Santo Tomas de Aquino (1791)

Beginning in 1774, the Dominicans established new missions along the Pacific Coast in the northern section of the Peninsula. They were Rosario (1774), Santo Domingo (1775), San Vicente (1780), and San Miguel (1787).In 1791, the Dominicans established Santo Tomas de Aquino in a narrow canyon south of modern Ensenada. The mission remained at this site for three years,but then was moved several miles inland to a large valley with some 700 acres of agricultural land. There was also land for pasture at a site called La Grulla five miles north of the mission, in the Santo Tomas close to the first site of the mission, and also in the San Rafael Valley and Ensenada Plain to the north.[i]

The Building of Santo Tomas Mission

Table 5.1 records building construction in the 1790s at Santo Tomas as reported in extant annual reports. At the first site the missionaries directed the construction of a small adobe chapel and a residence and other structures. Following the relocation of the mission, the missionaries had a larger building complex constructed, which incorporated the new stress on social control advocated by the Spanish government.

In 1794, the Dominicans had an adobe church and residence for themselves built. Over the next eight years they directed an ambitious building program that included a new and larger church completed in 1801, residence, granary, and storerooms. In 1796 and again in 1801, dormitories for single women and older girls were added to the growing complex. The Dominicans at the four missions studied in detail here added dormitories in the 1790s in response to royal concerns over what was perceived to be the unrestrained un-restrained sexuality of the indigenous population. The practice of incarcerating women at night in unsanitary dormitories also damaged their health. The major building projects also required the neophytes to work in ways that were alien to them.

In the 1970s, ruins existed at the two sites of Santo Tomas mission, although most of the once extensive building complex had melted back into the soil. Walls of a building believed to have been a storeroom still survive at the second site, close to the main highway. As late as the 1920s, this structure was still largely intact with a roof. Sections of adobe walls remained at the first site, until plowed over.

The Mission Economy

The basic objective of the mission economies was to be as self-sufficient as possible, and perhaps produce surpluses that could be shipped to other of the Peninsula missions. When compared to the establishments further south in the Central Desert such as San Fernando and Santa Gertrudis, the site of Santo Tomas was endowed with water that could be used for irrigation. Dry farming was possible, and coastal fogs provide additional moisture. The mission herds and flocks were larger than at other missions. In 1801, after a decade of operation, the mission counted some 1,200 head of cattle and 2,646 sheep, in addition to lesser animals (see Table 5.2 and Figure 5.1)). The mission livestock grazed at the sites mentioned above. The animals provided raw materials for the manufacture of woolens, leather goods and soap and candles made from tallow. Meat also supplemented the diet of the neophytes.

Agricultural production at Santo Tomas fluctuated from year to year, but crops tended to be larger than at the Central Desert missions (see Table 5.3). Wheat and corn in that order were the most important crops, but the Dominicans also had quantities of barley grown. In addition to the staple grains, the mission produced some fruits and vegetables. Given the size of the indigenous neophyte population, grain production at the mission supplied most if not all of the basic food requirements of the Indians.

Demographic Patterns

Sacramental registers do not survive for Santo Tomas, but there are censuses for most of the history of the mission. Annual reports between 1795 and 1798 recorded a total of 104 baptisms as against only 60 burials.[ii] The mission population experienced a net growth during the four years of 44, due to the resettlement of new converts at the mission as well as births.The mission population grew for about a decade, and reached a recorded maximum of 267 in 1802 and again in 1804. In subsequent years the numbers slowly declined as the population stagnated. In 1829, only 121 neophytes remained at the mission (see Table 5.4 and Figure 5.1). Disease, including syphilis, was the major cause for the population decline.

The Dominicans formally abandoned Santo Tomas in the 1830s, and in the 1840s the former mission became a military colony. In 1849, 60 people lived at Santo Tomas, but the numbers gradually dropped over the next decade. There were 40 in 1855, and only 16 five years later in 1860 (see Table 5.4).

