The Journal of San Diego History
July 1967, Volume 13, Number 3

By James R. Moriarty

Images from the Article

It is an unfortunate truth of history that the sword has almost always either preceded or accompanied the cross into new lands and among new people. This is particularly true of the early settlement of Alta, California. The drama of the never ending struggle between the necessity of the material and the desirability of the spiritual was once again re-enacted by the Franciscan Fathers and the soldiers of the King of Spain in this new land.

The year 1969 will mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the first Mission at San Diego, and the beginning of the colonization and settlement of Alta California. It is most appropriate at this time that we review some of the characters and personalities of the more important participants in the story of the founding of the California Missions.

The major characters in this story are well-known and have been described by their own contemporary accounts as well as by various historians in the centuries which followed their exploits. Probably the most outstanding single individual is Father Junípero Serra. Father Serra’s character and personality have come down to us in clear outline and sharp detail. The story of his life and of his efforts in the New World are at the very root and foundation of the history of Alta California. Much has been written about the spiritual side of this man—so much so, indeed, that the reader often misses the larger picture of Father Serra as a man of the late Renaissance and consequently an exemplar of his time.

It is important, at this time, when there is a movement afoot to place Father Serra in the roster of Saints, to review through his own writing one of the major aspects of his life here in California. No better place for such a study can be found than in the letters that were written by Father Serra when beginning his ministry to the California Indians starting in the year 1769.

Captain Gaspár de Portolá was the first Governor of Alta California. His administration covered the period from October 1767 to September of 1770. Portolá actually took charge of this office, which gave him virtual control over both Baja and Alta California, during the expulsion of the Jesuits from Baja. His kindly and generous conduct during the expulsion is attested to by Father Baegart in his book, Observations in Lower California. He appears to have been well liked by Serra. Portolá was made Commander-in-Chief of the expedition for the acquisition of the ports of San Diego and Monterey which extended from May 1769 until its conclusion in September of 1770 when he was relieved from duty. There was apparently very little friction between him and Father Serra during this formative period -due in part, no doubt, to difficulties of the task to which both applied themselves so diligently. The first definite notice we have of the struggle between the clerical and the civil authority opens with the Fages-Serra letters contained in this study.

Don Gaspár de Portolá was replaced in command in 1770 by the young Lieutenant Don Pedro Fages, an ambitious and aggresive man. He viewed himself and his position as that of the major Royal authority in Alta California. There seems to have been little doubt of his ability, but he was a stern disciplinarian and consequently was not very popular with the soldiers under his command.

Soldiers at this period were rather poorly disciplined by modern standards. The type of work which was needed at the new presidio was not considered “proper duty” for cavalrymen. The volunteers who made up the other part of the small force were essentially colonists, and consequently were not enthusiastic about soldiering activities. Fages’ attitude toward discipline and authority resulted in several desertions by soldiers shortly after he assumed command.

Under the missionary system in practice at this time, it was customary for the Spanish to furnish protective escorts to missionaries. Once the missionaries decided on a locality and settled down, it was also customary to furnish them with a small squad of soldiers who would function as a guard and assist in certain labors such as blacksmithing, building construction, and as a general labor force. These soldiers usually were under the direct command of a noncommissioned officer, either a corporal or a sergeant. He, in turn, was subject to the commands of the Governor. Although these soldiers were detached to the missionaries for the purposes noted, and therefore nominally under their orders, commands from the civil authority took precedence and in reality the missionaries could only depend on assistance from the soldiers when the civil authority had no need of them. This was extremely annoying to Father Serra and made a great many difficulties for him. He finally took the position of claiming authority for himself over all of the missions and mission activities. This eventually led to further disagreements with Lieutenant Fages. Perhaps the first substantial hint of Father Serra’s disagreements with Fages appears in a letter from Father Serra to the Visitador General Don Joseph de Galve?. This letter was written on July 2, 1770 from the newly established Mission of San Carlos de Monterey:

JULY 2, 1770

Viva Jesus Maria y Joseph! Most Illustrious S?nor don José de Galve?.

