Famous Missions of California - W. H. Hudson

Of the Founding of the Missions
of San Raphael and San Francisco Solano

Santa Inez carries us for the first time over into the nineteenth century, and its establishment may in a sense be regarded as marking the term of the period of expansion in California mission history. A pause of more than a decade ensued, during which no effort was made towards the further spread of the general system; and then, with the planting of two relatively unimportant settlements in a district thentofore unoccupied the tally was brought to a close.

The missions which thus represented a slight and temporary revival of the old spirit of enterprise, were those of San Rafael Archangel and San Francisco Solano. The former, located near Mount Tamalpais, between San Francisco de Assis and the Russian military station at Fort Ross, dates from the 17th December, 1817; the latter, situated still further north, in the Sonoma Valley, from the 4th July, 1823. Some little uncertainty exists as to the true reasons and purposes of their foundation. The commonly accepted version of the story connects them directly with problems which arose out of the course of affairs at San Francisco. In 1817 a most serious epidemic caused great mortality among the Indians there; a panic seemed inevitable; and on the advice of Lieutenant Sola, a number of the sick neophytes were removed by the padres to the other side of the bay. The change of climate proved highly beneficial; the region of Mount Tamalpais was found singularly attractive and a decision to start a branch establishment, or asistencia, of the mission at San Francisco was a natural result. The patronage of San Rafael was selected in the hope that, as the name itself expresses the "healing of God," that "most glorious prince" might be induced to care "for bodies as well as souls." While considerable success attended this new venture, the condition of things at San Francisco, on the other hand, continued anything but satisfactory; and a proposal based on these two facts was presently made, that the old mission should be removed entirely from the peninsula, and refounded in a more favorable locality somewhere in the healthy and fertile country beyond San Rafael. It was thus that the name of San Francisco got attached from the outset to the new settlement at Sonoma; and when later on (the old mission being left in its place) this was made into an independent mission, the name was retained, though the dedication was transferred, appropriately enough, from St. Francis of Assisi to that other St. Francis who figures in the records as "the great apostle of the Indies."

Mission of San Luis Obispo


Such is the simpler explanation of the way in which the last two missions came to be established. It has, however, been suggested that, while all this may be true as far as it goes, other muses were at work of a subtler character than those specified, and that these causes were involved in the development of political affairs. It has, however, been noted that, though the threatened encroachments of the Russians had been one of the chief reasons for this Spanish occupation of Alta California, there had hitherto been no attempt to meet their possible advances in the very regions where they were most to be expected—that is, in the country north of San Francisco. In course of time, however, always with the ostensible purpose of hunting the seal and the otter, the Russians were found to be creeping further and further south; and at length, under instructions from St. Petersburg, they took possession of the region of Bodega Bay, establishing there a trading post o their Fur Company, and a strong military station which they called Fort Ross. As this settlement was on the coast, and only sixty-five miles, as the crow flies, from San Francisco, will be seen that the Spanish authorities had some genuine cause for alarm. And the mission movement north of San Francisco is considered by some writers to have been initiated, less from spiritual motives, than from the dread of continued Russian aggression, and the hope of raising at least a slight barrier against it. However this may be, the two missions were never employed for defensive purposes; nor is it very clear that they could have been made of much practical service in case of actual need.