agustín Callis, a veteran of Spain's wars in Italy and Portugal.[1]

Service in Sonora

The Catalan Volunteers arrived in Guaymas, Sonora in May 1768 as a part of an expedition of some 1200 Spanish soldiers and native allies assembled to quell a revolt by Pima and Seri Indians. After years of active campaigning, the Volunteers returned to Mexico City in April 1771.[2]

The Establishment of Alta California

In September 1768, Lieutenant Pedro Fages and a detachment of 25 Volunteers were ordered south to San Blas, Nayarit to form a part of the expedition of Gaspar de Portolà to establish a Spanish foothold in Alta California. After 110 days at sea, the Volunteers arrived at San Diego Bay in April 1769. By this time, over half the soldiers and most of the crew were incapacitated with scurvy.

Twelve Volunteers succumbed to illness while awaiting the arrival of the overland arm of the expedition under Captain Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada, who arrived a month later. Still short of provisions, however, the lot of the soldiers improved very little. Despite these privations, the Volunteers participated in the Portola expedition that established San Diego and Monterey, and remained as the first garrison of the Presidio of Monterey, under Fages' command. Volunteers accompanied Fages on expeditions to explore the San Francisco Bay region in 1770 and 1772.

In June 1770, command of the military forces in California passed from Portola to the short tempered and relatively inexperienced Fages. His often high handed treatment of soldiers and missionaries and his possible mishandling of the distribution of rations led to criticism from Father Junípero Serra, who successfully petitioned Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa for his removal. Fages and the detachment of Volunteers left Monterey to rejoin their Company in July 1774.[3]

At least one of the Volunteers later returned to retire in California. Jose Antonio Yorba settled in what is now Orange County, California to become the patriarch of an important Californio family. The city of Yorba Linda, California is named for the Yorba family.


In Sonora, the Catalan Volunteers served alongside the Fusileros de Montaña (Mountain Fusiliers), another independent company from Catalonia associated with the 2nd Regiment. As a part of new regulations promulgated in 1772, the two commands were merged and reorganized into two companies of 80 men and 3 officers each: The First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, which included the detachment in California under Fages and remained under the command of Captain Callis, and a Second Company under Captain Antonio Pol. Both companies were based in Guadalajara.[4]

Garrison Duty in Central Mexico

As light infantry, the Volunteers were thought to be particularly well suited for duty in the mountainous country of central Mexico. Though based in Guadalajara, detachments of Volunteers were frequently posted to the Presidio of Mesa del Tonati in the mountains of Nayarit, the Real del Monte near Mexico City, and to serve as harbor guards at San Blas, the headquarters for Spanish naval operations in the Pacific. For the most part, this service was fairly routine, except for occasional calls to quell disturbances.

Return To Sonora

Fages, his reputation now rehabilitated, was promoted to Captain and assigned command of the Second Company in early 1776. At the urging of Teodoro de Croix, comandant general of the Commandancy General of the Provincias Internas, Fages and his new command were deployed to Sonora, arriving at Alamos in February 1777.

The following April, the Volunteers of the Second Company were posted to the Presidio of El Pitic (modern Hermosillo) in response to renewed hostilities with the Seris, who quickly surrendered.

At the urging of Lt. Col Juan Bautista de Anza, the Company was posted at the Presidio of Santa Cruz de Terrenate, which had recently been moved from its previous location to one on the San Pedro River north of modern Tombstone, Arizona, to reinforce the beleaguered garrison against the Apaches, arriving in the fall of 1778. Though Fages, now a Lieutenant Colonel, was able to restore order and discipline to the presidio, the garrison proved unable to mount an effective counter-offensive.

In December 1780, with the Second Company now down to half strength, Fages left Terrenate for Mexico City for new recruits. In his absence, the Presidio was ordered abandoned, and the garrison moved to its previous location at Santa Cruz, Sonora, which was believed to be more defensible and easily supplied. The Company was soon once again posted at El Pitic, where they were employed in putting down another rebellion by the Seris.

In September 1781, Fages led an expedition that included 40 men of the Second Company to the Yuma Crossing to quell a rebellion by the Quechan and their allies. Though they were able to liberate Spanish captives, secure the remains of the slain Father Francisco Garcés and recover sacred vessels from the destroyed missions of Mission Puerto de Purísima Concepción and Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer, Fages' command was unable to subdue the tribe. Despite two subsequent expeditions by Fages and the Second Company over the next 2 years, the crossing would remain closed to Spain.