My very venerable and dear S?nor:

I suppose that by this time Your Illustrious Lordship has received the welcome and joyful news of the uniting of both of your expeditions by sea and land at this Famoso Puerto de Monterey on the thirty-first day of May, and of our having performed and solemnized on Sunday the third day of June, and Feast of the Holy Ghost, the touching ceremony of the first Mass, blessing and erection of the Most Holy Cross, and the raising and planting of the standards of Our Catholic Monarch, whom God prosper; also of our having taken formal possession of the Province in the name of His Catholic Majesty.

I wrote at great length of all these things by letter of the sixth of last month, taken south by the couriers who set out from this place on the solemn day of Corpus Christi. And although they may well have passed on the word that we were going to celebrate the Feast and Procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament on that day, and since the letters of the gentlemen who finished their reports later than I may not even have mentioned the fact, I now repeat that it was actually carried out, and indeed with such splendor that it might well have caused admiration even in Mexico City.

To me it seemed a difficult and almost impossible undertaking, when, three days before the ceremony, I was struck with a thought which came on the heels of my desire; for we had not, nor did it seem possible that we could procure the wherewithal to carry it out. I who still slept aboard El Principe, not having as yet a place of shelter ashore, for only the warehouse of the Presidio was being constructed, as ours was left for later, suddenly realized that we had very few candles, and there was such a great wind that together with the lack of shelter we might well be left without lighted candles at the most solemn part of the ceremony. We could not avail ourselves of any other substitute for them except the lantern in the ship’s cabin.

Burdened by these thoughts, and exceedingly occupied with my letters before the departure of the couriers who were to leave that very same morning, as they did, I firmly resolved that the ceremony could not be dispensed with, having in mind the case of our Friars in the remote Kingdom of Titlas, who having just arrived among those heathen, and on the occasion of having held a Procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament there, a monstrance was brought to them from Spain by the hands of angels, and through the intercession of the Venerable Mother of Agreda.

A monstrance we already had, but whatever else we lacked, if the angels did not bring it, at least what we found seemed like a gift from heaven. The men having opened a large box on board which appeared to be the medicines for which they were searching, found that it contained instead, shining new lanterns, of which no one had any knowledge. Rejoicing at this find and already well pleased, a sailor spoke up and said that he had seen a similar box below; and that if the first had been packed with lanterns, the other might well be also. It was ordered brought up at once, and in effect it was found filled with them.

This happened on the eve of the festivities. And although it was reported on land to have been an accidental discovery, there came at once this message from one of the officers to the Captain of the ship, ” Hands off those lanterns, they don’t belong to the Mission!” From what he understood from Your Illustrious Lordship, one box belonged to one of the ships, and the other box was for the other ship; that is they were destined for the San Cárlos and El Principe.

However, this did not dishearten us, for even if that were the case, we might still avail ourselves of them as a loan. In short they did not seem to us to belong aboard ship, because they were made with sockets for poles on which to carry them, and everyone knows that processions are not a part of a ship’s routine. Don Juan Perez said that at San Blas he had discussed at length the matter of lanterns, on the occasion of his having asked that one of the two in his cabin be repaired, if not with glass, at least with mica. And he added that neither these lanterns nor the boxes were ever mentioned to him, and that he could only imagine that they had been put on board at Cape San Lucas, having been mistaken for boxes of church ornaments.

I have the original list of the number of church articles gathered together at Zacatecas, and besides various loose bundles it mentions but twelve boxes. I even have the receipt of the muleteers on paper bearing the official stamp, and there is no mention whatever of lanterns. But whencesoever they came, they were indeed a Godsend. If as Don Pedro Fages says they are for the ships, or for whatever other purpose, at the least suggestion of Your Illustrious Lordship (but not as that of an inferior) they shall be placed wherever Your Illustrious Lordship so desires.

