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Padres Descontentos: Spanish Imperial Policy, Franciscan Decline, and the California Mission System, 1784-1803



Padres Descontentos: Spanish Colonial Policy,

Franciscan Decline, and the California Mission System,



Jeremiah Sladeck

Doctor of Philosophy in History

University of California, Los Angeles, 2020

Professor Stephen Aron, Chair

So long has the shadow cast by Jun�pero Serra been that it has obscured the history of the California mission system as it developed after the founding father’s death in 1784. In both the scholarly and popular imagination, Father Serra has become the lasting symbol of the California missions. He acts as an escutcheon, shielding the eras that followed from careful scrutiny. The intense scholarly focus on Serra leaves the impression that he either led the Franciscans throughout their time in California or that nothing significant occurred after his passing.

Shining a light on Serra’s shadow, my dissertation explores the world of California missions and missionaries, their Indian converts, and their secular rivals in the twenty years following Serra’s death. It exposes the chaos, conflicts, and cover ups that characterized the California missions in the period from 1784 to 1805, the years in which the mantle of leadership was taken up by Ferm�n Francisco de Lasu�n. Focusing on this era broadens our understanding of the California mission system in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the nature of Spanish colonialism.

Another gap in scholarly understanding is the role imperial politics played shaping the missions. Too often, California is studied in isolation, treated as if it was the island it was presumed to be on early maps. Its connections to Spanish America and to Spain get lost. Yet anti-clerical policy enacted by the Spanish crown in the mid-eighteenth century had a profound impact on California, sending the Franciscans into a period of decline in both zeal and competency just as they became the vanguard of the California colonial project. Lasu�n and his priests trained during that period and developed a different posture towards missionary life and the Indians they baptized. Gone was the desire to martyr themselves for the spiritual uplift of neophytes that marked Serra’s group, replaced by a deep cynicism born of their order’s decline. The order’s problems with Indigenous Californians under Serra metastasized during Lasu�n’s presidency, as the missions became marked by disease, violence, forced recruitment. After Lasu�n’s death in 1803, his administration’s cynicism became the prevalent attitude for Franciscan leadership and much of the rank-and-file priests that followed, spurring increasing Indigenous resistance in the nineteenth century.

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