During the third expedition in the Fall of 1783, Fages was appointed Governor of California, and the Volunteers returned without him to Pitic. In subsequent years, the Volunteers of the Second Company were posted around Sonora, assigned to duties at the presidios of Buenavista, Fronteras, Pitic and Tucson where they were employed fighting the Apaches and Seris, until 1785, when they were assigned to the Villa de Chihuahua. From there, they continued active campaigning against the Apaches.

The Pacific Northwest and California

Pere d'Alberní was named Captain of the First Company when Callis died in 1782. In August 1789, after years of routine garrison duty in Guadalajara, the Company was assigned to duty in the Pacific Northwest in response to the Nootka Crisis. They arrived at Nootka Sound in April 1790 where they re-established the abandoned redoubt of Fort San Miguel, becoming the first regular European military unit posted to present-day British Columbia.[5]

The Volunteer's mission was to secure Spain's claims to the Pacific Northwest against incursions by the British and, in particular, the Russians. To that end, Alberni's men were employed as marines in the expeditions of Jacinto Caamaño, Salvador Fidalgo, Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, Salvador Menéndez, and Manuel Quimper of the Pacific coast from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Kodiak Island.

The First Company returned to Guadalajara in 1792, though some Volunteers remained on detached duty in Nootka as late as 1794. In 1796, as a response to the War of the First Coalition and rumors of American incursions, Alberni, now a Lieutenant Colonel, and his company were sent to reinforce California. Detachments of Volunteers augmented the Presidios of Monterey, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Part of Alberni's mission in California was to establish a new civilian settlement called the Villa de Branciforte, which was established in 1797, with the intention that the community would be settled by retired Catalan Volunteers. This however did not materialize, and the project was abandoned in 1802.

Alberni was appointed Governor of California in 1800 and was replaced as Captain by José Font. Font and his scattered command were active in guarding Spain's claim's in California against incursions by foreign vessels, particularly American ones. Despite an increase in such activity, the First Company (except for a detachment that remained in San Diego for a few more years) was withdrawn to Guadalajara in 1803 and were not replaced.

Dissolution of the Companies

Lt. Col. Alberni died in Monterey in 1802. He was the last of the original group of officers who had sailed from Barcelona in 1767. By this time, the unit was no longer Catalan in character with men and even officers largely from other parts of Spain and criollos from Mexico.

In 1810 the Volunteers were mobilized against the revolt of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. The First Company, still posted at Guadalajara, was reorganized and absorbed into other units. As the Mexican War of Independence escalated, the Second Company, posted at El Perote near Mexico City under Captain Juan Antonio de Viruega since 1800, was deployed to Morelos to join an army under General Calleja in a massive campaign against the insurgency. During the Siege of Cuautla in 1812, the Volunteers were assigned to man an ambuscade at the Campo de Sacatepec. Though Calleja later praised their valiant stand, the Second Company was unable to prevent the escape of scrappy rebels under José María Morelos and suffered heavy casualties.

The Volunteers managed to survive as a Company, participating in the battles of Tuxpango, Tlacótepe, and Ajuchitlán, through 1815, by which time they were no longer a discrete unit, having been absorbed into larger battalions.[6]


Its uniform consisted of blue coat with yellow collar and cuffs, yellow waistcoat, blue breeches and black tricorne hat with the red cockade of the House of Bourbon.

There were two drummers on the strength of the company. After 1760, Spanish army drummers wore the livery of the King of Spain – a blue coat with scarlet collar and cuffs, along with a scarlet waistcoat. Both coat and waistcoat were trimmed with scarlet lace that was embroidered with a white chain pattern. This same pattern of lace had decorated French uniforms before the French Revolution began in 1789. The Bourbon kings of Spain were a branch of the French royal family, and adopted a similar livery.