Of those lanterns which can be carried on high or on poles, there are six nice large ones, and three very fine hand lanterns. Two of the latter having wax candles were placed at each side of the monstrance; the other six on poles stuck in the ground were ranged about the sides of the altar; and upon it we put the six large silver candlesticks from Loreto with another one, to which we added several small ones.

Don Juan Perez lent tallow candles for the large lanterns and for the candleholders set on poles. These all remained lit during the High Mass, Sermon, and Procession, without the least breath of wind to disturb them. The men from the ship formed a temporary church under The roof of the half-completed warehouse by placing the flags of the various nations about, and forming a canopy of them, with such beauty that even I was inspired with devotion. The circle or square around which the procession was to march, was swept clean and adorned with green branches so as to form aisles. There was pealing of bells, thunder of cannon, and hymns of praise. Everything went off just as if we were being paid for it (as is wont to be said), for indeed “one never carries one’s victuals in a torn bag,” especially in matters pertaining to Divine Worship.

The beautiful painting of Mary Most Holy (which belongs to Your Illustrious Lordship) occupied a place above that of the monstrance which bore Her Holy Son, and Our Lady remained there to guard the church, while The Host, Her Holy Son, was borne by the monstrance in my unworthy hands, about these barbarous shores. After the procession, the Sacred Host was broken into particles, and Communion was administered to those who were prepared to receive the Sacrament. With this and additional hymns of praise, the ceremony came to a close. The only thing lacking for the consolation of all concerned was that Your Illustrious Lordship could not have been watching it all from some little window. But at any rate you shall see it now from this boring account which I have given, and I beg your pardon for having taken so much time in relating it.

Don Juan Perez during the perilous voyage from the Puerto de San Diego to this one, made a vow to Our Great Lady whom we honor daily with the Rosary, Salves, Litanies, and Novenas, that we would celebrate a High Mass at Monterey, offering an alms of twenty-five pesos. For the fulfillment of his promise, he selected his Saint’s day, the Feast of the Holy Forerunner, Saint John the Baptist. The lanterns were set up again, and the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed for the veneration of all. The ceremony was all in all much like that one held on Corpus Christi, but as an added attraction, something quite noteworthy happened on the eve of that Feast Day.

The quartermaster of El Principe told me that in the storeroom of its cabin there were two small boxes of whose contents he was ignorant, and that they had been put aboard at Cape San Lucas. He opened the first box and found that it contained four silver ciboriums; two of them blessed, the others unblessed. I was greatly pleased, for with these, and the ones for this Mission and for that of San Buenaventura, we had a sufficient supply for the six missions which Your Illustrious Lordship as well as I desire to be founded at once. He brought out the other package, which was very long and seemed to me to contain the poles for the pallium, so I told him not to disturb it. But smitten by curiosity we had it opened, and at once we saw from the label on the cover, what it contained: three oil paintings: San Carlos, San Buenaventura, and San Diego. The joy which I experienced is inconceivable. We then came ashore with my ” Santos,” I ready to remain on land.

We placed the paintings on the altar so that the Most Holy Virgin (not detracting from Her glory) was surrounded by Cardinals and by Her lay Sacristan. The altar was a thing of beauty. After having blessed the pictures, there was a Mass and Sermon, and afterwards a Mass on board, much to the universal consolation of our hearts, all with frequent recollections of Your Illustrious Lordship, at Mass, during the Sermon, and at the banquet which followed.

