The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1999, Volume 45, Number 3
Gregg Hennessey, Editor

Eighteenth Century German map of North America Spain’s decision in 1769 to establish permanent settlements in Nueva or Alta California was a risky one, which involved stretching the resources of an Empire that many believed was already overextended and woefully undermanned. Frequently historians have ignored the circumstances that prompted Spain to make such a move at this particular time. In hindsight it may appear logical and reasonable for Spain to occupy five hundred miles of isolated coastline from San Diego to Monterey, but in the late eighteenth century it was a dubious venture with few precedents of success for the Spanish to emulate.

Historians have long acknowledged that Alta California held little appeal to Spanish expansionists throughout most of the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. But as contemporary historian Iris Engstrand has noted, in the sixteenth century Spain went to considerable expense and effort to establish a settlement in Northern California, if for no other reason than to provide solace for ships returning from Manila.1 And the late sixteenth century adventures of English explorers Thomas Cavendish and Francis Drake in the Pacific provided continued evidence of Spain’s vulnerability in the Northern Pacific. But the ambiguity of Vizcaino’s 1602, 1603 expedition convinced the Count of Montesclaro (1603-1607) to overlook the lavish praise of Monterey and concentrate on inventive ship design to resolve Spain’s strategic problems in the Northern Pacific.2

Few historians, until recently, have attempted to understand the complexity of circumstances that led Spain to completely reevaluate its position on the northwestern boundary of the empire in the mid eighteenth century. Frequently, authors explain Spain’s decision to occupy Northern California as a direct and immediate response to movements of Russia and England in the area. No doubt, the designs of these nations played a part in Spain’s change of heart. But England had been a threat to Spain’s Pacific interests two hundred years before settlement plans were developed. And Spain had monitored the activities of Russia in the Pacific decades before it felt compelled to respond with an actual expedition. Spain’s difficult decision to assume responsibility for actually developing a settlement plan for Alta California was the culmination of events that took place thousands of miles away from California, in both Europe and the Americas in the eighteenth century.

The decision of the Jesuits in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to establish colonies in Baja California was the first step in the Spanish occupation of all of California even though it was not acknowledged as such at the time.3 The peninsula was a formidable location, which inspired little commercial interest except for those interested in its pearl potential. The Jesuits looked at it as a challenge that would ultimately link California with the order’s other southwestern missions. The Jesuits hoped to establish a solid foothold there, before being threatened by secular commercial interests.

In Baja, the Jesuits developed a peculiar style of frontier settlement that was in some significant ways quite different from the Franciscan experience in Alta California. From the outset, Fr. Juan Maria De Salvatierra, founder of the Jesuit system in Baja, made every effort to control all civilian personnel involved with the missions and presidios in Baja. In fact Salvatierra’s first recruit was Esteban Rodriguez Lorenzo, previously employed on a hacienda owned by the Jesuits.4 Through the Pious Fund, a collection of private donations generated by wealthy patrons sympathetic to the Jesuits, Salvatierra hoped to make the missions and presidios as self sufficient as possible, thus ensuring the loyalty of those who labored in these institutions.5

Not surprisingly, Jesuit attempts to isolate their missions from Spanish entrepreneurs and civilian bureaucrats, provoked opposition. Opponents in the secular clergy, and those in competing religious communities, as well as those interested in pursuing the pearl trade off the Baja coast, argued that Jesuit tactics actually prevented the development of Baja, and gave the Society a virtual monopoly there.6 The Jesuits defended their position by arguing that in the early stages of mission development, Indians would be corrupted by exposure to outside commercial interests.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Jesuit designs for Baja were further frustrated by this inability to generate enough private funds to operate the missions. The Society’s appeals for royal funding enraged critics, who claimed that no practical accomplishments had come from the Jesuit settlements in Baja. And what was most galling to opponents was the fact the Jesuits had made no attempt to establish a port that would provide relief for ailing Manila galleons.7