Images in Modern Culture

The crest of the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey includes an image of a feathered leather helmet that is meant to symbolize the Catalan Volunteers and to commemorate their role in the founding of the post. Though such helmets were briefly a uniform item for the Spanish infantry at the turn of the 19th century, it is unlikely that they were ever worn by the Catalan Volunteers in North America.[7]

The Catalan Volunteers are portrayed in the 1955 American film Seven Cities of Gold, which presents a fanciful and historically inaccurate account of the founding of Spanish California. Lieutenant Fages is played by Mexican actor Victor Junco. In the credits, Fages' name is misspelled as "Faces."[8]

An infantry soldier wearing a Catalan Volunteer uniform briefly appears in the opening scene of the 1968 film Guns of San Sebastian which, like Seven Cities of Gold, stars Anthony Quinn. However, the movie is supposed to take place in 1746, twenty years before the Volunteers' arrival in New Spain.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Sanchez, pgs. 3–12.
  2. ^ Sanchez, pg 16–30
  3. ^ Sanchez, pg. 32–57
  4. ^ Sanchez, pg. 103–104
  5. ^ Chartrand 2000, The Nootka Incident.
  6. ^ Sanchez, pg. 134–140
  7. ^ "Crest". Defense Language Institute.
  8. ^ Seven Cities of Gold on IMDb
  9. ^ Guns of San Sebastian on IMDb


  • Catalans al Canadà
  • Chartrand, Réné (2000), Canadian Military Heritage, II, Art Global, retrieved 29 November 2007;
  • Sanchez, Joseph (1990), Spanish Bluecoats: The Catalonian Volunteers in Northwestern New Spain, 1767–1810, University of New Mexico Press;

Coordinates: 53°05′N 129°25′W / 53.083°N 129.417°W

Alberni Inlet

Alberni Inlet (formerly known as Alberni Canal) is a long, narrow inlet in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, that stretches from the Pacific Ocean at Barkley Sound about 40 kilometres (25 mi) inland terminating at Port Alberni. It was named by the Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza after Pedro de Alberni, Captain of the First Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia who was appointed in the Spanish fort in Nootka Sound from 1790 to 1792. The inlet includes traditional territories of the Ucluelet, Uchucklesaht, Huu-ay-aht, Hupacasath, and Tseshaht peoples, who are part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council people.

Cusco School

The Cusco School (Escuela Cuzqueña) or Cuzco School, was a Roman Catholic artistic tradition based in Cusco, Peru (the former capital of the Inca Empire) during the Colonial period, in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It was not limited to Cuzco only, but spread to other cities in the Andes, as well as to present day Ecuador and Bolivia.There are high amount of Cusco School's paintings preserved, currently most of them are located at Cusco, but also currently there are in the rest of Peru and in museums of Brazil, England and United States.

Dionisio Alcalá Galiano

Dionisio Alcalá Galiano (8 October 1760 – 21 October 1805) was a Spanish naval officer, cartographer, and explorer. He mapped various coastlines in Europe and the Americas with unprecedented accuracy using new technology such as chronometers. He commanded an expedition that explored and mapped the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia, and made the first European circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. He reached the rank of brigadier and died during the Battle of Trafalgar.

He sometimes signed his full surname, Alcalá-Galiano, but often used just Galiano. The published journal of his 1792 voyage uses just the name Galiano, and this has become the name by which he is most known.

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra

Esteban José Martínez Fernández y Martínez de la Sierra, or simply Esteban José Martínez (1742–1798) was a Spanish navigator and explorer, native of Seville. He was a key figure in the Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest.

Fort San Miguel

Fort San Miguel was a Spanish fortification at Yuquot (formerly Friendly Cove) on Nootka Island, just west of north-central Vancouver Island. It protected the Spanish settlement, called Santa Cruz de Nuca, the first colony in British Columbia.

Francisco de Eliza

Francisco de Eliza y Reventa (1759 – February 19, 1825) was a Spanish naval officer, navigator, and explorer. He is remembered mainly for his work in the Pacific Northwest. He was the commandant of the Spanish post in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, and led or dispatched several exploration voyages in the region, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.

Hernán Venegas Carrillo

Hernán Venegas Carrillo Manosalvas (c.1513 – 2 February 1583) was a Spanish conquistadorfor who participated in the Spanish conquest of the Muisca and Panche people in the New Kingdom of Granada, present-day Colombia. Venegas Carrillo was mayor of Santa Fe de Bogotá for two terms; in 1542 and from 1543 to 1544.

