The Province of Argenfornia
The story about how Argentina conquered California for a week
Welcome Avatar! Argentina’s expansionism has taken on different forms throughout the last 200+ years since its independence. Today we’ll go over story that is not that well-known outside of Argentina, of how California was conquered by the a Frenchman sailing under the flag of the Imperium Australis to become an Argentine province. It boosted Argentina’s GDP for a period of six full days.
Yes, most are not familiar with this story but Argentina did in fact invade the US (then in Spanish hands), making California part of the country for about six days.
This feat was carried out by a Frenchman who also accompanied San Martín on the expedition through Peru, liberating most of the South American viceroy areas from Spanish hands: Hipólito Bouchard.
To understand the magnitude of Bouchard’s audacity, we have to go back to the year 1809 when he first arrived to the Buenos Aires / Río de la Plata region. He arrived at an historic moment in time: that of Argentina’s independence.
One year after his arrival, the Revolución de Mayo took place: a series of revolutionary events that occurred in the city of Buenos Aires, capital of the viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and that moved Argentina into the direction of independence from the Spanish crown.
Bouchard was impressed with the quick successes of general San Martín, who would be the liberator for much of the Southern Cone, and the former would fight as a grenadier for San Martín in the battle of San Lorenzo.
Some time later in 1811, Bouchard would have an outstanding performance facing the Spanish ships that were blocking the port of Buenos Aires under the command of the Argentine ship “Santo Domingo”, which would be the first battle fought by Argentine naval forces.
To thank him for his efforts, Hipólito obtained citizenship of the Río de la Plata, and married Norberta Merlo, a woman who would suffer from his constant absence due to his life as a sailor.
In 1815, he undertook the privateering campaign with Admiral Brown along the Pacific coast, and between victories and defeats they set sail for the Chilean coast.
He clandestinely transported a group of Chilean patriots, captured Spanish frigates and then blocked and attacked the port of El Callao, the most powerful place that Spain had in the Americas. Bouchard was just getting started.
Upon his return in Buenos Aires, he was entrusted with La Argentina, the frigate for which he will be remembered and with which he undertook his adventures up north.
In accordance with anti-slavery ideals, Hipólito Bouchard landed on the island of Madagascar, where he took the initiative and attacked and prevented the slave trade. He then headed towards the Philippines with the aim of further debilitating the trade of Spanish ships.
In January 1818, Bouchard established the blockade of the island of Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Archipelago, base and center of power of the Spanish metropolis.
After that he continued his journey and signed agreements with the king of Hawaii, Kamehameha I, who recognized the independence of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata.
Time to Make California part of the Land of Silver
After Hawaii, he headed to California. The extensive Monterey Bay sheltered the Royal Fort of San Carlos and a village of about 400 inhabitants.
When the Argentine ships appeared on the horizon on November 20, Governor Pablo Vicente Solá ordered the evacuation of women, the elderly and children. He took the royal treasures and put a safe distance from the attackers, and waited in the Rancho del Rey (currently the city of Salinas).
65 soldiers under the command of Sergeant Manuel Gómez remained in the garrison to endure what was coming. Bouchard easily and skillfully took over the city without encountering strong resistance as the Spanish fled.
Bouchard and his men pillaged everything they thought had any value and burned the fort. With that, the Frenchman turned Argentine had achieved it, and for six days the the blue and white flag Argentine flag was flying over California.
Autist Note: the name “California” comes from a chivalric romance novel called “Las sergas de Esplandián”, of the Amadís de Gaula series, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. This novel included a fictional island called California, ruled by Queen Calafia, east of the Indies. Since these books were very popular at the time of the Spanish conquests, they also served as inspiration for naming new territories. It is crazy to think that for these conquistadores these new lands must have been so foreign and alien, that they might as well be living through fiction while visiting them for the first time.
Once Bouchard left California he headed to Central America where he attacked El Realejo in present-day Guatemala, seizing two Spanish ships and destroying two others.
It is said that the flags of this country, Honduras and Nicaragua are similar to the sky-blue and white colors of Argentina in recognition of Bouchard's action in his raid against Spanish ports.
On July 9, 1819, Bouchard anchored in the port of Valparaíso and far from being received as a hero, by order of Admiral Cochrane he was accused of piracy and imprisoned. In December that same year, he was declared innocent.
When he recovered his ships, he found that they had been stripped of their cannons, sails and that most valuable items had been looted.
Bouchard wanted to return to Buenos Aires, but San Martín asked him to stay in Peru where he would eventually find his death.
Each year on the 9th of July, locals of Bouchard’s home town of Bormes-les-Mimosas in France sing the Argentine anthem to celebrate that for close to a week, Bouchard made California part of Argentina.
See you in the Jungle, anon!
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