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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Francisco Solano was the last of the 21 missions to be built and the farthest north. The Mission was founded by Father Jose Altimira on July 1823 and named for a missionary to Peruvian Indians.

At the time Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Delores) was doing very badly because of poor weather and diseases. The residents of Mission San Francisco de Asis had little food and only about 50 people to run the mission. Father Altimira, wanted to close the Mission and move north to a site with better weather. He did not ask permission from a very sick Father Señan, the president of the missions, and Father Señan was very upset. Father Vincente Sarria, who eventually took over for Father Senan, worked out a compromise that Father Altimira could build a northern mission as long as Mission Delores stayed open. Mission Solano was the only Mission to be built without permission from the Church and during a time when Mexico ruled California rather than Spain.
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    Location and Geography
    Father Altimira chose a site in what the Natives called the Valley of the Moon. The Valley had been named that by local Natives, according to local stories, because of the moon’s path behind seven mountains before rising into the sky.
    The Native Americans
    The main tribes in the area were the Coast Miwok and Pomo. Like most of the other tribes in California, they were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families. By 1830 there were 1000 neophytes living at the Mission.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush. Eventually the buildings would be replaced by larger adobe brick or stone buildings. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

The first church was finished in 1824 and in 1826 the foundation was laid for a larger one. Russian explorers lived in lands further up the northern coast and helped the Mission by sending objects for the church such as silk veils, linens, and bells. In 1826 the Mission was attacked by Natives living in the area. Several buildings were damaged and items were stolen.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives but because they were the last Mission to be built they had plenty of help to start the Mission. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission. Mission Solano received tools, animals, and food from the other Missions in the area.

Normally those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules. Members of the Mission planted 300 fruit trees and 3000 grapevines during the short time that the Mission was active. They grew beans, peas, lentils, wheat, corn, and barley and also raised cattle, pigs, and sheep.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The Mission was only open a few years before it was secularized. Most of the land was purchased by Mariano Vallejo, and important figure in Spanish and California history. Vallejo tried to keep the chapel open but wasn’t able to find a priest to run it. Mission Solano was very important during the early beginnings of the California republic. The Mission served as the headquarters of the June 1846 Bear Flag Revolt. By 1881 the Mission buildings had been sold and were used to store hay and wine. The church was used by a blacksmith.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    In 1903 the Mission was adopted by the California Landmarks League. They collected $13,000 to purchase the Mission and donated it back to the State of California. Restoration started in 1911 and a museum opened on the site in October 1922.

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