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A Housekeeper Shares Her Memories of California Mission Life—Memoir

A memoir is a firsthand description of an individual's personal experiences. Memoirs can provide helpful information about customs, daily life, and historical events in a specific place and time period. They are often written many years after the events took place. In the text below, Eulalia Pérez describes her responsibilities as a housekeeper on a California mission in 1823.


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They put under my charge everything having to do with clothing. I cut and fitted, and my five daughters sewed the pieces. When they could not handle everything, the father was told, and then women from the town of Los Angeles were employed, and the father paid them.

Besides this, I had to attend to the soap-house . . . and to the olive-crushers that produced oil, which I worked in myself . . . .

I handled the distribution of leather, calf-skin, chamois, sheepskin, Morocco leather, fine scarlet cloth, nails, thread, silk, etc.—everything having to do with the making of saddles, shoes and what was needed for the belt- and shoe-making shops.

Every week I delivered supplies for the troops and . . . servants. These consisted of beans, corn, garbanzos, lentils, candles, soap and lard . . . .

I served as housekeeper of the mission for twelve or fourteen years . . . .

Excerpted from Carlos N. Hijar, Eulalia Pérez, and Agustín Escobar, Three Memoirs of Mexican California, 1877, University of California, Bancroft Library.


Background

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Spanish started 21 missions along the coast of Alta California. At the missions, Spanish priests worked to convert American Indians to the Roman Catholic religion. On missions, California Indians made supplies and grew food. Those on the missions shared their food and supplies with soldiers living in nearby presidios, or forts. In exchange for the food and supplies, the soldiers provided protection for the missions.