Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


General Agustín de Iturbide
Emperor of Mexico

1823 – Mexican California

Abuelito, why do we not live on a rancho?”

James smiled at little Timoteo and smiled. He was the youngest of Lupe's children and always asked lots of questions, something his teacher, Mateo, appreciated.

Did I not explain to you that ranchos were only granted to soldiers?”

Timoteo looked at his teacher, then lowered his head.

Do not feel ashamed, mi hijo. Your Uncle Felipe is a soldier, so why do we not have a rancho like others.” The little boy happily snuggled in Jame's lap and listened as the grownups talked about the various land grants given out since the time of Governor Fages.

Only the oldest have become more than jacals where the grantees live day-to-day,” Timothy explained, having been there when they were granted in the 1780s and 1790s. “Don Manuel Nieto and his family have turned Rancho los Nietos into a very strong, working entity. He had the advantage of large herds of livestock and learned from los Padres how best to deal with the Gentiles. He is one of the few who do not treat them like slaves. He has even constructed a visita so los Padres may go there to conduct Mass and other holy rites”

The manner in which other Rancheros had treated the Gentiles living on their properties had long been the subject of strong objections from the friars. And, in many instances, some governors and local commanders had refused to send out troops to track down and return runaways.

Don José Francisco Ortega's rancho near Santa Bárbara is another example. Our good captain taught his children well and they never forgot their Mestizo heritage,” Jaime said, an unusual break in his usual silence.

I feel, my children,” Father Suria said, “that many of those who now call themselves Californios have forgotten their Mestizo heritage. While it has not yet been implemented here, rumors have it that all Peninsulares will be forced to leave Mexico and the Criollos will step forward to dominate.”

You will be forced to leave here, reverend father?”

Hearing the fear in Mateo's voice, the friar raised his hand. “No, not yet, my son. The day will come, but we are far from the City of Mexico and it will be some time before the edict reaches us.”

When that happens, reverend father, His Imperial Majesty will have no one to run his government,” Mateo added with a sneer.

That led to the discussion of the ruler of Mexico. Colonel Iturbide had been lifted to the throne by a massive demonstration of those troops who had followed him, members of the Regiment of Celaya. The congress had acceded and declared Iturbide emperor. “Everything Real has now become imperial.”

But, it still does not mean we have received the payments due to us or new uniforms and equipment,” Felipe muttered.

I do not think it will be soon that another representative from Mexico arrives,” Mateo said.

The weeks beginning the year of 1823 were busy. Newborn animals were tended do. Grounds, plowed before the cold, were lightly turned, fertilized, and seeded. When not irrigated by sparse rain or heavy fogs, water was diverted from the zanja to moisten gardens, vineyards, and orchards. The various buildings needed maintenance and loads of timber were brought down out of the mountains to be formed and used.

Undermanned garrisons did their best to perform the various duties, often almost too many for soldiers who had not received payment for many years. If it were not for the missions and their families, they would not have had uniforms to wear. And, the majority of soldados de cuera had but a single pouch of gunpowder while the cannons had almost none. If ever another pirate attack came, the entirety of California was defenseless.

Sad news reached Carmel the very end of April. Father President Guardian and vice-prefect Señan passed away in his sleep at Misión San Buenaventura. He was buried in the mission cemetery next to Padre Santa María. The neophytes and disciples were inconsolable. Padre Señan had served there for twenty-five years and few could remember anyone but he presiding at the mission.

The rules of succession had been worked out by Prefecto Apostolico Sarría at Misión San Carlos and, he then became the father president guardian of the missions. When asked, Padre Suria explained that the role of president guardian was administrative while Prefecto Apostolico was secular in replacement of a bishop. “We here in California are not considered a See as yet, calling for a bishop. Padre Prefecto Sarría fills that position and will continue to do so even if others of us are elected president guardian.”

Father Altamira is causing problems again.”

The gathering nodded, Father Suria reddening a bit in shame at the antics of his fellow friar. Before Mateo could explain, he said, “He went directly to Don Luis about the founding of a new mission north and east of Misión San Rafael. And, as Padre Señan was ill and Father President Prefect Sarría had not yet been elected, the proposal was taken before the territorial assembly at their last meeting. When word came about the Russians building a fort on the coast not that far to the north, the assembly agreed to the idea.” He explained how the father president's rebuke was so long in reaching him that Padre Altamira had already started the mission in a place called Sonoma, a word the Miwok use for the Valley of the Moon.

