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La Victoire de Samothrace, Unknown, 190 BC

Spanish Missions

18th century

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The Spanish settled California through missionaries.

From San Diego to Sonoma, 21 religious missions were built.

They were all within 1 day of travel from each other and were backed by the 5 military forts : San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Francisco and Sonoma.

The route that connected the missions along the coast was called the Camino Real.

Today's Highways 1, 101 and Mission Street in San Francisco still follow this route.

Fun fact : the missionaries planted mustard seeds and ash trees along the route to indicate where springs could be found.

The missions were not happy places.

They were typically occupied by 2 missionaries and a couple of soldiers.

Most of the labour was done by Native Californians.

The missionaries first attracted their curiosity with food and gifts, and baptised them, turning them into what they called Neophytes.

Once a Native Californian became a Neophyte, he or she was assumed to be "attached" to the mission.

They grew new crops, herded cattle and horses, made bricks, built mission buildings...

If they left, they would be punished and brought back to the mission by force.

In 1800, around 20,500 Native Californians are thought to have worked for the missions.

In 30 years, the Native Californian population dropped from 87,000 to 14,000.