From the Bear Flag Revolt to the Last Mission in California, Sonoma Plaza Has a Deep History

 | June 23, 2022

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

The town square of Sonoma, California, is steeped in the histories and traditions of the rule it was formed under. 

The original foundations of Sonoma were built around the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma. The mission, the only California mission to be established under Mexican rule, was founded and blessed by Father Jose Altimira in 1823 and would stand on its own for over a decade until Mariano Vallejo began drawing up the plans for Sonoma itself. 

Sonoma Plaza
General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo reviewing his troops at the Presidio of Sonoma. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons,

Born in Monterey, California, to a family of military men who utilized their allegiance to Spain to secure a spot in military schools and appointments to ensure he thrived, Vallejo initially rose to power after leading a group of soldiers to carry out violence against the Miwoks of the region now known as Fremont, inevitably forcing the tribe to flee. 

After being appointed Comandante of the Fourth Military District and Director of Colonization of the Northern Frontier, Mariano began drawing up plans for a barracks in Sonoma. Before long, Vallejo had moved all of the soldiers from San Francisco to Sonoma. They held the area and existed (somewhat) peacefully for the next ten years. 

From Spanish to American Colonizers – The Bear Flag Revolt

The early 1840s became a time when many of the original colonizers from Plymouth began moving further and further West under the guise of ‘free land’ to be found in the area known as California. 

When they arrived, however, they were confronted with the occupation of the Mexican government, which forbade Americans from owning land. Eventually, that confrontation led to tensions rising and the eventuality known as the Bear Flag Revolt. 

Thirty men from the Sacramento Valley rode into Sonoma at dawn on June 16, 1846. They took Vallejo, and his man, without firing a shot. The men declared the land an independent republic. The bear flag, drawn by William Todd, the nephew of Mary Todd, the wife of President Lincoln, was raised over the land. The independent republic lasted 25 days before a naval ship arrived, claiming all of the lands in the name of America. 

Things to Know Before You Go: 

  • The Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau is located at 453 1st St, East and can provide details and a map for all the points of interest in the Plaza. It is open Monday – Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm. 
  • The San Francisco Solano Mission is open 10 am to 5 pm Monday thru Sunday and has the names of the indigenous neophytes (see converts) on a commemorative wall.
  • The Bear Flag Revolt Memorial is located in the plaza’s center. 

Fun facts:

  • The park covers eight acres and is filled with majestic trees and pedestrian walkways.
  • Surrounding the plaza are numerous stores, restaurants, and historic sites.
  • Sonoma Plaza witnessed the end of Mexican control of California.
  • In the middle of the plaza, the early 20th century Sonoma City Hall, located in the center of the plaza and still in use, was designed and built with four identical sides so as not to offend merchants on either side of the plaza.

Location: Sonoma, California

Address: 453 1st St E, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States

Google View 360: Visit Sonoma Plaza here.

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