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Canaries - San Antonio Texas 1731

In Texas, in earlier times, there was a small community of Isleños that founded San Antonio in 1731, one hundred years before the first English-speaking Immigrants arrived in the region.

During the settlement of Texas in the early 1700’s, the Spanish government recognized the need to both Christianize and civilize the Indians of Texas. They also recognized the need to keep the French from encroaching on Spanish territory. They therefore developed a three-fold strategy. First, to establish a series of missions. Second, the presidio and third the civil settlement of the territory. In the year 1718 the presidio of San Antonio de Béjar was established on the San Antonio River. During the same year, the mission of San Antonio de Valero was moved from the Rio Grande to the vicinity of the presidio.

On February 14, 1729, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo made a report to the king of Spain, King Philip V, proposing that 400 families be transported from the Canary Islands, Galicia, or Havana to populate the province of Texas. His plan was approved, and notice was given the Canary Islanders to furnish 200 families, the Council of the Indies suggested that 400 families should be sent from the Canaries to Texas by way of Havana and Vera Cruz. In the port of Santa Cruz, Tenerife, on March 27 1730, an air of excitement prevailed as the ship the España set sail for the New Pillipins or Texas as the territory was known. By June 1730, twenty-five families had reached Cuba and ten families had been sent on to Vera Cruz before orders from Spain to stop the movement arrived.

On September 9th, 1730 they were at Quantitlan, a small village near Mexico City. They stayed there until November the 15th when they began their difficult overland journey to the San Antonio River. The route that was mapped out for them by the Spanish government lead them through San Luis Potosí and Saltillo. They had a short stop at the presidio of San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande where they left their worn-out horses. Under the leadership of Juan Leal Goraz, the group marched overland to the presidio of San Antonio de Bexar, where they arrived on March 9, 1731. The party had increased by marriages on the way to fifteen families and four single men, a total of fifty¬six persons. They joined a military community that had been in existence since 1718. The immigrants formed the nucleus of the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, the first regularly organized civil government in Texas. Historians have generally marked the beginning of civilian settlement in San Antonio with the arrival of fifty-six Canary Islanders, however the Alarcón's expedition of 1718 was not a purely military undertaking. In April 1718 Alarcón crossed the Rio Grande with an entrada numbering ten families and seventy¬ two persons.

On May 1, 1718, he assisted Father Antonio San Buenaventura y Olivares in the founding of San Antonio de Valero Mission. Four days later Alarcón founded San Antonio de Béxar Presidio. The families clustered around the presidio and mission formed the beginnings of Villa de Béxar, destined to become the most important town in Spanish Texas. The presidio was to protect the missions in the area and serve as a way station between the Rio Grande and the East Texas missions. San Antonio was also to be the site of a Spanish villa (San Fernando de Béxar), and to this end Alarcón had recruited frontiersmen from Coahuila and Nuevo León. As Jesús F. de la Teja has demonstrated, "From its founding in 1718 to 1731, forty-seven couples married and 107 children were baptized at Mission Valero." Thus, a first generation of native Bexareños was already living in San Antonio by 1731. The arrival of the Canary Island settlers temporarily disrupted the racially harmonious community, but the threat of Indian attacks and frontier isolation soon eroded the Islanders' aloofness. Indian attacks by the Apaches began in the 1720s and worsened in the 1760s with the appearance of the Comanches at San Antonio.

In the summer of 1768, Bexareños had to fight off a twenty-two-day siege without outside assistance. Again, as De la Teja has remarked, "Shared roles, kinship ties, and the frontier experience tied much of Bexar's population into a dynamic community." Oakah L. Jones, Jr., has similarly demonstrated that outside of San Antonio there was little by way of class rivalry among the Spanish population in Texas. Like many of the old families of San Antonio, the Gibson family can trace their descent from the Canary Island colonists. María Rosa Padrón was the first baby born of Canary Islander descent in San Antonio.

For more information contact:

Canary Islands Descendants Association of San Antonio, Texas
P. O. Box 352
San Antonio, Texas 78292-0362

Notes of Interest:

San Antonio Marks 275th Birthday : Mayor Phil Hardberger told an event at the cathedral to mark the anniversary. "... a year before our first president was even born, there were 56 settlers from the Canary Islands, sent by the King of Spain, had already founded this great city."

San Antonio city officials today announced plans for '275 days of celebration' to mark the 275th anniversary of the establishment of San Antonio and the construction of San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest standing structure in Texas.

The small town of "La Villa de San Fernando" was founded on March 9, 1731 by a group of 15 families who travelled to this remote settlement from the Canary Islands at the invitation of King Philip V of Spain.
The San Fernando Cathedral

The cornerstone of the church building in the new village was laid in 1738, making it the first parish church in Texas. The patronesses of the church were those of the settlers and soldiers in the area: Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of Candlemas), a patroness of the Canary Islands, and Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), the patroness of what would later become Mexico.

Joaquín Leal was born in 1746 in the Villa de San Fernando (San Antonio) to Bernardo Leal and Lenore Delgado who were Canary Islanders and among the villa's original founders. His grandfather, Juan Leal Goraz, had, by royal decree, led the colony and was the first alcalde - mayor of San Fernando.

Five Spanish Missions were founded in the area by the Canary Island settlers; one of them was the San Antonio de Valero Mission, later known as the Alamo.

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