However, the Jesuit settlements in Baja satisfied the Crown’s designs on at least one level. As the Jesuits weaned the native peoples from their traditional ways, they paved the way for converts to be productive participants in this remote imperial outpost. But as Harry Crosby points out perhaps the most telling argument the Jesuits could make in their own defense was that no other group had advanced Spain’s claim to California.8

In September 1703 the Jesuits received word that they could expect a royal commitment to further funding. But the promise of royal assistance was not without its price. The crown’s decree supported construction of a presidio on the western shore of Baja, presumably Cabo de San Lucas, totally independent of the presidio at Loreto controlled by the missionaries.9 The decree also encouraged civilian colonization of the peninsula. Although not abandoned, the Jesuits would no longer be the sole determinant of the future of Baja.

Despite all the royal rhetoric, no royal, military, or business interest had the focus of the Jesuit missionaries. No real renewal of the colonies could begin until the Wars of Spanish Succession (1701-1715) had been concluded. With dynastic disputes resolved by 1716, Marques arrived in Mexico City to promote royal policies announced at the beginning of the century. The death of Fr. Salvatierra in July 1717 postponed any possibility of immediate policy changes. Even Jesuits critics acknowledged that the revered missionary possessed the greatest understanding of the potential of the peninsula. The Jesuits had successfully challenged the religious leadership of the Baja tribes, thus making them susceptible to colonial domination.10

Realistically, the future of the Jesuits in Baja, California was the least of Spain’s difficulties in the early eighteenth century. On November 1, 1700, Carlos II, King of Spain, died, thus ending Hapsburg dynasty in Spain. Philip of Anjou, Louis XIV’s grandson, became the first Bourbon King of Spain.11

With the accession of Felipe V as the new monarch, Spain found its place in the imperial competition threatened both in Europe and the Americas. During the War of Spanish Succession (1700-1713) both France and Austria eroded Spain’s hegemony in Italy.12 As soon as the War of Quadruple Alliance erupted in 1719 France occupied the Spanish Fort at Pensacola, Florida. But France did not limit its designs to the Atlantic Coast. After the French had attacked a Spanish Missions in East Texas, Spain decided to explore the possibility of forming an alliance with the Plains’ Pawnees to protect Spain’s vital interests in New Mexico.13

The British further demonstrated Spain’s weakness on its northern frontier. When the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, became safely ensconced in Savannah, he attacked Spanish installations in Florida by forming alliances with the Creeks, Cherokees, and Chickasaws. The British were never able to achieve their ultimate goal, the capture of San Augustine, even though their forces came within two miles of the prize. They did, however, permanently restrict Spain from extending its northern border along the Atlantic Coast.14

In the decades of the 1740s and 1750s the rivalry between the British and the French switched to the Trans Appalachian Territory with trading access to the Great Lakes and Mississippi and Ohio Rivers the major issues to be resolved.15 Here the scope of competition was quite different. In this vast area, which for the most part remained decades away from European occupation, successful claims were established by alliances with Indian nations. Here the advantage lay with the French since they had a long history of using Amerindians to further their economic interests. As Oglethorpe’s alliances with the Creeks and Cherokees demonstrated, the British employed similar tactics. But in the final analysis Amerindians aligned themselves with European nations that satisfied their trading needs.

In a recent work, Professors Donald Cutter and Iris Engstrand have enumerated the advantages the French had over their competitors in supplying Amerindians with goods they actually wanted.16 Over the years the French had established the most extensive trading network on the North American Continent. Thus they offered their Indian trading partners a wider variety of goods. Unlike their British and Spanish competitors, the French actually brought their goods to Indian sites. Since France had traditionally relied on trading alliances rather than permanent settlements to facilitate their economic goals in North America, they were rarely outmaneuvered here. The Spanish operated at a disadvantage here. Frequently Spain offered inferior goods to Indians, and expected the natives to come to their settlements to obtain them.17

