The first Mission in California was founded by Spanish priests in San Diego in 1769 during an expedition headed by Captain Gaspar de Portola, accompanied by Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan priest. The group next launched an expedition to the north, passing through the Los Angeles basin and Santa Barbara County area in search of the port of Monterey.
These Mission were deemed important by Spain as a means to occupy the New World’s Pacific Coast, and to bring the Native population under the control of Spain - and of the Catholic Church which was a powerful a force in Spain as was the royal monarchy that directed the exploration and colonization efforts.
This first Mission expedition did not reach Monterey, but was warmly welcomed by the native peoples. The following year, Portola did find Monterey Bay,
soon followed by Father Serra who arrived in Monterey to establish the next Mission. Father Serra traveled south to the Channel region again, establishing Mission San Gabriel ( 1771 ), San Buenaventura ( 1782 ), San Luis Obispo ( 1798 ), Santa Barbara ( 1786 ), La Purisima Concepcion (1787 ), and Santa Ynez ( 1804 ).
Thirty years later, the Mission system included 21 churches many self-sustaining communities, all reliant primarily on the unpaid labor of the native population. At first the Fathers had thought their presence alone would draw native peoples as converts, but when this proved not to be the case, they enlisted the help of the military from nearby presidios to forcibly capture and put to work the native people. The lack of nutritious food, back breaking forced labor, brutal beatings, and total denial of their native practices and customs lead to great discontent.
There was a devastating earthquake in the Northern Channel region in 1812, and this natural disaster was terrifying for the native inhabitants and colonizers alike. On the islands, huge folds of earth uplifted and forever changed the landscape. The Chumash who had until that point resisted inclusion in the Mission system, decided to move to the mainland to seek shelter from the remaining native inhabitants and many were absorbed into the Mission Santa Barbara at that time.
The Mission era lasted until 1820 when the Mexican rebellion from Spanish rule changed the future of California and all of its inhabitants. When Mexico took over possession of Alta California, we will see that the mission system also was irreparably effected by the loss of direct support from the Spanish motherland.