Fitch fumed. His new godfather had stopped the marriage! Josefa cried tears of shock. In most accounts, she turned to Fitch and said, “Why don’t you carry me off, Don Enrique?”
Fitch was scheduled to sail the Buitre (“Vulture”) to South America the next day. He conferred with Pio Pico and Captain Barry. Each urged him to take Josefa. In a testimonial she said Fitch took the initiative.
No one consulted her father.
Early the next day, Fitch said good-bye to friends at the presidio, then to his beloved. He rode the La Playa trail to where the Buitre lay anchored. He boarded the ship and barked orders. His crew shimmied up the masts, unfurled sails, and the English brig split whitecaps on its way to sea. Beyond Point Loma it grabbed a wind to the west.
That night, Josefa didn’t weep. She packed belongings into a small trunk and listened for pounding hooves. Pio Pico rode up on his best horse. Josefa, who said he “didn’t have any trouble convincing me,” climbed on in front of Pico, and they galloped into the night.
Six sailors waited in a longboat near the landing at La Playa. Not far up the beach, Fitch hid behind a large rock. The horse pulled up. Just before the lovers raced to the boat, Pico shouted, “Good-bye, cousin. May God bless you.” Then, to Fitch: “And you, Cousin Enrique, take care not to give Josefa reason to regret having joined her lot with yours.”
The sailors rowed out to the Buitre, concealed beyond the bluffs of Point Loma, and the ship sailed south.
It was as if Prince Paris had abducted Helen of Sparta. The news of scandal rampaged up and down the coast. Surely Fitch took Josefa against her will. And if he didn’t, he’d lied. He vowed to become a naturalized citizen but never did. The elopement rankled church authorities almost as much as Josefa’s father, who suffered unthinkable shame. Don Joaquín became so distraught he swore he’d kill Josefa and her kidnapper on sight.
Fitch, Josefa, and an infant son, Enrique Eduardo, returned to San Diego in July 1830. Fitch’s frigate, Leonor, brought sugar, skins of brandy, and 50 convicts to help populate the frontier. Neither husband nor wife — Curate Orrego had married them at Valparaiso — dared come ashore. Her father was so dishonored, townspeople warned her, Joaquín always kept a musket nearby.
Legend has it that Josefa snuck ashore at midnight. When Fitch found her missing, he feared, writes Ella Sterling Mighels, “She must have jumped overboard from her wild despair over her father’s anger against her.”
The next morning, when Josefa reached the garden gate at Casa de Carrillo, legend says she crawled on her knees and begged her father’s forgiveness. She fled, she told Joaquín, to “escape the tyranny” of Echeandia. After much wavering (some accounts even have him pointing the musket at her), Don Joaquín relented. In her Testimonio, written decades later, Josefa remembers her father saying, “I forgive thee, daughter, for it is not thy fault that our governors are despots!”
Only the most glowing accounts mention Don Joaquín forgiving Fitch, and none have Fitch forgiving his father-in-law. Don Joaquín “abused her most shamefully,” Fitch wrote years later, “frequently threatening to flog her and telling her I was a heretic and that she was living with me as a common prostitute.” Fitch said he hoped Don Joaquín would “go to hell.”
Fitch had to sail north — to sell his cargo and unload 25 convicts. Since he refused to leave Josefa in San Diego, she joined him on the long windward passage to Monterrey, where Echeandia had faced a military rebellion the year before and where a similar maelstrom now awaited them both.
When the Leonor anchored at San Pedro, Padre Jose Sanchez, vicar of the territory, ordered Fitch to stand trial at San Gabriel: the wedding raised “serious charges.” Surprised and miffed, Fitch sent his marriage certificate instead.
He arrived at Monterrey in August. The certificate had flaws, he learned: it was torn and blotted; also, they weren’t members of the parish where they were wed. Fiscal José Palomares ordered Echeandia to arrest Fitch. Soldiers locked him in the harbormaster’s office. They kept Josefa under house arrest at John Cooper’s two-story adobe.
In late October, Josefa asked to go to San Gabriel. When Echeandia approved, Palomares declared that the governor had violated ecclesiastical authority. He was a “culprit before God’s tribunal” and must stand trial. Vicar Sanchez agreed but chose not to arrest Echeandia. Instead, he had Fitch moved to San Gabriel in December.
On December 9, the interrogations began. Both Fitch and Josefa vowed that she’d gone voluntarily, that their marriage in Valparaiso was legal (also that she was chaperoned during their 74-day passage and that their son was conceived after they were wed). Weeks of attacks and denials concluded on December 28. Sanchez declared the marriage was “not legitimate, but in spite of the infractions of the law, it was valid.” Fitch and Josefa were now velados — married — and had to perform several acts of contrition.
Although their 19 years together were rocky — in 1835, because she gambled heavily, Fitch began legal steps for a separation — the couple had 12 children.
Fitch died in 1849. He never forgave his father-in-law or his persecutors. He wrote a letter to John Cooper: “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.”
Fitch hated Echeandia as well: “The Mexican authorities were more vicious than a water carrier’s donkey.”
Echeandia may have loved Josefa. Or, as the apple of every eye, she may have assumed that his fierce political passions — and ingrained distrust of Americans — were amatory. As the legend grew, she made Echeandia the villain, possibly stuffing anger at her domineering father into a father figure. Years later, however, she forgave Echeandia “with all my heart.”