Expertise in trade, however, would not prove to be the deciding factor on which imperial power would come to dominate the North American Continent. Ultimately that would be decided on the battlefield during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). A small but well supported contingent of Virginia expansionists had decided to stake their claim to the Ohio Territory in defiance of France’s position that the territory was not part of British Empire in North America. Much was at stake here. For well over one hundred and fifty years France had built up a vast, but fragile trading network that extended from the Saint Lawrence River through the Great Lakes down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Permanent British settlements like the one Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie proposed at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongalela rivers posed a very serious threat to France’s North American Empire.18 George Washington’s inability to hold the hastily constructed Fort Necessity near modern Pittsburgh triggered the French and Indian War in North America. And despite General Edward Braddock’s disastrous ambush at Fort Duquesne in 1755, the British prevailed

At the time these events appeared to have but little relationship to California or its future. But in January 1762, Spain entered the Seven Years War as an ally of France.19 The War was a disaster for both countries. For all practical purposes, the Peace of Paris in 1763 ended France’s Empire in North America. France ceded both the Upper and Lower Louisiana to Spain for the imperial losses it had suffered during the War. Spain, in turn, ceded Florida to Great Britain in order to retain its long-term interests in Cuba. Spain inherited from France the opportunity to control the economic development of the Mississippi River. With France’s withdrawal from imperial competition, Spain faced only Great Britain in its desire to dominate the North American continent.20

The Paris Peace Treaty forced Spain to reexamine its plan, or lack of such for California. Very few historians look at the Spanish occupation of California in the light of what happen to Spain’s imperial competitors in the eighteenth century. The decision to occupy California was not precipitated solely by the sighting of Russians in the Pacific Northwest, or the urgency of converting California Indians to Christianity. It was motivated primarily by the urgency Spain felt to assert its strategic presence in North America or suffer the same fate as its recent ally France, complete elimination from imperial competition.

As contemporary historian David J. Weber has emphasized the geographical understanding of the North American Continent between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean was largely mythical in the mid eighteenth century, and it would remain so until the expedition of Lewis and Clark. And what connects events east of the Mississippi with those west of it is a significant misunderstanding. At that point no one had accurately calculated the approximate distance between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish might have felt much less threatened by British expansionists if they had understood what vast and difficult terrain separated the imperial giants.21

Furthermore, Europeans remained ignorant of the great river systems of the Trans-Mississippi West. They believed to a country that river systems existed that would connect the two great bodies of water. The nation that discovered the prize would undoubtedly stand to dominate oriental trade, and be in the best position to populate the western portion of the continent. From their strategic position in Canada after 1763 Great Britain had an excellent chance to achieve the discovery of the much desired Northwest Passage.22

In reality, the geography of Alta California remained as much of a mystery to the Spanish as it did to its European competitors. For centuries mapmakers had drawn California as an island. Dora Beale Polk, who has researched the mapping of California exhaustively, praised the Jesuits, especially Fr. Eusebio Kino, for debunking the island myth.23 Even though a map of a peninsular California dated 1644 was discovered at a Jesuit college in Munich, missionaries still clung to the island theory.24 In fact, it wasn’t until the Jesuit Fernando Consag sailed to the head of the Gulf in 1746 that the island myth was finally laid to rest in Spanish circles.25

Polk also contends that the English cartographers retained the California Island theory because it seemed to fit better with the idea of a Northwest passage.26 Even when the island controversy was resolved, the British in no way abandoned their search for the Straits of Anian, the name the Spanish used for the mythical passageway. Captain James Cook was still searching for it in 1776.27 Polk maintains that Spanish colonization of California was possible only because of the reevaluation of the topography of California by the Jesuit missionaries in Baja California.28 Outside of Harry Crosby, California historians, old or new, give little recognition to this pioneering achievement.

