In 1769, the first Spanish missions were founded in California by Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra, whose statue is in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
California cities were originally founded as Spanish Christian missions:
- 1769 San Diego de Alcalá (grew into San Diego, California, cultivated the first olives in California)
- 1770 San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (grew into Carmel, California)
- 1771 San Antonio de Padua (grew into Monterey County, California)
- 1771 San Gabriel (grew into San Gabriel, California, began California’s citrus industry)
- 1772 San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (grew into San Luis Obispo, California)
- 1776 San Francisco de Asís (oldest surviving structure in San Francisco, California)
- 1776 San Juan Capistrano (grew into San Juan Capistrano, California, produced California’s first wine)
- 1777 Santa Clara de Asís (grew into Santa Clara, California)
- 1782 San Buenaventura (grew into Ventura, California)
- 1786 Santa Barbara (grew into Santa Barbara, California)
- 1787 La Purísima Concepción (grew into Lompoc, California)
- 1791 Santa Cruz (grew into Santa Cruz, California)
- 1791 Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (grew into Soledad, California)
- 1797 San José (grew into Fremont, California)
- 1797 San Juan Bautista (grew into San Juan Bautista, California, restored with help from the Hearst Foundation)
- 1797 San Miguel Arcángel (grew into San Miguel, California)
- 1797 San Fernando Rey de España (grew into Mission Hills district of Los Angeles)
- 1798 San Luis Rey de Francia (grew into Oceanside, California, first California pepper tree planted)
- 1804 Santa Inés (Danish town of Solvang built around mission)
- 1817 San Rafael Arcángel (grew into San Francisco Bay area, had the first hospital in California)
- 1823 San Francisco Solano (grew into Sonoma, California)
Prior to the Spanish Christian Missions, the Indian culture regarded manual labor as the role of women, as it was considered degrading for men. Spanish Christian Missionaries taught men to work in industry and introduced into California irrigation and oranges, grapes, apples, peaches, pears, figs, cattle, sheep, horses, mules, burros, goats and swine.
Spanish Christian Missions introduced the Indians to the wheeled cart, which had been in existence in Mesopotamia since the 4th millennium B.C., and the wheelbarrow, which was invented in China in the second century B.C. Spanish Christian Missions built foundries, introducing Indians to the Iron Age with blacksmith furnaces smelting and fashioning iron into nails, crosses, gates, hinges, and cannons.
Spain lost California to Mexico in 1821, but instead of giving people rights and freedoms, Mexico set up a monarchy with Augustin Iturbide as Emperor. Iturbide was executed, and Mexico adopted a federal constitution in 1824.
In 1833, General Santa Ana became president and, together with his Vice President Gomez Farias, instituted anti-clerical Mexican Secularization Acts which took all Christian Mission property away from the Catholic Church and sold it to insider political supporters of his government.
In 1834, General Santa Anna suspended Mexico’s Constitution and declared himself dictator, stating to U.S. minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett: “A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty … a despotism is the proper government for them.”
When several Mexican states opposed Santa Ana, he sent his army and crushed the resistance. Santa Ana’s ruthless actions precipitated the Texas War of Independence, 1836, and the Mexican-American War, 1846.
After the wars, California was purchased by the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In 1849, workers in California building a sawmill for John Sutter on the south fork of the American River, discovered gold. Soon prospectors, called “Forty-Niners,” arrived.
California became the 31st State on Sept. 9, 1850.
California’s Constitution, which prohibited slavery, stated: “We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom … do establish this Constitution.”
Regarding California’s Catholic Missions, the U.S. Board of Land Commissioners wrote, as recorded in W.W. Robinson’s book, “Land in California” (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1948, p. 28): “The Missions were intended … to be temporary. … It was supposed that within that period of time the Indians would be sufficiently instructed in Christianity and the arts of civilized life.”
On May 23, 1862, President Lincoln restored all 21 California missions taken by anti-clerical Mexican Secularization Acts back to the Catholic Church: “I grant unto the … Bishop of Monterrey … in trust for the religious purposes … the tracts of land described in the foregoing survey.”
Spanish Missions were an integral part of California’s history. In 2004, the ACLU, similar to Santa Ana’s Secularization Acts, pressured Los Angeles County to remove a tiny cross from its county seal. In 2014, the County restored the cross, but the A.C.L.U. brought a lawsuit, and in 2016, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled to remove the cross.