On the twenty-ninth day of June, Feast Day of Saint Peter, we most appropriately sang a farewell Mass, so that this Saint might leave us his blessing and might grant a happy return voyage to the ship that brought his painting as well as the sacred picture of Our Lady. In honor of the latter we have sung five High Masses at Monterey; that is, on Corpus Christi, Day of Pentecost, on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist; on the day of Saints Peter and Paul, and on the day of departure, in addition to many Low Masses. Heretofore the painting of Our Lady had occupied the altar of the Mission of San Diego for almost a whole year, where she heard as many High and Low Masses as were celebrated, besides the many prayers of the miserable Indians at dawn and at vespers. She now returns to the hands of Your Illustrious Lordship, by my formal surrender of her painting to Captain don Juan Perez, thereby fulfilling the promise I made to your Illustrious Lordship at La Paz, that I would do so. May all the Glory be God’s, and as for Your Illustrious Lordship, may thine be the felicitations, the merit, and the reward.

Don Juan Perez promises to unload the painting of the Virgin at San Blas, with all due solemnity, and at his expense and that of Don Miguel Pino to celebrate in her honor a solemn High Mass and Sermon in token of thanksgiving. I praised this worthy intention, with the understanding that the ceremony would not end up in a “fandango,” and they have already given me their word that it shall not. Thank the Lord.

I deeply thank Your Illustrious Lordship for the generous cargo which El Principe brought for this Mission and that of San Buenaventura, for without touching the provisions of the latter, except for the supply of corn, which as the receipts will show has dwindled considerably, the former Mission has sufficient provisions for at least a whole year without mentioning hunger or complaining of poverty.

The painting of San Diego, the larger ciborium and other church utensils, I am sending to the Mission of that Saint, and as soon as I finish examining the boxes of church ornaments and things, and when I have made my distribution among as many missions as possible, I shall send on the first occasion an itemized statement of everything to Your Illustrious Lordship or to whomsoever you may desire.

There are but seven soldiers of the “Cuera” here, and the seven unmarried Indians whom I brought up with me. If the detachment that went from San Diego to Vellicatá for cattle arrives here, there will be enough men for our purposes, and one of us two, who will be Padre Fray Juan Crespi, shall go south; as for me I may as well already be called Monterey, whilst God, obedience, and necessity do not in the meantime dispose otherwise.

I received a message today from the heathen who live at a distance from here, brought to me by two good Indians whom I sent out. The heathen say that at present they are fishing, and that within four days they shall come to leave their little boys with me for instruction. They also sent me some fresh deer meat. May God repay them for it! I can assure you in the name of His Divine Majesty that if the ship would remain here but a week longer, I could send Your Illustrious Lordship more joyful tidings. But for the present it is enough to say that here we are and that everything possible will be done. May the hand of God touch all our endeavors, and may He preserve Your Illustrious Lordship the many years the same Lord must know that I desire for you in health and Holy Grace, for the welfare of these wretched heathen.

From this new Mission so highly favored by Your Illustrious Lordship. Puerto de Monterey, July 2, 1770.

Your most affectionate and humble servant and chaplain.

Fr. Junípero Serra

The letter is of particular interest in that it depicts perhaps the first clash between Father Serra and Don Pedro Fages, the Commandant of the Presidio of Monterey at that time. The difficulty in regard to the miraculously discovered boxes of lanterns is insignificant in itself, but it does mark the beginning of a series of conflicts between these two men— conflicts, indeed, which became so acute that the Padre Presidente was forced by these difficulties to appear before the Viceroy Don Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursúa some two years later in 1773.

In September of 1770 Don Pedro Fages replaced Portolá as the Governor of Alta California. It is likely that had Father Serra been able to foresee the difficulties he would have with this young man, he would have opposed the succession of Fages to this high office. By July 23, 1771 Fages was beginning a series of advices to the Governor of Lower California. On July 23 or 24, Lieutenant Fages wrote to Barri and described a desertion by eight of his leatherjacket soldiers, one of his volunteers, and a mule driver. These men had deserted from the San Diego Mission and carried off with them fifty or so animals. Their intention was to go to Sonora by land. Lieutenant Fages apparently took immediate action and in a letter dated between August 27 and August 30 of 1771 he informed Barri that the deserters had returned along with the men that he had sent after them. He also indicated that there was an agreement that they would be pardoned if they returned. In this letter he made, strangely enough, no allusion to Father Serra or to Father Paterna in regard to their assistance in this matter.