Another contributing factor to the eventual Spanish settlement of Alta California was the massive reorganization of the Spanish Empire under Carlos III. The king ambitiously desired to make the imperial bureaucracy more efficient, and directly responsive to the wishes of the king. In a word, the monarch desired more control over the operations of the overseas empire. Carlos hoped to modernize Spain’s commercial system. Of course, what the British would find in the American Revolution, and the Spanish in California was that the mercantilist system, under which both operated, was itself, the fundamental problem. The cornerstone of the reorganization was the office of Visitor General, who would directly represent the King, and who could on a temporary basis take precedence over any local official.29 Carlos III chose Jose De Galvez for the California region.

Jose de Galvez Jose De Galvez was the most influential figure to enter Baja California in the eighteenth century. He envisioned a future for California and Spain’s entire northwestern frontier. Galvez was born on January 2, 1720 in the village of Macharaviaya on the southern coast of Spain. He attended the University of Salamanca. His competency in French opened up a career for him with the Spanish Minister of State.30

Galvez saw the big picture. He understood his assignment as a mandate to formulate an overall strategy for the northern borderland. In his eyes the area of greatest concern in the region was Sonora, not California. And one of his first priorities was to quell an Indian uprising there.31 Although Galvez exhibited a fresh approach to the region, he viewed the area with a traditional mercantilist mind set. In this case it meant that the mining potential of Sonora must be protected by a secure borderland in California.32

Upon his arrival in New Spain in mid 1765, Galvez immediately initiated new plans for more efficient collection of taxes and the creations of new local militias. But in mid 1767, when Galvez intended to implement the order of taxes and conscription, he received instructions to arrest the Jesuits in New Spain and have them returned to the Mother Country.33 Rumors had been circulating that such an event might take place. Such an expulsion had taken place in Portugal in 1759 and in France in 1764.34

Even though the Jesuits had their critics in Baja, their activities there had little to do with their removal. Opponents saw the Jesuits as creating their own independent empire, complete with an independent Indian labor force and a black market economy. Proponents of the Enlightenment in Spain sought to reduce the power of the Church over civil affairs, and to many, the Jesuits represented the pinnacle of ecclesiastical domination. To Spanish nationalists, the European makeup of the mission communities called into question the Jesuits commitment to Spanish imperial policy.35

Gaspar de Portola Nowhere was the expulsion of the Jesuits more traumatic than in Baja California, since the Order effectively controlled the peninsula. Galvez selected fifty year old Captain Gaspar de Portola as Governor of California in charge of Jesuit expulsion. As Crosby points out, Portola attempted to make the transition as painless as possible by ignoring commands that he prohibit the priests from celebrating Mass and locking them in their rooms.36 The actual process of expulsion was tedious, since all the missions had to be inventoried, and the contents and property formally transferred to the Crown. The inventories shocked the Visitor. For over half-century enemies of the Jesuits had claimed the Order hid riches in the assorted missions, but these inventories showed that this was not the case. Not only were the missions themselves barely self sufficient, but the Mission Indian population had dwindled to 7,000 from a high of 40,000.37

All remaining Jesuit missionaries assembled at Loreto on February 2, 1768. Three days later the sixteen Jesuits left Baja for Spain and eventual exile in Italy. The multinational make up of the contingent says much about Spain’s enthusiasm for their removal. Spanish Jesuits made up less than a third of the remaining missionaries.38 Because of their benign treatment at the hands of Governor Portola, all survived the expulsion from Baja.39

The impoverishment and destitution of the Baja Missions quickly convinced Galvez that their sole importance was to serve as base camps for expansion into Northern California. An essential accompaniment of the expansion design was the construction of the port of San Blas, south of Mazatlan.40 The fact that Galvez decided to implement the Mission System in Alta California shows his particular predicament as well as the declining position of Spanish imperialists in North American. Initially Galvez balked at using the Mission System. He rightly regarded it as an archaic institution that stifled rather than promoted economic development.41 In both Sonora and Baja the Jesuits had little success in converting the Missions into Spanish type communities. Indeed their opponents claimed they never had any intention of so doing, since it would result in a loss of power for them. The Crown and the Missionaries had never been able to agree on how long the transition process should last. Usually the missionaries could convert the indigenous people into a labor force, but the transition to Spanish taxpayer rarely took place.42

