Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


1813 – Rumbling from the South

Golds and browns dominated the hills and fields of the Carmel Valley. Crops had been gathered, huge piles of straw in the grain fields and alfalfa lay in barns and storage bins. Many of the young animals no longer suckled, but made their way through life on their own.

The wind blew a tinge cooler off the sea or swept down the valley from the heights to the south and east. Fires burned a little sooner in the morning and later in the evening. Sleepers bundled up in thick woolen blankets. Colorful serapes were common wear.

Apolonia and Teresa Marta brought steaming cocoa to those seated on the veranda. All accepted it gratefully.

Father President Serra loved to drink this,” Timothy said.

And he always scourged himself to atone for what he saw as a sin,” Uncle Jaime muttered.

They say that someone in a country in Europe called Helvetica has found a way to sweeten it. They call it Milk Chocolate.”

All looked at Mateo, wondering where and how he always seemed to have some new item of information for them. He readily admitted he had learned it from one of the American ships that had docked in the big bay to buy and take on provisions. With Mexico in turmoil, Governor Argüello had turned a blind eye to the law against dealing with ships belonging to countries other than Spain. Santa Bárbara and Los Angeles proved the major points of the trade in hides and food stuffs. In return, many otherwise unavailable goods reached the presidios, missions, pueblos, and ranchos.

And, as usual, Mateo had more news to pass on. “Our royal army suffered a severe defeat at the hands of rebels calling themselves The Republican Army of the North at some place called Rosillo Creek in the province of Texas.”

That gained everyone's attention, especially Felipe. As a presidial ensign, he firmly believed in the superiority of Spain's military.

The Americans helped the rebels,” Mateo reported. “They supplied them with the remarkable long barreled weapons called rifles. Governors Salcedo and Herrera were forced to retreat, but decided to set an ambush on the ridge overlooking Rosillo Creek. The rebels saw the trap and somehow overcame the Royalists.” Mateo looked down at the floor before continuing. “The report says the rebels only lost six men while the Royalist force lost as many as three hundred. Led by an American named Kemper, the rebels followed the retreating Royalists to Misión San Antonio where governors Salcedo and Herrera were forced to surrender. The governors and twelve others were summarily executed.”

The news stunned Felipe. He could not believe that a force of nine hundred, untrained amateurs could overcome a force of more than one thousand, nine hundred trained soldiers.

The rebels captured six cannon and more than fifteen hundred horses, mules, and donkeys.”

Nobody spoke for many long minutes.

Finally James spoke. “But the rebels have not yet met the main forces of the viceroy.”

Nobody responded and James assumed they were no longer certain of the superiority of Spain's soldiers.

Padre Suria broke the mood by reporting on the blessing of the new chapel at Misión San Diego on the twelfth of November. Padre Barona from Misión San Juan Capistrano blessed the edifice and the solemnity was preached by Padre Boscana, missionary of Misión San Luis Rey de Francia. Father Ahumada, of The Order of Preachers from Misión San Miguel in Baja preached the second sermon. He then added that Lieutenant Don Francisco Maria Ruiz, a Soldado de Cuera from the presidio, served as sponsor of the dedication Padres Sanchez and Martin of the missions observed.

I would like to see all the missions,” James softly said.

His father spoke up. “As you all know, I dearly loved Father President Serra. But, I never understood why he selected the original site for that mission where he did. It was clear to see the soil was very sandy and unsuitable for farming.”

I have read his journal,” Padre Suria said. “He selected it as The Lord told him to be brave and not give in to denial that the other supply ship would arrive.” The friar added that Father President Serra quickly accepted recommendations for the move. “He was only denied and delayed by the bureaucrats in Mexico City. He quickly approved the move when permission from the viceroy was received.”

What does all of this mean to us here in Carmelo, mi amigo?”

James had told David of the previous evening's discussion and expected the question. “We must prepare for the future, my friend. We most secretly store things in the event the rebels win independence from His Catholic Majesty.”

David then surprised James with the next question. “What difference does it make who claims control of the land? Will it change the land? Will things grow differently?” He paused, then added, “I do not understand this idea of owning the land. Why is it so important to your people?”

That brought James up short. He remembered lengthy discussions with Padres Gregorio and Martin about similar subjects in which nobody seemed to be able to find a suitable answer. It was his father who seemed to make the most sense of it. James organized himself and answered. “My father says it is a matter of power. Those who own the most land can take riches from it. Those riches provide them the ability to have power over others. If Spain loses control of the New World and the rebels take over, they will have the power they seek.”

And this will make the sun rise differently? The days to be longer? Or shorter? The fish to swim somewhere else? The deer and bears to go away. Los cóndores to fly elsewhere?”

James had no answer to those sensible questions. He later asked his father who also had no response.


James' wish to see more of California came true the first of November when Father President Señán came to Timothy, asking if he could go south to Misión San Diego via sea.

Why ask me, father? The ship is yours to use as you wish. All you need do is tell Captain Pedro when you wish to sail – and where to.”

The friar grimaced. “I keep forgetting that, my son. I will ask him now.”

May I go, reverend father?”

