Interactive Historic Timeline of the California Missions

This interactive timeline features, by year, the important events in the founding and development of the region the Spanish called Alta California between 1768 and 1853.

You can also view these events in a summary by period.

For a more detailed, more extensive printed version our California Missions Timeline is available 

  • 1768
  • 1769
  • 1770
  • 1771
  • 1772
  • 1773
  • 1774
  • 1775
  • 1776
  • 1777
  • 1781
  • 1782
  • 1784
  • 1785
  • 1786
  • 1787
  • 1791
  • 1792
  • 1795
  • 1796
  • 1797
  • 1798
  • 1803
  • 1804
  • 1805
  • 1806
  • 1810
  • 1812
  • 1813
  • 1815
  • 1816
  • 1817
  • 1818
  • 1821
  • 1822
  • 1823
  • 1825
  • 1826
  • 1827
  • 1828
  • 1829
  • 1831
  • 1833
  • 1834
  • 1835
  • 1836
  • 1839
  • 1841
  • 1842
  • 1845
  • 1846
  • 1847
  • 1848
  • 1850
  • 1851
  • 1853

1768

San Blas is founded as a naval base and supply depot. Alta California will be supplied from here.

José de Gálvez, Visitor General of New Spain, plans a land-based and sea-based expedition to settle Alta California May 5, 1768.

1769

The San Carlos, a sixty-four-foot packet boat with 62 persons aboard, sets sail from San Blas bound for San Diego on January 9, 1769. A second ship, the San Antonio, leaves San Blas five weeks later.

The San Antonio arrives in San Diego with nearly everyone on board incapacitated on April 11, 1769. Driven far out to sea, the San Carlos takes almost four months to reach San Diego and Arrives on April 29. Twenty-four of the crew die of scurvy.

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The expedition leader, Gaspar de Portolá, and the first FatherPresident, Junípero Serra, arrive in San Diego after an arduous six-week journey. Over two-thirds of the expedition’s Indians desert en route.

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The undermanned expedition establishes a garrison on San Diego’s Mission Hill. The compound as such consisted of little more than brush-covered enramadas and several grass huts.

With many sick and dying, and supplies already low, plans to proceed to Monterey by ship are scrapped. Portolá leaves San Diego to journey up the coast in July of 1769.

Shortly after Portolá departs, Fr. Junípero Serra founds Mission San Diego de Alcalá on Presidio Hill.

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The Kumeyaay attack the San Diego compound occurs, killing José Vergerano, the servant of Fr. Serra. A wooden stockade is hastily erected.

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Portolá is unsuccessful in finding Monterey but discovers the Bay of San Francisco.

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Unknown to Portolá and Serra the expedition is imperiled. The main supply ship, the San José, left Loreto carrying urgently needed supplies, but the ship and it’s crew are lost at sea.

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1770

Presidio of Monterey is established.

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Portolá returns to San Diego in November of 1770. The new colony is in desperate straits and may have to be abandoned.

The San Antonio returns to San Diego and the struggling new colony is saved.

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Mission San Carlos Borromeo (known in the mission era as San Carlos Borromeo de Monterey) is founded. A provisional pole and thatch chapel is erected at the presidio.

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1771

Mission San Antonio de Padua is founded in the land of the Salinan people at the native site of Telhaya in the Santa Lucía Mountains, southeast of Monterey.

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Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is founded along the slopes of the Montebello hills, overlooking the San Gabriel Valley.

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Mission San Carlos Borromeo is relocated to the Carmel Valley near the Indian village of Ekheya.

1772

The first mission in the land of the Chumash people, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is founded at the village of Tilhini.

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The Dominicans agree to a take over responsibility for the Baja California missions through a decree, freeing up the Franciscans to concentrate on Alta California.

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Fr. Serra travels to Mexico City to clarify his authority and bolster support for the Alta California missions from 1772 to 1773.

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1773

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is relocated from the slopes of the Montebello hills to the native site of Lisanchanga, three miles to the northwest.

The first Christian wedding in Alta California takes place at San Antonio de Padua.

Conversions begin to increase. The Chumash and Salinan people are more receptive to the Spanish.

Fr. Francisco Palóu and five other missionaries leave Baja for San Diego, setting the boundary between Alta and Baja California en route.