When Galvez first arrived in Baja in the summer of 1768 he had ambitious plans for the area. Symbolically he set up residence at Real De Santa Ana, south of La Paz, the only area on the peninsula not developed by the Jesuits.43 On July 12, 1768, Galvez required an inventory be taken by the missionaries and soldier commissioners to enumerate all Indian converts and material possessions in their jurisdictions.44 In August 1768 Galvez initiated a generous land development program for European immigrants largely funded by government subsidies. He also hoped to move the natives into pueblo communities outside the missions that would hopefully result in economic self-sufficiency.45 But in less than a year Galvez abandoned this enlightenment program in both Baja and La Pimeria Alta. The missionaries were ill suited both in disposition and training to commit themselves to such a plan.46

To the surprise of few, on August 12, 1768 Galvez issued a decree placing all Spanish material possessions in the hands of the Franciscan missionaries.47


Galvez chose to revive the Mission System because he had no other option. What the Visitor saw in Baja actually shocked him. Not only did the Baja Missions possess no wealth, famine and drought had depleted their herds after the departure of the Jesuits. Nonetheless, Portola had done a masterful job in holding what mission wealth remained until the Franciscans arrived. And as far as Galvez was concerned the best thing about the Franciscans was that they weren’t Jesuits. Galvez believed the Franciscans would be cooperative, and participate in the Spanish Program.

Junipero Serra

Galvez selected Junipero Serra, a seasoned veteran of almost twenty years of missionary experience in New Spain, to head the Franciscan mission development in California. Nueva California, or Alta California, now took precedence over the peninsular missions. Twenty years earlier, Serra abandoned a successful career in academia to become a missionary, and, ultimately one of the most significant personages in California History. Serra regarded his appointment as a unique opportunity, not only for himself, but the Franciscan Order as well. After the order’s occupation of the Baja missions, Serra ordered bells to be rung at the missions, as well as Masses of Thanksgiving celebrated in gratitude of the Franciscans’ great fortune.48

What followed was an intense correspondence between Galvez and Serra dealing with the objectives of the expedition and the personnel that would participate in the “Sacred Expedition.” And unlike the Baja Experience, the Visitor was in complete charge of the operation down to the most insignificant detail, even though he consulted Serra on almost every issue. Galvez ordered a redistribution of the Indian population throughout the Baja missions. This action came as a result of the aforementioned inventories. He believed there were too many Indians at the Southern Missions, so he moved many of them to Todos Santos on the pacific.49 This was a controversial action opposed by many of the missionaries. It was difficult enough to make converts. Moving newly Christianized Indians to distant locations drove them to abandon mission life altogether. Galvez cared little about the natives. He wanted them positioned in the correct location for the eventual northern expedition. For example, all orphaned male Indians were to be sent to Loreto to receive instruction in handling coastwise vessels.50

Some insight into Galvez’s mindset about the northern expedition can be seen from his terminology. In his correspondence with Serra he frequently referred to the Indians as ‘these poor Israelites.’51 Galvez further tells Serra that he is no Moses (the denial probably indicates that he sees himself in that light) but the missionaries are so many Aarons actually leading the natives into the Promised Land.52 This biblical allusion Galvez hoped would serve to motivate the Franciscans to believe they were fortunate to be a part of this epic event. But most of Galvez’s correspondence with Serra deals with the practical steps that must be taken for the expedition to be a success. He absents himself from no detail of the operation, including the actual naming of the missions themselves.53


At this point historians are satisfied to tell the narrative of the occupation of Alta California under the leadership of Serra and Portola. Understandably this was a fascinating and bold enterprise. Galvez ordered the outfitting of four divisions, two land and two seas, which would ultimately converge in San Diego and in turn, would move on from that base to Monterey. What an extraordinary expedition Galvez envisioned. The Spanish had little knowledge of either area, and in the case of Monterey, they were barely able to identify it when they reached it. They knew little or nothing of the peoples of either area, not an insignificant issue, since the Spanish would be relying on these very natives to make their enterprise a success.

