California During the Revolution

By Cassius Milton Jay

All thoughtful Californians justly revere the memory of two outstanding figures of historical importance -- General George Washington, the father of our country, and Fray Junípero Serra, the foremost pioneer in the development of our state.

Rarely, if ever, have we seen the two names associated in any narrative; yet they were contemporaries, and the result of the efforts of the former, as reflected in the present status of these United States, possibly could not, and probably would not, have so gloriously reached that satisfactory condition, had it not been for the effectual ministrations of the latter.

We are familiar with the story of English colonization on this continent. We know of its progress to the Revolutionary period. And, having that knowledge, we sometimes suffer an illusion as to the colonial history of California. Because that too is colonial, we inadvertently and erroneously associate its beginning as to time with the original settlement of the east coast. We fail to comprehend the fact that during the whole of the so-called Colonial Period of the United States, California lay undeveloped and comparatively unknown upon the Pacific slopes.

It lay thus dormant, as it had ever lain dormant since the first discovery by Columbus, while, to the south, that discovery had been followed by immediate and zealous colonization by the Spanish. Again, our lack of any familiar knowledge of these activities, which were a century old before the landing at Plymouth, adds to our confusion.

Within a few years after the existence of a western world became evident, exploration had covered all of the islands of the West Indies, the shores of the Bay of Mexico, and of South America. The names of Amerigo Vespucci, Juan Ponce de León, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, Fernández de Córdoba, Hernando Cortés, Pizarro, Férnandez Magellan, Panphilo de Narvaez, Férdinand de Soto, and Melendéz, will bring to mind the vast expanse of territory explored and colonized during the sixteenth century in Mexico, in Peru, and in the Philippines.

And to Mexico City, the capital of this New Spain, already more than two centuries old, came a humble padre on New Year's Day of 1750. It was then the largest and finest city on the American continent, built from the great shore of wealth passing through its coffers, gathered from the provinces, forwarded to the court of Spain.

The humble padre was Fray Junípero Serra, a man of delicate features, with a slender figure of medium height. He eschewed every personal luxury, even to that of riding, and was almost exhausted at the conclusion of the self-imposed walk from Vera Cruz. Although then but thirty-seven years of age, he had for twenty years been a student and professor at Lullian University at Palma, in Mallorca, largest of the Balearic Islands. He was born of peasant heritage in the neighboring town of Petra on November 24, 1713, as Miguel Joseph, adopting the name of Junípero upon taking his first vows in the Franciscan order, September 14, 1730. He became an eloquent theologian and a distinguished scholar, occupying the chair of philosophy at the university, whence he, with his pupil Fray Rafael Palóu, and a professor, Fray Rafael Verger, volunteered for missionary work in New Spain. They sailed from Cádiz, where they were joined by Fray Guillermo Vicens and Fray Juan Crespi, the latter a school friend of Palóu. The cooperation of these close friends added much to the success of his California career.

From San Fernando College in Mexico he was assigned to the Sierra Gordo missions, where he served until 1759, during which period he was presidente for three years. He was then recalled in anticipation of taking charge of the missions of the Río San Saba in Texas, but was retained at the college for seven years.

(Baja) California was then occupied by the Jesuits who had entered upon missionary work there in 1697 by royal consent and at their own expense. This order exerted a powerful political influence in other provinces, and incurred the displeasure of Carlos III of Spain, who, on June 24, 1767, gave the drastic decree for their expulsion.

Don Gaspár de Portolá was made Governor of (Baja) California, and superintended the departure of Jesuit missionaries from that district. With his expedition came Fray Junípero, who had received a commission as presidente of the missions from San Fernando College upon the assumption of control of these missions by the Franciscan order. We can imagine his appreciation when Palóu and Crespi volunteered as members of the company of sixteen missionaries who were to accompany him.

The civil life of (Baja) California was entrusted to military comisarios, and proved a failure. Portolá had not sufficient authority to make a change. Fortunately a crisis arose.

Spanish argosies laden with the wealth of the Philippines were accustomed to follow the Japan current eastward to the Bay of Monterey, which Cabrillo had first seen in 1542, and where Viscaíno had first landed in 1602; then they proceeded down the coast to New Spain. Russian encroachment from the north caused a great fear that, if continues southerly, the security of Spanish shipping would be endangered.

José de Gálvez was appointed Visitadór Generál with almost regal powers; he entered upon a plan with Serra for the correction of the abuses of the comisarios, and for the great project of establishing missions and presidios at Monterey and at San Diego, in Alta California, in order to hold the coast for the Spanish crown, and to forestall the Russian possession.

