On November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded. For the Acjachemen, the Spanish presence meant change, challenges, and a difficult choice. The Acjachemen were curious about the Spanish people, their clothing, technology, animals, food, and ideas. The Catholic priests, or padres, encouraged the Native people to move to the Mission to learn about the Catholic faith and become baptized.
Choosing baptism was a lifelong decision. The padres viewed it as a contract forever binding the individual with the Mission community. No longer could they leave the Mission grounds without permission. They were now dedicating their lives to learn to be Spanish subjects. They would learn a new language, jobs, religion, and social customs. Many Acjachemen accepted the padres’ offer and joined the Mission. What choice would you have made?
Many jobs had to be done to build and maintain the Mission community. Jobs were assigned based on age, gender, and ability to learn to speak Spanish and follow the Mission rules.
Padres placed men in four basic categories based on their ability to learn and speak Spanish and live by the Mission rules. A new social hierarchy developed with skilled craftsman at the top and general laborers at the bottom.
Skilled Craftsman: Masons, blacksmiths, carpenters, tanners, saddle makers, alcalde (Mission official/work supervisor)
Semi-Skilled Craftsman: Tallow workers, butchers, hide cleaners, cowboys
Horticulturists: Crop/garden/vineyard planters, pruners, managers
General Laborers/Field Hands: Adobe brick makers, roof, tile and brick production, clearing fields, field plowing, crop harvesting.
Women’s jobs were similar to many of their native jobs such as food preparation and raising children. The biggest changes for women at the Mission involved there personal freedom. Padres placed all unmarried women in separate living quarters (monjeríos), or dormitories beginning around age ten to insure abstinence before marriage and to quicken the young girls’ assimilation into Spanish culture. Once married, women would live with their husband in family living quarters. Below are examples of jobs women were responsible for.
Grinding corn Hauling in drinking water
Caring for the sick Washing clothing
Preparing meals Weaving cloth
Supervising/raising children Gathering firewood
Helping with grain threshing
Children were important to the Mission community. They started working at a young age, and had little time to play. As the boys and girls grew up they were in charge of caring for the animals, protecting the fields from hungry birds, and were taught various job skills. Girls learned to cook and weave wool cloth. Boys became apprentices to master craftsmen like a blacksmith, or began working in the fields or construction projects.
Around age ten, children were separated from their parents and lived in dormitories for girls and for boys. The padres did this to quicken the acculturation process, and to make sure they followed Mission rules and learned European ways.
To learn more about the Native American experience in Colonial California and daily life of the Mission please see:
Indian Life at the Old Mission by Edith Buckland Webb
Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions by James Sandos
Indians, Missionaries, and Merchants: The Legacy of Colonial Encounters on the California Frontiers