Historians seem to accept Galvez’s strategy at face value, except for those who regard the entire enterprise as a moral tragedy.54 The Visitor opted to ignore any limited expeditions, which would have acquainted the Spanish with the actual challenges they would face in Nueva California. Galvez may have believed a cautious and restrained approach in Baja had resulted in little gain for the empire. And as imperial interests changed after the Peace of Paris, Spain had to take drastic action before England and Russia made a similar commitment. Cutter and Engstrand argue that Galvez chose the large expedition approach to ensure that at least some pioneers would survive in their new surroundings.55

In fact, the Cutter-Engstrand view may be partially born out by the experience of the San Carlos and San Antonio, the two packet boats that comprised the sea bearing burden of the expedition. When the ships arrived in San Diego in April 1769, the crew of the San Antonio had to save the crew of the San Carlos, which arrived earlier in the month. Without the four-pronged invasion into Alta California, one could argue that not enough men or provisions would have arrived in San Diego to secure a defensible position.

San Diego provided an excellent example of the limits of Galvez’s grandiose plans. Traditionally Spanish expansionists had awed natives with liturgy, food, and material wealth. Here natives watched while newly arrived Indians and soldiers starved to death, and the healthy remnant hastily scoured the countryside for food. Franciscan historian, Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt explained that the Indians blamed the illnesses of the Spanish on what they ate.56 The author seems to accept Fr. Palou’s interpretation of this behavior being an act of Divine Providence. Had the natives enjoyed the Spanish vittles, the Spaniards would have died.57 Inspired by the weakness of the recent intruders, natives attacked or ignored the missionaries. Such a scenario was certainly not repeated at all the missions, but one could argue in San Diego, at least, that the Spanish never recovered from this poor beginning. Despite illness and starvation, the Spanish were encouraged by what they saw in San Diego. The San Diego River, even in July, offered a more secure source of water than they usually encountered in Lower California, with the added benefit of abundant pastureland.58

What Galvez eventually created in Alta California seemed to contradict his original intentions. His stated design to streamline the imperial bureaucracy, and make the colonies more self-sufficient clearly did not work in Alta California. In fact the expansion into Alta California produced a mercantilist disaster. The California Missions added a substantial burden to an already overextended Spanish Empire. These settlements were dependent upon annual subsidies usually delivered by ship to maintain stability and survival. Often the provisions were late or spoiled resulting in reduced rations and declining morale.59 But eventually some missions showed an ability to create a vibrant local economy capable of producing surpluses for export.

Spain was not unresponsive to these conditions. The Reglamento of 1772 attempted to address, among other issues, the morale of the soldiers. The purpose of the new regulations was to professionalize the army, and make it more European. It standardized pay scales, uniforms, and the most important issue of all the disbursement of pay. The soldiers were critical to the success of the struggling settlements, and authorities tried to eliminate exploitation so that they would remain loyal to the government.60 But waning morale remained a serious problem throughout the 1770s. Some resolution of the morale issue came in 1781 when Governor Felipe De Neve reduced prices soldiers were charged for food and other provisions.61

Until quite recently, historians have typically ignored any overall interpretation or evaluation of Spain’s occupation of California. Serra’s biographer, Fr. Maynard Geiger dismisses the spread of the Christianity as the primary motivating factor in Spain’s decision to occupy California. He writes:

Thus the religious effort in the New Land became the principal task that Spain sponsored, but it was not the reason for going to California. Had Russia not threatened at the time, there is no proof to show that Spain would have entered Upper California at all.62

In this insightful analysis Geiger shows that Spain was motivated by strategic concerns, and used the missionary venture as a way further its secular goals.

