The First Missionary Expedition

Jose De Galvez, the Visitador-General of New Spain, was the practical head of the first missionary expedition of the Franciscans, and was a man of extraordinary energy, forethought, and practical ability. He fashioned and controlled the enterprise, with Junipero Serra as President of the Missions, both in Lower and Upper California. Galvez deserves a more extended notice than the limits of this sketch permit, for without his promotion and supervision the founding of these Missions might have been, to this day, a pious dream of the Church. Great force of character, wisdom, and executive ability in carrying into effect the schemes of the Missions were as necessary as pious zeal and enthusiasm. The first plan evolved in the light of the crude knowledge of Vizcaino was to locate a Mission at San Diego, one at Monterey, and another between them at Buenaventura, on the southern coast, about equally distant from each. Galvez’ foresight provided for everything essential to the success of the enterprise-provisions, transportation, explorations, garrisons, education, ornaments, pictures, holy vessels for the churches; materials, architects, and artisans for construction; and all incidentals needful to a scheme of colonization and the redemption of the aboriginal savages of that wild, rugged, unexplored country. To provide for the future, he directed the taking of two hundred head of cattle from the old Jesuit Mission in Lower California, and a full supply of seeds of vegetables, grains, flowers, and fruits that grew in Spain, and could be reproduced in the new region. Thus he not only benefited the Missions, but bequeathed rich gifts to later generations in California. The Missions and farms were his nurslings. He selected and packed the furnishings for the churches, and left nothing undone to secure success.

From 1769 to 1822 California, like Mexico, was under the rule of Spain. On achieving her independence Mexico made California a part of her own territory. During that half-century the Missions had their happy and prosperous era. They were not interfered with by the Spanish, or in any way oppressed, but rather encouraged, as the pride of the Church; and the boast of the State was that they had checked the encroachments of the Russians on the north. It is true that the Greek Church never found a proselyte south of the Bay of San Francisco after the old padres had well begun their work.

In this latter period the principal pueblos, or towns, founded were San Diego, Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, San Gabriel, San Buenaventura, San Luis Obispo, San Fernando, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. These towns, though small, were important as centers of trade, intelligence, and mission work. They were simply clusters of adobe houses around the greater Missions, but from them radiated a most powerful influence, that dominated all things from the Mexican line to the great bay. This is perhaps the most conclusive proof of their claim to be the original colony of California.

January 9, 1769, the ship “San Carlos” sailed for San Diego; on February 15 the “San Antonio” sailed from Cape St. Lucas; and on June 16 the “San Jose” sailed. Some of the padres were with the “San Carlos.” The’ “San Jose” was probably lost at sea, for no tidings were ever heard of her after she left port. The other ships safely anchored in the Bay of San Diego. The land expedition was separated into two divisions. One, commanded by Captain Rivera of the Company of Cuesa, left Santa Ana, Lower California, in September, 1768, and after some delay at Vellicata, in that province, resumed its journey. It reached San Diego in about two months, finding the “San Carlos” and the “San Antonio” awaiting them at their anchorage in the bay. Serra left with the second division, which tarried on the route while he founded the Mission of San Fernando at Vellicata; after which, with Don Portola, the Royal Governor of California, the expedition started for San Diego. It arrived in about forty-five days, on July 1, 1769.

Return to: The Missions of California and the Old Southwest

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