A letter written by Don Felipe Barri to the New Viceroy Bucareli y Ursúa on October 24, 1771 was formulated almost entirely from the advices that Lieutenant Fages had addressed to Barri in the aforementioned letters. Following is a pertinent segment from Bucareli y Ursua’s response to the Barri letter; it is addressed to Lieutenant Fages on November 30, 1771:


-” In a letter of October 24 last the governor of California, Don Felipe Barri, communicates tome the repeated attempts at desertion by the soldiers of the presidio and the volunteers which you took under your command to the establishment of the new missions. As this business cannot be looked upon with indifference because it may bring on in the future bad results I order you (notwithstanding whatever opportune arrangements Barri may have taken to remedy this important business) to punish the authors of such movements, expelling from your company those who fail in proper subordination, using whatever prudent measures your practical knowledge of such similar or identical cases may dictate”.-

– “Your worship will see and charge Father Fr. Junípero Serra, President of the Missions, and the other religious (people) with their praisable obligations to stimulate everyone to obey and comply with your orders.”— “advising me as well as Barri what the results may be in order to provide what is most convenient.”

There is little question that this letter to Fages was motivated by Barri’s report on the situation. However, Bucareli had received from his predecessor, the Marquis de Croix, additional information about the difficulties developing in Alta California between the civil and the religious authorities. Fages apparently waited nearly a full year before informing Father Serra of Ursúa’s instructions. He cites the Viceroy’s instructions in a letter addressed to Father Serra dated October 11, 1772:


Fages' letter to Father Serra

Muy s?nor mio, his excellency, Don Antonio Bercareli y Uceriá, with the date of November 30th of last (the past) year, tells me: “Your worship will see and charge Father Fr. Junípero Serra, president of the missions, and the other religious (people) with their praisable obligations to stimulate everyone by examples and persuasion to obey and comply with your orders.” All of this I send to your Reverence asking (begging) you to have the other religious people realize they must comply with such an important order.

May our Lord guard the life of your Reverence for many years. I kiss your Reverence’s hands.

Your close and affectionate servant,

Don Pedro Fages

Father Serra’s reply to this letter, dated two days later on October 13, 1772, deserves careful study:


Muy s?nor mio-Serra's reply to Fages

Having seen the last letter of your worship which I received written in your own handwriting on the same day at night, November 11, the letter included clauses of his excellency, the viceroy, Don Frey Antonio Bercareli y Uceriá, which you declare is copied from a letter dated November 30 of the past year, which you received from his Excellency, I stated in response that in having always persuaded and tried to have your inferiors obey your orders, I have testimony of my conscience. You may recall if you wish what I did with the soldier, Ignacio Estevanell, a Volunteer, when your worship had him in a cell because he was unwilling to comply with your order to work in the blacksmith shop and on certain other jobs, besides what I have preached to all at the foot of the altar after the evangel and the mass on Sundays. As far as the religious people under my charge are concerned, not only have I not the least knowledge that they have done anything against you but I have a record not only by letters but by the account which you yourself have in writing in your possession of the great service Fray Antonio Paterna especially has performed in the Mission of San Diego in reducing to obedience to you the deserting soldiers. Your worship has told me how obliged and grateful you were for this to this father. Respecting the other circumstances which arouse my suspicion your consideration must have been the cause why you have not communicated to me the orders of his Excellency, the viceroy, until the near approach of the departure of the ship prevents me from answering his Excellency although you received them more than two months ago. I say more, however, that I receive the exhortation and orders of his Excellency, the viceroy, with all the veneration and respect due to his character, his holy zeal, and his righteous justice, and am ready to put into effect whatever his Excellency commands, not only of myself, but also the religious under my direction. I only beg of you that, if not contrary to some superior order which you may have or some precept of good government, you will permit me to see the original letter of his Excellency from which you extracted the clause, not because I have the least doubt of the exactness of the copy, but to see whether from the context I can arrive at some knowledge of what or about what had been the information which may have given his Excellency occasion to send us such an exhortation, so that in case it was some vague sinister suspicion I can come to the assistance of your honor of our habit with statements of the truth. I also ask you to send the original of this answer to the hands of his Excellency. From this Mission of San Diego, October 13, 1772, I kiss the hand of your lordship.