How did the neophytes at Santo Tomas and the other Baja California missions respond to the cultural and religious changes forced on them, the pressures of a new labor regime, and the psychological cost of seeing family members and friends die from horrible maladies? Very few Baja California natives left their impressions of their experiences in the missions, but we can also judge from the behavior of the neophytes: good, bad, or otherwise. The neophytes resisted in a number of active and passive ways. The following section examines events that occurred at Santo Tomas in 1803.

Santo Tomas in 1803

By all accounts, the Dominicans assigned to Santo Tomas mission had grounds to be satisfied with the progress over a decade of the establishment. The population stood at 267 at the end of the previous year, and since the relocation of the mission to a new site the missionaries had directed an ambitious building program. The mission economy seemed to be soundly established with growing numbers of livestock and productive agriculture.

From this promising start, things seemed to go very wrong in 1803. On January 13 Fr. Miguel Lopez, O.P. died at the mission. Five months later, in May, a second Dominican named Fr. Eudaldo Surroca, O.P. also died at Santo Tomas, Surroca was discovered in his bed dead, and initially it was believed that he had died of natural causes. However, a closer examination of his body revealed that he had been beaten to death. His body was bruised, and had fractured bones. Four neophyte servants were arrested, and one confessed to the crime. In light of Surroca’s murder, officials now suspected that neophytes had also murdered Lopez as well.[iii]

Manuel Rojo provides additional details on events at Santo Tomas in 1803. Rojo reports that the neophytes at Santo Tomas rebelled, and joined the Cocopa, a Colorado River group, and fled to the Colorado River region. The military launched an expedition against the rebels, but had to turn back because of the difficult terrain that made it difficult for mounted soldiers to maneuver.[iv] Most of the neophytes eventually returned to the mission. Rojo does not provide details of the chronology of the revolt, but the uprising very well may have followed Surroca’s murder.

What motivated the neophytes to murder at least one missionary and later rebel? Rojo provides some insights.

The fathers married them off when they wanted to and to the woman they themselves designated, even though it was not the choice of the contracting parties, so that they were joined in matrimony when they least expected it and to someone whom they had least thought about marrying; this is the reason why, after the uprising of the Santo Tomas Indians in 1803, it was seen that when the peaceful Indians returned after being run off by the Yumas of the Colorado River, almost all the women who left the mission with their husbands returned with men different from those given to them in marriage, and thus both men and women were happier with this new choice than the one the missionaries made at the time they married them.[v]

Missionaries in both Californias pressured neophytes into marrying, and in some instances married recently congregated women to men already living at the mission. This practice was a response to the belief on the part of the Dominicans and Franciscans that the neophytes would engage in sexual relations outside of the formal marriage. Rojo suggests that the practice contributed to the outbreak of the uprising.

The way in which the neophytes murdered Surroca also provides clues to motivations, and the form of death of the Dominican was in many ways similar to the murder of Fr. Luis Jayme, O.F.M. at San Diego 28 years earlier in 1774. As anthropologist Florence Shipek argued, the use of corporal punishment greatly angered the natives. The Dominicans also used corporal punishment, and had a reputation for being harsh in their punishments of the neophytes. Moreover, Rojo interviewed a former neophyte named Janitin from Neji (a village in the interior) who explained how soldiers had forcibly taken him to San Miguel mission. After baptism the mission overseer whipped him because Janitin did not perform assigned duties adequately. He ran away, and was severely whipped once recaptured. In his account Rojo noted that: Janitin is a very old man and he showed us the scars of the wounds which the lashes made on him, assuring us that he was never a Christian by his will[.]”[vi]

Within the context of the rapid development of Santo Tomas, it is likely that the new social and labor regime created by the Dominicans generated a violent reaction. Over the space of a decade the Dominicans launched an ambitious building program, and developed agriculture and ranching. All of these activities required the labor of the neophytes, and forms of disciplined labor that were entirely new. The Dominicans used corporal punishment to discipline the labor force, and to also punish transgressions of the social rules they attempted to impose on the neophytes. When given the opportunity in exile in the Colorado River region, the rebels from Santo Tomas reestablished traditional marriage practices based upon the choice by the couples, and not the missionaries. In a real sense, then, the events at Santo Tomas in 1803 reflected a violent response to the new rules established in the mission community by the first generation of Indians subjected to the new colonial order being created on the Baja California mission frontier.

