History of San Juan Capistrano Mission

A Franciscan mission established by Fr. Junfpero Serra, Nov. 10, 1776, at a place called in the native tongue Sajirit, or Quanis-Savit, at the present San Juan, Orange County, Cal. As soon as Franciscan missionaries, who were superseded by Dominicans in Lower California, arrived in San Diego, the ardent apostle to Alta California sent two friars to institute a mission at a roadstead 26 leagues north of San Diego. They raised a cross on Oct. 30, 1775, but hastily returned when they learned that in the absence of the soldiers the natives had burned San Diego mission. No sooner was it rebuilt than Fr. Junípero proceeded to inaugurate the projected second mission, then hurried to San Gabriel and brought down the requisite stock of cattle escorted by a single soldier, and when a band of yelling, painted Indians threatened his life he won their confidence and friendship.

The natives of this coast, well supplied by prolific nature, were not covetous of food or gifts, but remarkably eager for baptism. The inhabitants of the valley came from the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains, where they had a large rancheria called Sejat. About 2 miles from the mission they had one called Putuidem, and in its immediate vicinity they settled at Acagchemem 1 . The fruitful plain soon yielded an exchangeable surplus of wheat, corn, and legumes. Juicy grasses nourished herds and flocks that doubled each year. The vine was first planted there and it grew wonderfully, and pomegranates, quinces, peaches, nectarines, and other fruits of Old Spain throve as well.

By 1783 there were 383 converts; in 1790 there were 741, and the mission herds had increased to 2,473 head, the small stock to 5,500, the grain crop to upward of 3,000 bushels. Houses for 40 neophyte families were constructed in 1794, some of them roofed with tiles. The weaving industry was introduced in 1797, and woolen blankets and cloth of native dye were produced, while the wool clip was abundant enough to supply other missions also. A stone church, the finest in California, that was nine years in building, was completed in 1806. It had a high tower and five interior arches of stone, all the work of the neophytes. Illegal sales of provisions to American and Russian trading vessels filled the coffers of the mission. The number of neophytes increased to 1,138 in 1810, the average crop to 5,570 bushels, and the large stock to 10,213 head, while the number of sheep, though still the largest among the missions, decreased in ten years from 17,030 to 11,500, but at the end of the following decade there were 15,000, with 11,500 cattle and nearly 1,000 horses, while the neophyte population, after reaching 1,361 in 1812, declined to 1,064. On Dec. 8, 1812, the new church was destroyed by an earthquake, and nearly 50 natives who were attending early mass were buried beneath the ruins. In 1830 the number of neophytes had declined to 926, cattle to 10,978, sheep to 5,000. Torrents gullied the fertile soil and weeds choked the crops, while the affairs of the mission were mismanaged.

The missionary quarreled with the captain of the guard, and the neophytes grew lazy and insolent. In 1833 the earlier scheme of secularization was carried out at this mission as an experiment. The neophytes, of whom there were 861, were all released from mission restriction, provided with farms and farm stock, and constituted into a pueblo. In the following year their new liberties were abrogated and they were placed on a footing with the people of other missions. From the founding of the mission till 1834 the number of natives baptized was 4,317, 1689 adults and 2,628 children. The number of deaths was 3,153.

The civilian administrator was avaricious, and the neophytes deserted until only 80 were found at the mission in 1839. They clamored to be formed again into a pueblo, and the Government acceded to their desire on the condition (if their working faithfully during a period of probation under the direction of the padre, but he was unwilling to take charge unless citizens were allowed to come in and the Indian alcaldes were held in control.)

During the next few years most of the Indians left for Los Angeles or elsewhere. In 1841 the Indians were fully emancipated and land was assigned to those who desired it in the newly founded pueblo of San Juan, but not more than 20 to 30 seem to have settled there.

What remained of the mission grounds was sold in 1845 for $710. The ruins of the old stone church still remain as when overthrown. The Landmarks Club of California has secured a lease of the buildings and grounds, placed a roof, with the original tiles, on the old adobe church, supposed to have been built by Serra, besides making other repairs to preserve the buildings from further decay. The Indians in the neighborhood of this mission belong to the Shoshonean linguistic stock and are known as Juanefios, though it is probable that the mission included neophytes from more distant groups.

Orange County CA,

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. Geronimo Boscana in California Farmer, Oct. 11, 1861[]

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