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An Introduction

Between 1769 and 1823, Franciscan padres established a string of 21 missions along the California coast, reaching from San Diego to Sonoma. Until 1834, when secularization removed them from the control of the Church, the missions were the primary force for change in California. 

No two missions were exactly alike in their design or development. A mission’s location influenced its architecture and its industries. The personal characteristics of the padres assigned to a mission shaped the course that life at that mission would take. Attitudes of the local inhabitants of the area differed from mission to mission. Missions founded later in the mission period developed somewhat differently than those founded in the early years. 

All these factors created differences among the missions. Yet the 21 missions had even more in common than they had differences. Founded with the same goals -- to secure the land for Spain and to convert the local population to the Catholic faith -- the missions followed essentially the same path. What was accomplished toward those goals was based on the more mundane daily activities inside the missions. 

Over the course of the 65 years of the mission period, many changes were taking place in California. Ways of doing things changed. Following the padres and their guards of soldiers there came settlers from Mexico. Pueblos (towns) grew up around many of the missions. The pueblos of Los Angeles and Yerba Buena (later San Francisco) were especially significant.

Mission Life describes the typical mission life and activities at the peak of the mission period. The emphasis is on those factors that were held in common by most of the missions. Some differences are described. The aim, however, is to give a composite view of what being inside the mission was like for most of the people who lived there in the early 1800s. 

Most of what we know about what went on inside the missions of California comes from the detailed records, reports, and diaries kept by the padres at each mission. By being the record keepers, the padres somewhat controlled what historians would know about the missions. There are a few reports by visitors who came to California during this time, but there are almost no first-hand accounts or reports from Native Californians who were a part of the missions story.  

The most complete description of the California missions is Zephyrin Engelhardt’s The Missions and Missionaries of California: Volume 2, Upper California, published in 1912. Engelhardt was a Catholic priest who used original source documents for his work. His view supports the Franciscan padres side of the story. 

Mission Life is based on many sources, including Engelhardt’s work. Throughout the descriptions, however, the experience of the Native Californians has been kept in view in a sincere attempt to present a balanced picture of life inside the missions.

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