Junípero Serra to Juan Andrés
Excerpts from a letter written by Junípero Serra to Father Juan Andrés, June 12, 1770.
Father Junípero Serra was the leader of the Spanish Catholic missionaries who traveled to Alta California from Mexico to create mission settlements for Spain. In this letter, Serra described the day that the Spanish claimed Monterey, California, by planting a large wooden cross and two Spanish flags before praising God and the Spanish king. Spanish explorers performed a series of symbolic actions that told themselves, and potentially other empires such as Britain and Russia, that Northern California now belonged to Spain.
What do you think the planting of the cross and the Spanish flag may have meant to Native people in California? Do you think they understood the actions of these newcomers? Did it change life immediately for Native people or for the Spanish? Consider some of the long-term impacts of Spanish land claims in Alta California.
The Spanish empire expanded from present-day Mexico into Alta California beginning in 1769. However, the earliest Spanish claim to Alta California was established by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo after his ship landed in San Diego in 1542. The Spanish showed minimal interest in Alta California for nearly two centuries after exploring the land and finding no evidence of precious metals or other valuable resources in the region. Not until the Russians began exploring the Northern California coast in the 1760s did Spain work to establish settlements in Alta California to protect their previous land claim.
Encourage students to consider the ways that Native people might interpret the symbolic acts of land possession described in the passage. Consider some of the long-term impacts of Spanish land claims in Alta California.
“I went aboard the packet boat San Antonio… to sail for Monterey…. The voyage was somewhat trying, and for many days, far from getting nearer to Monterey, we were getting farther and farther away from the goal of our desires.
Our arrival was greeted by the joyful sound of the bells suspended from the branches of the oak tree.
... we unfurled the flag of our Catholic Monarch…. As we raised each [flag], we shouted at the top of our voices, ‘Long live the Faith! Long live the King!’
…the officers proceeded to the act of taking formal possession of that country in the name of His Catholic Majesty, unfurling and waving once more the royal flag, pulling grass, moving stones, and other formalities according to law…. A few days later the expedition moved to a pretty plain… and there established the presidio and the mission to it" (140-141).