Thus, in 1768, while storm clouds were rising in the east, and Massachusetts was frantically calling on the other colonies for assistance, Gálvez arranged for four expeditions, two by land and two by sea, which were successfully completed by the arrival of the second land expedition at San Diego on July 1, 1769. Here, on July 16, 1769, (shortly after Parliament had declared the people of Massachusetts rebels) the mission of San Diego de Alcalá was founded.

The grim recital of the weary months of Portolá's overland journey in a vain search for the Bay of Monterey is contained in the Diary of Fray Juan Crespi, who accompanied the expeditions -- fruitless, except for the discovery of San Francisco harbor, which had been hitherto unknown.

The disheartened Portolá returned to San Diego January 24, 1770, fully determined to abandon the colony. The scarcity of provisions, the failure of a supply boat, the sickness and death of the sailors on the ships, and the failure to find Monterey would certainly have caused the evacuation of San Diego, had it not been for the inflexible opposition of Fray Junípero Serra.

And therein lies the cause for the gratitude of Californians of today. Had it happened otherwise the early occupation of the Pacific shores would very probably have been made by Russia -- or by any other nation, and the possibility of its inclusion in the United States would have been a matter of pure conjecture. The fact that California was saved for Spain, and hence for our republic, rests, as upon a foundation rock, on Serra's determination to proceed, his confidence of accomplishment, his ability to succeed, and his kindness and love to maintain his successful organization.

Serra's will prevailed, and the colonization proceeded. June 3, 1770, (about three months after the Boston Massacre) the mission of San Carlos Borroméo, at Monterey, was founded -- the site of which was transferred about Christmas time to San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo (Carmel), Fray Junípero's own church -- and his sepulchre.

By a satisfactory arrangement the management of the missions in Baja California were taken over by the Dominican order, leaving to the Franciscan order full control of the new missions in Alta California, and to Fray Junípero as presidente of those missions full responsibility for such control.

San Antonio de Pádua was founded July 14, 1771, and San Gabriel Arcángel September 8, 1771. On September 1, 1772, the mission of San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa was established.

Meanwhile the clouds were thickening in the east, and in 1773 occurred the Boston Tea Party.

The year 1775 was the frightful year. In California the peaceful occupation was torn asunder by an Indian uprising at San Diego, where Fray Luís Jayme was brutally murdered -- a noble martyr to the cause. Captain Rivera hastened from Monterey to retaliate, and was excommunicated for the seizure of an Indian from the sanctuary of the church. Fray Junípero's heart was thereafter torn by the dissensions of the military authorities. During this year the Revolution blazed forth at the Battle of Lexington, resulting in the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

San Francisco de Asis (Dolores) was founded October 9, 1776, by Palóu, and San Juan Capistrano by Serra November 1, 1776. It was an eventful year on both shores of the continent.

Flag Day on June 14, 1777, the arrival of Lafayette, the battles of Brandywine, of Germantown, and the name of Valley Forge, indicate the year's happenings in the east. Here, on January 12, 1777, was established the mission of Santa Clara de Asis.

During the years following, the weary war proceeded, and was practically brought to an end with the surrender of Corwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

So, too, the earthly work of Fray Junípero was drawing to a close. On March 31, 1782, he founded the mission of San Buenaventura, ninth to be established and the sixth in which he had taken a personal hand in founding, although one of the first contemplated as lying midway between Monterey and San Diego.

Worn with a lingering illness which he had borne uncomplainingly, he passed away August 28,1784. At his request he rests beside Fray Juan Crespi, his lifelong friend, who, too, deserves a special place in California history as diarist of all the expeditions of discovery.

The permanent treaty of peace at Paris had been consummated September 3, 1783; east and west were fitted to proceed in the enjoyment of the privileges so dearly won.

Other hands than Serra's performed the establishment of the following missions which completed the chain:

Santa Barbara December 4, 1786

La Purísima Concepción December 8, 1787

Santa Cruz September 25, 1791

Nuestra Señora de la Soledád October 9, 1791

San José de Guadalupe June 11, 1797

San Juan, Bautista June 24, 1797

San Miguel, Arcángel July 25, 1797

San Fernando, Rey de España September 8, 1797

San Luis, Rey de Francia June 13, 1798

Santa Inés September 17, 1804

San Rafael, Arcángel December 14, 1817

San Francisco Solano July 4, 1823