Your affectionate servant and chaplain

Fray Junípero Serra

Father Serra’s observation that Fages had failed to communicate to him the instructions of the Viceroy although he had “received them more than two months ago,” would seem to indicate that Serra was cognizant of some additional exchanges of communications between Ursúa and Fages during the ten months following the letter of November 30, 1771. It may be assumed that these letters related, at least in part, to the problem of authority; and it would be interesting to see some of the comments that Fages must have made to the Viceroy in this regard.( I have not found any of these documents in the course of my research. It is quite likely that they can be found by careful examination of the Sutro collection in the Bancroft Library.)

In the early part of 1772 both Serra and Fages were at Monterey, and because the two transport ships that were used as supply vessels to the Presidio at Monterey had been unable to come north that year, both men proceeded to San Diego in order to entrain a land expedition with provisions for the Monterey Presidio. There had reached Carmel on or about August 18, 1772, and from there Father Serra wrote to Father Palou that he was going on with Fages to San Diego. En route, Father Serra founded the Mission of San Luis Obispo on September 1, and Fages left five soldiers as a guard. By September 16 the small group entered the Presidio at San Diego. The not so redoubtable CaptainPerez was in the harbor with his ship, The “Principe,” and Father Serra prevailed upon him to take the ship and supplies to Monterey. Fages, meanwhile, organized a mule train and sent it with provisions in case the ship failed to make the journey north.

There was an altercation at this time between Serra and Fages in regard to founding a Mission at San Buenaventura. Father Serra wished to make the attempt at this time, but Fages refused to help. According to Father Palou, the refusal was the result of a change in the Viceroys of New Spain. Galve?, the Visitador General, had returned to Spain and Palou writes that Father Serra after consultation with his brother missionaries at San Diego resolved to go to Mexico on the vessel San Cárlos to present his complaints. He sailed on October 19, 1772, some six days after having written his reply to Fages’ letter of October 11.

In March of the following year, 1773, Father Serra presented his famous thirty-two recommendations to a general meeting of the principal officers of the Crown. In one of his articles Father Serra demanded the removal of Lieutenant Fages. In a later article he recommended that Don José Francisco Ortega be placed in the position of Governor. Ortega had accompanied Serra to California in the overland trek in 1769 and had apparently impressed him very favorably.

The Viceroy, after some deliberation, removed Fages from office; but Father Serra had overestimated his influence. Instead of appointing Francisco Ortega the Viceroy chose as Fages’ replacement Don Fernando Rivera y Moncada. Don Fernando Rivera, a quarrelsome individual, lacking the ability of Fages, was an impossible choice. When he learned that Serra had recommended Ortega for the position instead of himself he was enraged. The result was that Father Serra’s troubles with Rivera were far greater than they had been with Fages. Father Serra’s difficulties with the civil and the military continued even with the successor of Rivera, Don Felipe de Neve. The truth is, that hardly any other result (i.e., conflict between the clerical and the civil authorities), was likely under the system by which they were operating. The following letter demonstrates the pettiness of Rivera y Moncada as well as his lack of ability:


Hail Jesus, Mary and Joseph! My greatly venerated, most excellent Sir:

