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During the settlement of the Province of Tejas in the early 1700’s, the Spanish government recognized the need to both Christianize and civilize the Indians of the province. They also recognized the need to keep the French from encroaching on Spanish territory. To accomplish this they implemented a three-fold strategy. First, establish a series of missions. Second, provide a military presence through the establishment of the presidio and third, the civil settlement of the territory.
The arrival of the Canary Islanders (Isleños) on March 9, 1731 marked the establishment of the villa of San Fernando de Béxar and is recognized officially as the beginning of San Antonio. However, their story could not be told if it where not for a determined and resourceful group of military settlers, (Presidiales) some with their families, who established a small but thriving community despite the hardships and dangers of this isolated wilderness.
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 the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar. By June, 1718 a garrison of soldier and their families clustered around the presidio and mission forming the beginnings of the Villa de Béxar, destined to become the most important town in Spanish Texas.
The presidio’s focus 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.
Alarcon’s efforts where further reinforced in 1721 by the Aguayo Expedition which was the last of its kind, but also the largest and most successful. Aguayo recruited 500 men and collected 2,800 horses, 4,800 cattle, and 6,400 sheep and goats. Although livestock had accompanied previous entradas, Spanish ranching in Texas began with the arrival of these large herds. Aguayo reestablished all of the abandoned missions in East Texas; founded a new presidio, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, at Los Adaes; and made a lasting peace with St. Denis, who had become commandant of the French settlement at Natchitoches. By the spring of 1722, Domingo Ramón, under orders of Aguayo, had begun construction of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission and Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio, both commonly called La Bahía at the site of La Salle's Fort St. Louis. When Aguayo departed from Texas in May 1722, he left a province that was soon separated from Coahuila. It was secured by 268 soldiers at four presidios, two of which-at Los Adaes and La Bahía-were located where foreign aggression was most feared. Across the province were ten missions and hundreds of potential neophytes. By increasing the military strength of the province of Tejas and by the settlement of families, it secured to Spain her hold on Texas.
The San Fernando church records show that by 1731, forty-seven couples had married and 107 children had been baptized at Mission Valero. Thus, a first generation of native Béxareños was already living in San Antonio de Béxar by 1731. The arrival of the Canary Island settlers temporarily disrupted the racially harmonious community, however the threat of Indian attacks and frontier isolation soon the two groups together and the community of Béxar continued to strive.
Pedro de Rivera made a report in 1726 which stated there were forty-five soldiers at San Antonio de Béxar. Nine additional soldiers were on mission guard or escort duty, and four settlers and their families lived near the presidio, as did the families of the soldiers. The total Spanish population was estimated at 200.
By 1729 in San Antonio de Béxar there was a thriving community of presidiales. Families that still have roots in San Antonio today.
The name Béxar was brought to the New Philippines or Province of Tejas in Nuevo España where it was commonly used to refer to the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar, and the surrounding community including the Villa de San Fernando, La Villita, and the mission San Antonio de Valero.
San Fernando church