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4.2a.7 Indian births and deaths at Mission San Carlos, 1770-1831

This is a visual representation of the birth rate and death rate at Mission San Carlos from 1770-1831.
Hackel, Steven.

Adapted from: Hackel, Steven. Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. 110-13.

As seen in Source 5, the missions were places where many Native people died. Data from Mission San Carlos in Carmel shows us how many Native Californian people were born and how many died at the mission in the 60 years that it was open. What do you notice about the figures in this chart? What happens to a community when there are more deaths than births? How do you think a high death rate impacted Native people’s ability to keep alive their languages, cultures, and religions?

These numbers from a mission along the central coast of California are representative of what happened at nearly all of the missions. Scholars estimate that the Native population of coastal California from San Francisco to San Diego (the area where the missions had the greatest influence) declined from 72,000 in 1770 to only 18,000 by the 1830s, when the mission system ended. In the entirety of California, scholars estimate that the Native population declined from approximately 310,000 to around 150,000 during the same period. This radical population decline can be attributed to the social, political, economic, biological, and environmental transformations initiated by the Spanish in California. Most significantly, disease epidemics and changes to the land by the animals and plants brought by Europeans led to many deaths from the late 1700s to the 1830s. The death rate continued to grow into the late 1800s, following American settlement in California. By 1900, scholars estimate that the Native population in California totaled less than 20,000 people. The second inquiry set   How did the missions change the environment and the economy in California, and what did this mean for California Indians?  provides more in-depth understanding of some of these changes.

Indian births and deaths at Mission San Carlos, 1770-1831

1,284 Indian births
2,343 Indian deaths