Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


1816 – Becoming Smugglers?

“The sky is very strange, my captain.”

James had noticed the grayness and a strange grittiness on everything. The sun appeared dimmer and did not bring warmth as before. Of biggest concern was the lack of clouds and rain. Even the fogs did not rise to moisten the land as before. And, when it did, there appeared to be a fine material in the water drops. The ocean had a strange shimmer to it.

“At least it has not reduced our catches,” James replied to Juan at the helm of the Carlita. The fishermen had become most important to the garrison and the mission as even the livestock seemed affected, have fewer young and those born facing difficulties where many died before maturity. “Nobody seems to know what it is or what is causing it.”

Perhaps El Dios o Amado Jesus are angry with us. Perhaps we have not atoned ourselves.”

Fear filled the eyes of his crew James turned to David, seeing him crossing himself repeatedly, muttering prayers.

James briefly stopped at the house after unloading the catch and told Teresa Marta he was going to the mission to speak to a friar. When she asked, he explained and she said she was going too, stopping to affix a mantilla atop her raven hair so it would be covered when she entered the chapel.

We have no firm idea of what is causing this, my children,” Padre Juncosa whispered as he knelt with James and Teresa Marta in the chapel. “We have heard the sky is like this all the way from San Diego to San Francisco. President Guardian Payeras reports his people are suffering through a severe drought and hundreds of his sheep have died from lack of feed.”

As usual, Rubio came up with the explanation one evening on the veranda. “I talked to the captain of the last supply ship and he told me of a terrible event in what is called the Dutch East Indies. A volcano erupted and killed tens of thousands of natives. It spewed massive black clouds that have filled the skies all around the world. He even said that he heard that in June and July to the north and east of us, cold rain fell from the sky, covering everything with an icy coat of white. It killed many crops and some animals, both wild and tame.”

Rubio also had learned that some northern areas not only suffered extreme cold, but intensive rains causing floods and great ruin. “It is said that many feel this is going to be a year without a summer.”

He also had another bit of news, this about the troublesome Corsican Corporal, Napoleon Bonaparte. “He slipped away from the island of his exile, Elba, and returned to France where he marched on Paris, gathering an army to his side.” Rubio continued to explain how the British and Prussians gathered allies and raised an army of a million men to confront the once-military genius.

“Thankfully, our beloved Most Catholic Majesty, King Ferdinand, was able to keep our forces out of the conflict.”

Rubio explained further how Napoleon was decisively defeated. “This time, they sent him to a most remote place, an island called Saint Helena.”

Timothy's eyes widened and he let out a long whistle. When all eyes turned to him, he said, “Many years ago, before I came ashore where Jaime found me, I was aboard a ship and we stopped at Saint Helena. I cannot even begin to consider what it would be like to live there. In that time, it was but a place where ships stopped to take on food and water – and allow the sailors to dally with women of uncertain character.” He could not bring himself to use the word puta.


“It is another American vessel, captain.”

James always wondered at how sharper David's vision was than his. He had to use his telescope to make out the flag flying atop the mainmast. “A trading vessel,” he opined, nothing a lack of more than three gun ports and a swivel gun in the forecastle.

He was also surprised when the ship luffed it sails, following him into the Carmel bay using only the foresails. As it came from the south, perhaps the captain did not know of the main harbor of Monte Rey.

The ship proved to be the Dora Ann, a three-masted bark out of Boston, in a state James found most difficult to say. The captain, William Cavanaugh came ashore in his boat, rowed by four sailors.

Timothy had landed first and was thus finished unloading the catch when the visitor landed. “You must pardon me, capitán, but I have not spoken inglés in many, many years.”

Cavanaugh grinned. “Finding anyone in this land of you Spaniards who speaks English is indeed a pleasant occurrence.” He openly admitted to be on a voyage to seek the valuable furs of sea otters – which he could not help but notice lounging in the vast kelp beds – and hides. “We can pay in specie of gold and silver,” he said.

“That is very generous of you, captain, but we truly have little use for coinage here. What we need most are things our industries cannot produce.”

That set the captain aback a bit. He had never encountered someone who did not wish to have gold or silver coins. “What they may I trade you for, my dear sir?”

Timothy quickly replied, “Cordage, canvas, and good steel blades and tools.”

James continued unloading and prepared the ship for the next day's voyage, watching his father and the captain walk uphill towards the mission.

