<2021, 1793, And Other Years>
In the Spanish Empire of 1769, California was remote, walled-off by deserts, mountains and difficult ocean routes from central Mexico. Few Spanish wanted to settle there, even as English and Russians were making outposts on the coast. Since this was the arrival point for Spain’s Manilla Galleons bringing rare goods from Asia, it had to be defended from anti-Spanish piracy and plunder. If the government of New Spain couldn’t find enough Spanish settlers willing to relocate to California, they would simply convert the existing Indigenous population into loyal Spanish Catholics.
The Franciscan Order felt the task would be done more compassionately by missionaries than by conquistadors. St. Francis (1181-1226) was truly a revolutionary, who rejected the wealth corrupting the church and Christ’s message, as Francis sought to revive the simplicity and selfless outreach to the poor of Christ, the Apostles and the earliest Christian churches.
This could have gotten Francis branded a heretic for contradicting wealthy church patrons, yet his message of reformation found a sympathetic audience, and carved out a place for his order. Yet after his death in 1226, his order went through changes, becoming part of the Inquisition to seek out heretics, with his own order divided over even borrowing the luxuries of the church, causing Franciscans unwilling to compromise to be burned at the stake as heretics in 1318.
In California, Father Fermin de Lasuen became Franciscan Presidente of the California missions in 1785, an office that included Holy Inquisitioner, charged with suppressing secret worship in a Jewish, Protestant, Indigenous, or Satanic manner, stopping witchcraft, and destroying banned books.
Santa Cruz Mission
In 1769, the Portola Expedition up the coast felt the San Lorenzo River was the ideal spot for a mission. A site was selected in 1791 beside San Pedro Regaldo creek, 500-yerds from the San Lorenzo River. This is approximately where San Lorenzo Lumber is today north of Mission Hill. On Sept. 25, a dedication ceremony was presided over by Fathers Isidro Salazar and Baldomero Lopez, attended by an Ohlone leader named Sugert, his wife and two daughters, and two Indigenous female converts who knew Spanish and could interpret. The Ohlones were impressed by the strange animals brought to the site, 14 bulls, 20 steers, 30 horses, and seven mules, enjoyed the odd kind of music, and were warned not to be startled by the noise of the musket salute, which showed the strange power of these strange men.
Officer Hermengildo Sal took possession of the site in the name of the King of Spain, and wrote a report, ordering no contact between soldiers and Indigenous people, all natives disarmed inside the Mission compound, the Indigenous people must not taste beef, an armed Mission guard must be present round-the-clock, with two horses kept readily saddled in case of emergency for help or escape, no missionary was to travel without an armed escort.
Soon, a few buildings were constructed of split-logs, rammed in the earth in upright palisades, then covered with thatched roofing. The chapel was 57-feet long by 15-feet wide, decorated with paintings of Our Lady of Sorrows (Dolores) and St. Francis, plus four candlesticks for the alter. Candles fascinated the natives for their star-like appearance. The mission soon gained 89 Indigenous converts, performed six Indigenous weddings, and had funerals for one adult, and a child of unconverted parents.
Even with an Hispanic-Ohlone interpreter, the full implication of being ruled by a king and belonging to a church, had little parallel in the native world. More likely, the natives expected forming an alliance with this powerful foreign tribe, would make the Spanish their allies and not oppressors. Yet disillusionment set in early. The padres were quick-tempered, quarrelsome and not team players. Salazar was an unsympathetic know-it-all, and Lopez was a hypochondriac, playing the martyr to an unappreciative audience. Presidente Lasuen found their bickering “Punch and Judy” act to be an embarrassment.
It only took three months before winter storms and flooding carried away the mission buildings. The compound was rebuilt closer to the Mission Hill bluff, and again was destroyed in the storms of 1792-93. The soldiers had used Mission Hill as their lookout post, to scan the waterfront for ships, which only lacked a ready water source. Three springs up High Street were united in a ditch that conveyed water to the Mission, and down School Street where it formed a waterfall. A new mission was built on the hilltop in 1793, this time in adobe bricks forming walls 5-feet thick, with a 3-foot chalkrock foundation, and sandstone façade with carved details. The structure measured 112-feet long, 29-feet wide, and 25-feet tall to its flat roof, in the manner of Southern California desert dwellings. As a result, a winter storm left pooling water, which collapsed the roof. So a gable roof was built on the chapel.
