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Mission San Jose


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History of Mission San Jose: 1797 to the 1820s

The Franciscan missionaries hoped to create a mission "chain," each a day's ride apart on horseback. In 1796, they were well on their way, with 13 of them along the California coast. El Camino Real, the road joining them, was a well-traveled road joining north and south, but there were still long dangerous stretches with no stop nearby. Father Lasuen and the new governor decided to create five more missions.

Founding San Jose Mission

The first of the five, and the only one east of the San Francisco Bay, was founded on June 11, 1797, by Father Fermin Lasuen. No one knows exactly why San Jose Mission was built here, but some have suggested that the missionaries wanted to keep it further away from the new city of San Jose so the Indians would not be tempted by the city ways, or that it was a good place for the military to protect travelers crossing the mountains. It was located near the Ohlone Indian village called Orisom, where the town of Fremont now stands. It was named for Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ and Patron of the Universal Church.

After the dedication, the soldiers quickly built shelters for themselves and the priests, and within 3 weeks, there were seven more buildings laid out in a rectangle (instead of the square pattern used elsewhere). They received supplies and gifts from nearby mission settlements to help them get started, including more than 500 head of cattle and large flock of sheep from Santa Clara.

Early Years at San Jose Mission

The Ohlone Indians did not want to change their way of living, and in the beginning, the fathers found it difficult to get them to move in. Only thirty-three Indians were living at San Jose Mission at the end of that first year. However, the location had military importance, near the western approach to the Central Valley.

San Jose Mission 1800-1820

Around 1805, Father Jose Fortuni and Father Narciso Duran arrived at San Jose Mission. They worked together to attract the Indians and trained them as weavers, blacksmiths, rope makers, leather tanners, tile and adobe brick makers, shoemakers and carpenters. The women learned to sew, spin, cook, launder and do needlework.

In 1805 a new church was started and it was finished on April 22, 1809. It was a simple, solid building with walls 8 feet thick in some places.

San Jose Mission prospered in the 1800s and it controlled all the land around it, north almost to Oakland, east into the Livermore Valley and up through the Sacramento Delta and west towards the Bay. The small herd of 500 cattle grew to 350,000 - the largest herd of any mission. With so much land, the agricultural output was second in the territory, and its olive oil production was the highest. By 1816 they were trading Indian-made goods for coffee, sugar, spices, hardware, fabrics and supplies. They even bought a boat and sailed across the Bay to trade with ocean-going ships.

Mission San Jose After the 1820s

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