Moving to the Siberia of Mexico Wrapup: The Workman and Temple Families as Immigrants to California

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Today’s Zoom presentation on the Workman and Temple families migration to Mexican-era California, memorably referred to as the “Siberia of Mexico,” looked at the question of the emigration of three members of the families, all born in the last few years of the 18th century, to new lands in three varying contexts.

Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), a native of Reading, Massachusetts, sailed around the Horn of South America to Hawai’i in the early 1820s.  He became a merchant in partnership with fellow Yankee, William G. Dana, who became master of the brig Waverly, leased from Liholiho, King Kamehameha II, and which brought the two to Mexican California in July 1827.  This was only several years after Mexico won its hard-fought ten-year war of independence from Spain and the new republic, unlike the decaying empire, encouraged and welcomed trade and settlement from extranjeros (foreigners).

David Workman (1797-1855), was living in Clifton, a village in the far north of England near the Scottish border, when he cashed in on half of a bequest of funds from his parents and journeyed to the United States about 1817, just a couple of years after the conclusion of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and its former colony.  He settled on the western edge of America in the frontier town of Franklin, Missouri and opened a saddlery business.

William Workman (1799-1876), David’s brother, remained in Clifton, but, when David returned home in 1822 to collect the remainder of his bequest, William was enticed to go the U.S. with him.  The two embarked from Liverpool and landed in Philadelphia that September and then went to Franklin, though William’s stay in Missouri lasted only two years.

Francisca Temple Gregorio de Ajuria and child 1850s - Copy
A daguerreotype photograph of Francisca Temple, daughter of Rafaela Cota and Jonathan Temple, her husband Gregorio de Ajuria, a native of Spain and merchant in Mexico, and one of their several children, ca. 1850s.  Courtesy of the Rancho Los Cerritos historic site in Long Beach, California.

In spring 1825, he joined a trade caravan on the recently opened Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico and settled in Taos, where he became a fur trapper, merchant and distiller, the latter in partnership with John Rowland, formerly of Maryland, Pennsylvania and, more recently, Ohio, before he traveled to New Mexico (though Franklin) in 1823.

In these three examples, Temple and the Workman brothers took the unusual steps of long migrations when most people never got too far from their birthplaces.  Moreover, they moved to places with societies dramatically different than the ones from which they came.  In the case of Temple and William Workman in Mexican California and New Mexico, this meant converting to Roman Catholicism, taking Mexican citizenship, marrying women from their adopted homes, and otherwise integrating, to whatever degrees, in their new communities.

Temple was just the second extranjero to settle in Los Angeles and opened the pueblo’s first store.  He was soon joined by a cadre of other Americans and Europeans, some of whom also opened stores, and he married Rafaela Cota, a native of Santa Barbara, and with whom he had a daughter, Francisca.

He became prominent in business, politics and society, though his integration also occasionally embodied confict, such as with his hosting of California’s first vigilance committee, which formed in 1836 and extra-legally presided over the trial and execution of a woman and her lover after they were deemed guilty of the murder of her husband.

San_Pedro_News_Pilot_Fri__Sep_21__1928_.jpg detail
A 1928 newspaper account of the first vigilance committee in California, which met at Jonathan Temple’s Los Angeles home in spring 1836.

Workman joined a larger community of extranjeros in Taos, which had a large indigenous pueblo near which the Spanish and Mexican community settled.  Many of the foreigners were engaged initially in fur trapping and Workman tried his hand at this rigorous occupation, including taking part in an expedition in 1827 that reached modern Yuma on the Arizona/California border where the Colorado and Gila rivers meet.

He decided, however, that owning a store and serving local clientele as well as provisioning fur trapping parties was a more stable vocation, though he did lost $4,000 in supply one expedition that failed in its aims.  The partnership with Rowland, who was a miller by trade, included the manufacture of Taos Lightning, a potent whisky for those fur trappers returning to winter after tough months out in the Rocky Mountains.

Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, a Taos native who baptized their two children, Antonia Margarita and José Manuel, in the native pueblo church, likely indicating that she had at least some indigenous blood, had a common-law marriage (a church marriage did not take place until 1844 at Mission San Gabriel.)  Yet, whatever domestic and professional stability that Workman enjoyed was also challenged by changing circumstances.