The California Indigenous cultures had survived quite well for thousands of years. The Spanish on the other hand, had come from two centuries of Spain’s plagues and famines. For them, constant backbreaking toil was what wrested survival from the land, with religious suffering, sacrifice and confession to gain sympathy from a vengeful God. They would improve the natives with hardship, and teach them the value of hard work.
Many of the Spanish-born missionaries had been brought up in monastic life, knowing little of the real world, even in Spain. It appears from descriptions of Santa Cruz Mission life, that the Indigenous people were being inducted, not into a church as parishioners, but into the Franciscan Order. There were no benches in the sanctuary, to allow the Indigenous people to prostrate themselves in prayer, Franciscan-style. A Franciscan took a vow of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The mission compound included locked Chastity Wards, one for men and boys, and a “Nunnery” for single women and girls. There were rooms for married natives, to ensure their monogamy.
The natives were complimented on their obedience, even to being punished. Whippings would be conducted in the plaza after services. Apologists have pointed out that the padres also whipped themselves, so it was no less than they were willing to endure. Yet voluntary ritual self-punishment is different than receiving involuntary brutality.
A Santa Cruz padre praised the natives for having no superstitions that must be overcome, yet criticized some old Ohlone women who scared their people by saying the Devil must be appeased by offerings of food at a certain place. Yet this superstition had been introduced by the Padres themselves. Visiting French explorer Jean de la Perouse (1786) noted Mission San Carlos had (like other missions) a painting of the Devil in a landscape of Hell and Damnation, opposite a picture of a Heaven for Spanish Catholics only. He felt the Hell painting had more power over the converts than the Heaven painting.
The mission system was set up so small groups of Spanish could control large groups of Indigenous people. When California became Spain, the natives became foreigners in their own land. The padres held lands in trust for the Indigenous people, but only after they became truly Spanish, at which point they would fit in the bottom of Spain’s racial caste system. The top two categories had to be born in Spain: the White Elites, and the White Gentry. Their Latin-American descendants were not equal to whites unless they married someone born in Spain. Then came the mixed bloods: whites married to Indigenous beget Mestizos; whites married to Africans beget Mulattoes. At the bottom were Indigenous people as a labor pool called “Encomienda,” then enslaved Africans.
The padres would set up huts lit with candles, that would attract Indigenous children to see the stars that came to earth, only to be kidnapped, and held at the mission, as a way to bring in their worried parents, who likewise would be captured. Natives tired of the mission, learned it wasn’t voluntary, as soldiers were sent out after “mission runaways.”
The powerful Quiroste at Ano Nuevo led by 60-year-old Charquin, and the Oljon at Pescadero led by Lachi, were harboring native runaways since 1791. When two Indigenous couples were married at the Santa Cruz mission, they returned to visit Quiroste, only to be disarmed, and have their wives taken from them on Feb. 17, 1793. Charquin now had 20 converts at Quiroste, and was forcing natives to choose sides. Lopez urged soldiers to stop Charquin, and they raided Quiroste in spring 1793, and captured Charquin.
Then on Dec. 14, 1793, Quiroste warriors attacked the Santa Cruz Mission, wounding two soldiers, burning the roof of the lamb hut, and the old guard house. The guards fired back, and the Quiroste retreated. It stirred things up at the mission, raising hopes or concerns, and filled the already nervous padres with justifiable paranoia. In January, 1895, the Santa Cruz padres sent for Sgt. Amador to stop an Indigenous uprising along the Pajaro River. They sent for Amador again in Feb. 1796, to investigate a rumors of a coming Indigenous uprising to kill the Santa Cruz padres. Again, on March 7, 1796, Padre Sanchez appealed for aid because the Indigenous people were threatening.
Padre Salazar begged to retire in his fourth year as a missionary, followed by Lopez. Father Presidente Lasuen requested they send no more priests as bad as the Santa Cruz padres. But they couldn’t be choosy when so few were willing to come to California.
In 1797, Villa de Branciforte was established east of the Mission, supposedly to protect the mission from warships with convicts recruited from debtor’s prison. That year, guards captured 90 escaped mission converts. Then 1798 marked the largest defection, when 189 mission converts escaped, “leaving only 30 or 40 to do all the work.”
Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.
Source : https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2021/10/17/the-missionization-backlash-ross-eric-gibson-local-history/1778