Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pedro Fages Returns

When last we wrote of this man, he was being replaced as lieutenant governor of Upper California by Fernando Rivera. After more than a bit of acrimony between the two, Fages boarded the packet ship, San Antonio, sailing July 7th, 1777. He took thirteen of his Catalonian Volunteers, along with Padre Gil who was to be the new store-keeper for San Diego. He went there to retrieve some of what he called his personal property. He then sailed from there on August 4th for San Blas to rejoin the Company of Catalonian Volunteers.

Fages barely became established in garrison in Guadalajara when he and his company were called to the Sonora frontier to fight savages who attacked the missions and other Spanish establishments there. During that five year period, he served so well that he received a commission as a lieutenant colonel. He successfully quelled the Quechan Yuman Indian independence revolt and reopened the Colorado River ferry crossing at Yuma, Arizona.

Fages married Eulalia Callis June 3, 1780 in Mexico City. She was born October 4, 1758 in Barcelona, Spain and journeyed to Mexico City with her mother and brother to join her father Agustín Callis, the original captain of the Free Company of Volunteers of Catalonia. Eulalia loved fashion and believed in charity.

Governor Rivera was replaced by Governor de Neve who in turn was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Fages. Fages was the autonomous lieutenant governor of Upper California, answering directly to the Commandant General of the Provinces Internal and through him to the viceroy.

It's not reported anywhere I can find what Father President Serra's reaction was to having the man he got booted out back as the head military honcho in Upper California. The President Guardian of the missions had gained much when Fages was reassigned. Of all the complaints he presented to the viceroy, almost every single one of them was resolved by the viceroy's decrees. So, there wasn't much Fages could to on those matters.

But, he did manage to find as many ways as possible to thwart Father Serra's goals. He put a great deal of effort to improve the Reglamentos [Regulations] formulated by Governor de Neve and approved by the viceroy. He also toiled to improve El Camino Real and the presidios.

But, his biggest advancement was the founding of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula [some claim the original name used the word “Reina” or Queen instead of Our Lady] and El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe or The Town of Saint Joseph. These had both been assigned their locations during Portolá's expedition and then conformed by Governor de Neve. Even then, from the outset, neither town followed the strict guidelines in Los Reglamentos. And the settlers, or Pobladores, didn't live up to expectations.

One major thing Fages did was grant land to soldiers who had served well and were seeking to retire with their families in California.

This is not to say there were no disputes between Fages and Father Serra. Truth be, they constantly argued over the treatment of Indians by the soldiers, and there came a time when Father Serra became so upset with Fages that he even wrote up a letter excommunicating Fages from the church. That meant, according to the official creed of Spain, that Fages could no longer hold office as governor. In reality, Fages continued his duties, awaiting a response from Viceroy Martin de Mayorga Ferrer, Captain General of Guatemala. In the end, Viceroy Ferrer ordered Fages to stop what he was doing and seek absolution from Father Serra.

Chapel of Mission San Buenaventura

Another effort of Fages to thwart Serra was how he stopped Father Serra from founding
Mission Santa Barbára. Fages met Serra near Mission San Gabriel and clearly stated their goal was to start Mission San Bueneventura and the Presidio of Santa Barbára. Then, when it was time for the group to start off, Fages was called away to take care of a major problem. Father Serra's group set off and, on March 29th, or 31st, depending upon which source one uses, 1782, he blessed the site of the future Mission San Buenaventura, assisted by Father Pedro Cambon. He did not wait for Governor Fages to arrive, much to that worthy's anger.

But Fages got his revenge. Instead of being able to found the mission, Father Serra had to be content with blessing the site of the chapel for El Presidio de Santa Bárbara.

Santa Bárbara Chapel

Leaving Fray Cambon and a sergeant and fourteen men as an escolta or guard for the new mission of San Buenaventura, Governor Felipe de Neve, Capitan Jose Francisco Ortega, Fr. Junipero Serra, and thirty-six soldiers and their wives and children walked on to Santa Bárbara to found the Presidio del Santa Bárbara.

Realizing he wasn't going to be allowed to start the mission, Father Serra sent a message to Father Fuster at Mission San Juan Capistrano to come to serve in the presidio chapel. He then returned to Carmel. It appears the friar did not arrive, leaving the presidio without a priest – another reason for Fages to complain to the viceroy about Father Serra's lack of respect for the military.

I don't mean to infer that Fages did not respect the goals of having a string of missions from San Diego to San Francisco. It is simply that he felt defending California from Russia and the growing American states was of greater importance. He tirelessly traveled with his escolta and sappers from one end of the province to the other, repairing roads, building bridges, and everything else he could to improve communications. He also tried to oversee the correct construction of the pueblos and presidio – extremely difficult as he received little or no support from Mexico.

Governor Fages was away from Monte Rey in August of 1784 when Father President, Guardian of the Upper California Missions, passed away. Little is known of his relationship with the interim president/guardian, Father Palóu, a fellow Mallorcan and long-time close friend of Father Serra. However, Palóu did not stay long due to ill-health, and was replaced by Father Fermin Lausén.

A side bar – Father Palóu went to the Apostolic College of San Fernando where he was appointed guardian. He was thus the superior to the president guardian of the California missions. If differences arose between Fages and Lausén, all the latter had to do was pass that on to Father Palóu who had direct access to the Archbishop of Mexico and the viceroy.

Father Lausén moved from San Diego to Mission San Carlos early in 1785, just about the time Fages' wife, Doña Eulalia de Callis, arrived with her son from Loreto. Every report indicates she was a caring women who went to far as to give clothing to the “poor Indians” - most likely in a condescending matter, normal for the time and place.

But, her arrival created a most stressful time for Fages. Especially when Doña Eulalia discovered her husband had an Indians mistress! She kicked him out of the house and her bed. She went to Father Lausén to complain of her husband's unfaithfulness and demanded he be penalized for doing so. The earnest President Guardian of the Missions tried to counsel her – to no avail. This break seemed to last a full year but the two managed to reconcile.

With orders from the viceroy and supplies arrived from Mexico, Fages was there with Father Lausén for the founding of two more missions; Mission Santa Bárbara and Mission La Purísima Concepción.

During his last year as governor, Fages constantly complained of ill-health and the lack of support from Mexico and Spain. He wrote a number of letters seeking to be granted retirement. From August 1786, by General Ugarte's order of Feb. 12th, Fages became inspector of presidios – he was ordered to straighten out the records and finances, a most difficult task. His commission as colonel was dated Feb. 7, 1789. His retirement was granted in 1791 and he sailed from Monte Rey in the autumn of that year.

He took with him, the Catalonian Volunteers brought to California when Spain closed its fort located on what is now Vancouver Island. The eighty had been spread between the four presidios, the reason why he stopped at Santa Bárbara and San Diego.


Reports indicate he died in 1796.

Fages was thus, by far, the longest serving governor of California.

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