San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


In the work entitled Our Centennial Memoir, published by P. J. Thomas, of San Francisco, to which we have alluded elsewhere, is an interesting translation from a letter of the Venerable Father Gonzalez to Father Adam, of Santa Cruz. Describing the condition of the Missions and the losses they sustained through the oppressive acts of the Mexican Government, was written in September, 1864, from the Apostolic College of our Lady of Los Dolores, Santa Barbara. Father Gonzales was the last of the old pioneer missionaries who labored to plant the Cross in these golden regions.

“REV. AND DEAR SIR :—On my landing in this country, which happened on the 15th of January, 1833, there were in existence from San Diego up to San Francisco Solano 21 Missions, which provided for 14,000 or 15,000 Indians. Even the poorest Missions, that of San Rafael and Soledad, provided everything for divine worship, and the maintenance of the Indians. The care of the neophytes was left to the missionary, who, not only a pastor, instructed them in their religion and administered the sacraments to them, but as a householder, provided for them, governed and instructed them in their social life, procuring for them peace and happiness.

“Every Mission, rather than a town, was a large community, in which the missionary was President, distributing equal burdens and benefits. No one worked for himself, and the products of the harvest, cattle and industry in which they were employed was guarded, administered and distributed by the missionary. He was the procurator and defender of his neophytes, and, at the same time, their Chief and Justice of Peace, to settle all their quarrels, since the Mission Indians were not subject to the public authorities, except in grievous and criminal cases.

“This system, though criticized by some politicians, is the very one that made the Missions so flourishing. The richest in population was that of San Luis Rey; in temporal things, that of San Gabriel. Mine was that of San José, and, although I was promised, as it was a gentile frontier, it would not be secularized, it, too, succumbed in 1836.

“In the inventory made in January, 1837, the result showed that said Mission numbered 1,300 neophytes, a great piece of land, well tilled; the store-houses filled with seeds; two orchards, one with 1,600 fruit trees; two vineyards—one with 6,039 vines, the other with 5,000; tools for husbandry in abundance; shops for carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, and even tanneries, and all the implements for their work.

“The fields were covered with live stock; horned cattle, 20,000 head; sheep, 15,000; horses, 459. For the saddle 600 colts of two years, 1,630 mares, 149 yoke of oxen, thirty mules, eighteen jackasses and seventy-seven hogs.

“Twice a year a new dress was given to the neophytes, amounting in distribution to $6,000. When the Mission was secularized I delivered to the mayor-domo then in charge some $20,000 worth of cloth and other articles which the store-house contained.

“The church of the Mission of San José was neatly adorned, and well provided with vestments and other religious articles. Thirty musicians served in the choir, and they had a very neat dress for feast days.

“Of the Mission of Santa Clara, we can say the same more or less.

“The other Missions, called the ‘Northern,’ though having been already secularized, were in utter bankruptcy, and the same can be affirmed for the most part of those of the south, down to San Diego; for it was observed that as long as the Missions were in the hands of the missionaries everything was abundant; but as soon as they passed into the hands of laymen everything went wrong, till eventually complete ruin succeeded, and all was gone. Yet, we cannot say that the ambition of those men was the cause, since, though the government in the space of four years, divided seven ranches to private individuals—the smallest of a league and a half—yet in spite of this cutting off of part of my Mission lands, the Mission was every day progressing more and more.

“We have not to attribute the destruction of these establishments to rapacity; for though we can presume that something was taken, this was not the principal agent of destruction; but the blunder was made in their enterprises and the high fees paid to the chief steward and other salaried men, etc.

“The government of Mexico, up to the year 1830, acknowledged a debt in favor of these Missions of over $400,000, without counting other minor debts. Finally, we have to acknowledge that a manifest punishment from God was the cause of the destruction of the Missions, since theft alone could not accomplish it and the subsidy given to the government would not affect them. On the contrary, left to the priests, the Missions would have prospered, and other establishments still more opulent would have been erected in the Tulares, even with out any protection from the government, and deprived of the subsidy of the Pious Fund of $400,000, if the revolution of Spain in the year 1808 and that of Mexico in 1810 had not put an end to the prosperity of the missionaries. If zealous missionaries had been left amongst the savage tribes roaming through this vast territory, from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Mountains, called then by the priests ‘Tulares,’ all would have been converted to Christianity, and would not have perished, as we see them now.