However,” Padre Suria continued, “work stopped and they finally reached a compromise. What Padre Altamira wanted was the closing of both Misiónes Dolores y San Rafael. That was not about to come to pass so it was agreed that, instead of assigning another friar, Padre Altamira would be left to himself. That was why, on the fourth of July, he was allowed to bless and continue building Misión San Francisco Solano.”

He will not stay there very long,” Mateo said. “I have heard that he is very cruel to the Gentiles, often becomes quite angry, and frequently mistreats them.”

Padre Suria could only nod.

While James enjoyed the evening discussions, he still spent most of his waking time toiling to provide for his family, his community, and the various entities that relied upon the Carmel fishing fleet. Up hours before dawn to take the Queen to sea. Searching for the schools of fish and heaving the heavy nets overboard and straining to bring them back, filled with heavy, squirming, scaled creatures. And then sorting through them to throw back those too small or the occasional shark. They even picked up seals now and then, most difficult to unsnarl and with teeth ready to tear human flesh.

As the senior captain, James decided which boat would take its catch where, allocations assigned for Misión Santa Cruz y Villa Branciforte, Willow Place, the presidio, and finally, Carmel and the mission.

And, when at last, the fish were unloaded and sorted, James and the crew inspected the nets and repaired or replaced those in need of mending. Sails and lines had to be properly stowed and the boats prepared for the next day.

Only then was James able to make his way home where Teresa Marta had a filling meal awaiting him. After washing away the sea salt and eating, he lay down for an hour or so until it was time to rise and go to the mission for noon prayers.

The rest of the family not engaged in the fleet had plenty to keep them busy. The young ones attended four hours of classes with Mateo or one of the friars. After their noon meal, there were plenty of chores to do from gardening to caring for the livestock and even making minor repairs. The adults carefully showed the children what to do and how best to do it.

Timothy, while no longer going out to sea every day, kept busy mending nets and sails. He also showed boys how to perform various tasks so they could someday follow their parents out to sea. Jaime too kept busy, teaching carpentry and related skills to youth of the pueblo who showed interest. As well, some youths came from other missions to learn at the hands of Jaime, the master.

They lived a happy, full life.


Things were not going so well elsewhere.

Father Prefect de Sarría received the sad news that Padre Payeras, at the age of fifty-four, closed his eyes for the last time at Misión la Purisima, the place he had loved and toiled to make a place of benefit to the neophytes and disciples he felt to be his cherished children. Far, far from his home in Majorca, he had never once thought of leaving to return there.

The friars and disciples at Misión Santa Inés built a structure for the mission's vaqueros to store their gear and even, for those unmarried, to live.

Aiee, captain! Sails to the south.”

James quickly scurried up the lines to where Andrew acted as lookout. He took the glass and examined the vessel making its way towards them. It was an American schooner and James smiled. They had managed to avoid the privateers out of Mazatlan and San Blas, probably due to the six formidable cannon on each side. A lot of captains had learned the necessity of being well-armed in order to ply the waters of the Pacific.

Ahoy there yon fishermen. Speak ye English?”

I little, Señor Capitan. My father comes from a land called England.”

Very well, my fine friend,” the ship's captain responded. “Can you tell me how far we are from a port?” He smiled when James told him how close he was to Carmel and Monte Rey. “Be there furs or hides for sale?”

We have some, captain, but there will be more further to the north, especially at the southern part of the great bay of San Francisco.” James hastily added, “But, before you seek hides and tallow elsewhere, you would be wise to anchor at the big harbor around that point and visit the establishment of Hartnell, McCulloch, and Company. They hold the governor's license to conduct all trade in the Californias.”

The captain knuckled his forehead, a salute James was becoming familiar with, and turned to give orders to his helmsman.

Having filled their nets, James turned the Queen back north and the American schooner, Darby, easily followed. Her bottom was too deep for her to tie up at the pier but the captain reached shore just as James and the crew started unloading the catch.

Timothy, as the honorary mayor of the village, came down to meet the captain, Padre Suria at his side. They retired to the small cantina just off the end of the pier to talk. James finished his business and joined them to learn his father and the captain, Henry McMillan out of a port called Norfolk, were enjoying each other's company, eagerly sharing notes. The more his father spoke English, the more his Spanish accent faded.

