Saturday, August 18, 2018

Apolinaria Lorenzana

Apolinaria Lorenzana

I came across a fascinating woman while doing research. I had never heard the name, Apolinaria Lorenzana before, but there she was with a story I could resist researching more and sharing with you. The amazing accomplishments she made in the early 1800’s in California.

Cardinal Lorenzana
Photo by Mariano Serano
The beginning of Apolonaria’s story is both ignominious and incredible. Her record begins in 1793 at an orphanage, the Royal House for Abandoned Children, in Mexico City. This house had a turnstile next to the entry door where abandoned children could be left by placing them on the turnstile, turning it so they would be inside and then leaving. Apolinaria came to the orphanage that way with no name and no papers. Just a child.

Apolinaria was turned over to the woman in charge who took her to the chaplain. Together, they decided on her age and her ethnicity, putting her in the Spanish lists. Her last name had already been determined. All the children in the orphanage had the same last name—Lorenzana—after the cardinal archbishop, who began the Royal House, but now resided in Spain. 

The teachers at the Royal House were diligent to teach the children skills that would help them when they were out in the world. In late 1799, the school sent sixteen children north to California. All the children had the last name of Lorenzana, as did their teacher, who accompanied them. She was also an orphan taken in at the Royal House.

After a difficult sea voyage, their ship docked in Monterey, California. The
Spanish Frigate mid-1800's
Photo by Heribert Mariezcurrena
children were given to families, and the process was later described by Apolinaria as being treated “like puppy dogs.” Apolinaria was adopted by a family who lived in Santa Barbara, while many of her friends went to San Diego. 

All of the children suffered over this treatment, but Apolinaria determined to make the best of her situation. She worked hard to master writing and other skills, which she then began to teach to other children. For the rest of her life, she would continue to teach girls to read, write, sew and other necessary apptitudes they would need. 

Apolinaria moved to San Diego where she became an instructor at a school and worked at the mission. She had many responsibilities, including bartering for and bringing supplies from the incoming ships. She would board the ships to receive what the mission ordered and also purchase any additional products she deemed important for the mission.

In 1831, Apolinaria moved onto some land owned by the mission and became a ranchera – a rancher. The mission ended up noting they did not need that plot of land and deeded it over to her in 1840. She only lived there part time, but had others living there working the land for her. In 1843, she received a second land grant, where she constructed dams and raised crops like barley and wheat. 

Mission at San Diego
Photo by Bernard Gagnon

Apolinaria was known for her charity work. She helped at the mission by nursing the sick. She was always available and willing to help anyone in need. People noted her heart for others and knew her by this. 

In her later years, after the Americans won California, Apolinaria was tricked into signing papers giving her lands to an American. She ended up living in poverty and having to accept the charity of others. She denied having signed over her lands, but didn’t have the power or authority to fight the claim. 

Despite all she suffered toward the end, Apolinaria still reached out to others when she could. She loved children and enjoyed helping them to learn. Her heart for helping others is what made her such a special person and someone I wanted to write about.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Apolinaria. I found it fascinating that all the children in the orphanage had the same last name. What did you find interesting?

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. That is absolutely fascinating. It indeed would make a basis for a wonderful story. Thanks for the post.

    1. Paula, Thank you for stopping by. I'm so glad you enjoyed Apolinaria's story.

  2. I think her name is interesting, it looks like it would just roll of the tongue. She sounds like she had incredible character to still be willing to help others after being treated poorly and left with little. Thank you for sharing about her!

  3. I hope she has received a great reward from the Father.