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AUCTION 21

October 26, 2007

"El Reyno esta Malo... Los Caminos Interceptados"

31. [CALIFORNIA MISSIONS]. ZERTAJE, Juan José. Letter in secretarial hand but signed by Zertaje, to Fray José Señán, President of the California missions and missionary at San Buenaventura. San Blas, March 3, 1813. 2 pp., 8vo (21 x 15 cm), on laid paper, watermark of crest. Lightly creased at center where formerly folded, otherwise very fine.

            Sent aboard the frigate Flora commanded by Captain Nicolás Noé, the letter provides an accounting of expenditures in favor of mission San Buenaventura, reports on the unavailability of lead for bells, and remits an accounting by Manuel de Mier y Escalante (not present) regarding tallow previously shipped from San Buenaventura to Acapulco. Because the port was, and remains, under siege, the shipment was held at San Blas, part of it was taken by a royal agent, and payment for it has not been received. The situation in central New Spain is bad; tallow cannot be taken to the City of Mexico because the roads are blocked and no news has been received from the city in six months. Nevertheless, troops are arriving at Veracruz, and it is hoped that by the end of the year the rabble will be controlled. Spain is winning; all Spaniards should be happy this year, and Russia has declared war on France, hitting them several times.

            Along with the Franciscan missionary advances to Alta California, the Naval Department of San Blas was founded on the coast of Nayarit to supply the new establishments by sea. An extensive accounting system was created at San Blas with each mission having ledger books wherein supplies were debited and goods sent to New Spain, principally hides and tallow, were credited. This brief report by the commissary reflects the numerous problems faced by California missions following the opening of the wars of Mexican and South American independence in 1810. The port of San Blas was in decline, with most of its ships involved in naval actions; supply to California was irregular as were shipments from the missions. Napoleon, in 1808, occupied Spain and held the Spanish king, Fernando VII prisoner until 1814; Russia, ostensibly a Spanish ally, nonetheless illegally occupied the northern coast of California in 1812.

            Señán, a native of Barcelona, entered the Franciscan Order in 1774 and left to serve in the missions of New Spain in 1784. He was missionary at San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel) from 1787 to 1795 when he returned to New Spain. Recovering his health, he returned to California and served at San Buenaventura from 1798 to his death there in 1823. During his service he wrote on the ethnology and linguistics of the Chumash, and from 1812-1815 and 1820-1823 he served as president of the California missions. He laid the cornerstone of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles church in 1814 and was involved in the reconstruction of missions following the great earthquake of 1812. His final presidency carried the missions from a Spanish colony to a Mexican province, in 1822 he took the oath of allegiance to the Mexican Empire, and a few months prior to his death he authorized the founding of the only Mexican mission in Alta California, San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma (Bancroft, Pioneer Register, p. 323).

            Zertaje, ship captain, captained the San Francisco Javier to Monterey in 1820-1821 (Bancroft, Pioneer Register, p. 392). Noé, ship captain out of Callao (Perú), seized the U.S. contraband trader Mercury under captain George Washington Ayers (Bancroft, Pioneer Register, p. 262).

            See: Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: The History Company, 1886) [cites a March 3, 1813 letter of Zertaje on p. 202 stating some of the information in this letter]; Enrique Cárdenas de la Peña, San Blas de Nayarit (México: Secretaría de Marina, 1968); Zephyrin Englehardt, San Buenaventura, the Mission by the Sea (Santa Barbara: Mission Santa Barbara, 1930); José Francisco de Paula Señán, The Letters of José Señan, O.F.M., Mission San Buenaventura, 1796-1823 (San Francisco: John Howell-Books, 1962). ($750-1,500)

Sold. Hammer: $750.00; Price Realized: $881.25

Auction 21 Abstracts

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