What activities supported the economy of Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo?

In the beginning the Spanish crown supported the missions. As the missions matured they began to become self supporting. They grew enough food to feed the neophytes and often enough to supply the presidios and pueblos. They had large herds of cattle and sheep. The cattle not only produced beef to eat, the hides became a medium of exchange. The sheep produced wool which was used to make clothing, blankets etc. Starting in the late 1700s ships began to call at the Spanish ports. While the authorities discouraged trade some took place. As Spain got diverted with wars in Europe and revolt against its rule in Mexico (starting in 1810) trade increased. Cured cow hides (called Yankee Dollars) were in great demand. They were taken back East and used to manufacture shoes. Tallow was also a source of income and manufactured goods. When Alta California became a province of Mexico (1821) trade was much freer and more robust.

Mission Carmel had a relatively small herd of livestock. In1832 (the last year for which records were kept) there were only 2,100 cattle owned by the mission (this put them in the bottom 25% of the 21 missions) so Carmel was not the economic power house that San Gabriel or San Luis Rey was. Mission Carmel also had many fewer neophytes. The mission population peaked in 1795 at 876. Just before secularization of the missions, in 1832, the population was only 185.

We think of Carmel as a “major” mission and it was in the sense that it was the headquarters of the chain from 1770-1803 and a mission frequently visited by important personages, because it was the headquarters and close to Monterey. However it was a relatively small mission in population and economic output. The magnificent church we all admire was in fact subsidized by the crown, who sent an architect from Mexico to design and build it.

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