Junipero Serra—the Man and his Work - A. H. Fitch

With Neve at Montery

Certain rumors, which had been in circulation for some time past, regarding the probable removal of Rivera from his position of military commandant became verified by the arrival of couriers with authentic information that the first governor of California had been appointed and was on his way to Monterey. Felipe de Neve was lieutenant governor of Baja California when he received the appointment which made him governor of the two Californias. By royal command, Monterey was created the capital of both provinces. This was the first official recognition Spain had given that her new possession was of vastly greater importance than the long occupied Baja California. It had taken exactly six years of hard, indefatigable labor on the part of a lame friar to prove to Carlos III. the real value of his latest territorial acquisition. Junipero's bella cordona  of missions was the means of riveting the king's attention upon this favored corner of the world, and of finally spurring him on to firmly hold and carefully govern his new possession. The Majorcan peasant priest laid the foundation of the flourishing Spanish dominion in Alta California. He did this with perfect self-effacement, with absolute integrity, with an indomitable will, and with a tender devotion to his unchristianized fellowmen in the wilderness. He was a great missionary, a great pioneer, a great promoter, a great organizer, and, with it all, a very tired, lame old man.

Rivera was ordered to Loreto as lieutenant governor of Baja California, subordinate to Neve. That he was not considered competent to occupy the important office of governor was probably due not only to the reports of him that had gone to Mexico, but also to Galvez's knowledge of him. The former visitador general  was at that time in Spain and prominent at court, and without doubt was instrumental in removing Rivera from Alta California. We know, at least, that the powerful nobleman entertained small regard for the captain's natural capacities, from the fact that in 1769 he made him, despite his superior military rank, subordinate to Don Pedro Fages. Nor did the viceroy think favorably of his abilities since learning of the unwise policy Rivera pursued after the San Diego revolt.

We find in a letter dated December 25, written by Bucareli to Junipero, the following:

I do not doubt that the suspension of the re-establishment of the ruined San Diego mission caused your reverence much pain, in as much as the mere knowledge of it has given me displeasure, particularly the frivolous motives which occasioned the suspension and which were hinted to me in the letter of Lieut. Don Diego Choquet, Commander of the Paque boat el Principe.

The new governor, arrived at Monterey in February, 1777, having made the journey overland from Baja California. Junipero must have felt some uneasiness concerning the possible attitude of the governor towards himself and his missions. He was cognizant of the quarrels Neve had had with the Dominicans in Baja California. These quarrels—carried on with considerable acrimony on both sides—were at their height when they were abruptly interrupted by Neve's new appointment, which compelled him to reside at Monterey. Their dissensions arose over the Indians. There was a vast difference between the treatment given the Indians by the Franciscans under Fray Junipero and that accorded them by the Dominicans under Padre Mora. It was the difference between thrashing the savages into civilization and the arms of the Catholic church, and of leading them humanely to the same destination. The records of the Dominicans in Baja California, show them to have been harsh taskmasters, exacting excessive labors from their charges, and encouraging them by a free use of the lash. The consequences were such as one might expect. The Indians were constantly on the verge of revolt, when not actually revolting—a condition of things conducive to neither the prosperity of Baja California nor to the glory of the Catholic church. Neve's efforts were directed towards remedying these evils by restricting the power of the friars. It was these efforts which the Dominicans vigorously opposed and which were the origin of their quarrels. If the new governor entered on his duties in Alta California with feelings strongly prejudiced towards missionary friars in general, it need not excite our surprise.

He laid greater stress on the essential principles of individual liberty than did the missionaries or his predecessors. In matters of government however, much depends upon the men who administer, and a system defective in itself can be made to produce good results. It is not improbable that the keen-sighted governor was unconsciously forced into a recognition of this truism, when, with his escort, he traversed the well-beaten trail through Alta California to Monterey, and visited every mission en route, for after noting carefully the conditions of the neophytes, and the methods and management in vogue in the establishments, he found no serious complaint to make as a result of his scrutinizing inspection. At Monterey he was received with the customary military honors. Neve's first care was to review the troops. In San Diego he had found the soldiers poorly equipped, not only as to their clothing but their arms, presenting altogether a wretched appearance. What he thought of the force at Monterey he left unsaid in his amazement at the condition of the presidio, which was now the capital of California, a capital consisting of a miserable collection of huts behind a rickety fence, trying to do duty for a palisade.

