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Coexistence and Conflict in the Spanish Southwest: The California Missions
Digital History ID 647

Author:   Alexander Forbes

Annotation: In California, the most important Spanish colonial institution was the religious mission. As Alexander Forbes, an English traveler explains, the mission was not only supposed to convert the Indians to Christianity, but also to teach them the skills of “civilization.”

Document: Each mission has allotted to it...a tract of land of about fifteen miles square, which is generally fertile and well-suited for husbandry. This land is set apart for the general uses of the mission, part being cultivated, and part left in its natural condition and occupied as grazing ground....The Indian population generally live in huts at about two hundred yards distant from the principal edifices; these huts are sometimes made of adobes, but the Indians are often left to raise them on their own plan; viz. of rough poles erected into a conical figure, of about four yards in circumference at the base, covered with dry grass and a small aperture for the entrance. When the huts decay, they set them on fire, and erect new ones....In these huts the married part of the community live, the unmarried of both sexes being kept, each sex separate, in large barn-like apartments, where they work under strict supervision....

The object of the whole of the Californian or missionary system being the conversion of the Indians and the training of them up, in some sort, to a civilized life, the constant care of the fathers is and ever has been directed towards these ends.... There can be no doubt that some of these means [of obtaining converts] go far beyond the bounds of legitimate persuasion....It must be admitted that with their particular views of the efficacy of baptism and ceremonial profession of Christianity in saving souls, the conversion of the Indians even by force, can hardly be otherwise regarded by them as the greatest of benefits conferred on these people and therefore justifying some severity in effecting it.

Source: Alexander Forbes, California (London, 1839).

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