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1774

Juan Bautista de Anza departs the Arizona presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac on January 8, 1774. The expedition discovers the first overland route to California, arriving at Mission San Gabriel on 03/22/1774.

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San Diego Mission is relocated five and a half miles inland to the native village of Nipaquay in August of 1774.

The military outpost at San Diego is formally granted Presidio status.

Sergeant José Ortega escorts colonists from Baja California to San Diego Presidio.

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1775

The San Carlos is the first ship to enter San Francisco Bay. Captain Juan de Ayala names Angel Island (Isla de los Ángeles) and Alcatraz (Isla de los Alcatraces - Pelicans in Spanish).

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1776

Presidio of San Francisco is established under the direction of Lieutenant José Joaquín Moraga. 

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Mission San Diego de Alcalá is rebuilt in October 1776.

Mission San Francisco de Asís, popularly known as Mission Dolores, is founded.

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The seventh mission, San Juan Capistrano, is founded.

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A group of 240 colonists and over 1000 animals arrive at San Gabriel, destined for Monterey and the San Francisco presidio. Eight babies are born on the trail.

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California is transferred from direct control by the Viceroy in Mexico City to the northern military command of the Interior Provinces, headed by Teodoro de Croix.

1777

Mission Santa Clara de Asís is founded in the land of the Ohlone people. The neophytes ultimately include the Bay Miwok, Tamyen, and Yokuts.

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The seat of government for Baja and Alta California is moved to Monterey in February of 1777.

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Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe is established with 68 men, women and children. A central purpose of the civil settlements is to provide food for the army.

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Felipe de Neve becomes first Civil Governor of California from 1777 to 1782. He reorganizes the administration of finances, streamlines regulations, and takes steps to grant the neophytes a greater role in mission management.

1781

Quechans Indians destroy the two Spanish missions in the Yuma area, severing Spain’s tenuous overland route from central México to California.

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Another group of settlers arrives in Alta California. Thirty-two men and women settle the pueblo of Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula.

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1782

Mission San Buenaventura is founded near the sizeable Chumash Indian village of Mitsqanaqa’n.

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Presidio of Santa Bárbara is established. This is the only California presidio that is partially restored.

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The Serra Chapel at San Juan Capistrano is completed. This is the only church that remains in which Fr. Serra held mass.

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1784

Fr. Junípero Serra dies at age 71.

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Fr. Francisco Palóu is appointed interim Father-President from 08/28/1784 to 02/06/1785.

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Juan José Domínguez, a retired soldier, receives the first land grant in Alta California, Rancho San Pedro.

1785

Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuén becomes second Father-President of Alta California missions.

A rebellion led by a native woman, Toypurina, and the Alcalde, Nicholás José, occurs at San Gabriel over suppression of Indian ceremonies and other grievances.

1786

Mission Santa Bárbara is founded at the Chumash village of Xana’yan.

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1787

Mission La Purísima Concepción is founded at the Chumash Indian village of Algsacupi.

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Fr. Francisco Palóu publishes Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra.

1791

The remote mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is founded.

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The Malaspina Expedition stops in Monterey in 1791. The drawings by Expedition artist José Cardero increase interest in this unique land.

Mission Santa Cruz is founded.

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1792

Mission Santa Cruz is relocated to the native site of Uypi, near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and Monterey Bay.

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California is returned to direct control by the Viceroy in Mexico City in 1792. The military focus shifts to defend against foreign invaders. Tension between the army and church leaders largely disappears.

1795

The magnificent Royal Presidio Chapel at Monterey is completed in 1794 and dedicated on 01/25/1795.

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An epidemic at San Francisco de Asís decimates the population.

1796

In the 1790s foreigners arrive by ship in increasing numbers to trade for sea otter pelts, cattle hides, and tallow.

1797

Mission San Fernando Rey de España is founded on Rancho Los Encinos, held by Don Francisco Reyes.

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Mission San José is founded in the land of the Ohlone people.

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Mission San Juan Bautista is founded on June 24, 1797. The mission sits on the only original Spanish square left in California.

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Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz) is established.

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Mission San Miguel Arcángel is founded at a site the local Salinan Indians call Valica.