Father President Señán smiled at James. “If your wife permits it, my son.”

Totally unlike the Reverend Father President Serra, Father President Señán smiled a great deal and enjoyed a jest or two.

Teresa Marta well knew James' desire to see more of California and packed what he needed for the voyage. She also included foodstuffs, even though she knew the various missions would provide.

They sailed on a crisp, clear morning. Over Pedro's objections, James worked as a common deckhand, helping hoist the anchor and coiling ropes after the sails were set. Fair winds and currents took them south at a goodly pace so they made landfall at Pismo Beach with an hour left until sunset. Friendly Chumash welcomed them and they enjoyed a feast of the delicious clams – after sharing frijoles and tortillas with the Gentiles.

This is a beautiful land, reverend father.”

Father President Señán had said evening prayers and they sat on a log savoring the warmth of the bonfire. “Yes, James, it is indeed a beautiful place. Even in spite of the earthquakes which often turn back our efforts.”

That was the same beach as during the previous voyage when they had sailed to give aid after the recent, major earthquakes. Father President Señán had helped with chasing the massive liones del mar from the sandy beach, as well as gathering driftwood for the fires.

James felt a pang at not having brought Goyo with him as previously. His son had shown some interest, but also explained that he was busily preparing the gardens for winter.

They reached the mouth of el Rio Santa Inés well before noon. All were pleased with the progress they saw in rebuilding the chapel and other structures. Hundreds of willing hands of neophytes and the friars had repaired much of the damage and new buildings were rising from the rubble. Piles of adobe bricks and tiles stood ready to be put into place on the new chapel for Misión la Purisima.

After dropping anchor and disembarking, they made their way to the site, women and children gathering around Father President Señán to receive his blessings. Padre Payeras wiped the dust from his hands and embraced James and Pedro, welcoming them. Over the friar's objections, the visitors all went to work until the ringing of the bell for noon prayers. Father President Señán presided and all joined in for the meal. Instead of the usual gruel, a steer carcass hung over the fire, Padre Payeras explaining the animal had stepped into a gopher hole and broke a leg. The meat not only supplemented the tables of the mission, but was given to Chumash living in nearby rancherias. Corporal Ortega and his four Leatherjackets carved the steer and, after eating, handed out shares of the meat to representatives of the Chumash bands.

As they rounded the point the next day, all gasped at the sight of a ship anchored off the beach. James and Pedro looked at each other, trying to identify her. She had two slanted masts with cross spars on the foremast. He sleek lines left no doubt she was American.

That was confirmed when, after dropping anchor not far away, they saw the ship was named The Darby of Boston. Two ship's boats ferried large bales of hides from shore and they knew illegal trading was underway. However, as the royal government in Mexico was in turmoil over the rebel forces, nobody seemed to wish to interfere. This in spite of Governor Argüello making el Presidio del Santa Bárbara his headquarters. Captain Goycoechea walked over to greet the president guardian, nodding to James and Pedro. He introduced Captain Bowell and broadly smiled when James spoke to him in English; although with a heavy accent.

Boswell reminded James of his father as he had striking gray eyes and brown hair, graying at the fringes. He had the same hearty manner, strongly gripping Jame's hand. “At last, someone I can understand,” he boomed.

You must forgive my English, captain, but I only have a chance to speak it with my father or an occasional sailor such as yourself.”

Boswell listened closely as James explained his father was an Englishman marooned on the California shore many years before.

Father President Señán, well-versed in several languages and fluent in Latin, had little problem understanding many of the English words. But, he asked James to translate. “Captain, James is being very modest about his father. Don Timoteo is a very important man in our community and was involved in the early exploration of this land.”

Captain Goycoechea suggested they get out of the sun and led the group to an awning set up on the beach. Food and drink awaited them and, while Pedro gave instructions to the crew of the San Carlos, they sat down. Father President Señán blessed the food and James grinned when Captain Bowell said a loud, “Amen!”

While James distracted the American, the captain explained in rapid Spanish that the governor had found an urgent need to take an escort and travel to Misión San Buenaventura. It was clear he wished to turn a blind eye to the illegal commerce.

Instead of continuing their voyage south, Father President Señán decided to spend the night at the mission. He wished to discuss Padre Payeras' expansive plans for the chapel, which was already under construction. Boswell and his first officer joined them for evening prayers and the meal afterward. However, instead of staying for the evening music, the Americans excused themselves and made their way back to their ship. “We must sail early in the morning. We have a long voyage ahead of us and will hoist anchor at the first turn of the tide.”

Father President Señán stayed at the mission while James, Pedro, and Captain Goycoechea escorted them to the beach. James and Pedro also rowed out to the San Carlos to spend the night aboard. Both Californians were quite pleased at the glowing comments the Americans had made about the seaworthiness of the sloop. They had also learned The Darby was called a top-masted schooner.

They watched The Darby depart before dawn, surprised at how quickly she disappeared below the horizon. Father President Señán came back aboard after morning prayers and the San Carlos left anchor soon after.

Both James and Pedro looked forward to the remaining part of the voyage as it would be new to them.

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