Our Spanish Foundations in Texas
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
February 23, 2006
Last Monday I was privileged to address the organization called El Patronato de la Cultura Espana. Its mission is to among other things, preserve and educate our community about our State's Hispanic origins. They asked me to cover this topic and in the spirit of the impending events surrounding the 275th birthday of the Canary Islanders arrival in San Antonio, I would like to pass along my comments to you.
One of the problems some of us have is that we were taught history when we were young students or taught by those who were unexcited about it. A teacher can rarely convey a subject about which they have no passion.
Every day we fail to appreciate history is a loss for generations to come because without excitement or the lesser cousin of excitement, which is enthusiasm, family histories will not be preserved. And after all, what is history at its most fundamental level but a collection of family histories?
The American History and Genealogy Project (AHGP), an unincorporated not-for-profit network of independent sites devoted to History & Genealogy, and covering North American Countries and Territories provides the following information.
"The first Europeans to explore the Bexar County area were with an expedition in 1691 led by Domingo Teran de los Rios and Fray Damian Massanet. They are believed to have reached the San Antonio River, where the San Juan Capistrano Mission was later founded. Massanet named the place San Antonio de Padua to commemorate the memorial day of St. Anthony, 13 June.
The next group of Spanish explorers, led by fathers Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares and Isidro Felix de Espinos and a military officer, Pedro de Aguirre didn't reach the region until 1709. In 1714, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis crossed the San Antonio area. Espinosa visited the site again in 1716 with the expedition led by Domingo Ramon. In May 1718, Martin de Alarcon led the expedition that founded San Antonio de Valero Mission and San Antonio de Bexar Presidio, named for Viceroy Balthasar Manuel de Zuniga y Guzman Sotomayor y Sarmiento, second son of the duke of Bexar. By the end of 1718, many Indians of the Jamrame, Pamaya, and Payaya tribes had joined the mission. In 1724, the San Antonio de Valero mission, which had been originally located at the site of present-day Chapel of Miracles south of San Pedro Springs, was moved to Alamo Plaza. In 1731, three additional missions, Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna, San Francisco de la Espada, and San Juan Capistrano, were founded along the San Antonio River.
On 9 March 1731, fifty-five Canary-Islanders arrived, and the villa of San Fernando de Bexar became the first city in the Spanish province of Texas. By the middle 1730s, the total population was around 900, including 300 Spanish and 600 Indian converts. An epidemic in 1738-1739 devastated the missions, killing about 3/4 of the Indian population. By 1740, the missions' populations began to recover.
After the missions were secularized in 1793-1794, they slowly became civilian communities. The lands were distributed to the few remaining Indians and the increasing number of Spanish settlers, with the better land remaining with the town elite. The elite was made up of the descendants of the original Canary Island settlers.
During the late colonial period, Bexar continued to serve as the capital of the province of Tejas as well as the main shipping point for supplies headed for Nacogdoches. Between 1811 and 1813, the city was also the center of revolutionary activity against Spanish rule. In the spring of 1813, Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara led an army of Mexican revolutionaries and sympathetic Americans from Louisiana, seized San Antonio, and proclaimed Texas an independent state. But by the summer, order was restored. This was followed by a period of confiscation, detentions, and executions."
The Spanish era formally ended with a Treaty concluded in the Town of Cordova on the 24th of August, 1821. This concluded 300 years of Spanish rule in Texas to which the Mexican government added 15 years. If the past is prologue, then this history is helpful to understanding our historical and cultural foundations not just of Spain and Mexico but that which constitutes all of our roots. I will continue this column covering the Texas Revolutionary era that followed.