Monday, March 1, 2021

Settling in California

Today marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Juan Crespí, a Spanish missionary and explorer. He is remembered today not only for taking part in the expedition that led to the first settlements ever made in the present-day state of California, but for keeping a journal - now historically important - of the journey.

Crespí was born in Majorca, Spain, on 1 March 1721. He entered the Franciscan order at the age of 17. Junipero Serra was his teacher of philosophy at the Convent of San Francisco. When Serra decided to become a missionary in New Spain, Crespí and another missionary Francisco Palóu agreed to join him - they arrived in Vera Cruz in 1749. In 1767, Crespí went to the Baja California Peninsula where he was put in charge of the Misión La Purísima Concepción de Cadegomó. Two years later, he joined an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá to occupy San Diego and Monterey. The expedition continued up the coast, and the following year the Mission San Carlos Borromeo was founded (in present-day Carmel-by-the-Sea), Crespí served as chaplain of the expedition to the North Pacific conducted by Juan Pérez in 1774. He died in 1882. A little further information is available at Wikipedia and Spartacus Educational.

While there is sparse biographical information available online about Crespí, he left behind a detailed and informative diary kept during his 1769-1779 expedition. This was used by H. E. Bolton for his 1927 biography of Crespí, and has been mined by other historians as a valuable first hand source of information about his expeditions. However, the diary was only published for the first time in an unexpurgated edition, edited by Alan K. Brown, in 2001: A Description of Distant Roads Original Journals of the First Expedition Into California, 1769-1770 (San Diego State University Press). Crespí’s journals have a chequered past, according to Brown, which he unravels in his introduction, alongside plenty of historical context. Here is part of his preface.

‘Overdue for publication by two hundred years and more, these are the genuine journals kept by the missionary explorer Juan Crespí in 1769 and 1770 during the Spanish-American expedition that searched overland for the long-lost harbor of Monterey, and, after many hardships permanently established the first settlements ever made in the present-day state of California. The author, through the ongoing entries in his journals, carefully documented this whole progress and his own participation in it. Equally important, or perhaps even more at the present day, is the description of the native landscape and its inhabitants that he produced through his eye for detail and his extraordinary diligence in keeping the record.

This edition and translation, taken from manuscripts in the original author’s own handwriting, represents a first publication of much of the texts. The versions previously available to historians, scientists, and the reading public were deeply curtailed and adulterated by others than the original author, so much so that it is fair to say that his name has been falsely attached to the traditional editions and translations. Those very well known pseudo-Crespí texts are still often consulted and cited as though they were genuine, a circumstance that unfortunately has been allowed to feed upon itself for more than half a century.’

And here are a few extracts of Crespí’s diary from Brown’s edition.

18 March 1769
‘I set out from this spot early in the morning, but at about two or three leagues past Yuvai. one of the mules which was carrying my effects gave out and lay collapsed upon the trail, unable to go on. It was necessary for the soldier who had been accompanying me to stav behind with some Indians, in order to see whether the might bring it on after resting it, and for me to leave in order to reach the old mission of Santa Maria called Calamofué. I went onward with my own two Indian boys whom I have with me, in company with some other Indians belonging to the missions who are following me; I went the whole day at a good pace, stopping for a while only to eat a bite at midday, and I came about ten o’clock at night to the aforesaid mission of Calamofué, where I met a courier from Santa Maria mission, sent by Reverend Father Preacher Fray Fermin Lasuen, with the vestment and everything else needed in order to be able to say Mass her on the following day, Palm Sunday, as I had requested of him from back at his own mission of San Borja. As it was so late at night upon my reaching here, I told them to make me some chocolate and retired to rest, for I was truly worn out.’

3 May 1769
‘Invention of the Most Holy Cross. I said Mass here at this spot, and it was heard by all of this Expedition, and we lay resting in order for our beasts to approve the occasion of the fine grass here, and for the country to be scouted in the meanwhile to see whether they might find a watering place, in order for us to continue. On reaching this spot, close to one of the aforesaid pools we came across a village, who as soon as they saw us ran off to the hill and commenced shouting at us a great deal, seeming by their gesturing to be telling us to turn back; they were all naked and heavily beweaponed. Several times our commander called to them to come down to the camp without fear, but they never showed themselves nearby. I took the north altitude and made it 32 degrees 14 minutes.’

12 May 1769
‘We set out early in the morning from the small Saint Pius valley here, following a northward course veering a bit north-northwestward, along the shore and guided by some heathens belonging to this spot who had offered themselves as guides. They accompanied us a part of the way and left us. It was a march of a bit over three hours, over country that was all very easy going, crossing some gorges though not such difficult ones as those before were. We must have made three leagues, and came to a heathen village upon a tableland that looks to be an island, as it is surrounded by a gorge wherever not laved by the sea. As soon as they saw us, the heathens tried to have us stop close to their village, upon the aforesaid tableland. We thought it better, however, to cross to another one upon the other side of the gorge, where there was grass at the edge of the sea. The village here has, in the gorge, a middling-sized pool of good water that they supply themselves from. Though they might have done so, they refused to water our beasts there, in order not to do anything to spoil these poor souls’ watering place, inasmuch as our beasts had drunk their fill before setting out. The whole village, men, women, and children, came over to the camp at once, without a single weapon, nowise unruly, not wearing paint and not in any way like the last people all of them very friendly and cheerful. As though they had always dealt with us, they spent the entire day sitting down along with us, telling us with great pleasure of the ships, which they said were close by now. The four islands called Los Cuatro Coronados lie about opposite this spot. I named this place The little pool of the village of    Santos Martires Nereo y Sus Companeros, The Holy Martyrs Nereus and Companions. The same spot was ailed La Carcel de San Pedro, Saint Peter’s Prison, by the Reverend Father President.’

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