But not unlike other historians of the occupation, once he has followed Serra to the “Promised Land” Geiger cannot contain his enthusiasm for the accomplishment: “No one can stand on Presidio Hill in San Diego today and remain unmoved by the fact that here is the cradle of Christianity and Civilization in California.”63

Both Engstrand and Cutter, who more than other historians acknowledge the complex motivation involved in the actual occupation, believe that Spain achieved its goals by extending Christianity to Baja and Alta California. They also pay tribute to the devotion and loyalty of the participants, while admitting that this creates a whole new era for the Indians.64 Actual occupation is equated with the achievement of goals.

What happened in 1769 was that Spain authorized an invasionary force of over four hundred to establish permanent settlements in Alta California between San Diego and Monterey. The goal of the invasion was permanent occupation; anything less would be considered a failure. Hopefully, the indigenous people could be coaxed into cooperating with the invading force, but the military was there to guarantee that Indians would not be able, in any definitive way, to resist occupation. The military force was small, and had to be used judiciously. Even with their technological superiority, the Spanish do not envision a military confrontation with 300, 000 California Indians. But Spanish experience had taught that conquest of a new area invariably involved Indian resistance, and they always anticipated such encounters.65 In fact some of the most vivid descriptions of Indian resistance can be found in the narratives of the Franciscans. Finding no better source Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt chooses to quote extensively from Palou’s account of the first Kumeyaay attack on the San Diego Mission:

A regular battle ensued, in which the Indians to their cost for the first time learned the effects of a gunshot. The four soldiers received material aid from the carpenter and the blacksmith, who used their weapons with much valor. The blacksmith especially excelled in courage. Though he had no leather jacket to protect himself, he ran among the huts and shacks, discharging his musket at the savages, and yelling at the top of his voice, “Long live the Faith of Jesus Christ! Death to the hostile dogs!”66

The conquest of Alta California by the Spanish in the late eighteenth century was successful on a strategic level. Alta California remained part of the Spanish Empire until Mexican independence. But Spain paid a stiff price for this strategic success. The Mission System created dependency rather than independence, never producing those tax-paying settlers Galvez had desired. Since the proposed canonization of Fr. Serra in the 1980s, historians have engaged in a heated debate about the impact of the Mission System upon California Indians.67 From a practical viewpoint Alta California showed the Mission System to be obsolete. Combined with the Jesuit experience in Baja, the Missions demonstrated the impoverishment of this frontier institution.

The Spanish occupation of California also exposed the weaknesses of mercantilist theory and practice. The expansionists brought their economy with them, and determined the crops and animals which would make up the productive capacity of the mission, military, and civilian colonies. But Alta California was too remote to be an integral part of Spain’s imperial economy. In some areas, especially in Northern California, a remarkably strong self-sufficient local economy flourished. Missions sold their produce to presidios and settlers where they existed, and once Spain had abandoned the missions to their own ingenuity in the nineteenth century, to foreign merchants who provided much needed markets for California goods.

The Spanish occupation of California further exposed the fundamental weaknesses of the imperial hegemony. By the end of the eighteenth century, Europeans of every stripe were finding it increasingly difficult to integrate the Western Hemisphere into a universal imperial network. Instability in Europe prevented Spain from adequately funding this mercantilist mission burden. And the colonies thus established were hard pressed to survive in such a remote area in a market economy. Ultimately Mexico would inherit the legacy of the Spanish occupiers, a struggling population in a remote area without much support from a central authority.

It is ironic to note that at the same moment in history that Spain attempted to establish frontier settlements in Alta California on a mercantilist and religious paradigm, English colonists across the continent rebelled against the British Empire, in part, to escape the restrictions of a mercantilist economy and the centralization of an established church.



1. Iris Engstrand, “Seekers of the Northern Mystery,” California History, 76 (Summer and Fall 1997), 86-93.

2. Ibid., 92.

3. Harry W. Crosby, Antigua California (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994) Crosby provides the most detailed account of the connection between the missions in Baja and those in Alta California.