Not long ago I wrote at length to Your Excellency by a courier whom Captain Don Fernando Rivera, four days since, dispatched for California, and in answer to the letter of Your Excellency bearing date 25th May, which on the 6th August, was received by conduct and hand of the said captain by Father Lector Fray Francisco Palou, who is my companion here. In that letter I gave an account of further events at these missions, and with it sent the diary of one of the two religious who accompained the naval expedition dispatched by Your Excellency under the command of Don Juan Perez, an officer of the navy. The reason for sending said letter and document by a conduct usually rather tardy was this: The naval expedition having arrived at this port on the 27th of August last, in the ship Santiago, and on board of her in safety the two chaplains (God be thanked!), her captain informed us that he had a mind to remain at this port until the middle of October, by which time it is probable that the families expected by Don Fernando will be here, and then to make the exploration of the port of San Francisco, with a view to the founding of the mission, or missions, which may seem necessary, in order that the region about that port be occupied in accordance with the orders of Your Excellency and the intention of our catholic monarch. And it having so to be—with which circumstance I and all were very content—it seemed that the only way of giving desired information to Your Excellency consisted in sending it by way of California. Since then Don Juan Perez has come to a new determination—that is, to sail for San Blas with the ship under his command; and, although Father Palou and myself have besought him earnestly that, were it possible, he adhere to his prior determination, in order that the matter of the occupation of San Francisco might be attended to at this time, he has utterly refused so to do, saying that he has many reasons for not delaying and for resolving on a speedy departure. And, considering that this letter will reach you before the arrival of those already sent, I proceed to relate, with the brevity made necessary by this sudden notice and the little time remaining in which to do so, some portions of that which has been written already. And, first: As to the meat cattle for the two missions of San Francisco and Santa Clara. Mindful of the directions contained in the said letter of Your Excellency, Captain Don Fernando turned the cattle over to me on the 16th of August, on my renewed demand, in accordance with the disposition of the royal exchequer and the orders of Your Excellency; and, since that day, we have kept it set apart here. I gave a receipt, and now nothing remains to be done in that matter, which was arranged very much to the liking and satisfaction of both parties.

I wrote, also, that, on the day after receiving the said letter of Your Excellency, taking it with me to the royal presidio, I communicated its contents to the Captain, for the purpose of learning whether he would resolve to do anything in the matter of the port of San Francisco. But he replied to my request that he found himself without men, or even arms, for any undertaking as Captain Anza had not left him a single soldier and the families had not arrived. It is a pity that when we do have them here then there will be no vessel available; and I recognize a far greater inclination to employ them in establishing a new presidio, at a distance of four or five leagues from the port and six from this mission, rather than in founding any new mission. This is a matter concerning which I was about to present to Your Excellency a written memorial, at the time I was in that city, when I learned that the new official proposed making such a demand; but, as I was told that any failure to protect the port would not be allowed, nor any such change of plan, I abandoned that design. Yet I afterwards repented of this, when in Guadalaxara, Tepic, and other places, I found that tidings had gone abroad to the effect that the new captain was about to move the presidio—as though this were the principal object of his appointment. Still, for one reason this would not grieve me, and that is because at the distance of a league farther—on the road to San Francisco, be it understood—we might plant a new mission; and in this way the new presidio would be easily and in a perfectly fitting way provided with spiritual food, and the heathen of both sexes of those parts would become parishioners of the missionary fathers and not of the soldiers. Such mission would be at a distance of seven leagues from this one —which is not a matter of slight importance when it is considered that such an establishment would be likely to be of service in the prevention of disadvantages which I fancy might arise from a different condition of things. Were it not a matter connected with the missions it would not hasten its execution; but, being such, and to so great a degree, it does not seem to me that in this proposition I am advocating anything not within the scope of my clerical functions. And in this matter I conform to what Your Excellency may consider most fitting. It is a grievous thing for me, Most Excellent Sir, to find myself well provided with religious and with provisions while no steps are taken, in one way or another, towards some new spiritual labor; and I should fear to fatigue Your Excellency with this my oft-repeated importunity were I not sure that my desires are so much in accord with those of Your Excellency. I gave to your Excellency, also, the agreeable tidings that these new Christians, following the example set by some of the crews of the vessels whose services I managed to secure, are learning how to apply themselves to labor, hoe in hand and with the bar in making adobes, in harvesting the maize and the wheat and in carting these crops, as well as in other work in which they take part. I reported, also, that this year there have been harvested at this mission, in addition to twenty fanegas of barley, one hundred and twenty-five of wheat, together with some horse-beans and a greater quantity of kidney-beans, and continuous crops from the vegetable garden —in the consumption of which all share. There is reason for expecting a fair return from the maize sown, and it is now well-grown and in good condition, and there will be obtained a goodly number of fish from the abundance of sardines which, for twenty consecutive days, have been spawning along the beach near this mission, and a reasonable harvest from the spiritual advancement we are experiencing each day—thanks be to God! At all the missions preparations are making for more extensive sowings in the coming year, and I trust in God that a happy outcome may attend the work.