“You have a very smart vessel here,” said a sailor with a small epaulet on his shoulder. He then hesitated, wondering if he had erred posing the question in English to the younger man with light brown hair and azure eyes.

“Thank you,” James responded, a bit shamed by his heavy accent in his father's language he seldom spoke. “We built it here in our shipyard from plans we received from another American trading vessel.” He then explained why it was not drawn up on the sand as the other fishing boats, indicating it had a keel.

The sailor, who turned out to be the ship's Bosun, watched as they furled the canvas, carefully coiled the ropes, and hung the nets to dry on poles with cross poles just up the beach. “And your savages are quite professional in how they imitate what you do.”

James clenched his fists and gnashed his teeth, fighting back the urge to strike the ignorant sailor in his big mouth. But, David took his opportunity.

Si, Señor, we savages have learned very well from the reverend fathers and our dear friends such as Jaime here.”

James doubted the stupid sailor understood a word his best friend said and decided to turn his back to ignore the man.

He trudged uphill towards his home. The catches had already been sorted and sent off to various destinations.

The American sailors stood on the small dock, wondering what to do or where to go. Everywhere else they had visited possessed a waterfront with the usual tavern. They had no idea that the only place selling alcoholic beverages actually fronted the small plaza in the center of the pueblo.

Apparently, the captain, the friars, and Timothy worked out some kind of understanding about what to be traded.\

Four bales of well-tanned cowhides earned a goodly sum of canvas and ropes. Of real surprise to the captain was a generous numbers of finely turned red wood poles to replace some of the masts and spars lost during the journey.

Padre Juncosa accepted some gold and silver coins, not because of their value as money but to be melted down to make various objects to be used for religious rites. The captain was most pleased with many candles, along with many rolls of woolen cloth. And most of all, the captain appreciated the many baskets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. He even accepted chickens and pigs.

Please do not tell others what you have found here, my dear captain,” Padre Juncosa pleaded. “It is against our laws to trade with any vessels other than those of allies of Spain.”

The captain later confessed that he had also traded for many cow hides at Misión San Buenaventura, with the commandant at el Presidio del Santa Bárbara turning his back as he received several kegs of gun powder, as well as lead for bullets.

“Do you ever wish to sail with one of those ships, father? To return to the land of your birth?”

Timothy chuckled. “Not at all, my son. I am a Californian now and owe allegiance to the fathers. My family is here.” He paused and became quite serious. “I have never told you this, but I have a great deal of wealth waiting in England. I prepared a last testament and sent it to a solicitor in a very large village called London in England. It states that, in the event of my death, your are to be responsible for the wealth. There is a copy of that document in the big, secure chest in the house.”

“What would I do with that wealth, father?”

Timothy shrugged. “With the dark rumors we hear from Mexico, it might well be worth our while to amass valuable things and hide them in a secure place. For, if His Catholic Majesty loses control over his holdings here in The New World, we will sorely need such things.”

That called for a very rare situation for The Family. Timothy and Jaime announced that they and all their sons, daughters, and spouses would hold a council. “We will depart on the morrow at noon to the cabin up the Valley of the Carmel River. All family members who wish may attend, but it will only be the senior members who will discuss a vital family matter.”

James understood how difficult it had to have been to convince Uncle Jaime to do such a thing. He seldom thought of the future, especially beyond the time when he would die.

Heads turned all over the pueblo as The Family departed the next day, leading pack mules with unusually shaped packs upon their backs. As it was not that far, all walked. Even Padre Juncosa stopped working in a garden plot to watch the unusual parade.

Claudio and Imelda Rodriguez welcomed them, both showing the many years upon their shoulders. Their three grown sons watched over the large herds grazing in the lush valley, but their wives and children had helped prepare for the arrival of the large group.

It was a fine summer day, although chillier than usual due to the gray, ash-laden skies. Large bonfires were lit, some to warm hands and backsides with others to heat large cast iron pots.

The senior members of The Family settled in around a particularly large bonfire, seated on felled pine logs. Timothy, Apolonia, James, Teresa Marta, Juanita Maria and her husband, Felipe, George and his wife, along with Alberto and his wife, sat on one side while Jaime, Butterfly, Maria Rosa, their other daughter and her husband, José Antonio, sat on the other. Their son, Bartolomeo, lived at Misión Santa Clara and thus was absent.

