Serra, Junipero

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SERRA, JUNIPERO (17131784), was a Spanish founder of Franciscan missions in California. Educated at the Royal and Pontifical University of Palma in Spain, Serra was a tenured professor of philosophy there when in 1749 he volunteered to go to Mexico as a missionary. There he served his apprenticeship among the Pamé Indians of Sierra Gorda (17501758) and in Baja California (17671769).

In 1769, when Spain decided to occupy Alta California to prevent Russian or English encroachments, Serra established his first mission there at San Diego, on 16 July. In all, he began nine missions on carefully selected sites after first obtaining the consent of the natives concerned.

After a careful survey of the territory from San Diego to San Francisco, he formed a plan for the development of the whole area. It was a vision not of isolated missions and military presidios but of an interrelated system of ports, presidios, towns, and missions. In 1773 Serra traveled the 1,500 miles to Mexico City to consult with the viceroy, Antonio María Bucareli y Ursúla. In a series of meetings, Serra discussed his plan and his needs with Bucareli and his staff. At their suggestion he wrote a brief in thirty-two sections. Serra's vision was to become the catalyst of the official program.

First, there was a need to regulate relations among the ruling military, the missionaries, the Indians, and the townspeople. This regulation was formulated in the Reglamento Echeveste (July 1773), which was to become the basic law of the state of California. Next, a supply system had to be invented, with the procurement and shipping office in Mexico through the port of San Blas, for a fleet to transport people, animals, and goods to and from California. Such a system was established by the end of the year 1773. Serra also needed mules and oxen to put his California society on wheels. He was granted 150 mules; it was hoped that more animals would be shipped on the hoof via an overland route, then being explored. In January 1776 the first overland expedition arrived at Mission San Gabriel from Tubac, Arizona, bringing 244 people together with provisions and herds of horses and cattle. Later arrivals permitted the founding of four towns, among them San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Above all, Serra needed role models for his neophytes, to train them in the crafts and in Christian living. Five artisans were granted to each mission for this purpose. Only married couples would be accepted as settlers: This set an example of a Christian family as the foundation of a stable society. The money for all these expenditures was to come from the Pious Fund of expelled Jesuits. California remained within the Spanish empire until it became part of the United States in 1850. In 1931, the state of California placed a statue of Serra in Washington, D. C.


Geiger, Maynard. The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra. 2 vols. Washington, D. C., 1959.

Tibesar, Antonine, ed. The Writings of Junipero Serra. 4 vols. Washington, D. C., 19551966.

Antoine Tibesar (1987)