Concerning the diary that I remitted to Your Excellency, I said that no copy remained here for transmission to our college at a suitable time, and to that effect I wrote to the Reverend Father Guardian of said college, because, when I had finished and signed the letter, I came to the conclusion that time to copy it was wanting; but, as it fell out, there was time, and it was copied in great haste. Now that I doubt not those of the navigating officers will be sent to Your Excellency, I remit it to the Reverend Father Guardian; that of the other religious will go later. I tell the Reverend Father Guardian that, if he conclude, notwithstanding, that the others might be delayed on the way, he should place it promptly in your hands—the reason why I do not send it directly being understood. For the rest I refer to my said letters, which, I trust in God, will not fail to reach your hands somewhat later. Since dispatching them nothing noteworthy has happened, other than that the volunteers who remained here at the time Don Pedro Fages left have taken passage in the ship, excepting the six whose leaves of absence I asked for, and of whom three have married here while the others are about to marry— although one of them, I hear, is going away too. With this letter there goes, also, to Your Excellency one of Father Palou, who sends again his affectionate regards to Your Excellency and the assurance of his prayers for you. And I continue praying that God our Lord guard the health, life and prosperity of Your Excellency for many years in his holy grace. From this mission favored by Your Excellency of San Cárlos de Monterey, Sept. 9, 1774. Most Excellent Sir:— Your most affectionate and humble servant and chaplain, who venerates and loves you, kisses the hands of Your Excellency.

Fray Junípero Serra

In Father Serra’s letters every paragraph portrays the fervor of the man. In the first days after the founding of the Mission at San Diego, Captain Portolá would have given up and forsaken the colonization of Alta California. Faced as they were with starvation, abandonment of the project seemed logical. Yet in the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, Father Serra alone chose to remain among the heathen rather than abandon the harvest of souls that he had come so far to reach. His letters paint a revealing self-portrait. They reflect the “celo ardiente” the ( ardent zeal) of the founder of the California Missions, the civilizer of the Indians, and the shepherd of the good harvest.


I would like to express my appreciation to Miss Georgia Ilene Gregg of the University of California at San Diego for her diligence in helping me select the documents as well as her careful preparation of the manuscript. In addition, I would like to thank Mrs. Margaret Pelling of The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego Library for her admirable patience and courteous assistance.

My special thanks go to my assistant, William Lamerton Crocker, of the University of California at San Diego, for his illustrative help.


James R. Moriarty JAMES R. MORIARTY’s name has appeared twice before as a contributor to The Journal of San Diego History. In October, 1965, he co-authored “Accession ’65,” a fascinating account of a small iron cannon recovered from San Diego Bay. In April, 1966, with another collaborator, he gave us our lead article on the journey of the first Manila Galleon ordered by Philip II. Mr. Moriarty owns a lengthy list of honors, memberships, and publishing credits. He is an Associate Specialist in Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. He has also been appointed Assistant Professor of History at the University of San Diego, effective in January of 1968. Mr. Moriarty is a member of the San Diego History Center.