Timothy started off by explaining his encounter with the American captain. He then added, “We, here in California, seldom think about money or the future beyond the next rising of the sun or harvest. But, the American caused me to realize this may no longer be possible. There is great unrest in Mexico and many lands to the south of us. The Americans themselves are the result of a great rebellion against their king. There is deep unrest in Europe with kings being unseated from their thrones and wars of shifting alliances. We are all too aware of how His Catholic Majesty does not have – or does not allow – support to arrive here in The Californias.”

He paused to sip from a beautiful redwood goblet filled with steaming herbal tea.

And, his mention of gold and silver coins made me think of something I have forgotten for some time – our situation as to our land holdings, our boats and ship, and wealth belonging to the family in a far away place called London, in England.”

That latter part caught all their attention. It was something Timothy had never spoken of. They listened as he explained about his share of the voyage decades earlier that had brought him to the short of Baja California. “I do not know how much money is being held by the bank, but will send correspondence by the next non-Spanish ship to discover how much it is. I will also send a copy of my Last Will and Testament for the time when I pass from this earth.”

Nobody seemed upset by that last as Death was a common occurrence in the land. Every time they sailed from the harbor, they faced the possibility of a storm tossing them upon rocks and being overturned.

Those monies are far from here and something for very far in the future.”

Jaime spoke. “So, what is your concern for us here, my brother?”

I am concerned about the dark rumors we hear from Mexico. It has been several years and the rebels do not go away. They run and hide from His Majesty's soldiers, but are never caught and continue to gather support from unhappy landowners – and Indios.”

Honored Father Timoteo, I simply cannot see how Viceroy Calleja del Rey can possibly be defeated by the rebels. He is a blooded and proven warrior who has won decisive victories against rebels who greatly outnumbered him. And, for those leaders he has not slain, he has sent them to far away places like Cuba and the Philippines.”

Nobody could argue with the reputation of the viceroy.

But, the big problem lies with the Criollos,” Jamie surprised everyone by mentioning. “They abide in their rancheros with large numbers of Indios at their call who are bitter about the restrictions placed upon them. They no longer fight with poor stone-tipped spears and arrows.”

That called all to think deeply of what might happen.

So, what would you have of us, brother?”

Timothy sighed, then sat up straighter. “We must plan for a most uncertain future. If Spain does fall and the rebels take over Mexico, what will happen there? And here?”

There will be chaos,” Teresa Marta said, an event even more rare than her father speaking. “Rubio taught us about other empires throughout history and what happened when they fell to barbarians. Only those prepared were able to make their way through the massacres that followed.”

And, if Spain loses Mexico, the winners will demand those of us serving in the provinces so swear our allegiance to them. Our officers will certainly be forced to bow to the new rulers and a new governor will most likely be sent here.”

Nobody argued with Felipe, realizing the truth of his words.

I have pondered long on this and here are my thoughts.” Timothy proceeded to explain how they needed to have a secure place to hide important records and documents to include copies of the grants given to them of land and property. They should also be prepared to place all valuable objects in the same place. “And, in the event Spain loses control and a new governor – or even soldiers – arrive, we must be prepared to do what is necessary to provide a future for our children.”

Nobody argued. During the noon meal and the entire afternoon, and even through the evening meal, they discussed details and plans for what they would do.


They could tell Padre Juncosa wanted to know what the council had been about, but the friar held his tongue.

Rubio was also most curious. However, he kept his questions to himself. What he did do was give them disturbing news that a country far to the south, Argentina, successfully rebelled and gained independence from Spain.

Locally, they learned some positive news from the missions.

Misión San Buenaventura prospered with over one thousand disciples. The structures had just about been replaced and the soldier couriers spoke of the beauty of the new chapel built under the guidance of Reverend Father Señán. “We are told the hills and surrounding valleys are filled with great herds of cattle,” Felipe said. He then turned as if ensuring nobody overheard him. “Many cattle are slaughtered just for their hides. What is not used at the mission is given to Gentiles living in the hills to the east. In order to avoid the reek of rotting carcasses, great pits are dug and they are thrown in to be covered over with the dirt.” He also spoke of the great flocks of carrion gathering to feast on the meat. “They say the huge cóndores blacken the sky with their giant wings.”

What is the purpose of this?” Goyo asked.

To sell to the ships that drop anchor there,” Felipe responded. “The tanned hides and leather produced by the mission tanners has become well-known to the Americans. They buy cheaply from us and sell them back home for a great profit.”