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1798

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is founded at the native village of Tacayme in the region known as Quechia.

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1803

Upon the death of Father Lasuén, Estevan Tapis is appointed the Father-President from 06/26/1803 to 12/08/1812.

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1804

Mission Santa Inés Virgen y Mártir is founded near the ranchería of Alajulapu in the Santa Inez Valley.

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1805

The unique San Gabriel church, which features a Moorish “fortresslike” appearance, is completed.

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A devastating smallpox and measles epidemic kills over 150 neophytes at San José from 1805 to 1806.

1806

Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov arrives in San Francisco in April of 1806, seeking supplies for the Russian settlement in Alaska.

1810

The Mexican War of Independence closes the port of San Blas and disrupts the flow of goods and missionaries to Alta California over the next decade from 1810 to 1821.

1812

The first California autopsy was performed at Santa Cruz on Fr. Andrés Quintana. Period accounts indicate that the friar was poisoned.

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The Great Stone Church at San Juan Capistrano is destroyed in a massive earthquake, killing 40 neophytes.

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1813

Fr. Narciso Durán develops a choir and band of some 30 musicians at San José, using teaching methods documented in his 1813 book Prólogo.

1815

Recruiting and taking of Miwoks, Yokuts, and Chuillas Indians from the interior bolsters neophyte population from the 1810s to the 1820s.

1816

The Asistencia of San Antonio de Pala is established at a mission rancho about 25 miles to the east of San Luis Rey.

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1817

San Rafael Arcángel is founded as a medical asistencia (sub-mission) for San Francisco de Asís.

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1818

The Russian-American Company operates a hunting station on Farallon Islands starting from 1819 to 1834.

Hippolyte de Bouchard, a Frenchman with a privateer’s license from the Republic of Río de la Plata (Argentina), attacks the coast of California, burning both the Monterey Presidio and Mission San Juan Capistrano in December of 1818.

One of the first American settlers in California, Thomas Doak, constructs and paints the main altar reredos at San Juan Bautista.

1821

México achieves full independence from Spain and takes control of Alta California.

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1822

San Rafael Arcángel is given full mission status.

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The impressive 210-foot long San Fernando Rey Convento (padre’s quarters and a guest house) is built.

1823

Mission San Francisco Solano is founded, becoming the last of the California missions, and the only one established during Mexican rule.

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México becomes a Republic.

1825

Narciso Durán becomes Father President of the Alta California missions.

The population of San Luis Rey de Francia reaches 2,869, the highest achieved by any mission. Much of the population lives at outlying settlements such as Las Flores and San Antonio de Pala.

1826

Jedediah Strong Smith, legendary American Mountain Man, reaches California by land and visits the Spanish settlements.

Gov. Col. José María Echeandía issues a provisional emancipation decree allowing a small number of neophytes born in the missions (or living there for at least fifteen years) to leave with permission of Franciscans and the presidio Comandante.

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1827

A major measles epidemic erupts in Alta California and 951 adults and 751 children die from 1827 to 1828. This represents over 10% of the mission population.

1828

Estanislao, a San José mission neophyte, leads a large-scale Indian uprising that requires several military expeditions to quell from 1828 to 1829.

1829

Soldiers of the Monterey Presidio launch a revolt in 1829. Fr. Luis Antonio Martínez, of San Luis Obispo, is accused of complicity in the affair but is ultimately exonerated on February 3, 1830.

Mission San Rafael Arcángel is badly damaged in an Indian attack led by Chiefs Marin and Quintín.

1831

Fr. Narciso Durán is appointed as the last Father-President of Alta California on June 16, 1831. Santa Bárbara becomes headquarters of the mission chain from 1833 to 1846.

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1833

A pueblo de Indios (a special town for former mission Indians) was established near San Juan Capistrano Mission in 1833. However, there were too few Indians to sustain a viable town and this experiment was subsequently dissolved and the land distributed to the remaining Indians and settlers.

Missions are secularized from 1833 to 1836. Administrators are appointed. Many emancipated neophytes leave. Tradesmen, vaqueros and some others prosper but most become field hands or servants. Some neophytes join other Indian people in the interior.