In 1837, rebels from Taos overthrew and killed New Mexico’s governor.  This internal strife was ended by a counter-revolt led by Manuel Armijo, who scattered the rebels, but Workman and Rowland, reported by a Missouri newspaper to have been forced to swear loyalty to the Taoseños, were swiftly arrested on charges of smuggling (seeming everyone did that in those days) and this may have marked them as suspect.

David Workman portrait
David Workman (1797-1855) who settled in the United States not long after the conclusion of the War of 1812 and returned to his English home in 1822, upon which his younger brother William joined him in the return trip to Missouri (then the end of the U.S.).

This was revolt was the year after the Americans and other extranjeros in Texas had their own revolution leading to the establishment of the independent republic there for nearly a decade.  In 1840, President Mirabeau Lamar, who was receiving counsel from William G. Dryden (later a Los Angeles resident and colorful county judge), who was a friend of Rowland and Workman, appointed a three-person commission in New Mexico to spread the “good word” about the Texas-Santa Fe Expedition, which was couched in terms of a commercial trading enterprise when it was a thinly veiled invasion force.

It is unclear whether Rowland and Workman were aware of their appointment, much less agreeable to it, but they quickly distanced themselves and a new commission was organized in 1841.  By the time the expedition, which was poorly organized and managed, left Austin for Santa Fe, the two men and about two dozen other extranjeros made plans to leave for California.

The result was the Rowland and Workman Expedition, which left New Mexico about the first of September on the misnamed Old Spanish Trail, a commercial route formed a dozen years before well into the Mexican era.  The group included Michael White, a British sailor who settled in California in the late 1820s and then lived in New Mexico for a few years, and Benjamin D. Wilson, a Tennessee native who was looking to go to China, but the group ventured west to Abiquiu, a town of genizaros (mixed Spanish/Mexican and native) which included experienced trail travelers.

Some two dozen New Mexicans, including families, joined the expedition including a guide who navigated the trail, although the group did follow a regular trading caravan heading west to Los Angeles.  After about two months, including a stop at a springs called las vegas in a desert oasis, the party, which traveled by pack mules, horses and on foot, came into greater Los Angeles.

A copy of the 3 June 1822 bequest of 800 pounds (approximately $130,000 in 2019 dollars) given by Thomas and Lucy Workman to their son, William, and which he used in his emigration later that year to the United States.  The document was located in a British archive by John Sharpe of Clifton, Workman’s hometown.

William Workman remembered his arrival because the 5th of November happened to be a British national holiday, Guy Fawkes Day.  He later had a glass plaque made to commemorate this event and it was long attached to a door to the house—it now is in the possession of descendant, Josette Temple.

Early in 1842, Rowland ventured north to Monterey, the capital of the department, as it was officially called, of Alta California and secured a land grant from Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado for the Rancho La Puente, a former Mission San Gabriel property, and embracing nearly 18,000 acres in the eastern San Gabriel Valley. It is likely officials hoped the presence of the two extranjeros would be something of a buffer against raids from Utes, Paiutes and other indigenous tribes from the interior deserts.

Meanwhile, about four months prior to the arrival of the Rowland and Workman expedition, Jonathan Temple’s half-brother, Pliny (1822-1880), arrived in Los Angeles after a half-year’s sea journey from Massachusetts.  The two had the same father, but Jonathan was the eldest child from the first family and Pliny the youngest from the second and the two were twenty-six years apart in age.  In fact, Jonathan left for Hawai’i before Pliny’s birth, so they met for the first time in Los Angeles.

Pliny’s visit was intended to be temporary, evidently for about a year, but the 19-year old decided to stay in the Angel City and worked in his brother’s store.  Four years later, he married Antonia Margarita Workman and this connected the two families together in both personal and professional ways.

Detail from the baptismal record for William Workman, given the name of José Julian4 June 1828 at Taos, New Mexico.

This is where today’s presentation ended, in the twilight of the Mexican era and with tensions with an aggressively expanding United States growing with a constant threat of war, including the 1842 seizure of Monterey under the mistaken assumption that hostilities had been commenced by the Americans.

The next installment in this series of talks on the Workman and Temple families will be given on Sunday, 27 September @ 2 p.m. as we examine them under the heading of “Life During Wartime” including internal conflict among the Californios and the American invasion of 1846-1847.

We hope you will join us and, in the meantime, this afternoon’s talk will soon be posted to the Homestead’s YouTube channel.


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