American Indians •  History and Religion

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Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco: Native Californians and Hispanic Colonists, 1776-1821

Quincy Newell

Located at the tip of the San Francisco peninsula in the heart of what is now the city's Mission District, the Mission of San Francisco de Asís, established in 1776, was the sixth to be founded in the Alta California mission system. Northern California was home to many small tribal communities when the Franciscans began developing missions in the area in 1769. While no firsthand written accounts exist of Bay Area Indians' experiences at Mission San Francisco, there is evidence that, just as Hispanic colonists introduced Hispanic cultural customs to California, Bay Area Indians retained their own cultural traditions as they entered the missions.

In this finely crafted study Quincy Newell examines the complexity of cultural contact between Franciscans and the native populations at Mission San Francisco. Records of traditional rituals and lifeways taking place alongside introduced doctrines and practices reveal the various ways California Indians adopted, adapted, and rejected aspects of mission life. Using baptismal, marriage, and death records to tell the history of these colonized peoples, Newell demonstrates that the priests' conversion and Hispanicization of the Bay Area Indians remained partial at best.


Quincy D. Newell is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Wyoming, Laramie.


" Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco is a well-researched, well-documented, well-written, and brilliantly indexed book that should become a classic in the field of ethnohistory. Newell's unique talent for seeing evidence in a new light provides hope for the future of ethnohistory and her book creates a new standard with which to measure future ethnohistorical works."


Indigenous Peoples Issues & Resources

"Deploying a narrative approach borne of historical fictions and the reconstituted life histories...readers ultimately learn to 'see' the surreal world of the Costanoan people and the Hispanic Catholic colonists with whom they held court....Highly recommended."



"A good read, Constructing Lives is carefully researched, balanced in its judgements, and persuasive in its major argument."


The Catholic Historical Review

"Newell is to be commended for her revisionist approach to a topic that seldom celebrates the remarkable agency and tenacity of indigenes despite so much hardship."


New Mexico Historical Review

"The lived experiences of San Francisco Bay Area Mission Indians...are innovatively mined from mission baptismal, marriage, and death registers in this exceptional book by Quincy D. Newell....This book deserves a place on the bookshelf of students and scholars interested in California's Spanish colonial history."


Western Historical Quarterly

"With a creative use of mission records, author Quincy Newell weaves a fascinating look at the early Spanish mission at San Francisco."



6 x 9 in. 278 pages 6 halftones, 3 maps, 7 charts