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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Francisco Palou

Had he been granted an honorary degree as colleges today grant such degrees, Palou, according to his editor Herbert E. Bolton, would have received this tribute: “Fray Francisco Palou, diligent student, devout Christian, loyal disciple, tireless traveler, zealous missionary, firm defender of the faith, resourceful pioneer, successful mission builder, able administrator, and fair-minded historian of California.” Such a tribute seems apt for the man who so successfully memorialized his only rival in the California missionary effort, Fray Junípero Serra.

Born, like Serra (ten years earlier), at Majorca, Spain, Palou entered the Franciscan Order in 1739 and was ordained in 1743. He eagerly joined Serra in the missionary program planned for the Americas; they and other future missionaries reached Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1749. After several years in missions in Mexico, these Franciscans sought to extend their efforts northward, to replace the Jesuit missionaries who had been expelled from Spanish dominion in 1767 by King Charles III of Spain. Palou and Serra went first to the Baja California missions (1767). They reached Loreto, in Lower (Baja) California, in the spring of 1768. Serra was assigned the next year to Upper (Alta) California missions, which left those in Lower California to Palou’s control until 1773.

Palou, wishing to serve with Serra again, chose to serve in the chain of missions in Upper California. He went first to San Diego, then on to Monterey-Carmel, Serra’s headquarters. He assisted in the placement of friars, and he collected historical data that survives as some of the only record of these early California years. He was assigned in 1776 to the mission at San Francisco, where he stayed until 1784. Serra’s death in Carmel that year left open the presidency of the Upper California missions, a post Palou ably filled until, with failing health, he left in 1785. He died in Mexico, where he completed his life of Serra, most of which he had written in California.

Palou’s two works, the Noticias de la Nueva California (published in the middle of the nineteenth century) and the biography of Serra, Relacion historica (1787), provide key information about early California and the missionary efforts there. He had nearly completed his life of Serra before returning to Mexico. He there added, after much research in the library at San Fernando, the long chapter on Serra’s virtues. The book, published in Mexico City, was sent to the royal palace in Madrid, Spain, as well as to Majorca and to the missions in Sonora and California. It received high praise. Fray Junípero Serra’s life can serve as a model of discipline and hard work in spite of a revision of history’s sense of how the missions he founded affected the native population. More significant is Palou’s project of transforming Serra’s life into biography, a lengthy, detailed piece of writing, blending epistolary documentation, recreated dialogue, narrative, impassioned exposition, and moralizing. Palou’s text stands well as a west-coast balance to Cotton Mather’s earlier hagiographies of the Puritan founders in Magnalia Christi Americana. Both texts are records of religious heroism in eras that seemed to be fast diminishing before the writers’ eyes.

Carla Mulford
Pennsylvania State University

Juan Bruce-Novoa
University of California at Irvine

In the Heath Anthology
from Chapter LVIII: "The Exemplary Death of the Venerable Father Junípero" (1787)
from Chapter XXII: "The Expeditions Arrive at the Port of Monterey–The Mission and Presidio of San Carlos Are Founded" (1787)
Life of Junípero Serra (1787)

Other Works
Life of Junípero Serra: from Chapter XXII: "The Expeditions Arrive at the Port of Monterey-The Mission and Presidio of San Carlos Are Founded," and from Chapter LVIII: "The Exemplary Death of the Vemerable Father Junípero" (1787)

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Meeting of Frontiers: Francisco Palou
A brief biography and introductory remarks about Palou's Relacion Historica de la Vida y Apostolicas Tareas del Venerable Padre Fray Junípero Serra. Mexico, 1787.

Perspectives in American Literature
An annotated list of primary works.

San Francisco De Asis The Sixth Mission Founded
Information about the sixth California Mission, founded by Father Francisco Palou.

Secondary Sources

Herbert E. Bolton, tr. and ed., Historical Memoirs of New California, 4 vols., 1926

Maynard J. Geiger, tr. and ed., Palou's Life of Junípero Serra, 1955

Maynard J. Geiger, Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1969