James learned that the ship had briefly stopped at the ports of Ensenada, San Pedro, and Santa Bárbara. She had apparently missed la Purisima and San Luis Obispo, not difficult as they were semi-hidden from the sea.

We did no more than indicate our willingness to purchase or trade for hides and furs,” Captain McMillan explained. “I decided it would be better to go further north and then do the trading on the way south.”

How know you of this coast?” James asked.

We have maps from those who have previously plied this coast. We were also warned of the privateers further south due to the unrest there. We know that Mexico and other nations have gained independence from Spain, but not how stable they are.”

Father Suria, using Timothy as a translator, shared what they knew of events in Mexico.

The discussion ended with the sounding of the bells for noon prayer. The captain indicated he would return to his ship. “May I allow some of my crew ashore?” He laughed when Padre Suria admonished that they must act seemingly.

What else would they do?​, James wondered.

The Darby sailed early next morning, rounding the Point of Pines to enter the harbor of Monte Rey. Having been alerted, Governor Argüello waited at the pier with his usual military escort. Stepping ashore, Captain McMillan saluted the Mexican flag and then the governor. As related to James and his father, Hartnell was also there and joined the party to enter the presidio and make their way to the governor's residence.

All knew that no new laws had been enacted – or at least their enactment had not yet reached California – to bar trade with foreign ships or what taxes would be levied on such trade. As governor, Don Luis Antonio was the law. He explained to the captain that he would prefer one of his soldiers accompany the Americans on their remaining journey along the shores of California. McMillan agreed so and Don Luis Antonio called for Alférez de Vargas, a soldado de cuera who had come to California with the Portolá expedition, to act as his agent. A member of the ship's crew had joined at a stop in the Caribbean and spoke both English and Spanish and acted as interpreter.

Hartnell stressed that the captain was expected to pay duties to the government as part of his being allowed to trade there. He also indicated that the governor had appointed him to be the one to determine the amount of duties to be levied.

Later, over a meal hosted by the governor, McMillan explained how they had encountered privateers far to the south. “Our new long barreled twelve pounders outmatched their guns and not one came within fewer than two hundred chain links of the ships. And, if they had, my crew is armed with the fine long rifles that are deadly accurate up to two hundred yards.”

The Darby sailed early the next morning, Captain McMillan waving to the fishing boats he passed on his way north.

I believe we will see many more foreign ships in the near future.”

Why is that, father?”

Timothy smiled. “Because word has spread of the large cattle herds owned by the ranchers and missions. They readily take the untanned hides but pay well for those from the mission tanneries.”

The Darby returned in three weeks and moored at the pier in Monte Rey. James was unloading the day's catch and spoke with Captain McMillan.

We did extremely well at your Mission San José. They had one hundred bales of very fine hides available. Your Mission Santa Clara had but a few and Mission Dolores, I believe that is what it is called, had none. But we did obtain some excellent pine timber for our ship's carpenter. All in all, a very good leg of our journey.”

I am certain there will be much more for you on your return voyage, captain. With advance warning, they will be able to gather more than enough to fill your holds.”

Captain McMillan grinned, shook James' hand, and strode into the presidio to meet with the governor and Hartnell.

As a result of the ship's visit, Timothy was most pleased to obtain two Model 1822 Springfield flintlock rifles, flints, lead and bullet molds, along with a small keg of gunpowder. He told James that the governor had received a similar rifle and was most pleased with it.

James had learned as a youth to fire muskets, even the earlier American long barrel models so the new muskets were easy to adapt to. They had a longer range and the .69 caliber bullets possessed great stopping power.

There was no doubt but what was to be done with the guns. The next chance they got, they took them to Sea Lion Cove where George and Margarita quickly learned to use them. James gave them some of the lead he had saved, along with half of another small keg of gunpowder.

Father Prefect Sarría conducted a thorough count of the occupants of el Pueblo Carmel to learn there were three hundred men, women, and children. Compared to other missions, it had the smallest population but still managed to provide, not only for the disciples, neophytes, and other inhabitants but the presidio as well.

They did not live in luxury, but nobody went hungry or cold unto their beds.


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