Introduction: Early Regional History
The First People
Anthropologists say Native Americans immigrated to North County San Diego between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. In the 1700s, the native people who lived near what is now Carlsbad called themselves the Payómkawichum, meaning “People of the West.” They were part of the Shoshonean family, whose territory was near the San Luis River.
Some lived along the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in coastal Carlsbad, which they called Palamai, meaning “fishing village.” When the Spanish explorers arrived, they called the tribe the Luiseño.
The Spanish Period
In 1769, Spanish explorers Don Gaspar de Portola and Fr. Juan Crespi came through the area, and in 1798, Fr. Fermin de Lasuen established San Luis Rey de Francia, one of 21 missions.
Spain’s methods of colonization combined the church and the military. The Spanish established the mission system to both claim the land and bring the Catholic religion to the indigenous people. The land to the south of the mission was used as ranchland by the missionaries, and the Native Americans were under the control of the mission and often displaced. Many died from European diseases and would be forced from their homes over the decades to come.
The U.S. Invades Mexico
Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and the mission era ended. Secular division of mission land then occurred. For many years, the area was divided into private ranch areas.
In 1846, America entered into a war with Mexico. Despite Mexican ownership of the Southwest at this time, President James Polk sought to invade and take the land for the United States.
Notably for Christians today, these actions were justified with theologically disturbing appeals to “Manifest Destiny.” About the war, Frederick Douglass wrote of how, “with our usual blending of piety with plunder, we justified our avarice by appeals to the hand-writing of Divine Providence.”
By 1848, Mexico ceded California to the United States and in 1850 it became the 31st state.
California & the Episcopal Church
The first non-Roman denomination to obtain a foothold in San Diego was the Episcopal Church. The Reverend John Reynolds was appointed chaplain of the Post at San Diego in 1850 and was army chaplain for the troops stationed at the mission until 1854. Northern Californians organized the Diocese of California in 1850 and in 1853, the House of Bishops declared the state to be a missionary territory. An Episcopal priest named William Ingraham Kip was chosen to become the first missionary bishop of California.
The American Civil War was fought from 1861-1865, but with little impact in San Diego County. Sometimes, people seeking to avoid the war fled to California and settled in San Diego.
In 1880, a coastal right-of-way was granted to the Southern California Railway, providing a connection between San Diego and points north. The birth of modern-day Carlsbad began when in 1881, Jon Frazier purchased some land and drilled wells to find water. When mineral and artesian water was discovered and thought to be an exact match of the famous spa in Karlsbad, Bohemia, the town was named and investors hoped to capitalize on the popularity of the find. Between 1886 and 1887, a group formed the Carlsbad Land and Mineral Water Company. Carlsbad is the anglicized version of Karlsbad.
The Carlsbad Hotel was also built in 1887, and tourists began to flock to the area. In late 1887, the San Diego Daily Bee newspaper reported that no town on the California Southern Railroad was growing faster than Carlsbad because, only six months old, it already had a population of 200 and a good school with 50 pupils. Later that year, the population was 300.
Founding St. Michael’s (1894)
The 1890s decade was one of terrible drought. The population in Carlsbad dropped to 155, almost half the number from just three years before. A general slowdown in Carlsbad’s growth occurred as the combined forces of drought and national economic depression affected the city. By 1890, land values had dropped and many had left the area.
History books note that one of the few positive additions to the town during this time was the establishment of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
The grassroots help came from the energetic Rev. William E. Jacob, a young missionary priest from Oceanside. As a result of the advertisement campaign in England that promoted the American West, many English citizens formed expatriate communities in San Luis Rey, Carlsbad, and Encinitas. Episcopal missionary priests established small missions in their communities and also served in a small church located on Carlsbad Boulevard and Lincoln.
Three families, the Ramsays, the Shipleys, and the Shaws, were all founding members of St. Michael’s Church. They provided money, labor, and land in order to start the parish. It was built in 1894 and consecrated by the Bishop of California in November of that year.
The first Missionary or Priest-in-Charge was Rev. Jacob, who served from 1894 to 1897 and would return in 1904 for nine years.
Text Sources, Photos, and References:
• A History of San Diego North County: From Mission to Millennium (2001) by Lola Sherman
• Carlsbad: Images of America (2009) by Jeannie Sprague-Bentley
• Pablo Tac, Indigenous Scholar: Writing on Luiseño Language and Colonial History (c1840)
• History of San Diego: Volume II The Modern City (1908) by William E. Smythe
• Windows on the Past: An Illustrated History of Carlsbad, California (2002) by Susan Schnebelen Gutierrez
• The Early Days of My Episcopate (1860) by Bishop William Ingraham Kip
• Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings (The Library of Black America Series)
• History of Early Churches in California (2004) by Teresa Polk
• The Carlsbad Historical Society
• St. Michael’s History Booklet: From 1894 to 1983