Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father

Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father

by Steven W. Hackel
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Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father by Steven W. Hackel

Winner of the Historical Society of Southern California's 2015 Neuerburg Award for the best book on Pre-Gold Rush California

Finalist for the Southern California Independent Bookseller Association's Best Nonfiction Book of 2014

A Zocalo Public Square Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

A portrait of the priest and colonialist who is one of the most important figures in California's history

In the 1770s, just as Britain's American subjects were freeing themselves from the burdens of colonial rule, Spaniards moved up the California coast to build frontier outposts of empire and church. At the head of this effort was Junípero Serra, an ambitious Franciscan who hoped to convert California Indians to Catholicism and turn them into European-style farmers. For his efforts, he has been beatified by the Catholic Church and widely celebrated as the man who laid the foundation for modern California. But his legacy is divisive. The missions Serra founded would devastate California's Native American population, and much more than his counterparts in colonial America, he remains a contentious and contested figure to this day.

Steven W. Hackel's groundbreaking biography, Junípero Serra: California's Founding Father, is the first to remove Serra from the realm of polemic and place him within the currents of history. Born into a poor family on the Spanish island of Mallorca, Serra joined the Franciscan order and rose to prominence as a priest and professor through his feats of devotion and powers of intellect. But he could imagine no greater service to God than converting Indians, and in 1749 he set off for the new world. In Mexico, Serra first worked as a missionary to Indians and as an uncompromising agent of the Inquisition. He then became an itinerant preacher, gaining a reputation as a mesmerizing orator who could inspire, enthrall, and terrify his audiences at will. With a potent blend of Franciscan piety and worldly cunning, he outmaneuvered Spanish royal officials, rival religious orders, and avaricious settlers to establish himself as a peerless frontier administrator. In the culminating years of his life, he extended Spanish dominion north, founding and promoting missions in present-day San Diego, Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco. But even Serra could not overcome the forces massing against him. California's military leaders rarely shared his zeal, Indians often opposed his efforts, and ultimately the missions proved to be cauldrons of disease and discontent. Serra, in his hope to save souls, unwittingly helped bring about the massive decline of California's indigenous population.

On the three-hundredth anniversary of Junípero Serra's birth, Hackel's complex, authoritative biography tells the full story of a man whose life and legacies continue to be both celebrated and denounced. Based on exhaustive research and a vivid narrative, this is an essential portrait of America's least understood founder.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809062393
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 649,323
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Steven W. Hackel is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of the award-winning Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769–1850. He also directs a project in digital history, the Early California Cultural Atlas, and is co-curator of the Huntington Library's exhibit Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions. He lives in Pasadena, California.

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Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read many history books by many an author, but this is the first time I have read a book by an author who attempts to hide his destain for the subject matter with twists and turns of academic reasoning. At times he passes personal judgement of F. Serra when it is uncalled for. In one passage he writes that Serra elected to have a young 15 year old native Baja Califorian boy accompany him and his party as his servant and companion as they traveled futher North to Upper California. He believed that F. Serra should have shown more restraint and considered what the affect would be taking this boy from his parents would have on the family. What?! Earlier he tells us the natives live in brush huts, have no clothing, live by hunting gathering, and have a terrible survival rate. They had been living like this for thousand of years and have had no contact with europeans until then. He makes no mention that this boy or anyone else was ever forced to travel with Serra. I am sure this young man considered himself lucky to be able to go on a life adventure full of wonders and new things. Maybe his parents were even happy he had the chance. Also, during this time, one needs to know that young ladies in the "civilized" cultures were being married off at younger ages. Young boys even younger were sent away to work or even into servitude. Yet, this author believes F. Serra showed bad judgement in wanting to educate and help a young man. It is one thing to be critical of your subject matter, and another to be judgemental with personal and biased opinions. Oh... it is a very hard read as well. I do not recommend this book, find another. Maybe some of the others he critizes at the end of his book.
efm More than 1 year ago
Written by a History Professor, factual but not exciting.