History of British Columbia

British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada. Originally politically constituted as a pair of British colonies, British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation on July 20, 1871. Perhaps the most influential historian of British Columbia has been Margaret Ormsby. In British Columbia: A History (1958) she presented a structural model that has been adopted by numerous historians and teachers. Chad Reimer says, "in many aspects, it still has not been surpassed". Ormsby posited a series of propositions that provided the dynamic to the history:

the ongoing pull between maritime and continental forces; the opposition between a "closed", hierarchical model of society represented by the Hudson's Bay Company and colonial officials, and the "open", egalitarian vision of English and Canadian settlers; and regional tensions between Vancouver Island and mainland, metropolitan Vancouver and the hinterland interior.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra (22 May 1743 – 26 March 1794) was a Spanish naval officer born in Lima, Peru. Assigned to the Pacific coast Spanish Naval Department base at San Blas, in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (present day Mexico), this navigator explored the Northwest Coast of North America as far north as present day Alaska.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra joined the Spanish Naval Academy in Cádiz at 19, and four years later, in 1767 was commissioned as an officer of the rank Frigate Ensign (alférez de fragata). In 1773 he was promoted to Ship Ensign (alférez de navío), and in 1774 to Ship Lieutenant (teniente de navío).

La Princesa (1778)

La Princesa (also called Princesa, also known as Nuestra Señora del Rosario) was a Spanish frigate or corvette built at the Spanish Navy base at San Blas and launched in 1778. She is sometimes called a frigate and sometimes a corvette. At the time a corvette was similar to a frigate in that both were three-masted, ship-rigged warships, but corvettes were slightly smaller and had a single deck instead of two. The exact specifications of La Princesa are not known. La Princesa was designed with storage enough to sail for a year without having to restock. She was built for durability rather than speed. Like La Favorita, a similar corvette stationed at San Blas, La Princesa was heavily used, serving for over three decades, playing an important role in the exploration of the Pacific Northwest as well as the routine work of provisioning the missions of Alta California. During her 1779 voyage the Princesa carried six four-pounder cannons and four three-pounders, and had a crew complement of 98. The Princesa carried 26 cannons in 1789 when Esteban José Martínez took control of Nootka Sound.

Lacandola Documents

The term "Lacandola Documents" is used by Philippine Historiographers to describe the section of the Spanish Archives in Manila which are dedicated to the genealogical records (cuadernos de linaje) of the "Manila aristocracy" from the period immediately following European colonial contact. As of 2001, only one bundle of twelve folders (containing eleven distinct sets of documents) remains in the archive, the rest having been lost, misplaced, or destroyed by various events such as the Japanese Occupation of Manila during World War II. The surviving bundle is labeled "Decendientes de Don Carlos Lacandola" (Descendants of Don Carlos Lakandula), and scholars use the term "Lacandola Documents" as an informal shortcut.Scholars specializing in the noble houses of Rajah Matanda, Rajah Sulayman, and Lakandula mostly use these documents in conjunction with the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) in Seville, Spain in studying the genealogies of these "noble houses." Other primary sources frequently referred to by historiographers are the Silsila or Tarsilas of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Brunei, and local records (usually Catholic parish registers) of towns where descendants of the three houses may have moved.

Miquelet (militia)

Miquelets or Micalets (Catalan pronunciation: [mikəˈlɛts]; Spanish: Migueletes) were irregular Catalan and Valencian mountain light troops. They enjoyed a certain prominence in the wars in the Iberian Peninsula during the 17th and 18th centuries, and in peace seem to have on occasion plundered travellers.

Nootka Crisis

The Nootka Crisis, also known as the Spanish Armament, was an international incident and political dispute between the Spanish Empire, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and the fledgling United States of America triggered by a series of events that took place during the summer of 1789 at Nootka Sound in present-day British Columbia, Canada. Spanish coastguards seized some British commercial ships engaged in the fur trade at an uncolonized coastline area to which Spain claimed ownership. Britain rejected the Spanish claims and used its greatly superior naval power to threaten a war and win the dispute. Spain, a rapidly fading military power, was unable to depend upon its longtime ally, France, which was in the throes of the French Revolution.

Nootka Sound is a network of inlets on the west coast of Vancouver Island, today part of Canada's British Columbia. The crisis revolved around sovereignty claims and rights of navigation and trade. Between 1774 and 1789, Spain sent several expeditions to the Pacific Northwest to reassert its long-held navigation and territorial claims to the area. By 1776, these expeditions had reached as far north as Bucareli Bay and Sitka Sound. Territorial rights were asserted according to acts of sovereignty – customary of the time.

