Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bancroft's California

I've finally finished the first go through of Volume XX  of Hubert H Bancroft's History of California, Volume III 1825 to 1840.

Phew! Separating the footnotes from the narrative was the first challenge. Then, I discovered some of the footnotes were far more interesting than the narrative!

Bancroft was no fan of the Franciscan friars. Even though he pointed out the praise of visitors for their amazing efforts and results, he continually depicted them as masters of the Indians held in virtual slavery – a totally unjust and very biased viewpoint.

His tome deals with the military and civilian history of the state with some amazing insights into the men elected or selected to govern the “Territory” as the Mexican government determined it to be.

From 1769 to 1822, California, both north and south, were unimportant outposts of the Spanish Empire. The kings of Spain had serious problems at home and throughout Europe – thanks to Napoleon and republicanism spurred by the American revolution. The brave and honorable members of the light cavalry known as Leatherjacket Soldiers very seldom received their pay and most survived only due to supplies provided by the missions.

Thousand of  Stone Age inhabitants willingly came to the friars to learn their mystical religion and those skills that saved them from constant hunger. Farming and ranching, along will skills like tanning hides, making tallow for candles, weaving and pottery making made life better for them – and provided for the Spaniards who had entered their lands.

And then came Mexico's independence from Spain. Now, rumors of the riches of California caused the new government to send a governor with soldiers – and convicts – to rule over this great new land. And, as Mexico was still in a turmoil, not a great deal came about without direct intervention of the governor – his soldiers still too few and weak to deal with any incursion from foreigners.

Before this tome, I relied on a great many sources dealing with the missions and the friars who dedicated their lives to make them productive entities benefiting the Indians who came to become neophytes. Unfortunately, that information did not always deal with the civilian/military side of the government. A great deal with reported on the governors and senior soldiers but very little to the pobladores, those civilians who came to settle the land.

In a way, I find that quite fair and reasonable. Spanish California was ruled from far away with edicts of the king and his viceroy. Catholicism flourished and, while the friars seldom received financial support from the Pious Fund set up for that purpose, they still had the support of The Apostolic College of San Fernando.

So, what new did I learn from this tome? As already reported, the Mexican government wanted to turn California into a penal colony. But, it went beyond that. The new government was a republic based on the American system. The Indians there had played an important role in the fight for independence and were quickly “freed” from their ties to the various missions which were secularized. The lands were ceded to the Indians who, after almost three centuries of Europeanization, were ready for it.

So, when the Mexican government set out to do the same to the California missions, it was quickly learned that the Indians/neophytes were simply unable to deal with their freedom without returning to the lifestyle before the arrival of the Spanish. Sadly, that life was no longer available. Many who received land were unable or unwilling to work it and it was grabbed up by newly arrived Mexicans and foreigners. Many of the Indians went to work for those individuals and found themselves in a near form of slavery. Others came to the missions, tore down, and removed everything but the chapels – even removing items from the cells in which the friars had humbly lived.

How sad. More than forty years of effort destroyed in a decade!

At least a lot of names I grew up near are now making sense to me. Figueroa. Sepúlveda. Vallejo. Pico. And many more were important Mexicans who came in and played an important role in the republicanism of California. Other names also stand out. The famous mountain men and trappers, Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson, and many others made their way into the state, often arrested and sent packing. Hundreds upon hundreds of ships from all over the world making port to replenish supplies and trade.

And the missions were not the only places to suffer. By 1840, the Leatherjacket Soldiers were civilians, farmers and ranchers working the land they were granted for their services. The four military garrisons or presidios were no more. San Diego being sold for $40. Santa Barbara converted to a village. Monterey replaced by an embarcadero for ships to tie up, the same happening in San Francisco, one of the biggest land empresarios named Baker, thus Baker Beach.

There is, of course, much more but I'll save that for later when you read Book Four of Father Serra's Legacy, The Missions Wither.

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