By David Kier
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’
The San Vicente mission was founded on August 27, 1780 by Padre Miguel Hidalgo and Padre Joaquin Valero 20 leagues (about 50 miles) north of Santo Domingo. The location was well watered and at an important intersection of routes north to San Diego and east to Yuma.
Padre Luis Sales became resident missionary in 1781 and was there to 1787. A violent smallpox epidemic struck San Vicente in 1781. Padre Sales wrote that he saw many dead Indians in the fields. Sales would look into caves only to find children nearly dead from hunger, and not of the smallpox. He and his soldiers brought the children to the mission to be returned to good health. Once the disease ran its course, life began to return. In 1782, San Vicente had a native population of 83 and by 1787, the number grew to 317.
Hostile Indians required the creation of a presidio (fort) at San Vicente. Padre Sales had the mission complex enclosed by an eight-foot tall adobe wall, with towers. San Vicente had 8 to 10 soldiers to stand guard. Padre Sales made expeditions north to expand the mission system and fill the void between San Vicente and San Diego. In 1787, Padre Sales founded the mission of San Miguel, 29 leagues (about 75 miles) north from San Vicente.
Padre José Estévez was in charge of the mission following Padre Sales until March of 1789. Padre Miguel Gallego then followed Estévez as resident missionary until July, 1794. The church building in 1793 was an adobe structure measuring 60 feet by 20 feet; the roof was made of tules.
Padre Tomás Valdellon succeeded Padre Gallego from October, 1793 to August, 1797. Padre Ramon Lopez replaced Valdellon and made entries in the books of record until April, 1806. In 1800, the population included 246 Indians. Most of the neophytes lived in their own rancherias and came to the mission on rotation for two weeks of instruction.
As at the other Dominican missions, many missionaries offered assistance to the resident padre and several Dominicans are included in the record books. Padre Pedro Gonzalez made some entries in 1808. The resident Dominican at San Vicente from 1808 to 1811 was Padre José Duro, followed by Padre Antonio Fernandez, who was there until November of 1816. Padre Antonio Menendez recorded two burials in 1817 and a Padre José Martinez recorded one in November, 1817.
In a letter dated Oct. 3, 1822, Padre Pineda of Santo Tomás wrote: “the Father of San Vicente administers what is impossible, San Vicente, Santo Domingo, Rosario and San Fernando”. Padre Felix Caballero was (also) at San Vicente in 1822 and perhaps through to May 27, 1828 when the book of records was closed. Padre Thomas Mansilla was stationed at San Vicente in 1829 with an Indian population of 142. Twenty years later, the number of native Indians had dropped to seven. Most books give the year 1833 for when the mission was abandoned. Records of the Dominican missions are incomplete.
The mission walls have been stabilized and are in a park-like setting created with walkways. A visit to this mission site is less than a mile off Highway One at Km. 88, south of Ensenada.
A footnote: While the Dominicans were establishing their first three missions in northern Baja California, the Franciscans were also busy and had opened three missions in Alta California in the same period, adding to the five they already founded there, before 1775.
David Kier is co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’. The book is available for purchase HERE or at the DBTC offices (call 800-727-2252).