“I was able to save only a small relic of these tribes during the pestilence of 1833, in which I collected together some 600 Indians. I would have saved more during the small-pox epidemic of 1839, but my Mission had already been secularized, and I had no resources. I could do nothing for the Indians, who were like boys of one hundred years. It is only with liberality you can draw them towards you; give them plenty to eat and clothes in abundance, and they will soon become your friends, and you can then conduct them to religion, form them to good manners, and teach them civilized habits.

“Do you want to know who were the cause of the ruin of these Missions? As I was not only a witness but a victim of the sad events which caused their destruction, I have tried rather to shut my eyes that I might not see the evil, and close my ears to prevent hearing the innumerable wrongs which these establishments had suffered. My poor neophytes did their part, in their own way, to try and diminish my sorrow and anguish.”


On the Feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16, 1769, was founded at San Diego the first Mission in Upper California. Thomas’ Memoir (already quoted) contains the translation of an important letter, which throws some light upon the matter. So remarkable is the event that the letter, dated July 3, 1769, addressed by the Father-President of the Franciscan Missionaries to his future biographer, Father Palóu, will without doubt, be read with deep interest.

“MY DEAR FRIEND:—Thank God I arrived the day before yesterday, the first of the month, at this port of San Diego, truly a fine one, and not without reason called famous. Here I found those who had set out before me, both by sea and land, except those who have died. The brethren, Fathers Crespi, Vizcaino, Parron and Gomez, are here with myself, and all are quite well, thank God. Here are also the two vessels, but the San Carlos without sailors, all having died of the scurvy, except two. The San Antonio, although she sailed a month and a half later, arrived twenty days before the San Carlos, losing on the voyage eight sailors. In consequence of this loss, it has been resolved that the San Antonio shall return to San Blas, to fetch sailors for herself and for the San Carlos.

“The causes of the delay of the San Carlos were: first, lack of water, owing to the casks being bad, which, together, with bad water obtained on the coast, occasioned sickness among the crew; and secondly, the error which all were in respecting the situation of this port. They supposed it to be thirty-three or thirty-four degrees north latitude, some saying one and some the other, and strict orders were given to Captain Villa and the rest to keep out in the open sea till they arrived at the thirty-fourth degree, and then to make the shore in search of the port. As, however, the port in reality lies in thirty-two degrees thirty-four minutes, according to the observations that have been made, they went much beyond it, thus making the voyage much longer than was necessary. The people got daily worse from the cold and the bad water, and they must all have perished if they had not discovered the port about the time they did. For they were quite unable to launch the boat to procure more water, or to do anything whatever for their preservation. Father Fernando did everything in his power to assist the sick; and although he arrived much reduced in flesh, he did not become ill, and is now well. We have not suffered hunger or other privations, neither have the Indians who came with us; all arrived well and healthy.

“The tract through which we passed is generally very good land, with plenty of water; and there, as well as here, the country is neither rocky nor overrun with brush-wood. There are, however, many hills, but they are composed of earth. The road has been good in some places, but the greater part bad. About half-way, the valleys and banks of rivulets began to be delightful. We found vines of a large size, and in some cases quite loaded with grapes; we also found an abundance of roses, which appeared to be like those of Castile. In fine, it is a good country, and very different from old California.

 “We have seen Indians in immense numbers, and all those on this coast of the Pacific contrive to make a good subsistence on various seeds, and by fishing. The latter they carry on by means of rafts or canoes, made of tule (bullrush) with which they go a great way to sea. They are very civil. All the males, old and young, go naked; the women, however, and the female children, are decently covered from their breasts downward. We found on our journey, as well as in the place where we stopped, that they treated us with as much confidence and good-will as if they had known us all their lives. But when we offered them any of our victuals, they always refused them. All they cared for was cloth, and only for something of this sort would they exchange their fish or whatever else they had. During the whole march we found hares, rabbits,  some deer, and a multitude of berendos (a kind of a wild goat).

“I pray God may preserve your health and life many years.

“From this port and intended Mission of San Diego, in North California, third July, 1769.


Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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