When Laperouse landed in Monterey on September 14, he observed that the Spanish empire’s California mission system, founded under Fr Junipero Serra (died 1783) was comprised of one padre to nine soldiers, making a team of two padres and eighteen soldiers per mission. It was a bad situation all around. Laperouse commented that what was fashioned at the new Spanish settlements was not like a European town.
“Sins which are left in Europe to Divine justice,” he wrote, “are here punished by irons and stocks.”
(Above – Mission Carmel – Drawn by José Cardero in 1791 from a drawing left by Gaspard Duché de Vancy in 1786 (see below). It is believed to be the first significant work of art in California done by a European, which is appropriate given Carmel’s later history as an artist colony.)
The women are largely employed in household tasks, looking after their children, and roasting and crushing the grain, a very slow, laborious task because their only method is crushing it on a stone with a roller, more or less as is done with chocolate in Europe. Mr de Langle who witnessed this operation gave his mill to the missionaries, and it would be difficult to render them a greater service; four women will now do the work of a hundred, and there will be time left to spin the wool of their flocks and manufacture some rough cloth; but until now the religious, more concerned with the interests of Heaven than with temporal matters, have been very neglectful of the need to introduce the more common crafts; they are so austere in respect of themselves that they not have a single room with a fireplace even though the winter is quite severe, and the greatest saints have not led a more edifying life. (from Journal of La Perouse trans. John Dunmore, Vol 1:182)
Stele at the entrance of San Carlos de Borromeo church in Carmel. On the plaque is written (in both English and French): “In memory of the arrival at Monterey on September 14, 1786, of the explorer Comte de La Perouse, commanding the frigates Boussole and Astrolabe. This constitutes the first official visit of a European power to the Spanish establishments on a then mysterious coast. In this chapel of the Carmel mission, Father Lasuen in honor of the event celebrated a te deum mass on September 16, 1786. This plaque was presented by the government of the French Republic.”
The Bicentennary Celebrations in 1986 were celebrated with Clint Eastwood as Mayor of Carmel. Stephen Lapeyrouse (originally from Louisiana) wrote to say he was there for the celebrations.