Mexican Manuscripts at the Clark

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By Reading Room Assistant Stella Castillo

A lesser known holding here at The Clark is the Mexican Manuscripts Collection comprised of documents dating from 1579-1828 regarding the Spanish settlement and colonization of California, New Mexico, and one document from 1802 concerning Louisiana. The collection of 29 manuscripts written in Spanish cover issues relating to establishment of missions, Native American unrest, expeditions, travels, and political events in Alta and Baja California. Although the dates of the collection range from 1579 to 1828, the bulk of material is from 1750-1799. Included among the 29 manuscripts are estimates of voyage costs in and around the new colonies. Here a contract proposal from Don to sail a small ship from Acapulco to Alta California which notes conditions and estimates for the voyage.

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The collection includes various first hand descriptions of California and the process of colonization, missions, and interactions of the Spanish missionaries and government with the native people. The descriptions of the discoveries include those made along the west coast from the lower section of California nearly to Alaska along the coast prior to 1776. Within some of the descriptions are Spanish perspectives on interactions both contentious and friendly with various groups of Native American people including Comanche, Apache, Yumas and Pecos. In particular there are reflections on the war against the Apache Indians throughout the provinces of New Spain.

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Above is a portion of a document outlining the military and civil governments of Upper and Lower California in September 1829 which is said to be written in the hand of Augustin Juan Vicente Zamorano, who was then Secretary to the Governor of Alta California, Jose Maria de Echeandia, whose signature appears on the document. As a point of interest: Zamorano established California’s first printing press at Monterey in 1834 and it is from him that the Los Angeles club of book collectors took its name.

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Of interest as well is a contract between Don Juan de Oñate, who would go on to become the first governor of New Mexico, and Don Luis de Velasco who was the Viceroy of New Spain in 1595. The contract details what provisions would need to be taken and what laws are to govern the expedition. The collection is an interesting window into the colonization process by the Spanish government and the religious establishment as there are documents written by both Jesuits and Franciscans included in the collection.

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