In spite of the beauty of the surrounding country Neve was disheartened at the prospect of remaining in this sordid place, and in a land so remote. He determined to ask permission to resign; he was in poor health and moreover had been separated from his family in Seville for thirteen years because of his military duties in New Spain. He, no doubt, thought it small compensation to forego longer the pleasures of family life, and the luxuries of civilization for the privilege of being governor of Spain's most remote and isolated province on the Pacific.

Promptly after Neve's arrival in Monterey Fray Junipero came over from Carmel to see him and confer with him concerning the affairs of the province. Neve eyed with cold curiosity the shabbily gowned, drawn-faced little man, who greeted him with a mild and humble deference. This then was the master-spirit of the California conquest, represented in a lame, emaciated friar, in whose eyes glowed the strange light of fanaticism, yet whose extraordinary capabilities and talents were shown in the progress and prosperity of every mission in the province. The thought may have flashed through Neve's mind, that if his predecessors in California had possessed a tithe of this Franciscan's fertility in resources, a quarter of his energy and capacity, the presidio  would have presented an appearance somewhat different in character.

Junipero laid his plans before the governor with all his accustomed fervor. He had long been keenly anxious to establish missions in the thickly populated region of the Santa Barbara channel. One of these missions was, as we know, to be San Buenaventura, the establishment of which had been projected as long ago as 1769.

Neve listened, impressed, in spite of himself, as Junipero unfolded carefully his plans and stated his reasons for urging their adoption. The integrity of his character, the rush and whirl of his enthusiasm, the singleness of his purpose, in which selfishness and personal ambition had no share, stood out with sharp distinctness against the background of greed and tyranny furnished by the friars Neve had so recently encountered in the peninsula. Moreover, Neve recognized the wisdom of Junipero's plans, which would, if carried out, result in controlling the channel natives. This was a matter of considerable importance to the Spaniards, as the peculiar situation of the Santa Barbara channel country permitted the savages at any time to cut off land communications between the north and the south.

The governor, accordingly, wrote to Mexico, strongly advocating Junipero's projects. He advised the establishment of a presidio  in this region, also, as an additional precaution in protecting the new settlements. Yet at the same time that he forwarded these recommendations, he undoubtedly was already engaged in planning his reglamento  which, when put into effect, would change the entire mission system and restrict the authority of the friars by removing their temporal power. Junipero was an old man, he could not live many years longer; his successor in the presidency of the California missions might be a friar of totally different character, possessing little of his splendid patience in efforts to civilize the natives, little of his desire to maintain the peace and happiness of his charges and thereby of the country. In his attitude toward the established mission system Neve acted in entire good faith. We shall see later, however, that his judgment was at fault in the extent to which his reglamento  crippled the powers of the missionaries and in the time and place chosen for enforcing it. Junipero returned to his mission well pleased with the result of his interview with the new governor.

Although Neve was firmly determined to resign, he was not the man to remain idle in his post in the interim, or to accept quietly the existing conditions of the presidio. He promptly began the building of a stone wall, 12 feet high and more than 500 yards in circumference to replace the rickety wooden fence. He had the wretched huts demolished and substituted fair-sized adobe houses with barracks sufficiently commodious for the accommodations of additional troops.

So expeditiously were his plans executed, that within six months the new presidio  was completed. While this work was under way, he made a tour of inspection to the northern establishments, Santa Clara and San Francisco, and arranged for the founding of the first pueblo in California, San Jose de Guadalupe—now known as San Jose. Neve chose a site for the pueblo not far from the Santa Clara mission, in order that the padres there could attend to the spiritual requirements of the new community.

He then selected from among the San Francisco settlers who had accompanied Anza to California, five families, also fourteen soldiers who understood something of farming. Sixty-six men, women, and children were gathered together to form the original population of San Jose. Each settler received a tract of land sufficiently large to plant three bushels of maize; he was also given a house lot, soldier's rations, and ten dollars a month pay; in addition he was provided with "a yoke of oxen, two horses, two cows, a mule, two sheep and two goats, together with necessary implements and seed, all of which were to be repaid in products of the soil, delivered at the royal warehouse."