The California mission system was an attempt to create an infrastructure for a society that never arrived. But the system did perform an important role in California's participation in "a major expansion of the capitalist world economy" during the 65 years of the missions' existence. From 1769 to 1834, when the missions were operational, the world-market involvement of the area grew extensively until, by the time of the secularization of the mission properties around 1834, California was an important "peripheral area within the economic world-system."
The missions established food-production centers near the best ports. In 1786 the first capital ventures, the export of sea otter pelts, began under private license from the Spanish crown. Quite rapidly the area developed, under the mission system, the initial stages of participation in the world economy; that is, "some production process integral to larger commodity chains and responsive to market factors." Exports of agricultural and animal products grew during the period 1800-1810. After Mexican independence the markets for animal fats and hides expanded and production grew when Spanish controls over shipping were removed. At the time of secularization, the production of animal products for export was a flourishing industry -- in a stagnant culture.
The missions had been intended for the creation of agricultural centers that would serve as the basis for colonial communities. The Native Americans were to be converted and brought into the emerging societies and within a few decades Spain would have established itself firmly in California. It was an excellent idea in many ways but no one followed up on it. In the end all the mission system left behind was the organization of the territory's prime sites as population centers, numerous place names, and an agricultural establishment that was exploited by the arriving Anglo-Americans.
In spite of good planning and t...