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Mission Santa Cruz

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History of the Santa Cruz Mission and Branciforte: 1769-1799

In 1769, the Portola Expedition explored the coast north of Monterey. In 1774, Father Palou chose a site with a river flowing into the ocean called Santa Cruz (Sacred Cross) for a new mission.

On August 28, 1791, Father Fermin Lasuen raised a cross where Santa Cruz Mission would be. On September 25, Father Lasuen was not there, so Fathers Salazar and Lopez held the founding celebration.

Early Years of Santa Cruz Mission History

Older missions sent gifts to start the new one. Buildings were constructed and the Santa Cruz Mission Indian population grew. Within three months, there were 87 neophytes.

Santa Cruz Mission did well in its first few years. After floods, the Fathers moved it uphill to a permanent location and more Indians came. In 1796, Santa Cruz Mission produced 1,200 bushels of grain, 600 bushels of corn and 6 bushels of beans. They planted vineyards and raised cattle and sheep. Their property extended from Ano Nuevo south to the Pajaro River. Native workers made cloth, leather, adobe bricks and roof tiles, and worked as blacksmiths.

Ohlone Indians came to Santa Cruz Mission to work and go to church, but lived in their nearby villages. By 1796, there were 500 neophytes.

Santa Cruz Mission History and Branciforte

In other places, problems came up when missions were too close to towns and the Franciscans said there should be at least a league (about 3 miles) between a mission and a town. At Santa Cruz, Governor Borica ignored them. In 1797, he started a pueblo (town) named Villa de Branciforte. It was across the river from Santa Cruz Mission. The Fathers tried to stop it, but failed.

Some people say Branciforte was California's first real estate development. Borica asked the Viceroy in Mexico to send colonists. He promised them clothing, farm tools and furniture, a neat, white house, $116 annually for two years and $66 annually for the next three. The community was laid out in an square, with a big farming area divided into units for each settler. Borica wanted Branciforte to be like Latin America, where the races mixed successfully and houses were set aside for Indian chiefs, too. The plan worked in Mexico, but was doomed to fail in California.

The settlers who came were criminals who didn't want to run farms. Borica's assistant wrote: "to take a charitable view of the subject, their absence for a couple of centuries at a distance of a million leagues would prove most beneficial to the province." The settlers stole, bothered the Indians and used money to tempt them to leave the mission.

Neophytes started leaving Santa Cruz Mission. The population went from 500 in 1796 to 300 two years later. Father Lasuen complained, but the Governor just said if there were fewer Indians, then Santa Cruz Mission needed less land.

The Fathers couldn't fight against the pueblo, but they did punish the neophytes they got back, which made things worse. In 1799, a rainstorm damaged the church and it had to be rebuilt.

Mission Santa Cruz After 1800

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