Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Monday, June 4, 2012

Some More About Don Fernando

Rivera returned to the mainland and bought a small farm near Guadalajara, where he intended to spend the rest of his life with his family. His wife, Dona Maria Teresa Davalos y Patron, had four children; daughter Isabel, who died very young, and three sons; Juan Bautista, Jose Nicolas Maria, and Luis Gonzaga Francisco Javier Maria. Juan Bautista, the oldest boy, became parish priest of the church in the town of La Magdalena, near Guadalajara.

And then came the latter part of 1773. Father Serra managed to have Fages removed as governor of upper California. Governor Felipe de Barri was the man in Loreto, but Viceroy Marquis de Bucareli did not feel him fit to rule Upper California from Baja California. Who to replace Fages with? Father Serra pressed the viceroy to replace Fages with out intrepid Sergeant Ortega. But, not only was he a Criollo but also of very low rank. Bucareli turned to the one man he knew to have the experience, Don Fernando Rivera.

The selection came at an opportune time for Don Fernando. He was near bankrupt, living off the largess of his well-to-do brother. Late in the year, he left with his wife for his new post via Guadalajara, Tepic, and Sinaloa. He was to recruit 50 or so settlers en route. I cannot find anything to tell me whether or not he was successful. What I did learn was he and his wife rode horseback the entire distance from Loreto to Monterey, more than 1,200 miles by rough trails. He arrived at Monte Rey, Fages still being there.

No love was lost between the two, Rivera feeling the lowly lieutenant having been promoted above him was most insulting. He made no move to be conciliatory with Fages, sending a messenger to tell him to put the accounts in order and be ready to sail at the earliest. He reportedly did everything possible to avoid the Catalonian.

Fages then sent a messenger that he was going to depart from San Diego with his Catalonian Volunteers. Rivera sent one back telling him he was leaving from Monte Rey. Fages then sent a permit from the viceroy to leave from San Diego, also where Fages had some animals set aside for his own use.

At last, Fages is out of his hair.

Rivera occupied an "impossible" position with multiple unsolvable problems - too few soldiers, bad morale, rebellious Indians, inadequate supplies, not enough animals for transportation, no pay, ill-defined authority and responsibility, and many stubborn missionaries who had no authority and ill-defined responsibility. During this period, planned extension of the mission system was slowed by lack of soldiers and supplies.

And, yes, Father Serra was as intractable as ever, claiming his superior authority in matters relating to the missions.

In reality, neither Serra nor Rivera was to blame for the tragedies which befell California during Rivera's governorship; instead these were the work of higher officials, beginning with the king of Spain and the viceroy in Mexico, who sent insufficient military protection and financial assistance. To guard a vast region, Rivera had fewer than 60 soldiers, poorly armed and provisioned and often unpaid. Rivera, himself was deprived of his salary during the last seven years of his life. When he was sent to Monterey in 1773, Rivera's brother Ambrosio generously shouldered the maintenance of the entire family, sending Isabel to the Colegio de San Diego in Guadalajara, and the oldest boy, Juan Bautista, to the diocesan seminary in the same city, and probably educating the other two boys also, at least privately. Don Ambrosio was never repaid, for neither Rivera nor any of his relatives received any part of his salary, which on paper amounted to 3,000 pesos a year.

Accompanied by Father Palou, one of Father Serra’s oldest friends, Rivera explored a great deal of Upper California.

As if that was not enough, in November of 1775, Kumeyaay Indians attacked Misión San Diego. Father Jaime and two workers were killed while now Lieutenant Ortega was away, helping to found Misión San Juan Capistrano. This caused more problems between Rivera and Father Serra - the latter wanting leniency for those children who did not understand what they did.

Felipe de Neve, a peninsular of noble birth, was appointed governor of the Californias by Viceroy Bucareli. Here we get another example of how things were run. The man de Neve replaced, Governor Barri, did not please the Dominicans and their president of missions, the Reverend Father Vincente Mora, OP, had been instrumental in having him replaced by de Neve.

In December of 1775, Rivera set out from Monte Rey for San Diego with the purpose of dealing with the rebellious Indians. Along the way, he met Juan Bautista de Anza, the governor of New Mexico who was to lead soldiers and settlers to San Francisco. The group went to San Diego instead.

Then, things got dicey. One of the Kumeyaay involved in the raid sought ecclesiastical asylum in the church at Misión San Diego. As the chapel had been burned down, services were held in a storage building. Rivera and some soldiers entered the building and took control of the Indian. The friars at the mission were furious! They wrote up a notice of excommunication and posted it. By regulation, Rivera could no longer perform as governor - only a full-fledged Roman Catholic could hold ANY position of authority in the Spanish New World.

Rivera's somewhat irrational behavior in his conferences and correspondence with Anza (late April and early May, 1776) can be better understood when it is realized that he was not only profoundly upset by his possibly unjust excommunication, but also that he was suffering from fever, dizziness, and a pain in his thigh. This physical condition probably was the result of an earlier, poorly-set leg fracture by which, incidentally, his bones were identified in late 1781 after his death at the hands of the Yumas. Despite Rivera's opposition, on rather good military grounds, the San Francisco colony was established in late summer and fall of 1776 with Lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga in active command.

And things get worse. Rivera learned that Chumash attacked Misión San Luis Obispo and burned the church. He gathered an escort and rushed there to stop the problem. And then he learned that other Indians attacked Misión San Francisco.

At length, in February of 1777, Rivera turns over the governorship of California to de Neve. At Neve’s request, the captain general of the interior provinces [the man between the governor and the viceroy] authorized sending Rivera to recruit settlers and soldiers for the founding of Los Angeles. On March 3rd, Rivera set off with an escort of six Leatherjackets for San Diego. He continued from there to Loreto, where his old enemy Ocio probably laughed at Rivera’s misfortunes. [I often wonder if Rivera was relieved to be out from under the burden of being governor.]

Now, think about this guy. He was passed over for governor due to his birth status, He nearly went bankrupt while in retirement, he makes his way thousands of miles to his new status of governor, he faces one problem after another, and even gets excommunicated for doing what he thought to be his duty. He then gets booted as governor and sent off on another extended journey to gather up recruits and return to California through land in which other Spaniards have been killed by savages. Does he argue? Does he plead to be relieved due to ill health?

Not hardly. We will follow his gruesome journey in the next post.

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