Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why Were the Missions Founded in the Order They Were

Did you ever wonder why the missions were built where and when they were? San Diego makes sense as it was the furthest south in Upper California. But, why was Carmel the second? And then San Gabriel? Why not just build them in order as they were discovered and marked out by Fray Juan Crespí?

There are a number of answers to this question. The first place to start is the missions in Baja California.

Early after the conquest of the Aztecs. Spanish explorers visited the western shores of New Spain, as they called it. Due to the sailing qualities of their vessels, they encountered great difficulties sailing north against prevailing winds and currents. Most of the exploration took part in the Sea of Cortez but several brave captains took the ships as far north to the Colombia River between Oregon and Washington.

In 1596, Captain Vizcaino used the Bay of La Paz as a center point for his exploration of the Sea of Cortez. While there, he noticed the natives diving for oysters, quickly learning they contained pearls. He took advantage of this by found in the first fishing colony in 1670. Admiral Otondo and Jesuit Father Kino build a crescent shaped fort and church on the site. However, the Spaniards angered the local Guaycuras who attacked the fort in 1683. The Spanish soldiers repelled the attackers but La Paz was finally abandoned in 1685.

A note is worthwhile here.

Soon after the end of Cortez' conquest, a unique group of soldiers were founded to man fortified outposts north of Mexico City to contain raids by the Chichimeca Indians. By 1729, they were codified as Soldados de Cuera, or Leatherjacket Soldiers named for the heavy leather armor, a sleeveless, knee-length coat strong enough to resist stone-tipped arrows and spears. I've talked about them in my posts about Don Fernando Rivera. It is not know if they were present in Las Paz but certainly manned the fortification in Loreto.

In 1697, the Jesuits settled Lower or Baja California. Father Provincial, the Reverend Juan de Palacios [SJ] was given a contract that included provisions for the use of Jesuit paid troops. Under the terms of the contract, the Jesuit rector of Loreto was effective commander in chief of soldiers of Province - he had the right to hire and fire anyone. This continued to 1768.

Presidio de Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó was founded with a 25 man garrison. This was the fortification near the river. A mission of the same name was founded around a spring the local Indians felt to have magical powers. Father Provincial, Rev. Juan de Palacios (SJ) received a license on February 6, that included provisions for the use of Jesuit paid troops. Jesuits also enlist forces and create officers, they are also given the right to fire officers. Indians raided Loreto - Indians stole horses 2 soldiers and an unknown number of Indian allies pursued, the Indians were captured, allies ate horse meat/presidio noted to be protected by a stockade. Circa 300/500 local Indians besieged settlement for five hours, Father Salvatierra ordered the soldiers not to shoot. Defenders included 4 soldiers and 3 Mexican Indians. Cannon burst when fired. A force of 12 men arrived by sea as reinforcements - they begin construction on more elaborate defense work of logs and thorns. Commander of the Fort was Captain Luis Torres y Tortello. Pay of each soldier was 300 pesos, each captain $500, $6,000 total spent each year, soldiers did not receive pay in cash, but instead, goods in kind purchased in Mexico or provided by the mission.

The point being made here is that Spain did not provide sufficient military protection for the Jesuits to found their central position at the better port of La Paz. While Loreto had a sheltered harbor, it was not equal to the larger, deeper water port further south. Even at its height under Captain Fernando Rivera, it only had a company of Leatherjacket Soldiers, about 120 men and their officers. When it is considered that each mission had a corporal and four private soldiers, that only left 35 men at the presidio to perform guard duties and courier services.

My next post will deal with the placement and founding of the Upper [Alta} California missions and the reasons for their order of their establishment.

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