However, some years later, several British fur-trading vessels entered the area to which Spain had laid claim. A complex series of events led to these British vessels being seized by the Spanish Navy at Nootka Sound. When the news reached Europe, Britain requested compensation, and the Spanish government refused. Both sides prepared for war and sought assistance from allies. The crisis was resolved peacefully but with difficulty through a set of three agreements, known collectively as the Nootka Conventions (1790–95). British subjects were then enabled to trade up to ten leagues from parts of the coast already occupied by Spain and could form trade-related settlements in unoccupied areas. Spain surrendered to Britain many of its trade and territorial claims in the Pacific, ending a two hundred-year monopoly on Asian-Pacific trade. The outcome was a victory for the mercantile interests of Britain and opened the way to British expansion in the Pacific. Spain no longer played a role north of California and transferred its historic claims to the United States in the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819.

Outline of British Columbia

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to British Columbia:

British Columbia – westernmost of Canada's provinces. It lies between the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the province of Alberta to the east. British Columbia was the sixth province to join the Canadian Confederation.

Pedro Fages

Pedro Fages (1734–1794; Catalan: Pere Fages i Beleta) was a Spanish soldier, explorer, first Lieutenant Governor of the Californias under Gaspar de Portolá, and second (1770–74) and fifth (1782–91) Governor of Alta California.

Pere d'Alberní i Teixidor

Don Pedro de Alberni or Pere d'Alberní i Teixidor [ˈpeɾə ðəlβəɾˈni j təʃiˈðoɾ] in Catalan (Tortosa, January 30, 1747 – Monterrey, New Spain, March 11, 1802) was a Spanish soldier who served the Spanish Crown for almost all his life. He spent most of his military career in colonial Mexico. He is notable for his role in the exploration of the Pacific Northwest in the 1790s, and his later term as ninth Spanish governor of Alta California in 1800.

Quito School

The Quito School (Escuela Quiteña) is a Latin American artistic tradition that constitutes essentially the whole of the professional artistic output developed in the territory of the Royal Audience of Quito — from Pasto and Popayán in the north to Piura and Cajamarca in the south — during the Spanish colonial period (1542-1824). It is especially associated with the 17th and 18th centuries and was almost exclusively focused on the religious art of the Catholic Church in the country. Characterized by a mastery of the realistic and by the degree to which indigenous beliefs and artistic traditions are evident, these productions were among of the most important activities in the economy of the Royal Audience of Quito. Such was the prestige of the movement even in Europe that it was said that King Carlos III of Spain (1716–1788), referring to one of its sculptors in particular, opined: "I am not concerned that Italy has Michelangelo; in my colonies of America I have the master Caspicara".

Spanish expeditions to the Pacific Northwest

Spanish claims to the West Coast of North America date to the papal bull of 1493, and the Treaty of Tordesillas. In 1513, this claim was reinforced by Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean, when he claimed all lands adjoining this ocean for the Spanish Crown. Spain only started to colonize the claimed territory north of present-day Mexico in the 18th century, when it settled the northern coast of Las Californias (California).

Starting in the mid-18th century, Spain's claim began to be challenged in the form of British and Russian fur trading and colonization. King Charles III of Spain and his successors sent a number of expeditions from New Spain to present-day Canada and Alaska between 1774 and 1793, to counter the threat of Russian and British colonizers and to strengthen the Spanish claim. During this period of history it was important for a nation's claims to be backed up by exploration and the "first European discovery" of particular places.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈalβaɾ ˈnũɲeθ kaˈβeθa ðe ˈβaka]; Jerez de la Frontera, c. 1488/1490/1492 – Seville, c. 1557/1558/1559/1560) was a Spanish explorer of the New World, and one of four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition. During eight years of traveling across the US Southwest, he became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes before reconnecting with Spanish civilization in Mexico in 1536. After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542 as La relación y comentarios ("The Account and Commentaries"), which in later editions was retitled Naufragios ("Shipwrecks"). Cabeza de Vaca is sometimes considered a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of Native Americans that he encountered.

In 1540, Cabeza de Vaca was appointed adelantado of what is now Argentina, where he was governor and captain general of New Andalusia. He worked to build up the population of Buenos Aires, where settlement had declined due to poor administration. Cabeza de Vaca was transported to Spain for trial in 1545. Although his sentence was eventually commuted, he never returned to the Americas. He died in Seville.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.