Table 5.1: Building Construction Reported at Santo Tomas Mission, 1794-1801

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1793: Church described as being of adobe with dimensions of 12 x 5 varas.

1794: Mission, originally established in 1791, was moved to a new site. An adobe chapel and residence for the missionaries were built.

1795: Seventy varas of foundation laid for new buildings.

1796: An adobe structure was built containing a reception room (sala), two bedrooms, another room, and a common area. A dispensary was built, as well as dormitories for single men and single women. A weaving room with an adjoining corral was built.

1797: A corral for sheep and goats was built. 1,400 varas of foundation were laid for building projects.

1798: No building projects reported, because indigenous workers prepared new agricultural fields.

1799: Four adobe structures were built measuring 20, 14, 7, and 6 varas in length respectively. Foundations were laid for a new church.

1800: Work continued on the church. A corridor, weaving room, and granary were built.

1801: The adobe church begun in 1799 was completed. It measured 30 x 6 varas. Two store rooms, each measuring 10 x 8 varas were built, as well as a new dormitory for single women and girls measuring 9 x 6 varas.

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Source: Annual Reports, Archivo General de la Nacion, Misiones 2, and Provincias Internas 19. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Missions and Missionaries of California: Lower California, 2nd edition (Mission Santa Barbara, 1929), 625-626.

Table 5.2: Numbers of Livestock Reported at Santo Tomas Mission
 
Year
Cattle
Sheep
Goats
1793
350
500
124
1794
507
430
157
1795
392
720
100
1796
650
580
152
1797
650
1015
130
1798
660
1200
126
1800
1070
2000
115
1801
1200
2646
168
1825
13
15

Source: Annual Reports, Archivo General de la Nacion, Misiones 2, and Provincias Internas 19. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Missions and Missionaries of California: Lower California, 2nd edition (Mission Santa Barbara, 1929), 625-626; “Baja California Mission Statistics,” The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Table 5.3: Grain Production in Fanegas at Santo Tomas Mission
 
Year
Wheat
Corn
Barley
1793
200
180
250
1794
70
700
1795
400
300
1796
250
180
1797
214
500
123
1798
260
600
70
1800
600
500
400
1801
600
400

Source: Annual Reports, Archivo General de la Nacion, Misiones 2, and Provincias Internas 19. Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Missions and Missionaries of California: Lower California, 2nd edition (Mission Santa Barbara, 1929), 625-626; “Baja California Mission Statistics,” The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Table 5.4: Population of Santo Tomas Mission in Selected Years
 
Year
Population
Year
Population
1791
92
1802
267
1794
151
1803
264
1795
211
1804
267
1796
209
1806
244
1797
196
1808
252
1798
202
1829
121
1799
245
1849
60
1800
253
1855
40
1801
256
1860
16

Source: Robert H. Jackson, “Epidemic Disease and Population Decline in the Baja California Missions, 1697-1834,”Southern California Quarterly 63:4 (1981), 308-346.

Notes



[i] Peveril Meigs, The Dominican Mission Frontier of Lower California (Berkeley, 1935), 93.

[ii] Annual Reports, Archivo General de la Nacion, Misiones 2, and Provincias Internas 19.

[iii] Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Missions and Missionaries of California: Lower California (Santa Barbara, 1929), 626-627.

[iv] Manuel Rojo, Historical Notes on Lower California with some relative to Upper California furnished to the Bancroft Library by Manuel C. Rojo 1879, trans. and ed. By Philip Gericke (Los Angeles, 1972), 23-24.

[v] Ibid., 29.

[vi] Ibid., 31.