Early Christianity in Sonoma County

Early Christianity in Sonoma County

In the book “Wild Oats in Eden” Harvey Hansen and Jeanne Miller present a description of the beginning of Christianity in Sonoma County.

In 1812, long before the Mexicans colonized north of San Francisco, Ivan A. Kuskoff, an adventurer with only one leg who was later to become a Russian hero, chose a site for a Russian colony on a remote and rocky coastal bluff thirteen miles north of the Slavianka, or Russian River as we would later call it.  Kuskoff the diplomat, who had been busy making friends with the Indians on previous trips, leased the land, site of the Pomo village known as Mad Shui Nui, for three blankets, three pairs of breeches, three horses, two axes, and some beads.  The fort was built with nine buildings inside the walls and fifty building outside.  One of the most prominent buildings in the fort, and certainly one of the most prominent in the life and culture of the Russian inhabitants, was the Russian Orthodox Chapel.  The fort and settlement was christened simply Ross, an archaic name for Russia.

The Mexican government's first attempt at establishing a frontier north of San Francisco was made in 1823 when the Spanish Franciscan Padre, Jose Altimira, came from San Francisco full of missionary zeal to convert the "heathen Indians".

Bypassing church authority, Altimira received permission for a survey from Governor Arguello and with a military escort and a group of Christian Indians as workers explored the area from Petaluma to Suisun for a mission site.  The Padre was enthusiastic about the Sonoma Valley, and thus it was there that the site was selected for the only mission to be established by the Mexican government, the mission that was fated to be the last one in a series stretching north from Mexico.  On July 4, 1823, a redwood cross was erected at the site, a two-hour service was held, the soldiers fired a volley, and the new mission was christened Nuevo San Francisco.  The following year, on the occasion of the dedication, the mission was renamed San Francisco Solano de Sonoma.  The religious life of the mission lasted only ten years.  Anti-mission sentiment among the soldiers and settlers culminated in the secularization of the mission by decree of the Mexican government, and in 1834 it was turned over to the civil authority headed by General Mariano Vallejo.  In 1850, only fifteen years after the last mission padre left the Sonoma mission and returned to the San Rafael mission, Isaac Owen, Methodist missionary, packed his saddlebags and went to Sonoma to found the first Protestant Church in the north bay area. 

A sketch made on a visit to Fort Ross in 1828 - California Historical Society