4. Ibid., 24.

5. Ibid., 18-21.

6. Ibid., 61-64.

7. Ibid., 74-87.

8. Ibid., 65.

9. Ibid., 73.

10. Gregory H. Nobles, American Frontiers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1997), 47-49.

11. Crosby, Antigua California, 61-63.

12. Spencer M. Di Scala, Italy From Revolution to Republic (San Francisco: Westview Press, 19995), 5.

13. Nobles, American Frontiers, 79.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., 86.

16. Donald Cutter and Iris Engstrand, Quest For Empire (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing Company, 1999), 169.

17. Ibid.

18. Nobles, American Frontiers, 81-83.

19. David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontiers in North America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 198.

20. Ibid., 198-200.

21. Ibid., 237-239.

22. Ibid.

23. Dora Beale Polk, The Island of California (Spokane, Washington: The Arthur Clark Company 1991), 298.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 324.

26. Ibid., 309.

27. Ibid., 327-329.

28. Ibid.

29. Crosby, Antigua California, 371.

30. Charles E. Chapman, A History of California: The Spanish Period (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926), 207-209.

31. John A. Schutz, Spain’s Colonial Outposts (San Francisco: Boyd and Fraser Publishing Company, 1985), 30.

32. Steven W. Hackel, “Land, Labor, and Production,” California History 76 (Summer and Fall, 1997), 113.

33. Crosby, Antigua California, 372.

34. Weber, The Spanish Frontiers in North America, 242.

35. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 184.

36. Crosby, Antigua California, 382-384.

37. Weber, The Spanish Frontiers in North America, 241.

38. Richard F. Pourade, The History of San Diego Vol. I: “The Explorers” (San Diego: Union Tribune Publishing Company, 1960), 87.

39. Crosby, Antigua California, 385

40. Schutz, Spain’s Colonial Outposts, 31.

41. Weber, The Spanish Frontiers in North America, 242.

42. Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1981), 306-308.

43. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 190.

44. Fray Francisco Palou, Historical Memoirs of New California, Vol. 1. Edited and translated by Herbert Eugene Bolton (New York: Russell & Russell, 1961), 31.

45. Ibid,, 189.

46. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 209.

47. Palou, Historical Memoirs of New California, Vol. I, 32.

48. Maynard J. Geiger, The Life and Times of Junipero Serra, Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959), 206.

49. Ibid., 202-204.

50. Ibid. 203.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid.

54. Daniel Fogel, Junipero Serra, The Vatican and Enslavement Theology (San Francisco: ISM Press, 1988) Fogel does not attack individual missionaries or soldiers, but rather sees the Church — State “Sacred Expeditions” as morally indefensible and without justification.

55. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 194.

56. Fr. Zephyrin Engelhardt, San Diego Mission (San Francisco: The James Barry Company, 1920), 26.

57. Ibid.

58. Geiger, The Life and Times of Junipero Serra, Vol. I, 230.

59. Hackel, “Land, Labor, and Production,” 113.

60. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 207-211.

61. Hackel, “Land, Labor, and Production, ” 114.

62. Geiger, The Life and Times of Junipero Serra, Vol. 1, 208.

63. Ibid.

64. Cutter and Engstrand, Quest For Empire, 204.

65. Richard B. Rice, William A. Bullouch, and Richard J. Orsi, The Elusive Eden, (San Francisco: McGraw Hill, 1996), 86.

66. Engelhardt, The San Diego Mission, 27&28.

67. For a judicious summary of the current state of the debate see Robert H. Jackson and Edward Castillo, Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press), 1996.


Ronald J. Quinn is a lecturer in the Department of History at San Diego State University, where he offers courses in California History and the American West. Since 1985, Professor Quinn has contributed articles and reviews for The Journal of San Diego History dealing with San Diego in the mid nineteenth century.