San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco


IT may now be necessary to explain shortly in what manner the Fathers conducted their missions, and the state of their property and finances down to the decline of their prosperity and ultimate fall. Their mode of conversion, if not very ingenious, was easy enough. It was like the teaching of a monkey, or a dog, by means of food and caresses, or sometimes by kicks, to perform a few simple tricks. The Indian—like the hare in Meg Dodds’, or it may be Mrs. Glass’s Cookery Book, being first caught, was dressed in the following fashion, as described by Captain Beechy, in his second voyage:—“I happened to visit the mission about this time and saw these unfortunate beings under tuition. They were clothed in blankets, and arrayed in a row before a blind Indian who understood their dialect, and was assisted by an alcalde to keep order. Their tutor began by desiring them to kneel, informing them that he was going to teach them the names of the persons composing the Trinity, and that they were to repeat in Spanish what he dictated. The neophytes being thus arranged, the speaker began:—Santissima Trinidad, Dios, Jesu Christo, Espiritu Santo—pausing between each name to listen if the simple Indians, who had never spoken a Spanish word before, pronounced it correctly, or any thing near the mark. After they had repeated these names satisfactorily, their blind tutor, after a pause, added, Santos—and recapitulated the names of a great many saints, which finished the morning’s tuition.”

Indians under instruction.The pay and inducement to the Indians to submit to what would doubtless appear even to them a farrago of nonsense, were a daily allowance of Atole and Pozzoli, which were two kinds of pottages, the first composed of barley flour and the second of the same, varied by the addition of peas, beans and maize. The former was the usual breakfast and supper dish, the latter was chiefly taken for dinner. Then huts, of which the Fathers kept the keys, were provided for the nightly lodgings of the faithful while a simple kind of clothing was furnished to them at intervals. Soldiers took care meanwhile that order, decency and obedience were strictly observed at work and play, at devotion and rest. In return for these benefits, the Indians rose early, and attended mass every morning, for an hour; and during the day, in the intervals between a second mass and meals and pretty constant prayers, cultivated the gardens and fields of the missions, gathered, preserved and arranged for sale the farm produce, herded and attended to the wants of their cattle, built their houses, spun, wove and cooked, and in all respects drudged patiently, though they do not appear to have taken the work very laboriously, as the born slaves of the Fathers, whose absolute will was all that they could comprehend or obey. With the instinct of a dog, they fawned on and loved their owners, and perhaps would have readily died to do them service. How different all this from the free, intelligent and bold spirit of the present community! To sharpen the intellects of the converts, sticks, whips, long goads and the like were unhesitatingly employed by the beadles of the churches, during mass and prayers, to silence the unruly and make the refractory attentive and dutiful. Starvation and stripes indeed attended the perverse Indian wherever he went; and it was his interest,—he could be made to understand that at all events,—to comply with the wishes of his kind priestly persecutors, as far as his animal nature would permit.

The conversion produced by such means could scarcely be intellectual or very sincere. It seemed sufficient, however, that the Indian duly attended mass (which he was obliged to do under penalty of a sound, edifying whipping), knelt and muttered his incomprehensible Spanish words, made the sign of the cross often and properly enough, and could correctly repeat to his spiritual tutors, when called upon, the few cabalistic phrases which they had taught him. Whether he understood the meaning of these things was quite another question, as to which it was not necessary for the Fathers to be impertinently curious. What were these brown things, after all, but beasts—irrational beings, who might have a soul truly to be saved, but whom it was absurd to consider as having a mind! Individually, the Fathers seem to have been pious and philanthropic men; but certainly humanity and California owe them nothing. Every thing, even happiness, is comparative; and to the mind, undarkened by the gloomy theology which considers the formal act of baptism without the understanding soul to be sufficient for salvation, it must surely be evident that the aboriginal savage, “lord of all he surveyed,” was a more dignified and happy creature than the sleek, lazy, stall-fed beast of burden into which the Fathers had entrapped, or converted him.

Father Garzes and the Indians.In the churches, which were, of course, the leading and most substantial buildings of the country, the walls were hung with glaringly painted pictures—the more gaudy, the more valuable and effectual—of the saints, and especially of heaven and hell, to astonish and fix the faith of the converts. La Pérouse observes that a horrible representation of hell in the church of San Carlos has thus had a wonderful effect in promoting conversion; while he considers that the picture of paradise in the same church, by reason of its subdued coloring and treatment, had comparatively little effect. In 1775, when Father Garzes was travelling, on a crusading or proselyting expedition, from Sonora to California, he carried with him a painted banner, on one side of which was represented the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on the other the devil in the flames of hell. On arriving at an Indian settlement, the missionary took his first step of conversion. Just as the travelling mountebank blows his horn and flutters his flag on approaching a village of likely gulls, so did our good Father hoist his standard, and cry aloud; when, as he naively observes, the fascinated Indians, on seeing the Virgin, usually exclaimed, good!—but when they observed the devil, they as often said, bad! Probably this was faith enough to entitle them to immediate baptism, absolution and salvation. Food, lodging and raiment, and freedom from the cares of family and the future, naturally followed.

By such means the Fathers speedily converted the whole Indian tribes within their reach; while, year by year, as the missions, and their servants and cattle increased in number, they took possession of the most fertile and desirable lands in the country. Much judgment and discretion were exhibited, as well in selecting the localities of the missions, as in subsequently managing them for a time to the best possible advantage. The means adopted for converting, training, and employing the natives, were admirably devised, and were more successful and satisfactory than could have been anticipated. The Fathers eagerly desired to make Indian converts; for every convert, besides becoming a partaker of immortal glory, was a valuable slave; but they dreaded, and never invited the approach of free white settlers.

The first mission, San Diego, was founded in 1769; in 1776, others had been established to the number of eight; there were eleven in 1790; and, in 1802, they had increased to eighteen. In subsequent years, three more were added, viz., those of San Francisco Solano, San Rafael and Santa Ines. In 1831, according to the authority of Mr. Forbes in his excellent work, already mentioned, on the “History of Lower and Upper California,” the population of all classes for the whole latter country was 23,025—the Indians constituting 18,683 of this number, and the garrisons, missions and free settlements comprehending 4342. That author supposes that as the population, for some years afterwards, was nearly stationary, the same enumeration would nearly hold good for 1835, when he wrote, although his statements were not published till 1839. We extract a valuable table from Mr. Forbes’ volume, showing the localities peopled, with the amounts of their population respectively:—

POPULATION: people of all classes and ages.
Names of the Jurisdictions, Missions and Towns. Men. Women. Boys. Girls. Total
Jurisdiction of San Francisco.
Presidio of San Francisco 124 85 89 73 371
Town of San José de Guadalupe 166 145 103 110 524
Mission of San Francisco Solano 285 242 88 90 705
Mission of San Rafael 406 410 105 106 1027
Mission of San Francisco 146 65 13 13 237
Mission of Santa Clara 752 491 68 60 1371
Mission of San José 823 659 100 145 1727
Mission of Santa Cruz 222 94 30 20 366
Jurisdiction of Monterey.
Presidio of Monterey 311 190 110 97 708
Village of Branciforte 52 34 27 17 130
Mission of San Juan Bautista 480 351 85 71 987
Mission of San Carlos 102 79 34 21 236
Mission of Na. Sa. de la Soledad 210 81 23 20 334
Mission of San Antonio 394 209 51 17 671
Mission of San Miguel 349 292 46 61 748
Mission of San Luis Obispo 211 103 8 7 329
Jurisdiction of Santa Barbara.
Presidio of Santa Barbara 167 120 162 164 613
Mission of La Purissima 151 218 47 34 450
Mission of Santa Ines 142 136 82 96 456
Mission of Santa Barbara 374 267 51 70 762
Mission of Buenaventura 383 283 66 59 791
Mission of San Fernando 249 226 177 181 833
Town of La Reyna de los Angeles 552 421 213 202 1388
Jurisdiction of San Diego.
Presidio of San Diego** 295 1911 683 621 5686*
Mission of San Gabriel 574 ** ** ** **
Mission of San Juan Capistrano 464 ** ** ** **
Mission of San Luis Rey 1138 ** ** ** **
Mission of San Diego 750 520 162 143 1575
Totals 10272 7632 2623 2498 23025

* “We are unable,” says Mr. Forbes, “to give these latter details accurately, the copy having accidentally caught fire when in the hands of the printer.”

** Amounts for Women, Boys, Girls, and Total include Presidio of San Dieo, Mission of San Gabriel, Mission of San Juan Capistrano, and Mission of San Luis Rey.

From the pages also of Mr. Forbes, who seems to have made minute researches on the subject, we extract the two following tables,—the first of which shows the whole produce, in grain, of the country, in 1831, calculated according to localities, and in fanegas. The second table, calculated also by localities, gives the total number of cattle, of all descriptions, in the same year. It may be mentioned, however, that in addition to the number of domestic cattle in the table, there were great numbers, particularly mares, running wild; and which were occasionally hunted and killed to prevent them eating the pasture of the tamer species.

Names of the Jurisdictions, Missions and Towns. Wheat. Maize or
Indian Corn.
Frijoles or
Small Beans.
Barley. Beans, 
and Peas.
Jurisdiction of San Francisco.
Presidio of San Francisco 233 70 40 343
Town of San José de Guadalupe 1657 1560 191 3408
Mission of San Francisco Solano 1171 200 24 241 24 1660
Mission of San Rafael 774 130 15 388 20 1327
Mission of San Francisco 670 15 9 340 58 1092
Mission of Santa Clara 2400 60 25 200 2685
Mission of San José 4000 1000 123 1100 418 6641
Mission of Santa Cruz 160 300 10 386 20 876
Jurisdiction of Monterey.
Presidio of Monterey 490 332 131 953
Village of Branciforte 103 160 80 343
Mission of San Juan Bautista 840 170 40 256 6 1311
Mission of San Carlos 200 215 62 477
Mission of Na. Sa. de la Soledad 538 50 243 62 893
Mission of San Antonio 955 115 40 568 23 1701
Mission of San Miguel 599 36 9 57 33 734
Mission of San Luis Obispo 350 60 20 20 450
Jurisdiction of Santa Barbara.
Presidio of Santa Barbara 300 90 390
Mission of La Purissima 700 100 20 56 17 893
Mission of Santa Ines 800 400 20 1220
Mission of Santa Barbara 730 90 50 336 30 1236
Mission of Buenaventura 700 200 160 800 1860
Mission of San Fernando 200 250 40 65 555
Town of La Reyna de los Angeles 138 1758 179 2075
Jurisdiction of San Diego.
Presidio of San Diego 140 125 5 270
Mission of San Gabriel 1400 400 13 25 1838
Mission of San Juan Capistrano 450 625 30 5 1110
Mission of San Luis Rey 1800 2000 200 1200 15 5215
Mission of San Diego 2946 420 80 1200 4646
Total fanegas 25144 10926 1644 7405 1083 46202

Taking the fanega at two and a half English bushels, the harvest in 1831 would be as follows:—Wheat, 7857½ quarters; maize, 3414½ quarters; frijoles, 514 quarters; barley, 2314 quarters; beans, garvanzos and peas, 338 quarters; total, 14,438 quarters. Reckoning the average price of grain in California at the same period to be, wheat and barley two dollars the fanega, or one pound five shillings the English quarter, and maize at one and a half dollars, or one pound per quarter, the following will be the value of the produce, viz.: wheat, $49,114 25, or £9,822 17s. sterling; maize, $21,340, or £4,268; barley, $11,570, or £2,314; peas and beans, reckoned as barley, $4,260, or £852; total, $86,284 25, or £17,256 17s. The quantity of wheat produced it will be perceived, is much greater than any of the other sorts of grain, which is the reverse of what takes place in the Mexican States, where the produce of wheat is small in proportion to that of maize, the latter being the staple bread corn.

Names of the Jurisdictions, Missions and Towns. Black
Horses. Mules. Asses. Sheep. Goats. Swine.
Jurisdiction of San Francisco.
Presidio of San Francisco 5610 470 40
Town of San José de Guadalupe 4443 2386 134
Mission of San Francisco Solano 2500 725 4 5000 50
Mission of San Rafael 1200 450 1 2000 17
Mission of San Francisco 4200 1239 18 3000
Mission of Santa Clara 9000 780 38 7000
Mission of San José 12000 1300 40 13000 40
Mission of Santa Cruz 3500 940 82 5403
Jurisdiction of Monterey.
Presidio of Monterey 5641 3310 70
Village of Branciforte 1000 1000 3
Mission of San Juan Bautista 7070 401 6 1 7017 17
Mission of San Carlos 2050 470 8 4400 55
Mission of Na. Sa. de la Soledad 6599 1070 50 1 6358
Mission of San Antonio 5000 1060 80 2 10000 55 60
Mission of San Miguel 3762 950 106 28 8999 15 60
Mission of San Luis Obispo 2000 800 200 50 1200 24
Jurisdiction of Santa Barbara.
Presidio of Santa Barbara 7900 1300 220
Mission of La Purissima 10500 1000 160 4 7000 30 62
Mission of Santa Ines 7300 320 112 2200 50
Mission of Santa Barbara 2600 511 150 2 3300 37 63
Mission of Buenaventura 4000 300 60 3100 30 8
Mission of San Fernando 6000 300 60 3 3000
Town of La Reyna de los Angeles 38624 5208 520
Jurisdiction of San Diego.
Presidio of San Diego 608 625 150 58
Mission of San Gabriel 20500 1700 120 4 13554 76 98
Mission of San Juan Capistrano 10900 290 30 5 4800 50 40
Mission of San Luis Rey 26000 2100 250 5 25500 1200 250
Mission of San Diego 6220 1196 132 14 17624 325
Totals 216727 32201 2844 177 153455 1873 839

The average prices of cattle, about the same period, were, for a mule or saddle horse, ten dollars, or two pounds sterling; a mare, cow or fat ox, five dollars, or one pound; a sheep, two dollars, or eight shillings.

In regard to the preceding tables, it may be remarked that, in 1831, the missions had already lost much of their former splendor and greatness. Ever since 1824, their progress had been of a downward character. Most of them had so wilfully mismanaged their estates, or so dissipated their means, or been plundered of them by the Mexican authorities, that their wealth in cattle, farm produce, &c., had dwindled down to less than one-fourth, while the pecuniary affairs of many of their number showed a still more ruinous appearance. We have given at length the tables of Mr. Forbes, because he appears to have paid much careful attention to the subject; and we would now add some statistics as to the riches of the missions, during the period of their reputed greatest prosperity, extracted from the Rev. Walter Colton’s “Three Years in California” (New York, 1850), whose statements, however, are somewhat more sweeping and less detailed than those of Mr. Forbes.

Mission of Santa Barbara.The Mission of San Francisco Dolores, in 1825, is said to have possessed 76,000 head of cattle, 950 tame horses, 2,000 breeding mares, 84 stud of choice breed, 820 mules, 79,000 sheep, 2,000 hogs, 456 yoke of working oxen, 18,000 bushels of wheat and barley, $35,000 in merchandise, and $25,000 in specie: —Santa Clara, in 1823, branded, as the increase of one year, 22,400 calves. It owned 74,280 head of full-grown cattle, 407 yoke of working oxen, 82,540 sheep, 1,890 trained horses, 4,235 mares, 725 mules, 1,000 hogs, and $120,000 in goods:—San José, in 1825, had 3,000 Indians, 62,000 head of cattle, 840 tame horses, 1,500 mares, 420 mules, 310 yoke of oxen, and 62,000 sheep:—San Juan Bautista, in 1820, owned 43,870 head of cattle, 1,360 tame horses, 4,870 mares, colts, and fillies. It had also seven sheep farms, containing 69,530 sheep; while the Indians attached to the mission drove 321 yoke of working oxen. Its storehouse contained $75,000 in goods, and $20,000 in specie:—San Carlos, in 1825, branded 2,300 calves, and had 87,600 head of cattle, 1,800 horses and mares, 365 yoke of oxen, nine sheep farms, with an average of about 600 sheep on each, a large assortment of merchandise, and $40,000 in specie:—Santa Cruz, so lately as 1830, had 42,800 head of cattle, 3,200 horses and mares, 72,500 sheep, 200 mules, large herds of swine, and $25,000 worth of silver plate:—Soledad, in 1826, owned about 36,000 head of cattle, and a greater number of horses and mares than any other mission in the country. The increase of these animals was said to be so great, that they were given away to preserve the pasturage for cattle and sheep. This mission had about 70,000 sheep and 300 yoke of tame oxen:—San Antonio, in 1822, owned 52,800 head of cattle, 1,800 tame horses, 3,000 mares, 500 yoke of working oxen, 600 mules, 48,000 sheep, and 1,000 swine:—San Miguel, in 1821, owned 91,000 head of cattle, 1,100 tame horses, 3,000 mares, 2,000 mules, 170 yoke of working oxen, and 47,000 sheep:—San Luis Obispo was reputed to have heen one of the richest of the missions. At one time, it owned 87,000 head of grown cattle, 2,000 tame horses, 3,500 mares, 3,700 mules, and eight sheep farms, averaging 9,000 sheep to each farm. When its presiding priest, Luis Martinez, returned to Spain, he took with him $100,000 of mission property:—La Purissima, as lately as 1830, bad over 40,000 head of cattle, 300 yoke of working oxen, 2,600 tame horses, 4,000 mares, 30,000 sheep, and 5.000 swine:—Santa Inez, in 1820, possessed property valued at $800,000:—Santa Barbara, in 1828, had 40,000 head of cattle, 1,000 horses, 2,000 mares, 80 yoke of oxen, 600 mules, and 20,000 sheep:—San Buenaventura, in 1825, owned 37,000 head of cattle, 600 riding horses, 1,300 mares, 200 yoke of working oxen, 500 mules, 30,000 sheep, 200 goats, 2,000 swine, a thrifty orchard, two rich vineyards, $35,000 in foreign goods, $27,000 in specie, with church ornaments and clothing valued at $61,000:—San Fernando, in 1826, owned 56,000 head of cattle, 1,500 horses and mares, 200 mules, 400 yoke of working oxen, 64,000 sheep, and 2,000 swine. It had also in its stores about $50,000 in merchandise, and $90,000 in specie. Its vineyards yielded annually about 2,000 gallons of brandy, and as many of wine:—San Gabriel, in 1829, had 70,000 head of cattle, 1,200 horses, 3,000 mares, 400 mules, 120 yoke of working oxen, and 54,000 sheep. It made annually from four to six hundred barrels of wine, the sale of which produced an income of upwards of $12,000:—San Luis Rey, in 1826, had 70,000 head of cattle, 2,000 horses, 140 yoke of tame oxen, 300 mules, and 68,000 sheep:—San Juan Capistrano and San Diego were reputed to be among the most opulent of the missions, and their possessions were not inferior to those of the others named.

Let the reader contrast these statements with those of Mr. Forbes, and consider what havoc must have been produced among the missions in the short space of six or seven years. It was the impending secularization, or, in other words, the confiscation of their property, which seems to have produced this lamentable state of affairs, and made the Fathers quite careless in the management of their property. The large occasional grants, also, out of which the laity either wheedled or bullied the Fathers, mightily helped the disastrous result. The ravens had been long gathering round the carcass of the still breathing creature. In its last spasms, it recklessly threw aside all decorum, and thinking nothing of the future only endeavored to share in and for the moment enjoy its own spoils, along with the grasping and sacrilegious Mexican officials and their Californian favorites. Soon lands and stocks were all swept from the reach of the Fathers, the very Indian converts disappeared, and nothing was left but their huge empty churches, stripped of most of their valuable and gaudy ornaments, and fast crumbling into ruins. With the general disappearance of the stock of domestic cattle, those laymen who had acquired grants to the different parts of the mission possessions now turned their attention more to tillage.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License