American Journeys
Home Find a Document Images Advanced Search Highlights Teachers Help  
Document Number: AJ-111
Author: Palou, Francisco, 1723-1789
Title: Francisco Palou's Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra, Founder of the Franciscan Missions of California
Source: James, George Wharton (editor) and C. Scott Williams, (translator). Francisco Palou's Life and Apostolic Labors of the Venerable Father Junípero Serra, Founder of the Franciscan Missions of California. (Pasadena, California: George Wharton James, 1913).
Pages/Illustrations: 373 / 4
Citable URL:

Author Note

Francisco Palou (c. 1722-c. 1789) was a Franciscan missionary and a student of Father Junipero Serra, whose life he gives in the document presented here. They went to Mexico together from Spain in 1749, and from the capital to Baja California in 1768. When the next year Father Serra went north to Alta California, Father Palou stayed behind but coordinated supplies to the fledgling missions in San Diego and Monterey. Father Palou finally went north in 1773, establishing the border between modern Mexico and the United States along the way, and over the next thirteen years he assisted Father Serra in establishing the mission system throughout California. In 1776 he founded the Dolores mission in what is now the Mission District of San Francisco. In 1785, Father Palou was recalled to Mexico, where he died about 1789.

Father Junipero Serra and the California Missions, 1769-1784

Born in 1713 to religious parents who worked as laborers on the island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain, Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) joined the Franciscan order and became a monk in 1730, when he was just seventeen years old. He worked as a professor of theology before joining a group of missionaries to Mexico. He worked in missions in Mexico for fifteen years before he was sent to northern California, where he founded nine missions between San Diego and San Francisco Bay. Serra eventually settled at the mission in Monterey, California, where he became quite influential in the Spanish colonial policies toward the region. He dedicated his life to the conversion of the Native Americans. Mission life was very harsh on the natives, some of whom were converted to Christianity forcibly. Once a member of a mission, Native Americans were completely under the control of the monks and were often beaten or imprisoned. Serra died at his mission in 1784 and, despite modern controversy over the Franciscans’ treatment of Native Americans, was beatified in 1988.

Document Note

After Fr. Serra’s death, his companion wrote the Relacion historica de la vida y apostolicas tareas del venerable padre Fray Junipero Serra : y de las misiones que fundó en la California Septentrional, y nuevos establecimientos de Monterey which was published in México, 1787. It was not printed again until 1852; an much-abbreviated version was translated in 1884. The volume presented here is the first complete edition in English. Because Palou was both a participant and a biographer, the book gives a unique perspective on the founding of California.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Palou also wrote a lengthy history of the Franciscans in Mexico and California first printed in 1857; it is available in English as Historical Memoirs of New California…, edited by Herbert Bolton in four volumes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1926).

Useful background can be found on the Web at the following sites:

PBS, New Perspectives on the West:

San Diego Historical Society:

Museum of the City of San Francisco:

A helpful summary that provides more context on this document is available at the online exhibit, “Californiana at the Los Angeles Public Library” at

Read this Document
Print or Download
Read Background
View Reference Map (PDF)
How to Cite
Copyright and Permissions
© 2023 Wisconsin Historical Society Feedback | Site Help
Wisconsin history