The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1983, Volume 29, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor




Serra as Father-President

Father Serra remained in San Diego until April 14, 1770, when he and Father Vizcaino embarked for Monterey aboard the San Antonio commanded by the Mallorcan Juan Perez. Fathers Parron and Gomez remained in San Diego with some soldiers who served as a mission guard and helped with the work, The rest of the Spanish contingent headed northward by land. Serra reached Monterey on May 31 and found the overland party on hand to greet him – this time having easily recognized the port. The royal presidio and Mission San Carlos Borromeo were established on June 3, 1770.

During his California career, Serra maintained his headquarters at the San Carlos Mission (later moved to Carmel in August, 1771) but did not neglect any part of his extensive province. Missions were quickly founded at San Antonio de Padua (July, 1771), San Gabriel Archangel (September, 1771) and San Luis Obispo (September, 1772). Lieutenant Pedro Fages, military commander of Alta California following PortoIa, thought Father Serra’s plans for additional missions were too ambitious given the small number of soldiers available for their protection – there were seldom more than 100 soldiers throughout the entire province. The goals of the religious and military leaders were often divergent and the areas of jurisdiction sometimes overlapped. Antagonism resulted from a number of issues.

On a trip to San Diego in the fall of 1772, Serra and Fages agreed that present-day Ventura would be an excellent location for a mission. Serra went ahead with plans for its establishment, but Fages refused approval for lack of troops. To clear up the matter of future missions and other problems with the military, Serra went to Mexico City to confer with Viceroy Antonio de Bucareli. He sailed on board the San Carlos in early 1773.

While in Mexico, Serra was requested by the viceroy to document the needs of the missions and the relative roles of the religious and military leaders. Serra explained that his plans included new missions, especially since, in 1772, the Dominicans had replaced the Franciscans in Baja California, freeing a number of priests for service in Alta California. He knew, however, that the province needed help from Mexico. He favored an increase in the military force, particularly by married soldiers and their families, and wanted a port of supply maintained at San Blas. He supported the opening of an overland route from Arizona to California and asked for mules and livestock to supplement the mission herds. In the matter of jurisdiction, he believed the missionaries should have the right to govern the mission Indians as a father controls his family. He also wanted authority over the mission guard.

Based upon Serra’s suggestions, Bucareli issued a new set of regulations for California effective January 1, 1774. Serra’s priests were given full charge of the mission Indians but the soldiers remained under the military governor’s direction. Of major significance for San Diego was the elevation of its military post to the rank of presidio with a sizable company headed by Lieutenant Jose Francisco de Ortega. Fernando de Rivera y Moncada succeeded Pedro Fages as lieutenant governor of California with headquarters at the Monterey presidio.

Serra boarded the newly completed schooner Santiago that sailed from San Blas on January 24, 1774, with supplies for California. It was forced to put in at San Diego instead of Monterery so Serra decided to visit the mission and then proceed northward on the overland trail. At that time San Diego’s mission and presidio occupied the same grounds. Father Palou described the settlement as being:

… situated on a high elevation about two gunshots from the beach, looking toward Point Guijarros and the mouth of the port…. Within the stockade is the church or chapel, constructed of poles and roofed with tules, as is also the habitation of the two missionaries. [It is] partly of adobe and partly of wood and roofed with tules. Likewise, within the stockade is a similar structure that serves as the barracks for the soldier guards and as a storehouse for the supplies. For defensive purposes, within the stockade, are two cannons of bronze, One looks toward the port, and the other toward the Indian rancheria. On one side of the stockade, in the wall, is an opening for the foundations of a church thirty varas [one vara = 33 inches] long. For this some stones and four thousand adobe bricks have already been prepared. The foremen of the work are the Fathers, and the workmen are the neophytes [Indians in training].

The military force at the San Diego presidio in 1774 consisted of some thirty men. On the roster were such well-known names as Carrillo, Lopez, Alvarado, Ruiz, Verdugo, Dominguez, Vallejo and Reyes. Rations were always scarce and the wives of soldiers made tortillas from the small supply of corn for their own families and the single men. Beans and sometimes a little fish or meat supplemented the meager diet. Crops were planted near the river with hopes for more abundant provisions. For the first few years, life in San Diego proceeded at a slow pace.