The Founding Of Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Father Junipero Serra, first Father-Presidente of the Alta California Mission Chain, founded the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo on June 3rd, 1770. It was the 2nd of California’s 21 missions, and it became the headquarters for the entire Alta California mission system.
Mission San Carlos Borromeo

Mission San Carlos Borromeo - Historic American Buildings Survey C.W.J. Johnson's Views of California Scenery - Ed Grabhorn's Collection San Francisco, California About 1870 HABS

The founders, Father Serra and Governor Portola, took separate routes to reach the mission site. Father Serra traveled by sea up the coast. He arrived at Monterey Bay where he met the Governor. The Governor had traversed the California mainland to reach the beautiful coastline bay.

Choosing the Location of The Mission

The mission was originally dedicated at the site of the modern-day presidio. However, Father Serra was unhappy with the crowdedness of the area and moved the mission five miles away to the Carmel Valley. It is in this place that the father settled down to manage the mission system, thus making the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo headquarters for the Alta California Chain. Not long after the mission was moved, Monterey became the capitol city of California.

Mission Crops and Animals

The mission suffered a difficult beginning. It was unable to produce enough food to be self-sustaining, so San Carlos Borromeo had to import bear meat from San Antonio de Padua. In 1774, supplies for the missionaries and Indians were so scarce that the inhabitants of the mission almost died.

Like most California missions, the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo supported itself and the Native inhabitants of the area by growing crops of wheat and corn. They also raised herds of horses and cattle, and cultivated grapes in a vineyard.


Despite the mission’s rough economic beginnings, San Carlos Borromeo grew to be very prosperous by the 1790’s. The economic success of the mission was due in large part to the support of the local Indians, the Eslenes. These men and women were trained farmers, cattlemen, blacksmiths, and carpenters. They also built the mission’s permanent structures, including the church.