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Battle of Monterey bicentennial commemorated in memorable Saturday of events

Alta California’s former capital, Monterey, was host to a packed Saturday of events on November 17th, 2018, in commemoration of the Battle of Monterey’s bicentennial. A mix of historical lectures and costumed re-enactments were organized for the public’s benefit, bringing California in the Age of Revolution to life. Two centuries ago, French-Argentine Captain Bouchard and his privateers fought the local Spanish forces in the Battle of Monterey, the only battle fought in California during the Latin American wars of independence. Monterey was surrendered to the South American insurgents, and Argentina’s blue-and-white flag was raised over California’s capital, where it flew for several days before Bouchard’s two ships headed south along the coast, and into Californian legend.

Monterey’s mayor Clyde Roberson opened the bicentennial proceedings, and live narrators retold the history for a crowd of more than 1,000 spectators. Costumed groups of historical re-enactors performed as both local defenders and privateer attackers, under the direction of Harriet Lynn. As the sound of cannons boomed throughout Monterey Bay, the tall ship Lady Washington menaced in the harbor (representing the historic vessel Santa Rosa). The privateers soon came ashore in Monterey’s Historic Naval Ship’s Boats (led by local naval historian John Middleton-Tidwell). As the “insurgents” landed, and quickly took over the area around the Custom House (standing in for the former Spanish Presidio), the gruff Captain Bouchard was portrayed with dark-humored aplomb by local thespian Howard Burnham, and the Argentine flag of the era was lifted high, to the sounds of the Himno Nacional Argentino.

To accompany the re-enactments, I was one of several historians present who gave lectures about the context of this under-appreciated episode from California’s past. Many thanks are due to Michael Sovereign and the Monterey Museums and Cultural Arts Commission, for organizing the day’s wonderful series of events, honoring this unique international history, and for inviting me to participate. Thanks also to Middlebury Institute of International Studies for hosting the lectures.

The tall ship Lady Washington played the role of the historic ship Santa Rosa (Photo courtesy of Edward Pío Videography).

That Saturday I also had the privilege of recounting the Battle of Monterey’s history, to passengers aboard the Lady Washington during the re-enactment. It was an engaged (if captive!) audience, and there was an uncanniness in the air, as the exhilarating events of two centuries past were conjured up.

Muchas gracias to Zachary Stocks, Captain Smith, and the Crew of Lady Washington for a memorable sail!