How does Father Señán not get into trouble with Captain Goycoechea? He must certainly know of the illegal trade.”

Felipe chuckled. “Because, of course, the good captain receives a portion of the results of the trade. He also makes it a point to scout for rebellious Gentiles in the hills to the east when a trading ship makes port in Santa Bárbara. But our good captain certainly appreciates the gun powder, lead, and tempered steel.”

We have turned into a land of smugglers,” Timothy said, chuckling. When they were confused by the English word, he repeated, “Contrabandista.”

I have also learned that Padre Zalvidea at Misión San Gabriel has started an Asistencia at a place he calls Puente and is doing so for over six hundred disciples.”

He has so many to take from the main efforts at Misión San Gabriel?” Jaime asked.

There are well over one thousand disciples and neophytes living at the mission. If they are not herding livestock, they are most busy farming. And,” he added, “the friars are actually giving them more free time, although they do increase the time sharing the Missal with them.”

James turned to David. “We live a good life here. Not like in some places we have heard of where they start before sunrise and never end their days until after sunset.”

And that does not count the afternoon siesta we are allowed.”

Rubio had more to tell. “Padre Peyri petitioned the governor to permit him to build a new and better church of adobe and tiles. And, when the governor did not respond, he went out to Pala, a rancheria in the hills above the mission. They had also built a granary there some years earlier.” He added that the Luiseños enthusiastically gathered around the friar to built the chapel and the beautiful bell tower.

Where did Padre Peyri find the bells? I always hear the father president guardian complaining about the lack of bells and other religious supplies.”

Rubio turned to James with a grin. “I do not know as I was not told. All I heard was how beautiful the campana is and how so many disciples have come to till the soil and attend services.”

There was even more similar news. Padre Juan Martin had found a place to quarry stone and had a stone foundation laid for the chapel at Misión San Miguel. “The disciples had been preparing adobe bricks for many years and the construction went forth rapidly. Their greatest difficult came in beams to support the roof. They had to be cut, hewn, and then hauled from at least forty miles away in the foothills.”

David sighed. “For a people who never toiled in such manners before, my brethren raise more sudor for the padres than they ever did for themselves.”

All chuckled. Not that the Gentiles had been lazy as they spent almost every waking hour trying to survive. As for David, he had never known that life as his parents were disciples when he was born.

Jaime surprised them when he said, “I do not think the people native to this land will be able to return to the life they once lived if the missions cease to be.”

Timothy turned to his brother. “Why say you this, my brother? You do not lightly speak of such things.”

I do not think those who rebel against the king would look kindly upon the church if they win.”

Felipe sucked in a deep breath. “I do not think anyone has considered such a thing, Uncle Jaime.” He looked around them. “What would this – and other places – be like if it were not for the fathers?”

Rubio agreed. “From everything I have read and learned, from the time of Reverend Father President Serra, the goal has been to make the missions self-sufficient and the disciples trained to take possession of them when they are ready. Could they not do so?”

Of course not,” David firmly stated. “They do not have the discipline to do as the reverend fathers. You have seen for yourselves how quickly they slack off when the reverend fathers turn their backs.”

James thought long and hard about his best friend's opinions on the future of the missions.

Everyone's attention was turned when Padre Duran came to Carmel and went to the boatyard. He met with José and both of them walked to The Family's compound. “I need your assistance, Timoteo.” Timothy did not hesitate, telling the friar he was at his beck and call. “We wish to explore the rivers to the east of us. We have a small boat – I believe you call it a lancha – but not skilled sailors for it. We need someone to show us how to handle it.”

I will gladly do so, reverend father,” James said, without hesitating. “I can turn the Carlita over to David.”

But, mi hombre, you will not once again go alone. I am going with you.”

None had heard such strength and determination in Teresa Marta's voice before, especially not her father. At the same time, Butterfly bit back a laugh, knowing full well how capable her daughter was of such strength of will; much like her own.

When asked when this would take place, Padre Duran told them, “In the coming year after spring planting. Governor Argüello is the one who wishes the voyage and asked myself and Padre Abella to join him.” He also explained the launch had come from a visiting English ship and was twenty feet in length with places to raise two masts. When asked, he had no idea what kind of rigging and could only say that it had a handle in the back part with which to steer.

It is certainly clear, reverend father, that you definitely need an experienced sailor to help you.”

Everyone chuckled at Timothy's comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment