History of San Diego de Alaclá Mission

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(Saint James). The first mission established within the present state of California. After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the Spanish authorities determined to found a number of military and missionary establishments in California. The mission work was placed in the hands of the Franciscans, and Father Junípero Serra, who was already president of the missions of Lower California, took charge. Two vessels and two land expeditions were dispatched northward from the settlements in Lower California, and reached the harbor of San Diego, named and described in 1602 by Vizcaino, in the early summer of 1760. Serra arrived with the last land division on July 1, and on July 16 he formally founded the mission, dedicating it to San Diego de Alcahá. The place chosen was at the present Old Town, on a hill near the bay, at or near the native village of Cosoy. The natives were by no means timid; indeed they soon became so bold in their thievish operations that they made a concerted attempt to plunder the settlement.

In the conflict which followed, Aug. 15, 1769, one Spaniard and a number of Indians were killed. After this a stockade was built around the mission, and the natives became more respectful. The missionary work was at first without success, and it was a year or more before the first neophyte was enrolled, while for several years the work progressed but slowly.

During the first few years the mission also suffered much front lack of supplies, and at one time was on the point of being abandoned when the supplies arrived. Owing to lack of knowledge of local conditions the crops of the first two or three years were not successful. In 1774 the mission was moved north east up the valley about 6 miles to a place called by the natives Nipaguay, while the old site at Cosoy became the presidio. At the new locality various buildings were erected, including a wooden church, 18X 57 ft, with roof of tules. At the end of this year there were 97 neophytes; the crops had been fairly successful and the livestock were increasing. During the summer of 1775 the prospects seemed bright: on one day 60 new converts were baptized; but a little later, on the night of Nov. 4, 1775, the mission was attacked by nearly 800 Indians. The total number of persons at the mission was only 11—4 soldiers, the two priests, and 5 others, two of whom were boys. Father Jayme and two of the men were killed, and most of the buildings burned. This uprising seems to have been due largely to two of the recently baptized neophytes, who incited the neighboring rancherias to make the attack.

For several years after there were reports of intended hostilities, but aside from an expedition sent against the hostile Indians of Pamó in 1778, there seems to have been no open conflict. Meanwhile the mission building had been rebuilt and the number of neophytes increased rapidly. In 1783 there were 740; in 1790, 856; and in 1800, 1,523, the mission at that time being the most populous in California. In 1797 there were 554 baptisms, the second largest number recorded for a single year at any California mission. Fages reported in 1787 that on account of the sterility of the soil not more than half the neophytes lived at the mission, and indeed it seems that the converts lived more independently than at the other missions, occupying to a large extent their own rancherias. About the year 1800 extensive irrigation works were begun, including a large dam, still in existence, which was constructed about 3½ miles above the mission, though this may not have been finished before 1817 or even later. A new church was built and dedicated Nov. 12, 1813.

During the decade ending with 1820 the death rate among the neophytes was 77 per cent of baptisms and 35 per cent of population. The greatest number of neophytes, 1,829, was reached in 1824, while by 1830, the number had decreased to about the same as in 1820. During this decade the mission attained its greatest prosperity and had several ranches and cattle stations in the neighboring valleys. One of the most important was at Santa Isabel, where a chapel was built in 1822 for the 450 neophytes of that place. From the time of its founding to its secularization in 1834, when statistics ceased, the total number of Indians baptized numbered 6,036, of whom 2,685 were children. As the neophytes here had never been so closely attached to the mission as elsewhere, the change due to secularization was not great, the decay of the mission having begun a decade before.

The opportunity was given the Indians in 1833 to become independent of the mission and take up lands for themselves, but very few accepted the offer. In Nov. 1834, the native pueblo of San Pascual was reported to contain 34 families. In 1840 there were still about 800 ex-neophytes nominally under the control of mission authorities, though but 50 at the mission proper. The mission building and orchards still remained in charge of the padres till about 1846, when they were sold by Governor Pico. In 1852 the buildings were used as barracks by United States troops. Of the old adobe church but little now remains excepting the facade and some crumbling walls, but steps have been taken by the Landmarks Club of California to prevent further decay.

The Indians in the neighborhood of San Diago, from whom the mission drew most of its neophytes, belong to the Yuman linguistic stock, and have been given the collective name Diegueños




MLA Source Citation:

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/history-of-san-diego-de-alacla-mission.htm - Last updated on Aug 16th, 2011


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