Imagine Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending! Well, it happened in Old Town San Diego in 1829.
Josefa Carrillo was a young senorita in old San Diego in the 1820s.
Life in California in the 1820s was a quieter affair. California was still part of Mexico and had only three significant pueblos – Monterey, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Mexico had only recently achieved its independence from Spain and the ranching industry that Mexican California became famous for had not yet developed. There were very few Mexican residents in California’s pueblos and many Indians had been Christianized at the missions, though some continued to live their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyles. Life on the California frontier was a challenge for all.
Henry Fitch, a cheerful gentleman from Massachusetts, was one of the first Americans to settle in San Diego. He and a Josefa Carrillo, a young local senorita, met in 1826 and fell in love. However, Josefa’s parents vehemently disapproved of the courtship because Henry was neither Mexican nor Catholic! Not only was Henry a Yankee, he was also a protestant, and the Carrillo’s were not going to have their daughter marry into another faith!
Henry and Josefa were not about to be stopped by such trivial matters – they were in love! Therefore, Henry converted to Catholicism, and a marriage date was scheduled. However, on the wedding day the governor of California sent an emissary to put a halt to the proceedings. The governor claimed there were legal reasons why the two could not be married, but Josefa claimed that the governor stopped the marriage because he too was in love with Josepha and was jealous of Henry!
Still, Henry and Josefa were not deterred. Since they were not permitted to marry, they eloped! On the very night their wedding was stopped they set sail for Valparaiso, Chile, in South American. They didn’t even tell Josefa’s parents (Because, well, you know, love causes us to joyously abandon all reason). They were married in Valparaiso and returned to California a year late with a month-old baby in tow. Josefa’s father was outraged, and threatened to shoot Josefa for disgracing the family! Josefa pleaded with her father on bended knees and finally quelled his anger. He said to her, “Daughter, indeed the fault is not yours if our governors are despots.”
Unfortunately, the church of California was dissatisfied with the authenticity of the marriage certificate and declared the marriage null and void. Henry was imprisoned and Josefa was put under house arrest! After five long months, the marriage was finally validated, but Henry was outraged by the treatment they received and the loss of business he incurred during his imprisonment. He wrote, “They thought at first of nullifying my marriage, but after going through a long war of examinations of me and my wife they found that we were lawfully married and all the devils in Hell could not separate us. So all those busybodies who had had too much to say about my marriage being unlawful may go to Hell and f**k spiders, and if you hear any of them speak any more about it please damn their eyes on my account!”
With the marriage validated, the scandal was forgiven and everyone accept Henry and Josefa’s marriage. And perhaps the best part of the story, besides a love so string all the devils in hell could not stop it, was that Henry and Josefa lived happily ever after, had a total of 11 children, and Henry went on to become one of the wealthiest, most respected, and most prominent men in town, while Josefa’s lived wonderful life to the ripe old age of 83.