1834

One of many schemes to manage former mission land includes the Hijar-Padres Colony, under which some 300 liberal, educated individuals (teachers, artisans, medical attendants, etc.) would receive large grants of mission land and twenty-one Administrators from their ranks would oversee the Indians. Most of the colonists make it to Alta California [1834-1835] but the scheme is never implemented.

Richard Henry Dana serves as a crewmember of the Pilgrim, collecting hide and tallow, and visiting the missions and presidios [1834-1835].

1835

Most of the neophytes leave Mission Soledad after it is secularized and the last priest, Fr. Vicente Francisco de Sarría dies May 24, 1835. The former mission is used as a ranch house for a number of years, and then falls into ruin, and is abandoned for over a century.

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1836

Santa Clara is the last mission secularized in December of 1836.

Mariano Vallejo is named Comandante General of California and Director of the Northern Frontier.

Mexican Administrators begin to move friends and relatives into former mission buildings.

1839

John Augustus Sutter arrives in Yerba Buena and becomes a Mexican citizen.

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Illegal immigrants from the United States move into Northern California in large numbers over the Oregon Trail in the late 1830's.

1841

Richard Henry Dana publishes Two Years Before the Mast, his first-hand account of life in California. After gold is discovered in California, his book becomes a best seller.

John Sutter receives a land grant of 48,827 acres in June of 1841. That same year he purchases the Russian settlement of Fort Ross, unsuccessful as a source of food.

1842

A small deposit of gold is discovered near San Fernando Rey and for years after treasure-seekers dig up the walls and floors of the abandoned church seeking gold.

What is left of the Pious Fund of the Missions of California is confiscated by Mexican President Antonio López María de Santa Ana.

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The last Franciscan missionary to arrive in California in the 18th century, José Ramón Abella, dies at Santa Inés.

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The former missions of San Gabriel and San Miguel become the first two parishes in California [1842]. San Buenaventura follows in 1843.

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1845

The last Mexican governor of Alta California, Pío de Jesús Pico grants his brother Andrés a very favorable nine-year lease on San Fernando Rey.

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The Republic of Texas becomes part of the United States.

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A former missionary of British Guiana, Fr. Eugene MacNamara, promotes a scheme under which 3,000 Irishmen and their families would immigrate to Alta California. Events overtake the implausible scheme when Americans sweep into California [1845-1846].

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1846

The U.S. notifies Lt. John Charles Fremont, who has been surveying the west, to “watch over U.S. interests in California.” By the time the message reaches Fremont in May of 1846 the U.S. Congress has already declared war on México.

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American warships under the command of Commodore John D. Sloat of the frigate USS Savannah, and two sloops, including the USS Cyane and the USS Levant, capture Monterey and claim California for the United States.

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1847

The Californios resist American occupation and fighting continues into 1847.

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Missions San Luis Rey and San Diego are occupied by the U.S. Army during the MexicanAmerican War [1846-1847].

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1848

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo cedes California (and parts of what today comprise the states of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico) to the United States [concluded 02/02/1848].

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Gold is discovered at Sutter’s Mill, near Sacramento [01/24/1848].

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The Gold Rush had a devastating impact on the remaining California Indians. Disease, starvation and genocidal attacks reduce the Native population to an estimated 31,000 by the 1870 census.

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1850

California becomes the 31st state of the Union [09/09/1850]. It ultimately becomes the 3rd largest state in land mass (after Texas and Alaska), and by 1960 has the largest population.

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1851

Congress passes the Land Act of 1851, creating a commission to review land titles in California [1851].

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1853

Archbishop J.S. Alemany files a petition for the return of all former mission land on February 19, 1853. It will take decades before the former mission buildings and some land are returned to the Catholic Church.

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Mission Resources

Soldiers, Scoundrels, Pets and Priests 3rd Edition

Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets & Priests: Stories of the Men and Women Behind the Missions of California

The book, Soldiers, Scoundrels, Poets and Priests puts flesh and blood on a profoundly important time in California's history through a vivid depiction, in words and images, of the people who birthed and nurtured California and the placed that formed it's shape and character.

This is the only book that assembles the stories of all the key players in the California mission drama into one fascinating volume.

This expanded second edition includes 30 biographies, 96 images and a 12-page glossary.

See More